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Lightning Safety

Within the United States, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimate that 60 to 70 fatalities and about 10 times as many injuries occur from lightning strikes every year. While the probability of being struck by lightning is low, the odds are significantly greater when a storm is in the area and proper safety precautions are not followed.

When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!NOAA "When Thunder Roars" poster

The National Weather Service has implemented a voluntary recognition program for communities to enhance awareness of the dangers of lightning.  There is no safe place outside when thunderstorms are in the area. If you hear thunder, you are likely within striking distance of the storm. Just remember, When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors! Too many people wait far too long to get to a safe place when thunderstorms approach. Unfortunately, these delayed actions lead to many of the lightning deaths and injuries in the U.S.

When a Safe Location is Nearby

Run to a safe building or vehicle when you first hear thunder, see lightning or observe dark threatening clouds developing overhead. Stay inside until 30 minutes after you hear the last clap of thunder. Do not shelter under trees. You are not safe anywhere outside.

A safe building is one that is fully enclosed with a roof, walls and floor, and has plumbing or wiring. Examples include a home, school, church, hotel, office building or shopping center. Once inside, stay away from showers, sinks, bath tubs, and electronic equipment such as TVs, radios, corded telephones and computers.

A safe vehicle is any fully enclosed metal-topped vehicle such as a hard-topped car, minivan, bus, truck, etc. While inside a safe vehicle, do not use electronic devices such as radio communications during a thunderstorm. If you drive into a thunderstorm, slow down and use extra caution. If possible, pull off the road into a safe area. Do not leave the vehicle during a thunderstorm.

Plan Ahead! Your best source of up-to-date weather information is a NOAA Weather Radio (NWR). Portable weather radios are handy for outdoor activities. If you don't have NWR, stay up to date via internet, TV, local radio or cell phone. If you are in a group, make sure all leaders or members of the group have a lightning safety plan and are ready to use it.

If you are part of a large group, you will need extra time to get everyone to a safe place. NWS recommends having proven professional lightning detection equipment so your group can be alerted from significant distances from the event site.

When a Safe Location is Not Nearby

Remember, there is NO safe place outside in a thunderstorm. If you absolutely can't get to safety, this section may help you slightly lessen the threat of being struck by lightning while outside. Don't kid yourself--you are NOT safe outside.

Being stranded outdoors when lightning is striking nearby is a harrowing experience. Your first and only truly safe choice is to get to a safe building or vehicle. If you are camping, climbing, on a motorcycle or bicycle, boating, scuba diving, or enjoying other outdoor activities and cannot get to a safe vehicle or building, follow these last resort tips. They will not prevent you from being struck by lightning, but may slightly lessen the odds.

These actions may slightly reduce your risk of being struck by lightning:

Intercollegiate Athletics

Lightning is the most consistent and significant weather hazard that may affect intercollegiate athletics.

Education and Prevention

Education and prevention are the keys to lightning safety. Prevention should begin long before any intercollegiate athletics event or practice by being proactive and having a lightning safety plan in place.

The following steps are recommended by the NCAA and NOAA to mitigate the lightning hazard:

  1. Designate a person to monitor threatening weather and to make the decision to remove a team or individuals from an athletics site or event. A lightning safety plan should include planned instructions for participants and spectators, designation of warning and all clear signals, proper signage, and designation of safer places for shelter from the lightning.
  2. Monitor local weather reports each day before any practice or event. Be diligently aware of potential thunderstorms that may form during scheduled intercollegiate athletics events or practices. Weather information can be found through various means via local television news coverage, the Internet, cable and satellite weather programming, or the National Weather Service (NWS) Web site at www.weather.gov.
  3. Be informed of National Weather Service (NWS) issued thunderstorm "watches" or "warnings," and the warning signs of developing thunderstorms in the area, such as high winds or darkening skies. A "watch" means conditions are favorable for severe weather to develop in an area; a "warning" means that severe weather has been reported in an area and for everyone to take the proper precautions. A NOAA weather radio is particularly helpful in providing this information.
  4. Know where the closest "safer structure or location" isto the field or playing area, and know how long it takes to get to that location. A safer structure or location is defined as:
    • Any building normally occupied or frequently used by people, i.e., a building with plumbing and/or electrical wiring that acts to electrically ground the structure. Avoid using the shower or plumbing facilities and contact with electrical appliances during a thunderstorm.
    • In the absence of a sturdy, frequently inhabited building, any vehicle with a hard metal roof (neither a convertible, nor a golf cart) with the windows shut provides a measure of safety. The hard metal frame and roof, not the rubber tires, are what protects occupants by dissipating lightning current around the vehicle and not through the occupants. It is important not to touch the metal framework of the vehicle. Some athletics events rent school buses as safer shelters to place around open courses or fields.

Lightning Awareness

Lightning awareness should be heightened at the first flash of lightning, clap of thunder, and/or other criteria such as increasing winds or darkening skies, no matter how far away. These types of activities should be treated as a warning or "wake-up call" to intercollegiate athletics personnel. Lightning safety experts suggest that if you hear thunder, begin preparation for evacuation; if you see lighting, consider suspending activities and heading for your designated safer locations. Specific lightning safety guidelines have been developed with the assistance of lightning safety experts. Design your lightning safety plan to consider local weather patterns and safety needs.

These guidelines have been adopted from the NCAA Sports Medicine Handbook and NCAA Championships Severe Weather Policy.


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Last Updated: 7/16/12