Beware of lightning

One of the most magnificent natural phenomena, lighting is often believed to be an infrequent occurrence. According to the National Weather Service, lightning hits the earth 8.6 million times a day.

Lightning is a spark that can reach over 5 miles in length, attain a temperature of approximately 50,000º F, and contains over 100 million electrical volts. Coaches, players and fans should be aware of the danger of lightning because we live in the middle of a lightning prone area.

Equate thunder with lightning, even if lightning is not visible where you are. If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning. Even if you can’t hear thunder, you might nonetheless be at risk. The first bolts from a towering cloud overhead can catch you by surprise, and so-called “bolts from the blue” can extend way out from the edge of a thunderstorm and strike a point well away from where most of the thunder and lightning is occurring.

To determine how close the lightning is, you can do a rough calculation this way: when you see the flash, begin to count in seconds until you hear thunder. Divide this number by 5. The number you get is the approximate distance of the lightning in miles.

Lightning kills and injures hundreds of people every year, mainly because the victims are not aware of danger they face. Most, if not all, deaths from lightning could be prevented. The single most important thing to remember is to seek shelter indoors during a lightning storm.

“Guidelines on handling contest during lightning disturbances” can be found in the 2008 – 09 National Federation rule books. Each school should be pro-active in planning for bad weather during their events:

  • Assign staff to monitor local weather conditions before and during events.
  • Develop criteria for suspension and resumption of play:
    • A 30-second or less flash-to-bang count calls for removal of the athletes from the field to an appropriate shelter.’
    • Thirty minute rule. Once play has been suspended, wait at least 30 minutes after the last flash of lightning is witnessed or thunder is heard prior to resuming play.
  • Develop an evacuation plan, including identification of appropriate nearby shelters.
  • Hold periodic reviews for appropriate personnel.

For more detailed information, refer to the “Guidelines for Lightning Safety” contained in the NFHS Sports Medicine Handbook, which can be obtained by calling 1-800-776-3462.

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