Need to know

Updated Tuesday December 22, 2015 by Cheryl Erickson.

Many people gauge the approach of a thunderstorm by the cold winds that suddenly kick up. These winds are a result of down drafts that usually extend less than three miles from the storm. Since thunder can be heard for only an average of three to four miles, depending on terrain, humidity and other surrounding noise, from the time leading winds are felt and thunder is first heard, the storm may be within three miles.

Have a Plan: Written procedure for lightning safety is valuable to an athletic department in assisting coaches to deal as uniformly as possible to the threat of severe weather. In the event of dangerous and imminent lightning, it is the responsibility of the athletic director, athletic supervisor, trainer, coach, and/or game officials to remove teams and individuals from an athletic venue. Any one of these people can make the call. Coaches will often need to decide this issue, especially at practices. 
What We Can Do:
1. Monitor threatening weather and obtain reports daily before practices or events. This can be accomplished through radio reports, television reports, Internet weather sites, newspaper forecasts and weather scanners. Be aware of potential thunderstorms and signs of thunderstorms that may develop nearby.
2. Be aware of “watches” and “warnings” issued by the National Weather Service. A “watch” means conditions are favorable for severe weather to develop in an area and proper precautions should be taken. 
3. Know where the nearest “safe structure” is located to  the  area  of playgrounds and practice fields. Be aware of the time it takes to move to the structure or location. Safe shelter includes a sturdy building that has metal plumbing or wiring to ground the structure. 
     A. Avoid using telephones unless needed for an emergency. People have been injured or killed while using a land-line telephone. A cellular phone or portable remote phone is a safe alternative if the user and the antenna are located within a safe structure and if all other precautions are followed. 
     B. Stay away from windows and open doors. 
     C. Do not use electrical equipment. Unplug appliances not necessary for obtaining weather information. 
     D. Do not take a shower during the storm and avoid contact with plumbing facilities and fixtures. 
4. In the absence of a “safe structure”, the next best shelter is a vehicle with a hard top metal roof and windows up to offer a certain measure of safety. Do not use sheds, golf carts or convertibles.  In a vehicle, it is the metal roof and body that dissipates the lightning around the car.  Do not touch metal in the vehicle. 
5. Utilize the “flash to bang” method of estimating how far away lightning is occurring. Remember that lightning can occur as far as 10 miles ahead of the rain shaft of a thunderstorm. Divide by five the number counted from the time the lightning is sighted to when the clap of thunder is heard to determine the approximate number of miles away that the lightning is occurring. Thunder always accompanies lightning and the first flash or clap should begin awareness, 30 seconds or six miles should result in all individuals leaving the playgrounds or athletic fields and reaching a safe location.
6. Postpone the practice or outside event for 30 minutes after the last flash of lightning or sound of thunder before returning to the outdoor facility for activity. Be prepared to terminate activity and cancel the event. 
7. It is advisable that an announcement be read when possible to spectators and competitors in the event of ominous weather and halting a contest. The announcement should include: 
     A. Instructions for all spectators, competitors and contest personnel to move immediately to the nearest school building. (Make sure an access door is open). 
     B. A vehicle (with the cautions listed earlier) is the next alternative. 
     C. A warning to not take refuge under or near trees, tall objects, lone objects, bleachers or fences. 

Nature of Lightning

Bolts of lightning reach heat as high as 50,000 degrees. There are 16 million thunderstorms per year in the world. One half of all lightning bolts divide into two or more bolts. A lightning bolt can strike in one millionth of a second. Annually in the United States, about 100,000 thunderstorms occur. Ten percent of all thunderstorms are capable of producing tornadoes, high winds, and flash floods. The average thunderstorm is six to ten miles wide. The average rate of travel for a thunderstorm is 25 miles an hour. The average lightning strike is six miles long. The average lightning bolt is incredibly powerful, carrying up to 30 million volts at 100,000 amps. Two hundred deaths and 700 injuries are caused annually in the United States by thunderstorms. Lightning causes an estimated five to six billion dollars in direct or indirect property damages each year. Florida is the state with the highest rate of incident.