Late spring to early fall is considered the prime time of year for lightning strikes. While the odds of being struck by a lightning flash are considered less than 1 to 1 million, lightning is still one of the leading causes of weather-related deaths. A study from the CDC stated that from 2006-2018 approximately 30 deaths occurred each year due to lightning strikes with Florida and Tennessee recording the most in 2018. High schools and other locations with Athletic Trainers will have emergency action plans that include lightning policies; however, lightning safety and education are important for everyone who finds themselves outdoors.
There are two different types of lightning: cloud to cloud and cloud to ground. Cloud to ground lightning can kill or injury people by directly striking them or striking an object near them causing injury or death indirectly. According to the National Severe Storms Laboratory, on average lightning has struck the ground 20 million times a year since 1989 in the continental US but approximately half of these strikes have more than one point of contact on the ground. Therefore it can be said that lightning makes ground contact at least 30 million times a year in the US. This is why a person should seek shelter during a thunderstorm. So at what point should you take shelter? The National Athletic Trainer’s Association’s Lightning Position Statement gives the following recommendation. If lightning is detected within 15 miles, “Heads up.” Be ready to seek shelter. If lightning is detected within 10 miles, you are in danger. Activate EAPs and seek shelter. If lightning is within 6 miles, lightning EAPs should be complete and everyone indoors. If you do not have a lightning detector system at your location or a lightning detector application on your phone the CDC recommends once lightning is spotted begin to count to 30 if you cannot make it to 30 before thunder is heard seek shelter. NATA’s position statement continues to recommend that once lightning is no longer detected for 30 minutes within a 15-mile radius, the all-clear may be given an outdoor activity is safe to resume.
Proper shelter during lightning strikes is a fully enclosed building. Ideal places would be locker rooms, gyms, fieldhouses, or school buildings. Places like dugouts, picnic areas, and concession stands would not be safe shelters since they have open walls. Once inside if the walls are made with concrete avoid leaning on them as the metal support bars inside of them can carry a charge if struck. You should also avoid running water as a charge can also travel along the pipes. If a building is not available, cars and buses are safe places to seek shelter. If no shelter is available, the CDC recommends crouching as low to the ground as you can while also making as little contact with the ground as you can.
While lightning deaths and injuries are few, they still occur each year. Follow safety guidelines and these occurrences can be avoided. Lightning should not be taken lightly.