By: Christine Minor, MSEd, ATC, VATL
Lightning is the most frequent weather hazard that affects athletic events. Since 2006, lightning has caused an average of 32 deaths a year in the United States and about 10 times as many injuries. The National Weather Service’s data from 2010-11 shows 48% of lightning casualties occurred during organized sports and 62% of lightning fatalities were attributed to recreational activities. June, July and August are the peak months for lightning activity, as well as the peak months for outdoor sports and recreational activities. On average, 25 million lightning flashes strike the ground each year in the United States. It is very important that during outdoor activities those in charge are aware of the risks of being outside in a thunderstorm and take the appropriate actions to prevent lighting strike injuries.
It is important to monitor the weather report before and during activities occurring outside in times when thunderstorms are common, most typically late afternoon to early evening. Portable weather radios are available for monitoring developing weather conditions, as well as smart phones and tablets equipped with weather monitoring applications. Lightning can travel up to 8-10 miles, so if you can hear thunder you are within 10 miles from the lightning strikes. If lightning is seen and/or thunder is heard, outdoor activities should be postponed or suspended until 30 minutes after the last strike of lightning is seen or thunder is heard.
Upon suspension of activities, participants and spectators should move quickly to a safe building until the storm is over. The safest place during a lightning storm is a fully enclosed building that has wiring and plumbing. If there is not a safe building nearby, a fully enclosed vehicle with a metal roof provides a similar amount of protection. It is important to note that structures often identified as shelters are not safe. These include: rain, sun, bus, picnic, and park shelters, storage sheds, dugouts and tents, as well as structures with open areas like gazebos, press boxes, porches, and concession stands.
In the event of a lightning injury, it is important that emergency medical services be contacted immediately by calling 9-1-1. It is a common myth that lightning strike victims carry an electrical charge, they do not, and it is safe to provide first aid and cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if necessary. Rescuers should first make sure the area is safe for them to enter and, if needed, move the victim to a safer location before beginning care and resuscitation efforts. It is common for lightning strike victims to be found unconscious, with cold extremities, and in cardiopulmonary arrest. If an automated external defibrillator (AED) is available, it should be used with victims who are unconscious or may be in cardiac arrest, but locating an AED should not delay CPR. CPR and first aid should continue until more advanced healthcare personnel arrive and take over care.
For information on the Virginia High School League’s Lightning Policy visit: http://www.vhsl.org/sportsmed.lightning-safety
Lightning Safety. National Weather Service. http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/fatalities.htm. Accessed August 7,2014.
Walsh KM, Cooper M, Holle R, Rakov VA, Roederll WP, Ryan M. National Athletic Trainers’ Association Position Statement: Lightning Safety for Athletics and Recreation. Journal of Athletic Training. 2013; 48(2):258-270