Prevention and Wellness

Answers to Common Lighting Safety Questions

Provider Ashley Moman, ATC, answers frequently asked questions about lightning safety.

How do you stay safe from lightning?

Indoors is the safest place to be when lightning is occurring, according to the National Weather ServiceOff Site Icon (NWS). One should avoid open areas, trees, towers, and utility poles, as lightning tends to strike taller objects, the NWS states.

If one is outdoors during a storm, he or she should seek shelter in an enclosed structure, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationOff Site Icon (NOAA). During athletics, examples include school buildings or field facilities, or in a vehicle with the doors and windows closed.

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Is there always thunder when there is lightning?

Thunder always occurs along with lightning although at a sporting event the crowd noise may cover the sound of thunder, according to the National Weather ServiceOff Site Icon (NWS). The sound of thunder may serve as a warning that lightning is about to strike, the NWS states.

Athletic event organizers are wise to have a contingency plan for lightning, National Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationOff Site Icon (NOAA). Specific guidelines should be set so that when and if there is a storm, organizers know precisely what to do. The guidelines should answer these questions:

  • When should activities be stopped?
  • Where should people go for safety?
  • When should activities be resumed?
  • Who should monitor the weather and who is responsible to make the decision to stop activities?

    Is thunder a danger during athletics?

    Thunder itself is less a danger than a warning of something more serious, according to the National Weather ServiceOff Site Icon (NWS). Once you hear thunder, you can assume that lightning is not too far behind, according to the NWS.

    Lightning isn’t always visible, particularly on sunny days, according to the, National Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationOff Site Icon (NOAA). Because you may not always see lightning when it strikes, it’s important to seek shelter as soon as you hear thunder, the NOAA states.

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    What should someone do if caught outside in a lightning storm?  

    Lightning strikes tall objects, so it’s important to avoid towers, trees, and utility poles, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationOff Site Icon (NOAA). A person can also be a tall object, so it’s important to take cover in a fully-enclosed shelter like a building, the NOAA states. One should also avoid any bodies of water, as water conducts electricity very effectively.

    It’s best to take shelter at the first sign of inclement weather, according to the National Athletic Trainer’s AssociationOff Site Icon (NATA). The presence of thunder is an indicator that lightning will strike, and may not always be visible, so it’s important to take shelter immediately, according to the NATA.

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    What is considered a safe shelter? 

    Buildings or homes are safe shelters, as is anything with walls and a roof, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationOff Site Icon (NOAA). 

    Examples of unsafe shelter are tents, porches, or sheds, according to the National Athletic Trainer’s AssociationOff Site Icon (NATA). Those structures are not fully-enclosed and leave one vulnerable to lightning strikes, the NATA states.

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    What areas should be avoided during a storm both indoor and outdoor?  

    During play, it’s vital to seek shelter at the first sign of thunder, according to the National Athletic Trainer’s AssociationOff Site Icon (NATA). It’s dangerous to assume that if one doesn’t see lightning, then it’s safe; lightning is not always visible, particularly on sunny days, the NATA states.

    According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationOff Site Icon (NOAA), places and things to avoid, both indoor and outdoor, include:

    • Bodies of water
    • Corded phones
    • Electrical equipment (TVs or computers)
    • Fences
    • Metal bleachers
    • Plumbing
    • Structures that are not fully enclosed (sheds, bus stops, porches)
    • Trees
    • Utility poles

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    What are the guidelines for suspending activity?

    Any activity should be postponed or suspended when inclement weather is about to move in, according to the National Federation of State High School AssociationsOff Site Icon (NFSHSA). It’s important to monitor weather reports prior to, and during, play, the NFSHSA states.

    Players and coaches should seek shelter at the first sign of a thunderstorm, according to the National Athletic Trainer’s AssociationOff Site Icon (NATA). This includes the sound of thunder, and particularly any sight of lightning, according to the NATA.

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    When is it safe to resume activity?

    It isn’t safe to return to play right after the storm clouds move on, according to the National Athletic Trainer’s AssociationOff Site Icon (NATA). There may still be a danger even if one doesn’t see lightning or hear thunder immediately following a storm, the NATA states.

    A safe guideline is to wait 30 minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder or sight of lightning, or both, according to the National Federation of State High School AssociationsOff Site Icon (NFSHSA).

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    What should I do if someone is struck by lightning? Is there first aid to perform?  

    Lightning strike victims do not carry an electrical charge, according to the National Weather ServiceOff Site Icon (NWS). The victim is safe to handle and should receive medical attention immediately, the NWS states.

    According to the Centers for Disease ControlOff Site Icon (NWS) one should follow these steps to assist a lightning strike victim:

    1. Call 911 immediately
    2. Assess the situation for further danger – if in an open area while lightning is still occurring, you may need to move the victim to a safe area
    3. Check the victim’s heartbeat and breathing
    4. Resuscitate if needed

    Lightning may also cause other injuries such as burns, which can be treated with basic first aid until help arrives, according to the CDC.

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    How are storms monitored for athletic events? 

    Activity organizers should have a tone alert weather radio handy during athletic events, according to the National Weather ServiceOff Site Icon (NWS). These devices can alert you whenever a thunderstorm is detected in the area.

    You can find your nearest weather transmitter by visiting http://www.nws.noaa.gov/nwr/Off Site Icon and click on “Station Listing and Coverage,” the NWS states.

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    How often does lightning strike?  

    Thunderstorms produce an estimated 25 million cloud-to-ground flashes of lightning every year in the United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationOff Site Icon (NOAA). Any one of those strikes has the potential to cause injury or even death, the NOAA states.

    More than four hundred people are struck by lightning in the United States each year, according to the National Weather ServiceOff Site Icon (NWS). Approximately 70 people are killed and many others sustain serious, permanent injuries as a result of lightning strikes, but by taking proper precautions, that risk can be diminished significantly, according to the NWS.

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    Source: Ashley Moman, ATC, Premier Health Sports Medicine - Atrium Medical Center

    Content Updated: September 13, 2017

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