DALLAS (September 24, 2004) -- Lightning has been one of the top three causes of weather-related deaths in the United States over the past century. The recent death of an 18-year- old Grapeland, TX high school football player from a lightning bolt, has drawn renewed national attention to the dangers of this severe-storm hazard. Every year, millions of lightning flashes strike the ground, causing nearly 100 deaths and 400 injuries in this country alone. Lightning casualties that occur during sports and recreational activities have risen alarmingly in recent decades, many of which could have been prevented. The National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA), a not-for-profit organization which represents 30,000 members of the athletic training profession, has issued a position statement on the topic: “Lightning Safety for Athletics and Recreation,” which can be read in its entirety at http://www.nata.org/publicinformation/files/lightning.pdf. The statement has been endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and other major health care organizations. Katie M. Walsh, EdD, ATC, lead author of the position statement, recommends the “flash-to-bang” method in severe weather to avoid lightning danger. “Count seconds between seeing lightning (flash) and hearing the (bang) of thunder,” she says. “Then divide by five to determine how far away in miles the lightning activity is occurring. Be inside a safe structure by the time the count approaches 30 seconds (six miles).” Other key recommendations:
- Postpone or suspend activity if a thunderstorm appears imminent before or during an activity or contest (regardless of whether lightning is seen or thunder heard) until the hazard has passed. Signs of imminent thunderstorm activity are darkened clouds, high winds, and thunder or lightning activity.
- Designate a safe shelter for each venue, such as inside a residential, office of school building, but not dug outs or under trees or bleachers where lightning can still strike. An alternate emergency safe shelter is a car (solid roof, not a convertible) with windows rolled up completely.
- Establish a chain of command that identifies who is to make the call to remove individuals from the field.
- Once activities have been suspended, wait at least 30 minutes following the last sound of thunder or lightning flash prior to resuming an activity or returning outdoors.
- Be more wary of the lightning threat than the rain. Lightning or thunder should be the determining factor in postponing or suspending activities - not the amount of rainfall on the playing field. Even a gentle rain can bring lightning.
- Assume the lightning safe position (crouched on the ground, weight on the balls of the feet, feet together, head lowered and ears covered) for individuals who feel their hair stand on end, skin tingle or hear “cracking” noises. Do not lie flat on the ground.
Observe the following basic first aid procedures in managing victims of a lightning strike:
- Survey the scene for safety.
- Activate local EMS.
- Lightning victims do not “carry a charge” and are safe to touch.
- If necessary, move the victim with care to a safer location.
- Evaluate airway, breathing and circulation, and begin CPR if necessary.
- Evaluate and treat for hypothermia, shock, fractures and/or burns.
- There are higher rates of thunderstorm activity (and thus higher lightning casualty rates) in Atlantic seaboard, southwest, southern Rocky Mountains and southern plain states.
- Three quarters of all lightning injures occur between May and September, with July having the most.
- Nearly four-fifths of lightning casualties occur between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. (when most athletic or recreational activities occur).