The core of lightning registers at a cool 54,000° F. For a sense of scale, water boils at 212° F, the sidewalk only needs to be 158°F for an egg to fry, and the sun-facing side of Mercury, the planet closest to the sun is 798.8° F. Most lightning deaths and injuries occur in the summer and a sports field is often the most dangerous place to be during a thunderstorm. Coaches, officials and sports parents are responsible for the safety and well-being of youth athletes during the season and part of that includes knowing what to do when you get caught in a thunderstorm.
Here are 4 thunderstorm safety tips for youth sports teams:
1. If you hear thunder, lightning is close enough to strike you.
Youth sports organizations should adopt it as a league-wide rule that the moment anyone hears thunder (or sees a lightning strike) the game is immediately stopped and everyone heads for shelter. Light travels faster than sound so if you hear thunder chances are lightening has already stuck somewhere even if no one noticed it. A good rule of thumb is that for every 5 seconds from seeing the lightning until hearing the thunder means the lightning is roughly 1 mile from your position. Play should not resume until at least a ½ hour has passed with no more thunder.
2. Find real shelter as quickly as possible.
While a little shed might protect you from rain and wind, unless it was designed to be lightning safe it’s not actually protecting you or your team from lightening. Did you know that covered patios, picnic shelters, tents of any kind, baseball dugouts, sheds, and partially enclosed vending areas ARE NOT considered safe shelters? Remember, “when thunder roars, go indoors.” A real shelter needs to contain plumbing, wiring, or some other mechanism for grounding the roof to the ground. For instance, in a house or building lightning can travel along the outer walls or follow metal gutters and to the ground. In a car (not a golf cart), the hard topped roof is actually what protects you, sending any lighting strikes down to the ground through the tires.
3. Get off of the high ground and away from tall objects.
Lightening usually strikes the highest spots (and yes, it can strike twice), so if you are caught outside with no real shelter available then the first thing to do is move your sports team from higher to lower elevations. Avoid large open spaces where you are taller than anything else around you, like on a golf course or soccer field that is nothing more than a wide open space. Be sure to stay away from isolated objects such as individual trees and light posts.
4. ‘Heat lightening’ is just as dangerous.
‘Heat lightning’ is not another type of lightning; it’s just what we call lightening that strikes too far away for us to actually hear the thunder. It just so happens that conditions are most favorable for heat lightning during the hot summer months Lightning can strike as far as 10 miles away from where it is raining so even if it looks and sounds like the storm is far enough away to be safe don’t risk it!
If your organization does not have a policy for lighting safety there are some great resources available – learn more.