Texas A&M University Athletic Department Lightning Policy

(Revised January 25, 2010)

Written by: David Weir & Jodi Wotowey

 Endorsed and Reviewed by:

Dr. Richard Orville, Ph.D.

Director of Department of Meteorology

                                                  Texas A&M University

TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY LIGHTNING POLICY

The spectacular displays of lightning are seldom seen as a personal safety hazard.  Lightning, however, is the second leading cause of weather related deaths taking an average of 80 lives per year and injuring 2.5 times as many.  While the chances of being struck by lightning are about as great as winning the $1,000,000 lotteries, it is important to understand that the odds increase significantly when a thunderstorm is in the area and safety precautions have failed to be met.

It is the intent of this policy to educate those coaches, officials and administrators who are responsible for the safety of student-athletes on the preventative measures and safety precautions to follow to avoid inherent risk and injury associated with lightning.

Education

Lightning occurs due to a natural electrical discharge within the atmosphere.  As a thunderstorm develops a region of positive and negative charges are separated into layers.  This separation produces electrical potential that continues to build in strength until the air can no longer resist the attraction resulting in a flash.  This flash is commonly categorized in one of two ways: a cloud discharge/in-cloud lightning, or cloud to ground lightning.  Cloud to ground lightning is initiated by an electrical breakdown between the positive and negative charge regions.  A faint luminous channel, known as the stepped leader, descends in a downward pattern toward the ground.  As this stepped leader nears the ground an opposite discharge ascends from the ground or other object to meet the stepped leader.  At this point of junction the cloud is short circuited to the ground, and a brilliant flash of high current is seen.  A flash has a billion volts of energy with a peak current between 10,000 and 200,000 amperes.   

Thunder is created when the air immediately around the lightning channel is superheated.  This heated air expands rapidly producing the claps, rumbles and all other sounds of thunder.  Thus, thunder is actually the result of lightning and always accompanies it.   Thunder at a distance is heard beginning with a rumble while at nearer vicinities it is initiated as a clap followed by a long rumble.  Since light travels much faster than sound, the amount of time between a lightning bolt and thunder clap allows the distance of the lightning to be calculated based on the sound traveling at a rate of one mile per five seconds.  This method of calculation is known as the flash-to-bang system which will be discussed in more detail in the methods of gathering information section.

Cloud-to-ground lightning strikes are most prominent from late spring to early autumn with the number of positive flashes peaking in July. Strikes tend to occur most frequently during the afternoon and early evening, and the majority of fatalities have been reported to occur between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.  This puts athletics at an increased risk since practices traditionally take place during the periods of elevated lightning occurrence.

The goal of this policy is to minimize lightning casualties by emphasizing advanced planning and the recognition of a potential threat.  However, it is also important to know what to do if caught by surprise.  If you are caught in a dangerous situation too far from a safe shelter and you feel your hair stand on end or your skin tingle, you should immediately crouch down on the balls of your feet with your arms wrapped around your knees and your head down.  Minimize your body's surface area and minimize contact with the ground.  Don=t be the highest object or connected to anything taller than its surroundings, avoid metal objects, individual trees and standing pools of water.

Treatment

In the event that a person is struck by lightning, do not hesitate to assist them; unlike electrical victims they do not carry a charge so they may be safely handled.  If the victim is not breathing yet has a pulse, begin mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, once every five seconds for adults. If a pulse is absent as well, it is imperative to initiate and sustain cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) as soon as possible. The administration of CPR to a victim who appears dead can reverse cardiopulmonary arrest.  If there are multiple victims, aid should be administered to the apparently "dead" first.  Keep in mind, for the safety of the rescuer, the possibility of a second strike within the immediate area.

Methods of Gathering Lightning Information

The decision to suspend a game or practice will be based on the following information systems.

Flash-to-Bang

This is the easiest and most convenient method.  It requires no equipment and is an easy way to determine the distance from the last lightning strike.  This method cannot predict where the next strike will occur.  Begin a count that is equivalent to one second at the time you see a flash of lightning and continue counting until you hear the thunder.  Divide that number by 5 to determine the distance in miles that the strike was from you. Example: you count thirty seconds between lightning and thunder; this indicates the strike was approximately 6 miles away.

Thorguard

This is a lightning prediction system.  If conditions are present for lightning to occur, then the system alerts the user to the danger.  Texas A&M utilizes multiple systems.   Systems are located at the TAMU Golf Course and a system at the Student Recreation Center.  The Athletic Department also has a Thorguard system that is used to aid in the decision making process. 

 

National Lightning Network

This is a satellite network with 106 lightning sensors located throughout the United States.  The network receives and disseminates information every 15 seconds to the subscribers of this service.  The Meteorology Department of Texas A&M University receives this information 24 hours per day 7 days per week.  This information is available to the Athletic Department.  The service can show the past movement of severe storms containing lightning.  This service shows the distance and location of the last lightning strikes. The network cannot predict where the next strike will be. The information provided allows the user to determine existing lightning dangers.

DTN Weather Service

The decision maker may consult the DTN weather service web site to evaluate the lightning/storm tracker to evaluate current lightning locations and storm movement.

Available Meteorologist

A meteorologist should be consulted if there is one available.  Time constraints in contacting him/her should be considered as well as the risk of lightning continuing to move into the area. 

Decision Making

The decision to suspend a game or practice will be made by the following individuals.

Practice 

The athletic trainer will make the final decision.  All athletic staff must assess the dangers by the methods stated in this policy.  If available, the staff grounds keepers will help gather and disseminate lightning information.  Coaches are required to follow the decisions made by the athletic training and ground keeping staff.  Any individual, athlete or staff member who feels he or she is in danger of lightning has the right to leave the field and seek safe shelter.

Prior to Contest

The game administrator and/or host athletic trainer will make the final decision.  These individuals must assess the dangers by the methods stated in this policy.  If available, the staff grounds keepers will help gather and disseminate lightning information.  The responsibility remains with the game administrator and/or athletic trainer hosting the activity to remove the teams or individuals from the field or event site.  With the information presented in this policy, these individuals can make an informed, intelligent and safe decision regarding the risk of a lightning strike.  Any individual, athlete or staff member who feels he or she is in danger of lightning has the right to leave the field and seek safe shelter.

During Contest

The head official will make the final decision.  The game administrator and/or host head coach shall inform head official of the dangers associated with lightning and of the department lightning policy.  These individuals must assess the dangers by the methods stated in this policy. Whenever possible, the staff athletic trainers will advise the game administrator and/or host head coach of the danger of lightning.  If available, the staff grounds keepers will help gather and disseminate lightning information.  The responsibility remains with the head official supervising the activity to remove the teams or individuals from the field or event site.  With the information presented in this policy, these individuals can make an informed, intelligent and safe decision regarding the risk of a lightning strike.  Any individual, athlete or staff member who feels he or she is in danger of lightning has the right to leave the field and seek safe shelter.

Safe Shelters

A safe shelter is defined as:  any building normally occupied or used by people, i.e., a building with plumbing and/or electrical wiring that acts to electrically ground the structure.  Avoid using shower facilities for safe shelter, and do not use showers, plumbing or telephones during a thunderstorm.  In absence of a sturdy, frequently inhabited building, any vehicle with a hard metal roof (not a convertible or golf cart) and rolled up windows will provide a safe shelter.   Do not touch the sides of the vehicle - it is not the tires that make the vehicle safe; it is the hard metal roof that dissipates the lightning strike that protects you.

Safe shelters at Texas A&M include, but are not limited to:

  • Kyle Field - locker rooms, weight room, beneath stands, in ramp areas
  • Olsen Field - locker rooms
  • Anderson Track/Soccer/Softball Complex - dressing rooms
  • Mitchell Tennis Center - locker rooms
  • Traditions Club - clubhouse, bathrooms on course
  • University Golf Course - clubhouse, Commons dorm

Suspension of Activity

The average distance from one lightning strike to the next is approximately 2 to 3 miles, yet can be as much as 10 miles.   Therefore, while a storm may still be several miles from your location, the very next strike could be on top of you.  Based on NCAA Guidelines and the Texas A&M University Meteorology Department, all activity should be suspended and all persons should seek safe shelter when using the flash-to-bang method a 30 second count is made between lightning strike and thunder.  This is equivalent to a distance of six miles or less.  This rule is the called the 30-30 rule.

Return to Activity

Once a game or practice has been suspended, the storm should continue to be monitored.  No contest or practice should be resumed until all lightning activity within the six mile radius (30 seconds) has stopped for 30 consecutive minutes (the 30-30 rule).  This is to prevent any casualties caused by a back flash.  Most people consider it safe to resume activity once a storm has passed or it has stopped raining.  However, a central Florida study found more casualties do occur after the peak flash rate.



                                                                   References

1.         Holle, R.L., Lopez, R.E., Howard, K.W., Vavrek, J., Allsop, J. (1995). Safety in the Presence of Lightning.  Seminars in Neurology, 15, 375-380.

2.       Vavrek, J., Holle, R.L., Allsopp, J. (1993) Flash to Bang.  Earth Scientist, 10, 3-8.

 

3.       Orville, R.E.  (1974)  Lightning.  Encyclopedia Britannica, 15, 965-970.  USA:           Hemingway/ Benton.

4.       Bennett, B.L. (1998) Policy on Lightning Safety. Unpublished Manuscript, College of William and Mary Division of Sports Medicine, Virginia.

 

5.      Orville, R.E., Silver, A.C.  (1997) Lightning Ground Flash Density in Contiguous United States: 1992-95.  Monthly Weather Review, 125, 631-638.

 

6.       Bennett, B.L. (1997) A Model Lightning Safety Policy for Athletics. Journal of Athletic Training, 32, 251-253.

 

7.       Walsh, K.M., Hanley, M.J., Graner, S.J., Beam, D., & Bazluki, J. (1997) A Survey of Lightning Policy in Selected Division I Colleges. Journal of Athletic Training, 32, 206-210.

8.       Cherington, M., Yarnell, P.R., & Wapps, J.R. (1997) Lightning Strikes How to Lower Your Risk. Physician and Sports Medicine, 25, 129-130.

9.       Bennett, B.L, Holle, R.L., & Lopez, R. (199Armstrong, R. P. (1972). The dissertation's deadly sins.  Scholarly Publishing, 3, (241-247) Lightning Safety. In Benson, M. (Ed.)  NCAASports Medicine Handbook, 9, 12-14, Kansas, NCAA.