Lightning Safety



Every year, lightning strikes cause severe damage and even kill people, livestock, and wildlife. Lightning is also a threat to buildings, power lines, and vehicles, to name a few. It can cause wildfires and even reroute major airlines. As lightning occurs over land much more often than over the ocean, it’s of concern to those in areas where environmental factors brew a high number of yearly storms. In the United States, lightning is the second most common storm-related killer. Astonishingly, more than two dozen people die from lightning strikes each year.


Some states are more prone to lightning, such as Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, South and North Carolina, and Texas. From 1959 to 2011, the United States suffered a sobering 3974 deaths by lightning. Lightning is a concern for educational institutions in every state, and there is a liability that is attached to lightning safety, of which everyone from administration to coaches should take note. Lightning safety affects all outdoor activities overseen by educational organizations, including: football, track, soccer, marching band practice, field days, and recess. Lightning safety should also be a consideration for any school interested in keeping their students safe.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has specific rules and recommendations on lightning safety during sports events, which include:

  • Have a lightning safety plan on hand and educating all staff members on how to follow the plan and access it for reference.

  • Designate a single individual to be in charge on monitoring weather patterns and deciding when to pull students from outside areas in the event of a lightning threat.

  • Monitor weather reports and the National Weather Service to remain aware of impending storms that could pose a risk of lightning strikes.

  • Educate all staff and students on the safest structures in the area and understand the time it takes to evacuate all students and staff to safer areas.

  • Remain aware of lightning risk indicators such as lightning flashes, darkening skies, and thunder claps.

Lightning experts recommend that outdoor playing fields be evacuated by the time there are 30 seconds or less observed between a lightning flash and a thunder clap, or by the time the leading edge of the storm is within six miles of the field or outdoor venue. Once the last sound of thunder and the last flash of lightning are at least six miles away, students may return to play.

For overall lightning safety in schools, you can follow these guidelines:

  • Determine the closest safe structures in advance of any activity. Safe structures include the nearest school building, a complete enclosure, or a fully enclosed metal vehicle with windows tightly closed.

  • When thunder is heard, or a cloud-to-ground lightning bolt is seen, the thunderstorm is close enough to strike your location with lightning. Suspend outdoor activities and seek shelter immediately.

  • Select a distinctive, recognizable method to announce or signal the lightning warning and clear-the-area order, such as blasts of a whistle, public address announcement and a shouted command.

  • Estimate the amount of time required to safely evacuate, at a comfortable pace, to the designated shelter(s). Remember that lightning may strike as many as 10 miles from the rain that may accompany a thunderstorm. Given the different distances to shelter, the number of people present, and the variation in mobility of the people seeking shelter, suspend activities at the first sound of thunder or upon seeing a cloud-to-ground lightning strike.

  • Inform students and school personnel when a thunderstorm watch is in effect. Tell them that play will be suspended as lightning approaches, what the clear-the-area signal is, where to go for safe shelter, and what routes to take as they evacuate the area. Prior to outdoor competitions, this should include a formal announcement over the public address system.

  • Designate one person who is responsible for monitoring the weather forecasts, watching for lightning and listening for thunder. The use of a lightning detector is recommended. This person should have the authority to order that the clear-the-area signal be given or be in constant contact with the person who does have the authority.

  • Wait a minimum of 30 minutes from the last nearby lightning strike before resuming activities. Any subsequent thunder or lightning after the 30-minute count has started resets the clock and another 30- minute count begins.

Lightning detectors can help educators predict lightning strikes and effectively adhere to lightning safety protocols. These detectors can indicate how far away the lightning strike is in miles, as well as the storm intensity and direction tracking to help schools keep their students safe. These detectors often include vibrating or audible warning functions that can help preoccupied coaches and staff stay aware. To calculate the distance of lightning in the absence of a lightning detector, educators can use the “Flash to Bang” method.  Once lightning is observed, count the number of seconds until the associated thunder is heard. Divide that number of seconds by five, and the result is the number of miles away that lightning strike occurred.

Athletic activities are often outdoor events, and can draw quite a crowd of coaches, parents, students, fans, trainers, and administrators. Lightning safety is not always top-of-mind, but it is a concern that all schools and coaches should take seriously. Lightning safety rules are the responsibility of the organization providing the venue for activities that may put students at risk. With the inclusion of a lightning safety plan, an educated staff and student body, and a lightning detector, schools can adhere to the lightning safety mandates of their state and reduce their liability in the event that a lightning bolt touches down close to home.

Shop online for lightning detectors:

StrikeAlert HD Personal Lightning Detector

Strike Alert Adjustable Lightning Detector

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