In the chart above, the red areas indicate a high concentration of lightning strikes and the grey areas the least.
Lightning represents a significant risk to outdoor athletes. Metal objects such as golf clubs, aluminum baseball bats, and bicycles will all attract lightning. Lightning-related deaths are the third most common among weather-related deaths and account for between 50 and 300 deaths per year in the United States.
The best way to stay safe is incredibly simple: don’t be out playing if lightning is suspected. The NOAA has issued a series of published recommendations that are well worth following:
• Absolutely no practice or games outdoors during active lightning storms.
• “When the thunder roars, go indoors.” Play should not resume until at least 30 minutes after the last sound of thunder or flash of lightning.
• The old “30 second” rule for flash-to-bang calculations to estimate lightning distances has been abandoned. If you hear thunder you’re at risk.
• If you’re caught in a thunderstorm try to get indoors in a building. Buildings with electric and telephone wiring and plumbing are ideal because this can be a form of “grounding,” carrying the electrical current away. If there’s no building available, a hard-topped automobile with the windows closed is the next best option. Try not to touch metal in the car.
• Avoid contact with the tallest object in an open field (like a tall tree) or any body of water. The safest position to assume is a crouched position with the feet close together and weight entirely on the balls of the feet.
If you are running a team or league it’s best to have a clear policy in place at the start of the season for a lightning safety protocol, identifying safe locations, and guidelines for resuming play.
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE'S
Lightning Safety and Outdoor Sports Activities
• The summer months are the peak time of year for lightning strikes.
• If you hear thunder, abandon outdoor practice and go indoors. “If the thunder roars, go indoors.”
• Outdoor play should not resume for at least 30 minutes after thunder and lightning stops.
(Dr. Dev K. Mishra, a Clinical Assistant Professor of orthopedic surgery at Stanford University, is the creator of the SidelineSportsDoc.com online injury-management course, now a requirement for US Club Soccer coaches and staff members. Mishra writes about injury recognition and management at SidelineSportsDoc.com Blog, where this article first appeared.