By Dev K. Mishra, M.D.
President, Sideline Sports Doc
Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University
The end of summer and early fall are some of the busiest times of the year for outdoor sports participation, and unfortunately this is also the time of year with the highest number of cloud-to-ground lightning strikes. According to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrationthere are about 25 million cloud-to-ground lightning flashes each year. The highest number occurs in southeast Florida and decreases towards the western United States. In the chart at the right, 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:
If you are running a team or league it’s best to have a clear policy in placeat the start of the season for a lightning safety protocol, identifying safe locations, and guidelines for resuming play.