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Lightning Safety Group

American Meteorological Society Conference
Phoenix, Arizona, 1998
 
Lightning Safety Group Recommendations

ABSTRACT

On average, lightning causes more casualties annually in the US than any other storm related phenomena, except floods. Many people incur injuries or are killed due to misinformation and inappropriate behavior during thunderstorms. A few simple precautions can reduce many of the dangers posed by lightning. In order to standardize recommended actions during thunderstorms, a group of qualified experts from various backgrounds collectively have addressed personal safety in regard to lightning, based on recently improved understanding of thunderstorm behavior. This "Lightning Safety Group" (LSG) first convened during the 1998 American Meteorological Society Conference in Phoenix, Arizona to outline appropriate actions under various circumstances when lightning threatens.

KEY CONCLUSIONS

 

AREAS ADDRESSED BY THE LSG

1. Identifying safe and not so safe locations during thunderstorm activity.
2. Safety Guidelines for Individuals.
3. Safety Guidelines for Small Groups and/or when the Evacuation Time is less than Ten Minutes.
4. Safety Guidelines for Large Groups and/or when the Evacuation Time is more than Ten Minutes.
5. Important Components of an Action Plan.
6. First Aid Recommendations for Lightning victims.

Safer Locations during Thunderstorms and Locations to Avoid

No place is absolutely safe from the lightning threat, however, some places are safer than others

Seek

Large Enclosed Structures
Requirement : Lightning Protection, Construction Materials used, and the Size of the Structure
Fully Enclosed Vehicles
Requirement: Avoid contact with metal or conducting surfaces outside or inside the vehicle.
Examples: Cars, trucks, buses, vans, enclosed farm vehicles,. with the windows rolled up

 

Avoid

 
Examples
Open Fields Golf Courses, Sports Fields, Parks
Water Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, Swimming Pools, Ponds
Open Structures / Open Vehicles Unprotected Gazebos, Rain or Picnic Shelters, Baseball Dugouts Convertibles, Golf Carts
Contact with and Conductive Materials with Exposure to Outside World Talking on the Telephone, Doing Dishes, Taking a Shower, Window Frames, Metal Doors, Cable TV, Electrical Wiring
Tall Structures Isolated Trees, Towers, Flagpoles, Light Poles, Bleachers, Fences

 

Safety Guidelines for Individuals

Generally speaking, if an individual can see lightning and/or hear thunder he/she is already at risk. Louder or more frequent thunder indicates that lightning activity is approaching, increasing the risk for lightning injury or death. If the time delay between seeing the flash (lightning) and hearing the bang (thunder) is less than 30 seconds, the individual should be in, or seek a safer location (see Safer Locations during Thunderstorms and Locations to Avoid). Be aware that this method of ranging has severe limitations in part due to the difficulty of associating the proper thunder to the corresponding flash.

High winds, rainfall, and cloud cover often act as precursors to actual cloud-to-ground strikes notifying individuals to take action. Many lightning casualties occur in the beginning, as the storm approaches, because people ignore these precursors. Also, many lightning casualties occur after the perceived threat has passed. Generally, the lightning threat diminishes with time after the last sound of thunder, but may persist for more than 30 minutes. When thunderstorms are in the area but not overhead, the lightning threat can exist even when it is sunny, not raining, or when clear sky is visible.

When available, pay attention to weather warning devices such as NOAA weather radio and/or credible lightning detection systems, however, do not let this information override good common sense.

Considerations for Small Groups and/or when the Evacuation Time is less than Ten minutes

An action plan must be known in advance by all persons involved (see Important Components to an Action Plan, P.5). School teachers, camp counselors, lifeguards, and other adults must take responsibility for the safety of children in their care.

Local weather forecasts, NOAA weather radio, or the Weather Channel should be monitored prior to the outdoor event to ascertain if thunderstorms are in the forecast. Designate a responsible person to monitor forecasted weather as well as to observe on-site developments to keep everyone informed when potential threats develop.

Recognize that personal observation of lightning may not be sufficient; additional information such as a lightning detection system or additional weather information may be required to ensure consistency, accuracy, and adequate advance warning.

Even though technology and instrumentation have proven to be effective, they cannot guarantee safety. Instrumentation can be used to enhance warning during the initial stages of the storm by detecting lightning in relation to the area of concern. Advance notification of the storm's arrival should be used to provide additional time to seek safety. Detectors are also a valuable tool to determine the "All Clear" (last occurrence of lightning within a specified range), providing a time reference for safe resumption of activities.

Safety Guidelines for Large Groups and/or when the Evacuation Time is more than Ten minutes

An action plan must be known in advance by all persons involved (see Important Components to an Action Plan). Adults must take responsibility for the safety of children in their care.

Local weather forecasts, NOAA weather radio, or the Weather Channel should be monitored prior to the outdoor event to ascertain if thunderstorms are in the forecast. During the event, a designated responsible person should monitor site relative weather condition changes.

Personal observation of the lightning threat is not adequate; additional information including detecting actual lightning strikes and monitoring the range at which they are occurring relative to the activity is required to ensure consistency, accuracy, and adequate advance warning.

Even though technology and instrumentation have proven to be effective, they cannot guarantee safety. Instrumentation can be used to enhance warning during the initial stages of the storm by detecting lightning in relation to the area of concern. Advance notification of the storm's arrival should be used to provide additional time to seek safety. Detectors are also a valuable tool to determine the "All Clear" (last occurrence of lightning within a specified range), providing a time reference for safe resumption of activities.

When larger groups are involved the time needed to properly evacuate an area increases. As time requirements change, the distance at which lightning is noted and considered a threat to move into the area must be increased. Extending the range used to determine threat potential also increases the chance that a localized cell or thunderstorm may not reach the area giving the impression of a "false alarm".

Remember, lightning is always generated and connected to a thundercloud but may strike many miles from the edge of the thunderstorm cell. Acceptable downtime (time of alert state) has to be balanced with the risk posed by lightning. Accepting responsibility for larger groups of people requires more sophistication and diligence to assure that all possibilities are considered.

Important Components of an Action Plan

Management, event coordinators, organizations, and groups should designate a responsible, person(s) to monitor the weather to initiate the evacuation process when appropriate. Monitoring should begin days and even hours ahead of an event.

A protocol needs to be in place to notify all persons at risk from the lightning threat. Depending on the number of individuals involved, a team of people may be needed to coordinate the evacuation plan. Adults must take responsibility for the safety of children in their care.

Safer sites must be identified beforehand, along with a means to route the people to those locations. School buses are an excellent lightning shelter that can be provided (strategically placed around various locations) by organizers of outdoor events, with larger groups of people and larger areas, such as golf tournaments, summer day camps, swim meets, military training, scout groups, etc.

The "All Clear" signal must be identified and should be considerably different than the "Warning" signal.

The Action Plan must be periodically reviewed by all personnel and drills conducted.

Consider placing lightning safety tips and/or the action plan in game programs, flyers, score cards, etc., and placing lightning safety placards around the area. Lightning warning signs are effective means of communicating the lightning threat to the general public and raise awareness.

First Aid Recommendations for Lightning victims

Most lightning victims can actually survive their encounter with lightning, especially with timely medical treatment. Individuals struck by lightning do not carry a charge and it is safe to touch them to render medical treatment. Follow these steps to try to save the life of a lightning victim:

First:

Call 911 to provide directions and information about the likely number of victims.

Response:

The first tenet of emergency care is "make no more casualties". If the area where the victim is located is a high risk area (mountain top, isolated tree, open field, etc.) with a continuing thunderstorm, the rescuers may be placing themselves in significant danger.
 
Evacuation:

It is relatively unusual for victims who survive a lightning strike to have major fractures that would cause paralysis or major bleeding complications unless they have suffered a fall or been thrown a distance. As a result, in an active thunderstorm, the rescuer needs to choose whether evacuation from very high risk areas to an area of lesser risk is warranted and should not be afraid to move the victim rapidly if necessary. Rescuers are cautioned to minimize their exposure to lightning as much as possible.

Resuscitation:

If the victim is not breathing, start mouth to mouth resuscitation. If it is decided to move the victim, give a few quick breaths prior to moving them. Determine if the victim has a pulse by checking the pulse at the carotid artery (side of the neck) or femoral artery (groin) for at least 20-30 seconds. If no pulse is detected, start cardiac compressions as well. In situations that are cold and wet, putting a protective layer between the victim and the ground may decrease the hypothermia that the victim suffers which can further complicate the resuscitation. In wilderness areas and those far from medical care, prolonged basic CPR is of little use: the victim is unlikely to recover if they do not respond within the first few minutes. If the pulse returns, the rescuer should continue ventilation with rescue breathing if needed for as long as practical in a wilderness situation. However, if a pulse does not return after twenty to thirty minutes of good effort, the rescuer should not feel guilty about stopping resuscitation.

CONCLUSION

Avoid unnecessary exposure to the lightning threat during thunderstorm activity. Follow these safety recommendations to reduce the overall number of lightning casualties. An individual ultimately must take responsibility for his or her own safety and should take appropriate action when threatened by lightning. School teachers, camp counselors, coaches, lifeguards, and other adults must take responsibility for the safety of children in their care. A weather radio and the use of lightning detection data in conjunction with an action plan are prudent components of a lightning warning policy, especially when larger groups and/or longer evacuation times are involved.

  Lightning Safety Group Participants  
 (The addresses of the participants may no longer be current)


 
Brian Bennett 
Assistant Athletic Trainer 
The College of William & Mary 
P.O. Box 399 
Williamsburg, VA 23187-0399 
Tel: 757. 221. 3347 
Fax: 757. 221. 3412 
email: blbenn@facstaff.wm.edu
 
 
 
E. Philip Krider, Ph.D. 
Professor 
The University of Arizona 
Department of Atmospherics Sciences 
Institute of Atmospheric Physics 
1118 E. 4th Street 
P. O. Box 210081 
Tucson, Arizona 85721-0081 
Tel: 520. 621. 6836 
Fax: 520. 621. 6833 
email: krider@air.atmo.arizona.edu 
Leon Byerley
Lightning Protection Technology
2744 East Fifth Street
Tucson, AZ 85716
Tel: 520. 326. 1129
Fax: 520. 326. 1535
email: byerley@azstarnet.com
 
 
Lee C. Lawry 
Product Manager 
Global Atmospherics, Inc. 
2705 E. Medina Road 
Tucson, Arizona 85706-7155 
Tel: 520. 741. 2838/800. 283. 4557 
Fax: 520. 741. 2848 
email: llawry@glatmos.com 
 
Mary Ann Cooper, MD, FACEP 
Associate Professor and Director 
Lightning Injury Research Program 
The University of Illinois at Chicago 
Dep. of Emergency Medicine (M/C 724) 
Room 618, College of Medicine West 
1819 West Polk Street 
Chicago, Illinois 60612-7354 
Tel: 312. 413. 7489 
Fax: 312. 413. 0289 
email: macooper@uic.edu 
http://www.uic.edu/~macooper 
 
Dr. Raul E. Lopez 
Research Meteorologist 
National Severe Storms Laboratory, NOAA 
1313 Halley Circle 
Norman, Oklahoma 73069 
Tel: 405. 366. 0416 
Fax: 405. 366. 0472 
email: raul.lopez@nssl.noaa.gov 
 
 
 
 
 
Ken Cummins, Ph.D 
Vice President Engineering 
Global Atmospherics, Inc. 
2705 E. Medina Road 
Tucson, Arizona 85706-7155 
Tel: 520. 741. 2838 
Fax: 520. 751. 2848 
email: kcummins@glatmos.com 
 
 
Bruce Lunning 
CSP, CPCU, ARM 
Senior Loss Control Specialist 
St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Co. 
Mail Code 505E 
385 Washington Street 
St. Paul, Minnesota 55102-1396 
Tel: 612. 310. 7940/800. 328. 2189 
Fax: 612. 310. 2153 
email: blunning@spcmail.stpaul.com 
Ronald L. Holle 
Research Meteorologist 
Vaisala Global Atmospherics, Inc. 

2705 E. Medina Road 

Tucson, AZ 85706 Tel: 405. 366. 0516 
Fax: 405. 366. 0472 
email: ron.holle@vaisala.com 
 

John T. Madura 
Manager, KSC Weather Office 
NASA 
KSC / AA-C 
Kennedy Space Center, FL 32899 
Tel: 407. 867. 2666/8737 
Fax: 407. 867. 3720 
email: john.madura-1@pp.ksc.nasa.gov 
 
Ken Howard 
Research Meteorologist 
National Severe Storms Laboratory, NOAA 
1313 Halley Circle 
Norman, OK 73069 
Tel: 405. 366. 0500 
Fax: 405. 366. 0472 
email: ken.howard@nssl.noaa.gov  
Marcus McGee 
President 
Quality Protection Systems, Inc. 
149 Anderson Avenue 
Rochester, NY 14607 
Tel: 716. 271. 1150/800. 775. 2537 
Fax: 716. 271. 2597 
 
Richard Kithil 
President/CEO 
National Lightning Safety Institute 
891 N. Hoover Avenue 
P. O. Box 778 
Louisville, CO 80027-0778 
Tel: 303. 666. 8817 
Fax: 303. 666. 8786 
email: rkithil@tx.netcom.com 
William P. Roeder 
Chief Staff Meteorologist 
45th Weather Squadron 
45 WS/SYR 
1201 Minuteman Street 
Patrick, AFB 32925-3238 
Tel: 407. 853. 8410 
Fax: 407. 853. 8295 
email: william.roeder@pafb.af.mil 
This email is good through Oct. 98 
Jim Vavrek 
Science Teacher 
Henry W. Eggers Middle School 
5825 Blaine Avenue 
Hammond, IN 46320 
Tel: 219. 933. 2449 
Fax: 219. 933. 1675 
email: chaser@mail.icongrp.com 
 
Christoph Zimmermann 
Safety Management 
Global Atmospherics, Inc. 
2705 East Medina Road 
Tucson, Arizona 85706-7155 
Tel: 520. 741. 2838 
Fax: 520. 741. 2848 
email: czimmerm@glatmos.com