Lightning Safety Guidelines

Lacrosse is a sport where each player is on an open field with a conductive rod in their hands, so it should be obvious that lightning needs to be taken seriously by coaches and officials.  But there is more to lightning safety than getting the players off the field, as the gruesome details from the tragic events at a St. Albans School lacrosse game in D.C. suburb some years ago can tell:
Twenty two years ago on May 17th a tremendous thunderstorm rolled through Northwest DC and surrounding suburbs.  Lightning struck spectators on the campus of St. Albans.  The lacrosse game between Landon and St. Albans was suspended, with the St. Albans players back in the locker room and the Landon boys back on their school bus.  Some of the spectators ran to their car for cover and to some buildings close to the field; some however, took shelter under a large tree breaking the fundamental rule in lightning safety.  You never want to make yourself or be near the tallest object in the landscape.  Lightning struck that tree.  The lightning traveled down the trunk and along the big roots that were exposed from the ground.  Fred Laughlin was standing next to Noah Eig under the tree. 

"The lighting came down the umbrella down my arm through my body and on the way past it heated the keys that I had....I have 2nd degree burns on my side here and in the exact impression of my keys."  Ironically the metal supports in Fred's umbrella dispersed the electricity and may have saved his life.  Fred saved the shoes he was wearing at the time.  They were blown off of his feet and had four or five holes that looked like bullet holes.  Landon student Noah Eig was killed and a total of eleven were injured.  A plaque in his memory is near the field. 

A lightning bolt is five times hotter than the surface of the sun, reaching temperatures of 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit.  Lightning, not tornadoes, not hurricanes and not blizzards is responsible for more deaths in the US.  On average 200 people die from lightning strikes every year in this country.  Always seek shelter in a building or your car.  The tires do not protect you but the metal body cage does.  Remember if you hear thunder you can be struck by lightning; take cover immediately. 

While lightning in Oregon is not as common as other regions of the country, it is still a threat that needs to be planned for by OHSLA teams in advance. Here are the NFHS guidelines:

Pro-active Planning:

  1. Assign staff to monitor local weather conditions before and during events.

  2. Develop an evacuation plan, including identification of appropriate nearby shelters.

  3. Develop criteria for suspension and resumption of play:

    1. 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 play and take shelter immediately. 
    2. Thirty-minute rule.  Once play has been suspended, wait at least 30 minutes after the last thunder is heard or flash of lightning is witnessed prior to resuming play.
    3. Any subsequent thunder or lightning after the beginning of the 30 minute count, reset the clock and another 30 minute count should begin. 

  4. Hold periodic reviews for appropriate personnel.

For more detailed information, check the NFHS Environmental Issues - Lightning Safety from the the NFHS Sports Medicine Handbook, which can be obtained by calling (800) 776-3462