Outdoor recreation and lightning don’t mix: Ways to stay safe


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When you’re enjoying the great outdoors this spring and summer, being struck by lightning may seem like a 1-in-a-million chance, but it happens. In fact, nearly half of lightning fatalities between 2010-2011 (48% and 62%, respectively) were attributed to sport and recreation, according to the National Weather Service.

As an active person who likes to go outdoors to exercise, never assume you can’t be struck by lightning during a thunderstorm. The best way to avoid lightning is to plan ahead by monitoring the weather and go indoors if you get stuck in a storm. If you are bike riding, the National Weather Service recommends pulling over to a safe shelter if possible and waiting 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder before resuming your ride. If you are outdoors at a picnic and a storm is brewing, better to jump into the safety of your car until it passes through. If you are out camping in “backcountry,” meaning 30 minutes or more from modern vehicles or buildings, you are more vulnerable to lightning since there are no safe places.

Check out this nifty video for staying safe during a storm in the wilderness:


Not-so-fun lightning facts

  • Thunderstorms and the threat of lightning is particularly prevalent from afternoon to early evening from late spring to early fall. That’s when 90% of casualties occur, with July being the highest month of incidence, according to the researchers. Areas with the most lightning activity are Florida, the Gulf states, the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys, the front range of the Southern Rocky Mountains and parts of the Southwest.
  • During the last decade, lightning was responsible for an average of 42 fatalities yearly in the U.S. and an estimated 10 times as many injuries.
  • The contact voltage of a typical industrial electrical shock is 20 to 63 kilovolts, while a lightning strike delivers about 300 kilovolts.
  • Lightning strikes result in deep burns at point of contact, which are mostly on the head, neck and shoulders.
  • Victims may be injured from falling down or being thrown, and the leading cause of immediate death is cardiac or cardiopulmonary arrest.
  • Many lightning victims had been walking in an open field or swimming before they were struck. Other lightning victims had been holding metal objects, such as golf clubs, fishing rods, hay forks, or umbrellas.

Keep your crew out of harm’s way

Whether you’re an athletic trainer leading an outdoor bootcamp or human resources worker planning your company’s annual softball outing, it’s your responsibility to keep people out of harm’s way. A few easy safety precautions provided by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association will help you put a safety plan in place.

“All individuals, particularly those who are in charge of sports and recreational activities, should be aware of the hazards, establish and follow appropriate guidelines and ensure that those around them do so,” said Katie Walsh, a professor at East Carolina University who chaired the position statement writing group. “Proper preparation and notifying participants of lightning danger is critical.”

Click here to read the full statement.

Source: NASA's Science News