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Teen Girl running from the rain with umbrella after a Game of Rugby

Athletics and Lightning: Know Before You Go

By Seth Ireland LAT, ATC, ITAT, CHKD Sports Medicine

In most parts of the United States, you are lucky if you make it through a sports season without any rain delays or cancellations. In southeastern states, heavy storms can be especially dangerous due to strong winds and lightning. Although the chances of being stuck by lightning are one in 500,000, lightning is the most frequent weather hazard affecting athletic events such as baseball, football, swimming, skiing, track and field, soccer, and lacrosse, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Being prepared with a plan can help prevent injury. Follow these guidelines from the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) on how to prepare for lightning during an athletic event:

  • All athletic events should have a protocol set for weather-related situations.
  • There should be a designated individual who will track storms using a reliable weather-monitoring source. It is their job to notify participants as conditions become unsafe.
  • Make sure there’s a designated safety shelter for participants and spectators.
  • Common protocol for delay of activities is when thunder is heard or lightning is seen or detected within 10 miles.

Athletes and spectators should only be allowed back into the venue once the designated individual has decided it is safe to do so. An easy guide for resuming activity is when lightning has not been seen or detected at 15 miles, and thunder has not been heard for 30 minutes. If either of these events occur during the delay countdown, restart the clock for 30 minutes. According to NATA, waiting 30 minutes to resume activities after hearing any thunder or seeing lightning indicates with 90 to 95 percent confidence that no more lightning will occur. Remember, visible blue sky or the absence of rain does not indicate that a person is safe. Lightning can strike far away from bands of rain and even outside the apparent cloud edge.

Whether you’re a parent or the medical professional at the sports venue, following proper lightning guidelines will help ensure the safety of everyone involved. Get outside and have fun, but stay safe!

About CHKD Sports Medicine

About CHKD Sports Medicine  CHKD's sports medicine program offers the most comprehensive care for your young athlete. From diagnosis and treatment to customized rehabilitation plans, we specialize in physical therapy and injury prevention programs for active children and teens. Our team is composed of pediatric orthopedic surgeons, sports medicine specialists, physician assistants, certified athletic trainers and pediatric sports medicine physical therapists.