Monday, June 15, 2009

Lightning Safety and Strike Alert Personal Lightning Detector

Consider this: it's the bottom of the seventh, one out, tying run on first. You hear thunder. Maybe you even think you see lightning out of the corner of your eye.

What do you do?

I hope after reading this article you know what to do.

On June 3, 2009, tragedy struck at a little league field in Northern Virginia. A baseball game had been halted and everyone was ordered from the field due to quick moving storms in the area. Two little boys stayed on the field to play catch under their parents' supervision when lightning struck, killing a 12 year old boy and injuring his 11 year old friend.

Earlier this year in Ingoldingen, Germany, an unexpected storm caused a lightning strike which injured a total of 26 teenagers who were warming up for a soccer match. One 17-year-old actually died on the pitch, but paramedics managed to bring him back to life. Those most seriously injured were standing next to a metal fence.

According to a police spokesman, “No-one could have expected what happened, as it had started to drizzle slightly, but there was no storm to be heard or seen in the sky.”

As a young American Legion baseball player, Craig Biggio was struck by lightning while playing secondbase. So was his shortstop, who died from the lightning strike. In 2006 a Colorado Springs baseball coach was struck and killed by lightning, but was administered CPR and revived at a hospital. There had been only two cloud to ground lightning strikes within a 6 miles radius 10 minutes prior to the Colorado Springs strike.

The NOAA reports that an average of 62 people are killed by lightning each year. The most dangerous states for lightning are Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Texas, Tennessee, Georgia and Colorado. Several hundred are injured by lightning each year. Survivors of lightning strikes suffer from a variety of long-term, debilitating symptoms, including memory loss, attention deficits, sleep disorders, numbness, dizziness, stiffness in joints, irritability, fatigue, weakness, muscle spasms, depression, and an inability to sit for long.

The average distance between successive cloud-to-ground flashes is greater than previously thought. The old recommended safe distance from the previous flash was 1-3 miles. Now scientists suggest that a safe distance should be 6-8 miles (Lopez & Holle, 1998, National Severe Storm Center). Lightning is able to strike 10 miles from the leading edge of a storm (although there is at least one documented case of lightning striking 25 miles away from a storm). In general, thunder can be heard from as far as 10 miles away.

A conservative rule is that if you can hear thunder, lightning can reach you.

Recently the National Federation of High Schools changed its policy on suspending play in the presence of lightning. The new policy states that if a cloud to ground lightning bolt is seen, or thunder is heard, suspend the game and take shelter immediately.

Additionally, this policy directs that "[o]nce 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. . . Any subsequent thunder or lightning after the beginning of the 30 minute count, reset the clock and another 30 minute count should begin."

Many baseball and softball groups are now utilizing technology to take the guesswork out of predicting the weather. Lightning detectors will detect the presence of cloud to ground lightning strikes and provide the distance of the strike. Cloud to cloud strikes that result in thunder are not detected by lightning detectors.

Strike Alert is a personal lightning detector used by many tournament directors and schools to detect the presence of lightning in the area. The folks at Strike Alert sent a detector for me to test (my thanks to Gail at Strike Alert).

Strike Alert is the size and shape of a personal pager and will detect the presence of cloud to ground lightning strikes from 40 miles away. An audible alarm sounds when there's a strike and a corresponding LED light illuminates accordingly at lightning distances of 20-40 miles, 12-24 miles, 6-12 miles and within 6 miles. This LED indicating the closest lightning strike will illuminate and remain lit for two minutes.

Strike Alert will also aid in determining the direction of the storm (approaching or departing) with a sequence of LED light illuminations. Approximately five minutes is needed in the presence of lightning strikes to determine direction.

Strike Alert runs on two AAA batteries and clips to your belt. The audible alarm eliminates the need to monitor the LED lights. This detector takes the guesswork out of predicting the weather. Strike Alert sells for $79.99.

The bottom line is that if you hear thunder or see a cloud to ground lightning strike, get the kids off the field and wait thirty minutes. It is the umpire's responsibility to suspend the game when lightning is present. A product like Strike Alert is a terrific aid to demonstrate to coaches, players, and parents the proximity of an approaching storm and will give everyone a chance to clear the field and seek shelter.


Derek said...

There is another commercial grade system that does detect cloud to cloud lightning, which often times precedes cloud to ground strikes.

It is called Strike Guard and is a fully automated system, detecting any lightning up to 20 miles away. It has the ability to sound a the WAVE Warning Siren and strobe light to quickly and efficiently alert the entire park of life threatening lightning in the area.

It also has the ability to email or text message coaches, players and administrators if the park is closed due to lightning, saving everyone the time of driving to the park!!

To learn more about the Strike Guard Lightning Detection System, call Derek Paulowski at 877.896.8442 or email me at

Have a safe and fun summer everyone!!


Anonymous said...

There is also a personal system that can send your cell phone a message letting you know when lightning has struck, how many miles and which direction. their website is