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EDEN's Ready Tips > Posts > Summer Thunderstorms: Lightning Safety


July 17 – The 2015 Barbasol Championship golf tournament is taking place on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Grand National in Opelika, Alabama, this week. When PGA Tour officials visited the site, they were pleased with the location and the pleasant temperatures. I don’t think they visited in July!

Tournament temperatures are in the mid- to upper 90s with the heat index even higher. But the golfers are professionals. They play in good weather and in bad. Fans in the gallery are also dedicated, following their favorites as long as there is action on the course.

As with other outdoor sports, participants and observers need to be aware of the surroundings and be prepared for whatever weather the day may bring. In summer, that could mean hot and humid one minute and a thunderstorm the next. Lightning is the primary danger during a thunderstorm.

So far this year, twenty people in the United States, including three in Alabama, have been struck by lightning and died. What were they doing? The victims had one thing in common—they were all outside. The range of their activities was broad (walking dogs, walking across a parking lot, riding a motorcycle, working on a roof, camping, herding cattle, covering chickens, sitting on a beach, fishing, or playing disc golf).  

Some people are struck by lightning and live to tell about it. Greg Whitis is one of them. Here is his story.

I was a graduate student in Auburn Fisheries in 1982. One of my chores as a fish head on the North Research Unit was to feed the fish. A buddy of mine, David Crosby, was driving a van, and we parked under a lone pine tree next to a set of ponds. I walked around back to the rear of the van and was just reaching for the back door when it hit. I remember a huge spark leaping from the door of the van to my hand and being knocked to the ground. David said he felt it coming as his hair started to get tingly. I can’t recall hearing anything loud. I do recall the smell of ozone—kind of like a motor burning up. David wasn’t hit—I guess being in the van insulated him. I, on the other hand, probably served as a grounding rod for the van. The pine tree probably served as a bigger lightning rod.  I do recall standing under a blue sky and a thunderstorm off in the distance.

I was dazed and it took maybe a minute before I realized what had happened. I don’t think I blacked out at all. No burns. No long lasting effects either. I would say it did affect my job performance when I worked on a fish farm after graduating. One thing I just could not do was operate a crane (boom) truck if I heard thunder. I would just lock up mentally. A crane truck is a perfect lighting rod because the metal outriggers are usually on the ground and provide a really good truck-to-ground connection. And the boom could be the tallest thing around.

I do have an almost cavalier attitude about lightning striking again. I figure what are the odds getting hit twice in a lifetime? Seriously, if I am rototilling or riding on my tractor and hear thunder in the distance, I do seek shelter, but I don’t cower in a storm.​ 

Don’t cower and don’t risk being one of those people who will die by a lightning strike. If you are caught outdoors, go immediately to safe shelter—a substantial building with electricity and plumbing or an enclosed, metal-topped vehicle with the windows up. Here are a few indoor safety tips.

  • Avoid contact with anything that conducts electricity:
    • ​Corded telephones, computers, and other electrical equipment
    •    Plumbing, including sinks, baths, and faucets
    • Stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches.
  • Do not lie on concrete floors or lean on concrete walls.

If you cannot go indoors, remember these last-resort outdoor tips from NOAA.

  • ​Immediately get off elevated areas such as hills, mountain ridges, or peaks.
  • Never lie flat on the ground.
  • Never shelter under an isolated tree.
  • Never use a cliff or rocky overhang for shelter.
  • Immediately get out and way from ponds, lakes, and other bodies of water.
  •  Stay away from objects that conduct electricity (barbed wire fences, power lines, windmills, etc.)

For more information, go to http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/fatalities.shtml



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