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Lightning Safety Success Stories

Title State
Working with a School District to Improve Lightning Safety Procedures Texas
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Workshops Spread Word, Spark Procedure Reevaluation Florida
Central Florida's "Lightning Laboratory - Lifesaving Lessons" Florida
Florida Tech Student Organizes Symposium Florida
Lightning Safety & Public Schools Florida
Weather Professionals Promote Lightning Safety with Awards Nationwide
Tools Developed for U.S. Space Program Adopted Nationally Florida
Lightning Technology for Spaceflight Forecasting Benefits the Public Florida
Auburn University Postpones First Football Game for Weather Alabama
National Championship Soccer Match North Carolina
Ball field safety: "Better to be 3 runs down than 6 feet under." Missouri
Officials Change Fishing Tournament Rules Minnesota
Salem, VA holds workshop on "Lightning Safety at Sports and Recreation Events." Virginia
Baseball Fans & Players Learn Importance of Waiting the Full 30 Minutes Virginia

If you have a lightning safety success story you'd like to share, please email us

Ball field safety: "Better to be 3 runs down than 6 feet under."

William Bunting, NWS
Randy Ebersold, DeKalb County, MO Emergency Management Director

Date: 4/22/2001

I received a call from Randy Ebersold, the DeKalb County, MO Emergency Management Director today with a lightning success story that I thought I'd share with you.

Yesterday (Sunday 4/22), Randy called our office from a Girls Softball Tournement in Basehor, KS, to inquire about thunderstorm arrival times at the ball park and the lightning activity with the storms. He didn't have a NWR with him, but knew our 800 number for emergency managers. Based on our forecaster's comments, Randy watched the sky to the south for the approaching storms, and told the umpire about the storms.

When the first distant rumble of thunder occurred, Randy went to the game official and stated that he (the umpire) had a big decision to make. Randy told the umpire that thunderstorms would be approaching quickly with cloud-to-ground lightning, and that the game needed to be called. The umpire agreed and the teams and their parents were told to go to their cars.

Other teams continued to play until several very close cloud-to-ground flashes provided sufficient motivation for them to leave the field. Randy's willingness to call the game in favor of safety is even more impressive considering that this was a tournament championship game, and his team was down by 3 runs with two innings to go, a situation where many people people might have gambled for more time to try to win a game that had national tourney-qualifying implications. When I asked Randy if he took any heat for his decision, he said "Better to be 3 runs down than 6 feet under." A great quote!


Officials Change Fishing Tournament Rules

Carol Christenson, NWS (

Date: 5/31/2001

Back in 1995, Steve Wannebo, then OIC of the International Falls WSO, and I, WCM at WFO Duluth, gave a thunderstorm safety presentation to 150 professional anglers competing in a fishing tournament sponsored and run by In-Fisherman.

Due to our focus on the lightning dangers while out on the water during a thunderstorm, the In-Fisherman tournament officials told us they were going to review their tournament rules.

Sure enough, they did. A check of their website revealed an addition in section VI, Safety: "In the event that lightning is visible, pros MUST immediately cease fishing and move away from the lightning toward a safe harbor or shore. When the lightning is no longer visible, anglers may return to their fishing spots."


Salem, VA holds workshop on "Lightning Safety at Sports and Recreation Events."

Rohn Brown, Public Affairs Coordinator, Virginia Department of Emergency Management, (

Date: 5/29/2001

On March 7 of this year, 60 emergency managers, parks and recreation managers, athletic coaches, umpires and college officials from the Roanoke Valley attended "Lightning Safety at Sports and Recreation Events." Out of this workshop a lightning safety policy was developed for all city fields. For more information see


Working with a School District to Improve Lightning Safety Procedures

Frank Brody MIC, NWS Spaceflight Meteorology Group Houston, TX

Date: 5/31/2001

In July, 1999 I was driving to pick up my daughter from high school marching band practice late in the afternoon. The location was Friendswood, Texas, just outside of Houston. As I watched the lightning flash all around, I thought to myself:

"There is no way they will be practicing outside with this lightning around."

To my surprise and dismay, when I arrived at the school, the full 300 member marching band was still practicing outside. The band director was in his usual spot, perched in a tall wooden tower, barking orders on his megaphone. As soon as I parked, the rain began. The band broke ranks and ran indoors. I approached the band director with the idea of explaining about lightning safety. Before I could talk, he proudly showed me his hand-held "lightning detector." He explained that he knew the band was "safe" outside since the lightning flashes were beyond 6 miles, according to his detector. I politely explained that lightning detectors weren't infallible. I said if you can see lightning or hear thunder, you are at risk.

Then I did some research on lightning safety policies and guidelines. Clear Creek Independent School District (CCISD) had a lightning safety regulation that specified only to use a hand-held lightning detector. I put together a proposed new regulation for CCISD. I coordinated with the NWS Houston/Galveston office on this proposal. The proposal recommended adopting the Lightning Safety Group guidelines from 1998, including using the 30-30 rule and having action plans for large and small groups.

This proposal was sent in September, 1999. CCISD reviewed it, ran it by their lawyers, and partially adopted the recommendation one year later. CCISD'S new regulation listed the hand-held detector as a primary tool, with the 30-30 rule as a secondary tool. I immediately wrote a letter to CCISD requesting a reversal of priorities. They declined.

However, progress was made. The efforts have paid off. In October, 2000, my 10th grade daughter reported the following:

"Last week it was thundering and they made us (the marching band) wait inside until 30 minutes after the thunder ended. Students wanted to go back out, but the band directors kept us inside."

My advice on working with school policy makers:

  1. Do your homework. Read and understand the LSG recommendations.
  2. State your case and make your recommendations clearly.
  3. When possible use examples of other school districts' policies as examples.
  4. Be persistent.
  5. Be more persistent.
  6. Expect delays due to bureaucracy and legal reviews.
  7. Be patient.
  8. Be more patient.
  9. Use targets of opportunity to personally inform coaches, band directors, and even umpires about lightning safety.
  10. Keep focused on the fact that your efforts will save lives…maybe the life of your own child!


Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Workshops Spread Word, Spark Procedure Reevaluation

Dr. Christopher G. Herbster, Assistant Professor Applied Aviation Sciences, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Univ. (

Date: 6/5/2001

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach held a Lightning Safety Day on April 2nd, 2001. We had three separate presentations on Lightning Safety, two that were focused on educating the students, faculty and staff of our University about the risks of lightning, both on the ground and in the air. Our third session was held in the evening and was open to the general public. We had a broad response from the general public, with people in attendance who represented a variety of outdoor activities, including many recreational activities such as boating, swimming, golfing, tennis, biking and jogging. We also had a few representatives from commercial outdoor activities, such as those who work on overhead power lines, lighting towers, etc.

Overall we had more than 150 participants in our workshops. Considering many students had come to a Lightning Safety presentation just last fall, we were very happy with the turnout.

I know that our Campus Safety and Flight Operations departments were very interested in the presentations and are reconsidering their current operations procedures to maximize safety.


Baseball Fans & Players Learn Importance of Waiting the Full 30 Minutes

Brian Bennett, Williamsburg, VA

Date: 6/5/2001

During a spring baseball game at The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, there was some blue sky and sunlight in the western sky. The baseball field faced west. The clearing appeared about 20 or 25 minutes into the 30-minute clock that was counting since the last lightning or thunder. People were clamoring to get back onto the field. Then there was a very close strike at about the 25 minute point, and everyone realized that it was proper to wait out the 30 minutes! People failed to remember that the storm moving off to the east was still in range.


Central Florida's "Lightning Laboratory - Lifesaving Lessons"

Janice Jones/WOFL, Orlando, Florida

Date: 6/6/2001

We live in "Lightning Alley" for goodness sakes! Lightning is the number one weather-related killer here in Central Florida. Not to mention we're home to the most lightning-threatened activities, beach, boating, golf...

As a Broadcast Meteorologist working in Central Florida I saw a serious lack of respect for lightning. We were desperately in need of lightning education. I encouraged the television station I work for to sponsor a Lightning Laboratory to teach Lifesaving Lessons to teachers, golfers, fishermen, weather watchers, emergency officials, electrical workers, parents, children, coaches, etc. With the help of some very dedicated local lightning experts we hosted a group of 70 at our first Lightning Laboratory- Lifesaving Lessons.

The local government channels for Seminole and Orange counties recorded our entire event. Seminole Government TV even requested special graphics from our speakers, and re-edited a wonderful lightning education program that has re-aired a number of times over the past year.

Matt Bragaw, Lightning Specialist at the NWS Melbourne Office introduced us to lightning. He explained how lightning forms in a way all of the audience could understand.

Bill Roeder, Lightning Expert at Cape Canaveral/Kennedy Space Center and member of the Lightning Safety Group dispelled lightning myths. He taught people why a car may be a safer spot during a thunderstorm, but a convertible provides no protection. He introduced us to the 30-30 rule, and the warning signs that lightning is about to strike.

Bill shared the fascinating side of lightning with Central Florida's own "Lightning Stalker", David O. Stillings, a well known lightning photographer, who choreographs his awesome 'strike shots' to music.

In the most moving part, local lightning strike survivors shared their stories. Anastasia was struck while setting her alarm clock. Dave, while fishing. Bob while quickly trying to unplug his television. Their stories alone sent our lightning message home.

What a success! Members of the audience kept our speakers and survivors long after the event, asking question after question and offering to help spread the lightning message. I hope some of the lightning message has made it to your hometown.

Janice Jones
Chief Meteorologist
Orlando, Florida


Weather Professionals Promote Lightning Safety with Awards

William Roeder, Chief Staff Meteorologist, 45th Weather Squadron, USAF (

Date: 6/6/2001

Many of the large professional weather organizations are recognizing the importance of lightning safety. The National Weather Association gave its 1999 Public Education Award for lightning safety efforts. The American Meteorological Society gave a 2000 Special Award for lightning safety education and lightning medicine research. The Air Force and NASA are also promoting lightning safety with the 1999 and 2000 Air Force Space Command Safety Awards, the 1999 Air Force Chief of Safety Award -- the 2000 Air Force Chief of Staff Safety Award and 2001 Kennedy Space Center Quality And Safety Award are pending selection. Finally, the National Weather Service is sponsoring the first-ever national lightning safety awareness week, 18-22 Jun 01, which will become an annual event.


Florida Tech Student Organizes Symposium

George A. Maul, Ph.D., Professor of Oceanography and Environmental Systems, Florida Institute of Technology,

Date: 6/8/2001

Florida Tech Hosts Public Lightning Symposium

Lightning is the Number One weather killer in Florida and can inflict lifelong, severe injuries on 10 times as many people as it kills. These and other lightning facts were explored in the Florida Tech Lightning Symposium 2001 on April 14, from 1 to 4 p.m.

The symposium, held in the university's F.W. Olin Engineering Complex Auditorium, was free and open to the public. Over 75 interested persons attended.

Brad Zavodsky, President of the Florida Tech Student Chapter of the American Meteorological Society organized the symposium. Dr. Andrew W. Revay, Jr., Florida Tech vice president for academic affairs welcomed the audience. Janice Jones, chief meteorologist at Fox 35 News, was emcee for the event. Speakers included Bob Lay, director of Brevard County Emergency Management, on "Lightning Emergencies"; David Sharp, science and operations officer, National Weather Service (NWS) in Melbourne, on "The Operational Use of Total Lightning Information at an NWS Office;" Matt Bragaw, forecaster and lightning specialist, NWS in Melbourne, on "Lightning: What it is and How it Works;" and William Roeder, chief staff meteorologist, 45th Weather Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base, on "Lightning Safety". Refreshments were served during an intermission, and a panel discussion and opportunity for questions followed the presentations.

John Williams, Florida Tech associate faculty member and co-author of "Florida Hurricanes and Tropical Storms", and Dr. George A. Maul, Professor and Department Head of the Department of Marine and Environmental Systems, coordinated the symposium. More information on the Florida Institute of Technology and the university's meteorology program may be found at


Tools Developed for U.S. Space Program Adopted Nationally

Neil R. Wyse, Colonel, USAF Commander, 45th Weather Squadron

Date: 6/6/2001

The US Air Force 45th Weather Squadron (45 WS) is a key player in lightning safety at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and NASA Kennedy Space Center. Lightning is vitally important to the space program in central Florida, 'Lightning Alley' of the U.S. The 45 WS has developed several techniques and tools for forecasting onset and cessation of lightning using our suite of the world's best lightning detectors.

One of our best tools is radar. We've developed several rules-of-thumb for using radar reflectivity intensity, depth, and duration versus key temperature levels to predict the start of In-Cloud and Cloud-Ground lightning. The 45 WS then uses these forecasts to issue two tiers of lightning advisories. A Phase-I advisory is issued when lightning is expected within 5 nautical miles of 13 points of operational interest with a desired lead-time of 30 min. A Phase-2 is issued when lightning is imminent or occurring within 5 nautical miles. This two tiered system works so well, the US Air Force adopted it for use Air Force-wide in 1997.

The 45 WS also conducts an intensive program of lightning safety education, both for our Air Force and NASA customers, and for the public. The 45 WS expertise in lightning systems, forecasting, and safety is widely known. We frequently are asked to consult by government and industry on these topics. The 45 WS lightning forecasting/safety program is among the best on Earth!


Lightning Technology for Spaceflight Forecasting Benefits the Public

Matt Bragaw Lightning Specialist NWS Melbourne, Florida ( and
Bart Hagermeyer

Date: 6/15/2001

Lightning is a significant danger to spaceflight vehicles launched from Kennedy Space Center and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Although people are probably most familiar with the Space Shuttle, other rockets such as Atlas, Delta, and Titan carry payloads vital to the Nation's defense and economy, including NOAA's geostationary satellites. The Air Force is responsible for forecasting lightning that might affect spaceflight launches and ground operations, and they have the latest lighting detection technology.

The NWS in Melbourne, Florida has collaborated with NASA and the Air Force on lightning issues since 1989. The same lightning detection and forecasting technology used for spaceflight forecasting has been made available to NWS Melbourne forecasters who are responsible for public forecasting and severe weather warnings in east central Florida, including the Orlando and Daytona Beach areas.

The goal of this collaboration has been to educate the public and get as much real-time lightning hazard information to our customers using “Total Lightning Information” in our products and services. The threat is enhanced every summer when millions of tourists, who are often unfamiliar with local climatology, visit the Orlando attractions (right in the middle of “Lightning Alley”). As part of the initiative, thunderstorms are called “Lightning Storms” when they meet certain criteria, and “Excessive Lightning Short Range Forecasts” are issued.

The collaboration has paid off both in technology transfer to the public sector and in joint outreach activities between the National Weather Service, the Air Force, and the local Media.

Lightning Safety & the Public School System

Rick Thompson, Lightning Protection Coordinator, Orange County Florida Public Schools (

Date: 6/20/2001

I would like to introduce myself; my name is Rick Thompson, I am the lightning protection coordinator for Orange County Public Schools in Orlando, FL. Several years ago after becoming a lightning victim, I decided to do something about the lightning threat to our schools and students.

Thousands of people are moving to central Florida each year, not aware that they are moving into the lightning capital of the United States, were many people are struck by lightning every year. Due to un-reporting of injuries, deaths and damages the lightning hazard is extremely under estimated.

Our research and pilot studies in grounding, lightning protection and surge suppression has established that power quality in structures that were having massive equipment losses due to lightning can be mitigated. Please keep in mind that every electrical device that involves the human touch is a potential hazard in an electrical storm; many people are injured or killed this way. Even though our studies were implemented to mitigate lightning from entering our structures our first objective is to improve lightning safety by instructing our students and employees of the lightning hazard.

Our studies have revealed that electrical service ground rods and lightning protection is typically inefficient in the state of Florida due to sand being a non-conductive material and our continuing diminishing water level is not helping either. Our pilot studies and over 100 lightning safety awareness classes have been very successful, although, it is an ongoing process. Over twenty facilities that we improved in above mentioned areas show a significant decline in damages. In fact, several cases saved us approximately $100,000 per year. It just makes sence; reducing lightning surges inside our schools will improve lightning safety to the “end user” of electrical equipment.

During school hours we can have thousands of students and employees in contact with computers, telephones and office equipment at any given time. We have 145,737 students and approximately 20,000 employees in our system. Therefore, it is essential that our students and personnel are aware of how to react in lightning situations. Training should include:

  • Lightning safety postersdistributed to all schools, facilities maintenance, and transportation services, posted in heavy traffic areas for all to view.
  • Lightning safety videos should be produced for all ages to understand and must be a part of the scheduled educational curriculum. Such videos should be mandatory viewing for the entire personal staff.
  • Lightning safety and CPR certification courses should be mandatory for coaches or other personal in charge of outdoor events.
  • All educational organizations should have a Certified Lightning Safety Professional to implement and maintain a lightning safety program.

Lightning safety has become my mission in life. I would like to thank all my friends in the lightning safety group for their involvement and dedication to present lightning safety awareness to all.

I always wondered why someone didn't do something, and then I realized I was someone!

Rick Thompson
Lightning Protection Coordinator
Orange County Public Schools
Building 100-A 6501 Magic Way
Orlando, Florida 32809



National Championship Soccer Match

Barbara Watson, Acting-MIC, WFO Wilmington, NC

Date: 8/29/2003

On Friday, August 22, WCM Tom Matheson ran into the Mayor of Wilmington, NC. Tom had tickets to the national championship soccer match that was scheduled for the next day. The Wilmington Hammerheads were playing. It prompted Tom to ask the Mayor if Legion Stadium had a lightning evacuation plan. He told him that there was a good chance of thunderstorms hitting the stadium. The Mayor said he would call the Stadium Manager and make sure they were ready.

Sure enough, storms moved in on the stadium. About 3900 spectators were herded into the rain and lightning protected corridors of the stadium before the storms hit. Tom and his wife joined the crowd. The soccer match began about an hour later.

Tom saw the Mayor again on the following Monday. He thanked Tom and said that they had called the WFO on Saturday afternoon before the storms hit. He was pleased that all went well and the Hammerheads won.

If you have a lightning safety success story you'd like to share, please email us

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