Where There is Thunder, There is Lightning: Be Aware


Lightning is responsible for thousands of deaths every year around the globe (NatGeo, 2009). A simple Google News search will find plenty of recent stories to demonstrate how common such events truly are. The danger is real but is often not top of mind when we think about safety concerns.

When it comes to lightning, there are things we should and should not do. What might seem logical in such situations may be the worst thing one can do regarding self-protection. An article by Charlie Wells of the Daily News provides us a great example of what NOT to do.

In a story from July 12th, 2012, Charlie Wells writes about the deaths of two soccer players in North Houston during a soccer game (Wells, 2019). Wells describes how a sudden storm interrupted the game, and how patrons fled for cover. Unfortunately, three players decided to run for cover under a tree. Then, as Harris County Deputy Joe Shriver describes, “I heard what sounded like a bomb go off” (Wells, 2019). Shriver said the lightning hit the top of the tree, and shortly after that, three players were found lying beneath it; one dead, one dying, and a third badly burned (Wells, 2019). So what can we learn from this?

What was done correctly?

Nature is a curious lady, and sometimes we cannot avoid her wrath or even see her coming. In this case, it is unknown whether storms were expected in the area or not. Still, the people at this event were correct when they decided to run for cover when the storm popped up. As the National Weather Service suggests, “NO Place Outside Is Safe When Thunderstorms Are In The Area,” and “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors” (Walsh et al., 2013).

What was NOT done correctly?

Again, it is unclear whether or not storms were expected. However, it seems likely that weather monitoring and weather awareness was not a priority on this day. In this particular case, and during such a storm, standing under or near tall objects such as trees or poles is a horrible idea because they are targets for potential lightning strikes (Walsh et al., 2013). Additionally, elevated areas and large bodies of water are also considered unsafe and should be avoided (Walsh et al., 2013).

What else should have been done?

In this particular case, the players should have chosen a different place to shelter. We can speculate that the players chose the tree to avoid getting wet as opposed to choosing a low-lying area or distant indoor location. Of course, an argument could be made that perhaps adequate indoor options were not available. However, in such a case, the players could have chosen to run to any fully enclosed metal vehicle until the storm passed (Walsh et al., 2013). The coaching staff or event coordinators should have made sure that both players and patrons were provided such direction before the game, but this would have required weather monitoring to understand the potential risks.

Weather monitoring should be constant, regardless of the circumstances. When it comes to lightning risks, and if the plan is to be outdoors, remember that if thunder can be heard, lightning is close enough to be a hazard. Know where a safe location is and seek out that safe location immediately (Walsh et al., 2013).

Important to Note

According to the National Weather Service, lightning strikes injure hundreds of people and kill an average of 49 people each year in the United States (NWS/NOAA, 2020). In the United States, lightning strikes are common in the South and Southeast. Conversely, they are rare in the West and Northwest. However, if you do not live in the South or Southeast, this information does not mean that you should let your guard down. For example, on August 16th, 2020, a freak storm hit Venice Beach, California, and lightning killed a 20-year-old, injured thirteen, and sent eight to the hospital (Skilling, 2020).

I share this information as a demonstration of reason for a simple point. Be aware and be safe. Also, be sure to read my article titled, “Situational Awareness – Tips to Help Maximize Safety.


NatGeo. (2009, October 09). Lightning Facts and Information. Retrieved September 07, 2020, from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/natural-disasters/lightning/

NWS/NOAA. (2020, June 24). Lightning Victims. Retrieved September 07, 2020, from https://www.weather.gov/safety/lightning-victims

Skilling, T. (2020, August 17). Lightning kills 1, injures more in rare California thunderstorm. Retrieved September 07, 2020, from https://wgntv.com/weather/lightning-kills-1-injures-more-in-rare-california-thunderstorm/

Walsh, K. M., Cooper, M. A., Holle, R., Rakov, V. A., Roeder, W. P., & Ryan, M. (2013). National Athletic Trainers’ Association Position Statement: Lightning Safety for Athletics and Recreation. Journal of Athletic Training, 48(2), 258-270. doi:10.4085/1062-6050-48.2.25

Wells, C. (2019, January 10). Lightning kills two soccer players, wounds another in Texas. Retrieved September 07, 2020, from https://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/lightning-kills-soccer-players-wounds-texas-article-1.1115306