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Baseball Safety: Be Prepared For Electrical Storms

Lightning safety tips

Baseball and softball players are at risk of weather-related injury, including lightning, sun, and heat.  Lightning strike

Lightning, in particular, presents a unique challenge because of the difficulty in predicting and appreciating the presence of electrical storms, although more and more facilities are installing automatic lightning detectors and alarm systems to ensure that everyone responds appropriately to the presence of lighting.

In the absence of an automated warning system, here's what administrators, coaches and athletic trainers should do about lightning storms:

  • Be prepared
    • Pre-plan and practice evacuation procedures, as prompt and appropriate action can prevent injuries and death.  Individuals should be pre-assigned to be responsible for:
      • Monitoring the forecast before a game. Use the weather channel or portable radio information from the National Weather Service to determine if a thunderstorm is in the area.  Coaches and other leaders should listen for a tone-alert feature on NOAA Weather Radio during practices and games.
      • Deciding when to evacuate to a safe place;
      • Determining when activity can be resumed. No one should leave safe areas in the absence of a go-ahead by the assigned invididual.  In general a period of 30 minutes should elapse from the last sound of thunder or from the last visible lightning flash before play should be resumed.
    • Pre-planning should include:
      • Ways to notify individuals of the danger and to provide directions to safe shelters (signs should be available to provide direction to the nearest safe area);
      • Knowing the approximate number of players and spectators and the size of the available shelters so that the proper number of individuals can be directed to a given location.
  • Be aware of weather patterns. Most thunder/lightning storms occur between May and September and between the hours of 10 A.M. and 7 P.M. 
  • Keep an eye on the sky.  Look for darkening skies, flashes of lightning, or increasing wind, which may be signs of an approaching thunderstorm.
  • Listen for the sound of thunder. If thunder can be heard or lightning seen carefully monitor the progress of the storm, as it must be close.  Don't wait until the lightning arrives. It could then be too late.
    • Count the number of seconds between seeing lightning and hearing thunder. Divide the number of seconds by five to estimate the distance of the storm in miles. A "flash-to-bang" of 30 seconds or less is an indication to move athletes and spectators to a safe area on the signal of the pre-assigned individual.
    • Don't wait for rain.  Many people only take shelter when it starts raining, but most people struck by lightning are not in the rain!
  • Avoid metal.  Drop metal baseball bats; get off bicycles or motorcycles.
  • Seek safe shelter.  The following are safe shelters:
    • An enclosed building with telephone, and/or electrical wiring and/or plumbing which will aid in grounding and dispersing the electrical impact is best. 
    • An automobile with a metal roof and the windows and doors closed, or a school bus, as long as there is no contact with metal.  Showers, plumbing facilities, utilities, telephones and headsets should not be used. Use only cordless or cellular phones for communication.
  • Avoid unsafe areas: If no safe shelter is available avoid the following:
    • exposed sheds
    • picnic shelters
    • baseball dugouts
    • bleachers
    • antennas
    • towers
    • poles
    • clotheslines
    • baseball dugouts
    • bleachers
    • metal fencing
    • golf carts
    • freestanding water
    • freestanding trees (look for areas where small trees or bushes are surrounded by taller trees)
  • If no safe shelter is available, take shelter at the lowest point:
    • Crouch in the open on the balls of your feet with your knees bent, legs together, head down and your arms covering your ears and head (Lying flat actually makes you more vulnerable to strike);
    • Move away from a group of people. Stay several yards away from other people. Don't huddle together as a group.


American Academy of Pediatrics, Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness,  Policy Statement: Baseball and Softball. Pediatrics. 2012;129(3):842-856. (doi: 10.1542/peds.2011-3593)(accessed February 26, 2012)

USA Baseball Medical/Safety Advisory Committee. Lightning at the Ballpark (http://web.usabaseball.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20090813&content_id=6408...)(accessed March 16, 2012)

Sports Medicine Handbook National Federation of State High School Association. Guidelines for Lightning Safety

Bennett B.A. A model for lightning safety policy for athletics. J Athl Train 1997, 32: 251-253

NCAA Guideline 1d - Lightning Safety In: Halpin, T, Dick, R, eds. NCAA Sports Medicine Handbook, Indianapolis, In:NCAA; 1999.

Walsh, KM, Bennett, B, Cooper, MA, Holle, RL, Kithil, R, Lopez, RE. National Athletic Trainers Association Position Statement: Lightning Safety for Athletics and Recreation J Ath Tr. 2000;35 (4) 471-477

Posted March 16, 2012