How to stay safe when lightning is nearby

Photo: WKRN

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – On average, lightning kills 30 people each year in the United States. In 2016, there were 36 lightning fatalities, the most since 2007 when there were 45.

Here in Tennessee, there have been four deaths over the last 10 years.

The National Weather Service’s slogan is “when the thunder roars, go indoors.” It’s the first rule when lightning strikes: get inside and stay away from windows and doors.

Officials also say to stay away from electrical appliances and plumbing that can conduct electricity. But what if you’re not at your home and instead at a ball park with your family?

(Photo: WKRN)
(Photo: WKRN)

The safest place to be is inside your car. If lightning strikes the car, it conducts around the metal frame. Just don’t touch anything metal while sitting inside the vehicle.

One of the biggest dangers is when thunderstorms strike where large numbers of people are gathered, such as at a football game.

NWS Meteorologist Matt Reagan has a unique perspective on that danger since, in college, he was the kicker for the University of Memphis football team.

“There was one game in particular. My junior year, we played at Arkansas State that was affected by lightning. It ended up being postponed,” he told News 2.

Reagan went on to do a study on lightning at football games while working on his master’s degree in meteorology. He’s now continuing that study as his dissertation for a PhD.

Matt Reagan (Photo: WKRN)
Matt Reagan (Photo: WKRN)

“I looked at cloud to ground lightning data across the entire nation and looked at the college football season and of what schools are being affected by lightning and how often, and how much time if you delay a game at a certain radius,” he explained.

“For example, the SEC uses an 8-mile radius to delay a football game. We found at about an 8-mile radius, you’re looking at 30 minutes lead time on average,” said Reagan. “The only issue is if you have a stadium of 100,000 people, there are only so many places you can put 100,000 people.”

So what do they do at University of Tennessee in Knoxville?

“They have a nice plan in place where they will evacuate a lot of people to Thompson Bowling Arena. They communicate that there are storms on the way. People should know where to evacuate to. I believe they show it on the big board, and also communicate it on the P.A. system,” Reagan told News 2.

Vanderbilt University in Nashville will also evacuate to their Memorial Gym. They also have a good plan in place to delay the game when lightning is 8 miles away and communicate prior to the storms even getting to that zone

Click here for more on lightning safety from the National Weather Service.

Click here to view additional coverage of our News 2 StormTracker: Family Safety Day reports.

There is another video at the bottom of this story. Our very own Neil Orne explains what it’s like to be struck by lightning. Click here to make sure you see it from the News 2 app.