Question: Why are games delayed by lightning?
Late summer thunderstorms are often a blessing and can cut the oppressive heat of a 90-degree plus August day. But, for those people who are responsible for the players and fans attending games as the fall high school season begins, they can also mean danger and potential trouble.
There’s a CHSAANow.com story about last week’s Prairie View-Grand Junction Zero Week game played in Henderson. The accompanying photos show one of a thunderstorm swirling above the stadium. That storm produced lightning close enough to the site to postpone warm-ups and keep fans from entering the stadium. Although the game’s a week old, it serves as an example of how schools deal with threatening weather.
There is a national protocol that schools follow when the threat of lightning is present.
If that threat is near before the teams warm up, the decision to allow fans to enter the stadium and the teams to take the field for warm-ups is the responsibility of the host team’s game management personnel. Back to PVHS. Athletic Trainer Michelle Taylor is tasked with ensuring that it’s safe for players and fans alike to enter the stadium.
Using a lightning detector that helps identify approximate distances, she and other game management are able to track storms and provide more accurate information on the storm’s track. While last week’s storm was rolling across the foothills, Taylor was able to help game management track the storm and more accurately predict an appropriate game start time.
But the volatile weather can also throw a wrench in the plans. After two delays, the teams got onto the fields, an official saw lightning close enough that he called for a third delay until yet another cell passed. The game kicked off at 8:45 p.m. and had no further delays.
The nationally-recommended protocol was developed by the National Federation of State High School Associations and was adopted in 2010. Here is the suggested protocol:
NFHS GUIDELINES ON HANDLING CONTESTS DURING LIGHTNING DISTURBANCES
National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS)/Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC)
The purpose of these guidelines is to provide a default policy to those responsible for making decisions concerning the suspension and restarting of contests based on the presence of lightning. The preferred sources from which to request such a policy for your facility would include your state high school association and the nearest office of the National Weather Service.
1. Assign staff to monitor local weather conditions before and during events.
2. Develop an evacuation plan, including identification of appropriate nearby shelters.
3. Develop criteria for suspension and resumption of play:
- When thunder is heard, or a cloud-to-ground lightning bolt is seen, the thunderstorm is close enough to strike your location with lightning. Suspend play and take shelter immediately.
- Thirty-minute rule. Once play has been suspended, wait at least 30 minutes after the last thunder is heard or flash of lightning is witnessed prior to resuming play.
- Any subsequent thunder or lightning after the beginning of the 30 minute count, reset the clock and another 30 minute count should begin.
4. Hold periodic reviews for appropriate personnel.
For more detailed information, refer to the "Guidelines for Lightning Safety" section contained in the NFHS Sports Medicine Handbook.