Friday, August 24, 2012

Golf Course Lightning? Gimme Shelter!

Photo courtesy of Adam Donlin, Ballyowen Director of Golf
If you have any doubt about what happens when lightning strikes a golf course, look closely at the green in this picture from Ballyowen in Hamburg, NJ. The flag has been replaced since the one that drew the lighting was obliterated, but check out the cracks in the green radiating from the cup. Now imagine the force that created them coursing through your body. Not pleasant, but that's exactly what could happen if you ignore the simplest rule in golf: if there is the remotest possibility that lightning is in the area while you are on a golf course--take immediate shelter!

A few things to keep in mind:

Lightning can strike several miles from the center of a storm and far from the clouds you see. Ever heard of a "bolt from the blue?" They're real! Lightning can strike fifteen miles from a thunderstorm.

You will not always have warning from thunder. Atmospheric conditions can send the thunder sound wave away from you.  On the other hand, if you hear thunder, don't try to second-guess it. There's lighting somewhere in your vicinity so take cover.

Don't trust the "30-second rule." It's widely believed that you can count the seconds between a lightning flash and the sound of the thunder and, if it's greater than thirty seconds, the danger is too far away to be cause for concern. That's dangerous wishful thinking--the next lightning flash you see can easily be the one that strikes your head.

Most lightning casualties occur in the beginning of a storm because golfers tend to try to ignore the warning signs and try to squeeze in just one more hole. Many injuries also come after the storm--lightning can strike up to thirty minutes after the thunderstorm has supposedly passed.

Many golf courses have lightning warning systems, but don't wait for the horn to sound if you see the storm coming. The systems are great, but not always maintained in perfect working order.

The safest place to be is in the clubhouse, so head for it at the first indication of trouble. If you can't make it, avoid the places you want to be like in a course rain shelter, under a tree, or even in your golf cart. All of these actually increase the probability of being struck. Instead, find the lowest point away from things like standing water, fences, or machinery, crouch down, and put your hands over your ears to minimize hearing damage. Don't lay flat on the ground and stay at least fifteen feet from other people--lightning can jump from them to you.

What should you do if someone in your group is struck? Here's what the National Severe Storms Laboratory says:

  1. Call 911 and provide directions to the victim
  2. Don't endanger yourself or others if the victim is in a high-risk area and the storm is continuing. Lightning DOES strike the same place twice!
  3. Victims don't carry a charge after being struck, so it's safe to touch them to render treatment. They also seldom suffer from major fractures or bleeding complications, so it's safe to move them away from a high risk area if you can do so safely.
  4. If the victim is not breathing, start mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. If you can't find a pulse, start cardiac compression as well. If the ground is cold and wet, put a protective layer beneath the victim to decrease hypothermia.

Literally hundreds of people are killed and injured every year by lightning. While about 10% of strike victims die, the other 90% usually suffer lifelong effects. Don't be one of them.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

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