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Publish date: Sep 9, 2011

Institutions reminded to create inclement-weather policies

Although no injuries or fatalities were reported, the extreme weather conditions at NCAA football events last weekend served as a warning to campuses and a reminder for the need to create actionable severe weather plans.

For the first time in history, Notre Dame Stadium was evacuated twice during the Irish’s game against South Florida due to severe weather. Michigan’s game against Western Michigan was called in the third quarter, and other games in Iowa, Tennessee and West Virginia were delayed.

Best practices for lightning safety

  • When a person monitoring the weather observes 30 seconds between seeing the lightning flash and hearing its associated thunder, all individuals should have left the athletics site and reached a safer structure or location. It is important to note, however, that thunder may be hard to hear during an athletics event. Lightning-safety plans should be implemented accordingly. It is also important to note that lightning can occur even if there is a blue sky. Lightning can strike as far as 10 or more miles away from the rain shaft.
  • Before resuming athletics activities, lightning-safety experts recommend waiting 30 minutes after both the last sound of thunder and the last flash of lightning. If lightning is seen without thunder being heard, it may be out of range and therefore less likely to be a significant threat. At night, use both the sound of thunder and the visibility of lightning to decide when the 30-minute clock begins.
  • Facilities should be prepared to respond with CPR and/or AED assistance for those impacted by lightning. If possible, victims should be moved to a safer location before beginning resuscitation.

The NCAA recommends that member institutions have an emergency plan in place for practices and games, which should include an inclement-weather policy with provisions for decision-making and evacuations.

NCAA guidelines, developed with the assistance of lightning safety experts, encourage designing a lightning-safety plan that considers local safety needs, weather patterns and thunderstorm types.

The following steps are recommended by the NCAA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to mitigate the lightning hazard:

  • Designate a person to monitor threatening weather and to make the decision to remove a team or individuals from an athletics site or event. A lightning-safety plan should include planned instructions for participants and spectators, designation of warning and all clear signals, proper signage, and designation of safer places for shelter from the lightning.
  • Monitor local weather reports each day before any practice or event. Be aware of potential thunderstorms that may form during scheduled intercollegiate athletics events or practices. Weather information can be found through various means via local television news coverage, the Internet, cable and satellite weather programming, or the National Weather Service website at
  • Be informed of NWS issued thunderstorm “watches” or “warnings” and the warning signs of developing thunderstorms in the area, such as high winds or darkening skies. A “watch” means conditions are favorable for severe weather to develop in an area; a “warning” means that severe weather has been reported in an area and for everyone to take the proper precautions. A NOAA weather radio is particularly helpful in providing this information.
  • Know where the closest “safer structure or location” is to the field or playing area, and know how long it takes to get to that location. A safer structure or location is defined as:
    • Any building normally occupied or frequently used by people (that is, a building with plumbing and/or electrical wiring that acts to electrically ground the structure). Avoid using the shower or plumbing facilities and contact with electrical appliances during a thunderstorm.
    • In the absence of a sturdy, frequently inhabited building, any vehicle with a hard metal roof (neither a convertible, nor a golf cart) with the windows shut provides a measure of safety. The hard metal frame and roof, not the rubber tires, are what protects occupants by dissipating lightning current around the vehicle and not through the occupants. It is important not to touch the metal framework of the vehicle. Some athletics events rent school buses as safer shelters to place around open courses or fields.
  • Lightning awareness should be heightened at the first flash of lightning, clap of thunder or other criteria such as increasing winds or darkening skies, no matter how far away. These types of activities should be treated as a warning or “wake-up call” to intercollegiate athletics personnel. Lightning-safety experts suggest that if you hear thunder, begin preparation for evacuation; if you see lightning, consider suspending activities and heading for your designated safer locations.

More information on lightning safety and the NCAA’s guideline on lightning safety can be found in the Sports Medicine Handbook.