Storm Warning

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Sports enthusiasts beware! It's that time of year again when thunderstorms roll in overhead with little or no warning. Choosing a thunderstorm as an opponent may not be such a wise choice, nor prove a fair match. Spring thunderstorms certainly pack a punch and playing with fire, or in this case electricity, stacks the odds of a win in Mother Nature's favor.

According to a 1997 study conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), about 50 percent of all lightning-related deaths and injuries occur in a sports/recreational setting. Between 1959 and 1997, 55 percent of lightning deaths in the United States occurred in areas such as open fields, ball fields and parks. Another 18 percent of deaths were attributed to boating and water-related incidents, with an additional 4 percent in golfing accidents alone.

Unfortunately for victims, many of these lightning accidents occur needlessly and are preventable. According to weather experts, people tend to try to outrun or outplay a storm, underestimating the speed and potential danger of approaching storm clouds. It is no coincidence most injuries occur at the beginning and end of a storm when lightning bolts seem to emerge from a virtually cloudless sky. Many times lightning is released from the edges of storm clouds and travels several miles - it is often unexpected.

Your competitive edge this Spring and Summer is to remain ever alert to changing weather conditions - playing on the offense. A few simple tips can help you keep safe when lightning is near: Before hitting the greens, inquire as to whether your golf course or club is equipped with lightning protected shelters. Unfortunately, an unprotected shelter on a course can become a lightning trap by concentrating potential victims at a common vulnerable site. Familiarize yourself with safe, protected areas in the event of a storm. If you're caught out in a storm on an unprotected course, seek out an area that is lower than the surrounding landscape, avoid standing under trees and try to distance yourself from metal equipment and golf carts. If you're with a group of people spread out; the chances of 'attracting' a bolt as a group increase. If you suddenly feel a tingling sensation, beware - lightning may be about to strike! Immediately crouch down with your hands on your knees. Never lie down or place your hands on the ground.

For anyone near or in a body of water during a storm, the rule of thumb is to get as far away from the water as possible. A lone water skier or swimmer becomes an inviting target. Lightning seeks the path of least resistance and water and metal are preferred conductors. Likewise, avoid contact with fishing equipment, metal boats and motors. Vacate pool areas and avoid unprotected pool houses. Take shelter in a hard top car.

Caught playing tennis or baseball? Get off the court and lose the cleats. Hitting the showers early after the game breaks may not be such a good idea either and could put you at risk in an unprotected building or home. Another rule of lightning safety - avoid sinks and baths as pipes are excellent conductors.

It is important for people to understand the severity of lightning strikes. Lightning offers no second chance. For children especially, coaches and parents must raise their awareness on the importance of taking shelter as a storm approaches.

The winning strategy when playing with lightning is: if you hear thunder or see flashes of lightning in the distance, it's time to call it a game!

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