Beware of Lightning When Enjoying Exercising Outdoors

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • ‘Tis the season to head outside. Many of my friends are heading to the golf course while others are looking forward to spending time at the beach participating in physical activities. Some folks will be water-skiing while others will spend a lot of time working on their yards.

    All of that is great EXCEPT when thunderstorms are nearby. That’s because these storms can put you at risk of being struck by lightning. A new report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that 64 percent of lightning deaths that have happened since 2006 occurred when people were participating in leisure activities.

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    The study examined demographic data from 238 deaths that were caused by lightning strikes during the past seven years. Of those, 152 were associated with leisure activities. The breakdown of the top activities where someone was killed by lightning is as follows: fishing (with 26 deaths; camping (with 15 deaths); boating (with 14 deaths); soccer (with 12 deaths); yard work, such as mowing the lawn (with 12 deaths); beach activities (with 11 deaths); ranching and farming (with 11 deaths); and golf (with eight deaths).

    As far as the proportion of leisure activities where lightning fatalities occurred, the NOAA researchers pointed to the following break-down: water-related, 36 percent; sports, 19 percent; camping, 10 percent; riding, seven percent; gathering, six percent; home, five percent; walking, four percent; play, two percent; other, seven percent; and unknown, three percent. Of the water-related lightning deaths, fishing had 46 percent of the fatalities while boating (power boats, canoes, sailboats, tubes) were being done by 25 percent of the people who died from a lightning strike. Approximately 20 percent of the people who died were on a beach, while nine percent were swimming.

    In sports-related deaths, soccer had the most deaths by lightning strike (41 percent), followed by golf (28 percent), running (17 percent), baseball (10 percent) and football (3 percent).

    Being struck by lightning while participating in a daily or weekly routine was attributed to 17 percent of the deaths. The breakdown of these deaths in this particular category are as follows: 20 percent were walking to, walking from or waiting for a vehicle; 20 percent were walking to or from home; 20 percent were working in the yard (but now mowing); 10 percent were mowing the lawn; five percent were taking out the trash; eight percent were checking and feeding animals; five percent were participating in farm chores; and five percent were traveling to or from work on a motorcycle. Eight percent of these deaths were attributed to the “other” category, which included lowering the blinds on a window, talking on a corded phone and removing laundry from the clothes line.

    Work-related activities were found as a category describing 13 percent of the total lightning fatalities. Of those, 34 percent were farming/ranching-related activities. The other activities were as follows: roofing (nine percent); lawn care (nine percent); construction (nine percent); military work (six percent); barge work (six percent); and the topic of “other,” which includes loading trucks, surveying, door-to-door sales, logging, mail delivery, tornado rescue, utility repair and work at an amusement park (25 percent).

  • The most fatalities were of men (82 percent) and more than 90 percent of deaths happened while fishing or participating in some type of sports. The highest percentage of deaths for women was in boating-related activities (35 percent) and routine daily/weekly activities (35 percent).

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    The NOAA found that the ages of people who died from lightning strikes was between the ages of 10 and 60. However, there were fewer deaths for people in their 30s.

    Additionally, the summer months of June, July and August are the peak time for lightning activity (as well as the peak time for participating in outdoor physical activity). Approximately 70 percent of the lightning deaths occur during these three months and – not surprisingly – more deaths are seen on the weekend (Saturdays and Sundays) than other weekdays.


    So what should you do to remain safe? Here are the National Weather Service’s recommendations:

    • There isn’t a safe place outside when there is a thunderstorm in your area.
    • If you hear thunder, you are within range of a lightning strike. Move immediately to safe shelter (a substantial building with electricity or plumbing, or an enclosed metal-topped vehicle with windows rolled up).
    • Stay inside the shelter at least 30 minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder.
    • Stay off corded phones, computers and other electrical equipment that puts you in direct contact with electricity.
    • Avoid plumbing (sinks, baths and faucets).
    • Stay away from windows and doors and remain off porches.
    • Do not lie on concrete floors or lean against concrete walls.
    • If you are outside with no safe shelter nearby, the following actions may reduce your risk:
    • Get off elevated areas (hills, mountain ridges, peaks).
    • Never lie flat on the ground.
    • Never shelter under an isolated tree.
    • Never use a cliff or rocky overhang for shelter.
    • Move away immediately from any body of water.
    • Stay away from objects (power lines, windmills, etc.) that conduct electricity.

    Primary Source for This Sharepost:

    National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (2013). Study on lightning death statistics/demographics from 2005 to 2012.

Published On: June 27, 2013