When Thunder Roars

It's “Lightning Safety Awareness Week” sponsored by the National Weather Service.  The Professional Disc Golf Association based in Appling, GA sanctions nearly 2,000 disc golf tournaments around the world every year, so awareness of the dangers presented by lightning and measures for lightning safety are important knowledge for all Tournament Directors.  Most sanctioned events are run by local disc golf organizers and clubs, but PDGA staff attend and help run our largest events such as our National Tour and Professional and Amateur World Championships each year.  These events are typically during the summer months when school is out, which in many areas means it is also the worst time of year for thunderstorms.  And since our sport typically does not halt play due to rain, we need to be extra conscious of the danger to our players and staff when it comes to lightning while playing in foul weather.

At those larger events, the PDGA takes several steps in regards to lightning danger.  First we deploy handheld lightning detectors at the various courses in use.  Such detectors are easily available online with prices ranging from $65 to $300 and are an excellent safety investment for any disc golf club or TD, especially in thunderstorm prone areas.  However, it is important to note that such devices don’t provide perfect protection as they depend on a lightning strike to provide a warning and the first local lightning strike could be at the disc golf course itself.  So we also use tablets and laptops connected to the Internet via cellular data and WiFi when available to provide access to regional real-time weather maps and radar to help provide warning of any approaching lightning storm.  In most cases, maps like this may also be viewed via a smartphone.  One particular site we have identified as being useful in the U.S. is called Weather Underground which provides a scalable map called the Wundermap.

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This map allows you to select indicators showing both cloud-to-cloud lightning and cloud-to-ground strikes from approaching storms.  If an approaching storm shows lightning activity, you can then halt play and make sure everyone is off the course and safe while the storm passes through.

A third lightning safety tool TDs should have on hand is a loud air horn to ensure that all players on the course can hear the signal (three long blasts) that play has been suspended so they can immediately seek shelter.

As with most things in life, a bit of preparation and dose of common sense are valuable assets when it comes to lightning safety.

Learn everything you need to know about lightning safety at the National Weather Service!

*Photo by Jay Svitko #7307

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