During storms, youth games aren’t that important

At last report Christine Kloeppner is still in intensive care after being hit by lightning over the weekend and here’s hoping something good comes of the tragedy. In this case, “something good” would be a reminder to youth baseball and sports leagues to treat lightning in the area very seriously.

It’s always been troubling to be driving home, seeing thunderstorm cells in the distance, and watching the adult coaches keep the kids on the field at the giant youth sports complex near my home. I’ve been there in the stands in years past and thought the same thing, but never said anything. There’s a lot of peer pressure in youth sports.

KSTP provides the details:

As (paramedic Ben) Uden pulled up to the athletic field in Anoka County, he says Kloeppner was shielded with umbrellas and surrounded by people. A stranger was already performing CPR. Kloeppner says quick action gave the woman a fighting chance; when he took over, she didn’t have a pulse and wasn’t breathing.

Time was of the essence.

“With the rhythm she was in, with early CPR and early defibrillation, that greatly increases a person’s chances for survival,” Uden said.

Witnesses told us Kloeppner is the wife of a coach. As of Sunday evening, she was in ICU at Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids.
Spectators said the lightning strike was scary and sounded like an explosion. Others at the scene confirm the game had been delayed earlier because of menacing weather, and after the strike the game was called off.

The lightning strike was one of three in Ham Lake.

Widely scattered thunderstorms throughout the metro on Saturday made it difficult to know when a storm would hit. Making it more difficult: lightning can strike miles away from where you think a storm is.

Consider this narrative from the National Weather Service from a similar situation several years ago:

It’s a warm afternoon and the football team is on the field practicing. Some parents and a few other spectators sit in the bleachers watching the play. The sky to the west is darkening and a warm breeze has picked up. The rumble of thunder can be heard in the distance. Keeping a watchful eye to the sky, the coach figures he can get through most of the practice before the rain comes. There is a big game on Saturday and only one practice left. He can’t afford to let up now.

The practice continues, the thunder gets louder and the sky a bit darker. A cool, gusty wind now blows in from the west, but still no rain. A parent walks over to the coach and asks about the chance of practice being called early. The coach smiles and says, “I’ve been watching that storm and it appears to be passing north of us now.” The sky begins to lighten to the west and a couple sun rays beam down from beneath the towering clouds. Suddenly, a white streak hits the uprights in the end zone with a deafening roar. Players, near that end of the field, tumble to the ground.

There is confusion. What happened? Where did the lightning come from? The storm was at least 5 miles away and none of the previous strokes were anywhere near the school. It seemed to just come out of the blue! In 1988, eleven players on the Silver City, NM football team where taken to the hospital after lightning struck their practice field. Fortunately none where killed, but four were seriously injured. Every year lightning hits ball fields during little league and soccer games. Many games are not called until the rain begins, and yet it is not the rain that is dangerous. Ball fields provide a lot of potential lightning targets such as poles, metal fences, and metal bleachers. The fields themselves are wide open areas where players are often the tallest objects around.

Maryland, District of Columbia, and Virginia average between 30 and 40 thunderstorm days each year. Lightning is the most common thunderstorm threat. Nationally, lightning kills an average of 85 and injures 250 people each year. This number may not seem high, yet when you look at the individual cases, most could have been prevented. The basic rule of thumb is “If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to the storm to be struck!” Thunderstorms extend 5 to 10 miles into the atmosphere. Winds aloft can blow the upper portion (anvil) of the storm many miles downstream. Lightning can come out of the side or anvil of the storm striking the ground 10 to 15 miles away from the rain portion of the cloud.

On its Facebook page today, the Minnesota Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management offers these guidelines for those who get stuck at the ballfields.

• Immediately get off elevated areas
• Never lie flat on the ground
• Never shelter under an isolated tree
• Immediately get out and away from ponds, lakes and other bodies of water

Related: Youth Sports Organizations Need Bad Weather Policies (MomsTeam).