Every day thousands of golfers roam the links of Europe’s golf courses, many heedless of impending weather changes. They may wait until the sky darkens, the clouds open and rain descends in torrents before seeking shelter from lightning. Yet a Lightning Protection Institute study in the US shows that the frequency of lightning deaths and injuries to golfers ranks only second to fishing as a leisure time activity during which lightning deaths occur and this is only due to the number of fishermen outnumbering the golfers.
Lightning is a powerful force of nature. Lightning occurs instantaneously with little or no forewarning. Lightning strikes are unpredictable, especially since the warning thunder is heard only after the lightning strikes. Though lightning strikes are invisible, they produce a flash as a result of ionised air. According to the United States Inland Marine Underwriters Association the following facts may help understand the gravity of exposure to lightning.
- Lightning kills nearly 100 people in the United States alone each year and injures hundreds more.
- Lightning strikes create temperatures that can reach between 8,500 and 33,500 degrees Centigrade, hotter than the surface of the sun!
- Lightning strikes can travel up to 10 miles before striking the ground.
- A typical flash carries a current of 12 million volts and 242,000 amperes (equivalent of 2.9 billion kilowatts of power).
- Most lightning injury and damage are the result of a lightning strike occurring several hundred metres from the affected person or object.
Technology is available today in the form of devices and systems that enable the detection of an approaching thunderstorm. These systems detect electrical disturbances through radio frequency signals and can determine the distance and relative electrical activity of the storm.
A particularly noteworthy lightning risk management resource is the Strike Guard predictor system, distributed in Europe by Ringwood based, Hydroscape Ltd. and used by many, including the R&A, to monitor potential storm activity during The Open and other major golf tournaments.
Strike Guard employs state-of-the-art technology to address the most demanding lightning safety and equipment protection applications. The system monitors cloud and cloud to ground lightning and provides warning alarms at user-set lightning activity distances.
Following last year’s tragic incident on a UK golf course, the continued growth in the number of facilities adopting the use of Strike Guard and similar equipment can only serve to improve the golf industry’s ability to deal properly with the lightning hazard and further promote the safety and welfare of the golfing public.
Although it should be recognised that no system of warnings, shelters or evacuation procedures can ever completely manage the lightning hazard, reasonable safety precautions are appropriate and potentially life saving. For instance, the posting of lightning warnings is within the capability of all course management and the provision of shelters need not be costly, whilst the installation of an early warning lightning detection system may prove to be a small investment when measured against the potential risk of a fatality with all its subsequent implications.
This article has been prepared by Peter Roberts of Hydroscape Ltd., who can be contacted at Water House, 10 Carvers Ind. Estate, Southampton Road, Ringwood, Hants BH24 1JS Tel: 01425 476261 Fax: 01425 472380 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org