Lghtning strike, with all its inherent implications, can come as ‘a bolt out of the blue‘
Lightning may not be the first golfing hazard that springs to mind and it is very easy to forget just how dangerous and potentially lethal it can be. The lightning rod effect of tall trees and people exposed in the open is well known but often overlooked when considering Health & Safety issues on a golf course.
In the US The National Severe Storms Laboratory estimates that lightning kills about 100 people and seriously injures a further 500 each year. In Europe weather patterns may not be as dramatic as those in some areas of the US but the loss of only one life through a lightning strike highlights the dangers and, in this litigious age, is it not time club management looked more closely at their safety procedures to keep both players and staff safe and protect themselves against potential liability?
For many years both The R & A and the PGA European Tour have recognised lightning as a threat to players and spectators alike. As tournament organisers with considerable resources they can rely on experienced staff to decide when to suspend play and when it’s safe to re-start. Most golf facilities have to rely on more basic resources, such as the club pro or secretary, to decide when conditions are such. Human observation and judgment is fine but depending entirely on golf course personnel to watch for bad weather or to interpret other available weather information is no longer acceptable and certainly unfair to those given that responsibility.
So what can you do to improve safety at your course? Firstly, investigate new and now affordable lightning detection technology and, secondly, adopt lightning safety procedures as part of the working practice.
The first requirement is that people need to be warned about an approaching storm in sufficient time to seek shelter, so a system with proven reliability should be used. According to the US National Weather Service, relying on visual signs of thunderstorm development is hazardous due to the limits of human observation. These limits become obvious when threatening conditions are just outside the observer’s ability to hear thunder or see storm clouds over trees, buildings or hills. Natural sight and sound senses may only extend for possibly three to four miles, which is not far enough when an incoming storm may be travelling at 100 miles per hour.
Much of the lightning research comes from the US and there it has been determined that lightning detectors do enhance warning time during the initial storm stages and forecast the storm’s arrival.
Early warning allows course staff time to prepare and follow safety procedures. Lightning detectors are also invaluable when deciding if play and course maintenance can be resumed.
Cloud-to-ground lightning strikes have been detected as far as 10 miles from the storm’s cell edge. Lightning detection equipment can pick up and report thunderstorms and lightning activity at a stage that may be outside the human observers sight and sound range, whilst Blue skies may still be directly overhead.
Some clubs in the UK have already acted to deal with this potential danger, The Wisley Golf Club has installed Hydroscape’s lightning detection system that employs state-of-the art technology to address the most demanding of lightning safety and equipment protection applications.
The system, under the brand name of Strike Guard, continuously monitors an area up to 30 miles distance from the golf course in all directions, looking for either cloud-to-cloud or cloud-to-ground lightning and providing lightning contact signalling at user-set activity thresholds. Patented optical signal processing and proprietary optical-coincidence technology prevent false alarms. Sensor data is communicated via lightning proof fibre optic cable to an independent lightning data receiver with system status and both visual and audible alarms. Data can also be routed to a PC, where historic information can be accumulated.
Strike Guard is distributed and supported in the UK by Ringwood based Hydroscape. www.hydroscape.co.uk.
PA Weather Centre www.paweathercentre.com