Lightning Strike Accidents: Watch Out for Signs of Danger during Outdoor Activities

Lightning will become more frequent as the summer season is approaching. People will need to be on the lookout for lightning strikes, especially since outdoor activities such as sports and excursions are more common at this time of year.

This month, 18 high school students were rushed to the hospital after being struck by lightning during a practice soccer match on a field at a private high school in Miyazaki City. At the time, there were more than 100 people including players and coaches on the field, and the accident could have been an even greater disaster.

Lightning strikes are more likely to take place in open areas such as fields and golf courses, and accidents during sports competitions have occurred in the past. In 2014, a member of a high school baseball team in Aichi Prefecture was fatally struck by lightning. One could say this is a disaster that everyone is at risk of encountering.

Following the accident in Miyazaki City, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry issued a document to boards of education and other organizations nationwide to call for caution. The ministry asked instructors to check weather information before outdoor activities, and not to hesitate to alter plans or cancel them if the weather suddenly changes.

Besides thunder and flashes of lightning, such weather phenomena as thick black clouds spreading overhead and gusty winds blowing after a drop in temperature are considered to be warning signs of lightning strikes. It is important to evacuate immediately on sighting such weather patterns.

In Miyazaki City as well, thunder could be heard in the distance before noon on the day of the accident. After that it rained intermittently, but there reportedly was no more thunder until the accident occurred. It should be noted that even without thunder, you cannot draw a quick conclusion that the danger has passed.

In Miyazaki Prefecture, lightning advisories were issued for 145 days last year. On the Sea of Japan side, lightning is more frequent in winter, with some areas experiencing lightening on 30 to 40 days each year.

For outdoor activities, responsible persons and instructors are asked to check weather forecasts the day before. It would be effective to make use of the Japan Meteorological Agency’s “Thunder Nowcasts,” whose data are updated every 10 minutes on its website, to confirm the latest information on the day of activities.

In principle, taking shelter in a building or car is a way to protect yourself from lightning strikes. If there is no shelter nearby, it is considered relatively safe if you keep low to the ground near a utility pole or building.

However, even in this case, unless you stay at least four meters away from the utility pole or building, you could be injured as the lightning will reach your body even if you avoid a direct strike.

In the past, people were told that wearing metal objects would attract lightning or that wearing raincoats and rubber boots would keep them safe. However, according to the ministry’s notification, such measures do nothing to prevent lightning strikes. It is essential to work to ensure safety with the correct knowledge and measures.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 25, 2024)