Severe Weather & Running Events – A Survival Guide
Severe weather presents a major safety concern in spring running/sporting events. We want you to be safe. So, here are a few things you should know before heading out to your local race with the threat of severe weather looming. Our runhers management team has extensive event management experience in large road race management and other special events. We’ve designed complete emergency/contingency management plans for large race events. We want to pass on a few tips for dealing with extreme weather and making sure that you are informed and have a plan, even if the event does not.
Most of the largest, well organized events have emergency/ contingency plans and procedures which take into account severe or extreme weather conditions. These are shared plans coordinated with city officials and local/regional emergency operation centers. However, most of the smaller and lesser organized events do not have these. Severe weather is dangerous for everyone, the runners, the volunteers, the spectators and the city resources being employed to stage the race/event. If the race/event does not have an emergency evacuation and sheltering policy in the event of a severe weather condition – you need to have a plan of what you will do in the absence of the event’s plan. Whether it is before the start of race, during the race or even after, thinking about these safety issues can save your life, as well as others.
Here are some general tips for outdoor sporting events and severe storms and/or lightning. These tips are useful as well when training alone or with groups. The NCAA and professional sports organizations work off these same general weather rules. If you are part of a running event or other outdoor special event – please use this information to help you with your planning process.
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If you are caught out in a severe storm:
- Take shelter in substantial, permanent, enclosed structures, such as reinforced buildings. Use your best judgment for the area you are in. A car is a next best option. If those are unavailable, avoid poorly anchored structure as the wind can sweep those away easily.
- As a last resort and if no structure is available, go to a low- lying, open place away from trees, poles, or metal objects. Make sure the place you pick is not subject to flooding. Have as little contact with the ground as possible. Squat low to the ground. Place your hands on your knees with your head between them. Make yourself the smallest target possible. Do not lie flat on the ground – this will make you a larger target.
- Avoid tall structures such as towers, tall trees, fences, telephone lines, and power lines. Lightning strikes the tallest objects in an area. Stay away from natural lightning rods, such as bleachers, metal barricades and other metal sports equipment, temporary metal structures or other larger metal items. Lightning is attracted to metal, poles and rods.
- For tornado safety and preparedness info – http://www.ready.gov/tornadoes
Best practices for lightning safety for outdoor sporting events, training runs, etc.:
- When a person monitoring the weather observes 30 seconds between seeing the lightning flash and hearing its associated thunder, all individuals should have left the athletic site and reached a safer structure or location. It is important to note, however, that thunder may be hard to hear during an athletics event. Lightning-safety plans should be implemented accordingly. It is also important to note that lightning can occur even if there is a blue sky. Lightning can strike as far as 10 or more miles away from the rain shaft.
- Before resuming athletics activities, lightning-safety experts recommend waiting 30 minutes after both the last sound of thunder and the last flash of lightning. If lightning is seen without thunder being heard, it may be out of range and therefore less likely to be a significant threat. At night, use both the sound of thunder and the visibility of lightning to decide when the 30-minute clock begins.
- Events and facilities should be prepared to respond with CPR and/or AED assistance for those impacted by lightning. If possible, victims should be moved to a safer location before beginning resuscitation
When creating a severe weather policy for events:
- Designate a person to monitor threatening weather and to make the decision to remove a team or individuals from an athletics site or event. A lightning-safety plan should include planned instructions for participants, volunteers and spectators, designation of warning and all clear signals, proper signage, and designation of safer places for shelter from the severe weather/lightning.
- Have written set of public announcements ready to announce when the decision or ‘trigger’ to postpone and/or cancel the event is activated. Be specific in your public address delivery in where to go to, what to do and when to expect another update, etc. Have bullhorns available in case the site loses power.
- Monitor local weather reports each day before any event. Be aware of potential thunderstorms that may form during scheduled event. Weather information can be found through various means via local television news coverage, the Internet, cable and satellite weather programming, or the National Weather Service website at www.weather.gov.
- Be informed of NWS issued thunderstorm “watches” or “warnings” and the warning signs of developing thunderstorms in the area, such as high winds or darkening skies. A “watch” means conditions are favorable for severe weather to develop in an area; a “warning” means that severe weather has been reported in an area and for everyone to take the proper precautions. A NOAA weather radio is particularly helpful in providing this information.
- Know where the closest “safer structure or location” is to the start/finish, field or playing area, and know how long it takes to get to that location. As well, know how many people can fit safely inside that structure. You may need more than one location to offer as a safe place. A safer structure or location is defined as: Any building normally occupied or frequently used by people (that is, a building with plumbing and/or electrical wiring that acts to electrically ground the structure). Avoid using the shower or plumbing facilities and contact with electrical appliances during a thunderstorm.
- In the absence of a sturdy, frequently inhabited building, any vehicle with a hard metal roof (neither a convertible, nor a golf cart) with the windows shut provides a measure of safety. The hard metal frame and roof, not the rubber tires, are what protects occupants by dissipating lightning current around the vehicle and not through the occupants. It is important not to touch the metal framework of the vehicle. Some athletics events rent school buses as safer shelters to place around open courses or fields.
- Lightning awareness should be heightened at the first flash of lightning, clap of thunder or other criteria such as increasing winds or darkening skies, no matter how far away. These types of activities should be treated as a warning or “wake-up call” to event personnel. Lightning-safety experts suggest that if you hear thunder, begin preparation for evacuation; if you see lightning, consider suspending activities and heading for your designated safer locations.