The Correct Call!

I am always in pursuit of the perfect game. Not as a pitcher striking out every batter. Not as a batter hitting for a cycle including a grand-slam home run. But as an umpire calling a perfect game, while handling every disputed call with poise and confidence.

LIGHTNING! - When Do We Suspend The Game?

LIGHTNING! - When Do We Suspend The Game?

WHAT ARE THE LIGHTNING GUIDELINES?

Michael Leavitt 160As USA Softball of Utah umpires, when do we call a game due to lightning? And once suspended, when can we safely restart the game?

I am often heard to say, "Of course I am worried, at 6'6" I am the tallest person out on the field!"

2017 Umpire ManualThe lightning game suspension question was raised at a recent tournament by an umpire who does UHSAA, college, and USA Softball games. He was trying to keep straight the guidelines laid forth by USA Softball. As a fellow umpire, do you know where to find these guidelines?

WHERE ARE THE LIGHTNING GAME SUSPENSION GUIDELINES FOUND?

Check out your 2017 USA Softball Umpire Manual on pages 197-199. That's right, the guidelines stretch over three pages in the Safety Awareness Guide portion of the Umpire Manual book. You can also find the information online at... http://www.teamusa.org/USA-Softball/About/About-Us/Lightning-Guidelines I have shared them in their entirety at the end of this blog entry.

IS LIGHTNING REALLY ANY BIG DEAL?

I marvel at the casualness displayed by coaches, parents, and players when the late afternoon/evening Northern Utah thunder-bursts arrive. Even my fellow officials do not seem to be too worried by the thunder and lightning. In fact, fellow umpires seem to be rather irritated when they have to stop the game clock for the delay because they seem to have much more important things they would rather be doing.

Here is a news story of a high school practice in 2012 that sobered me right up to the harsh realities...

Lighting strike leaves four injured at Indiana softball field

Lightning 01Jonathan Wall
Prep RallyMar 16, 2012, 11:27 AM

A lightning strike at a softball practice has left the town of Seymour, Ind., reeling after four girls on the Seymour (Ind.) High team were taken to the hospital when a bolt of lightning struck one girl directly and injured three others.

As local CBS affiliate WISH-TV in Indiana and the Seymour Tribune reported, the Seymour team was preparing for practice when they noticed a storm a couple miles off in the distance. With the severe weather not posing a threat to the practice, the team continued warming up.

But just moments before they were about to take the field, a bolt of lighting came out of nowhere and struck Seymour freshman Emily Bobb; three others -- Kristin George, a sophomore, Kelsey Nolting, a junior, and Carlee Westfall, a senior -- were also injured during the strike, but all three were reportedly nowhere near Bobb at the time.

"Only Emily was struck by lightning, and the other three girls were taken to the hospital after it was determined they were complaining of headaches or similar issues," Seymour Community Schools Superintendent Teran Armstrong told the Seymour Tribune. "They were not struck by lightning and were really nowhere near Emily."

Bobb was rushed to Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health in critical condition, while the three others players were taken to Shenck Medical Center in Seymour with non-life-threatening injuries. They were later released on Thursday evening. Riley Hospital confirmed with the Seymour Tribune that Bobb was in critical but stable condition on Thursday night.

While some might question what the team was even doing on the field in the first place, officials were quick to point out that the skies were clear prior to the accident. It would appear this really was a freak lightning strike. You just hope the freshman player in critical condition pulls through and is able to get back on the field in the future.

ARTICLE LINK - https://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/highschool-prep-rally/lighting-strike-leaves-four-injured-indiana-softball-field-172702569.html

SO WHEN DO WE STOP GAMES?

The USA Softball lightning guidelines do not specify how far away the lightning can be to halt play? In fact, the online and rule book guidelines differ in their counsel.

ONLINE VERSION: The online versions states: "The designated weather watcher should be aware of weather conditions at all times, including observing the conditions and keeping abreast of the weather forecast. As a means of monitoring local weather, the designated weather watcher can consult the National Weather Service for current information. All storm warning and storm watches should be heeded."

HARD COPY RULE BOOK: The rule book version states: "The umpire should keep an eye on weather conditions, including observing weather conditions.Storm watches or warnings known to the umpire should be heeded. When weather becomes dangerous, the umpire will announce that all play activities are suspended and all individuals, including players and spectators should seek appropriate shelter."

WOW - THE UMPIRE HAS ALL POWER

So the umpire gets to determine when things are dangerous. Way to keep the liability on our shoulders. It does also state later... "Even storms that are many miles away can pose lightning danger." This may mean the appropriate decision is to suspend activities even before the first sight of lightning or sound of thunder." I am willing to heed that advice, but I have seen this counsel tossed on many occasions so as not to delay the slate of games for a league night or tournament... Seems a bit foolish, doesn't it?

WHAT IS AN "ADVANCED LIGHTNING DETECTION DEVICE"?

LightningStrikeWhen you do a Google Search you can see little $30 devices to $150,000 systems. Our smartphones have access to numerous free and paid apps. I know that the City of Orem has an expensive system installed at their Lakeside ball fields. I think I want to talk with them further about the system and what guidelines they employ for player safety.

The rule book makes several references to altered protocols if an "Advanced Lightning Detection Device" is used, yet it does not state what those protocols are. If you don't have one, then the 30 minute after last strike guideline is used. However, it does not say how long you have to wait, if indeed, you have one?... "Umless an advanced lightning detection device is in use, if an activity has been suspended due to lightning, the umpire should wait at least 30 minutes after the last lightning flash or sound of thunder prior to resuming activity." And then the paper rule book adds under the "Lightning Safety At-A-Glance" section "... A clear sky or lack of rainfall are not indicators for resuming play. Unless an advanced lightning detection system device is in use, the minimum 30-minute return-to-play waiting period should not be shortened." Great... So what is a USA Softball of Utah approved advanced lightning detection device? Is a phone app enough?

5 MILE GUIDELINE

I laugh when I hear fellow umpires quoting a 5-mile guideline. Where in the world does that "Old Wives Tale" derive? 5.1 miles away is deemed safe, but 4.9 and you should prepare to die. I could find no authoritative guideline for 5 miles.  As a building inspector, I operate my primary career with codes and official documentation.  So I went searching and found that the NFPA, which is the National Fire Protection Agency has documented lightning alert warning criteria...

NFPA 780 has a 3-step criteria:

    30 miles Yellow Alert — Threat is possible.
    20 miles Orange Alert — Threat is probable.
    10 miles Red Alert — Danger! No one allowed outside.

The NFPA is a very credible source for preserving lives.

NFHS GUIDELINES

NFHS2017RulesHigh school also follows the 30 minute delay guidelines. They are a bit more specific on when to delay the game. They state, "When thunder is heard or a cloud-to-ground lightning bolt is seen, the leading edge of the thunderstorm is close enough to strike your location with lightning. Suspend play for 30 minutes and take shelter immediately."

WHERE IS IT SAFE TO HIDE?  

"No place is absolutely safe from lightning threat; however, some places are safer than others. Large, enclosed structures (substantially constructed buildings) tend to be safer than smaller structures or open structures. In general, a fully enclosed vehicle with the windows rolled up tends to be safer than being outside so long as contact with metal surfaces inside and outside the vehicle is avoided. The following areas are not appropriate shelter and should be avoided:

Any area of higher elevation; wide-open areas such as sports fields, tall isolated objects such as flag poles, light poles, or trees; metal fences and metal bleachers, unprotected open buildings like dugouts, picnic pavilions, rain shelters and bus stops."

AND WHEN CAN WE RESTART THE GAME?

If activity has been suspended due to lightning, the designated weather watcher should wait at least 30 minutes after the last lightning flash or sound of thunder prior to resuming activity. Each time additional lightning is observed or thunder is heard, the minimum 30-minute waiting period should be reset. A clear sky or lack of rainfall are not adequate indicators for resuming play. The minimum 30-minute return-to-play waiting period should not be shortened. Play should not be resumed even after the 30 minute waiting period if any signs of thunderstorm activity remain in the area or if the weather forecast indicates the threat is not over.

I Hope that this information has been helpful and you will not be on the field when lightning strikes. I have shared some other good information below.

WHAT ARE YOUR EXPERIENCES WITH LIGHTNING STOPPAGES?

Make it a great day! Michael Leavitt - Orem, Utah


LIGHTNING TRIVIA

From The National Weather Service - NOAA - http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/myths.shtml

NOAA Logo

Lightning Myths and Facts

Myth: If you're caught outside during a thunderstorm, you should crouch down to reduce your risk of being struck.
Fact: Crouching doesn't make you any safer outdoors. Run to a substantial building or hard topped vehicle. If you are too far to run to one of these options, you have no good alternative. You are NOT safe anywhere outdoors. See our safety page for tips that may slightly reduce your risk.

Myth: If thunderstorms threaten while you are outside playing a game, it is okay to finish it before seeking shelter.
Fact:: Many lightning casualties occur because people do not seek shelter soon enough. No game is worth death or life-long injuries. Seek proper shelter immediately if you hear thunder. Adults are responsible for the safety of children.

Myth: Lightning never strikes the same place twice.
Fact: Lightning often strikes the same place repeatedly, especially if it's a tall, pointy, isolated object. The Empire State Building is hit an average of 23 times a year

Myth: If it’s not raining or there aren’t clouds overhead, you’re safe from lightning.
Fact: Lightning often strikes more than three miles from the center of the thunderstorm, far outside the rain or thunderstorm cloud. “Bolts from the blue” can strike 10-15 miles from the thunderstorm.

Myth: A lightning victim is electrified. If you touch them, you’ll be electrocuted.
Fact: The human body does not store electricity. It is perfectly safe to touch a lightning victim to give them first aid. This is the most chilling of lightning Myths. Imagine if someone died because people were afraid to give CPR!

Myth: If outside in a thunderstorm, you should seek shelter under a tree to stay dry.
Fact: Being underneath a tree is the second leading cause of lightning casualties. Better to get wet than fried!

Myth: If you are in a house, you are 100% safe from lightning.
Fact: A house is a safe place to be during a thunderstorm as long as you avoid anything that conducts electricity. This means staying off corded phones, electrical appliances, wires, TV cables, computers, plumbing, metal doors and windows. Windows are hazardous for two reasons: wind generated during a thunderstorm can blow objects into the window, breaking it and causing glass to shatter and second, in older homes, in rare instances, lightning can come in cracks in the sides of windows.

Myth: Structures with metal, or metal on the body (jewelry, cell phones,Mp3 players, watches, etc), attract lightning.
Fact: Height, pointy shape, and isolation are the dominant factors controlling where a lightning bolt will strike. The presence of metal makes absolutely no difference on where lightning strikes. Mountains are made of stone but get struck by lightning many times a year. When lightning threatens, take proper protective action immediately by seeking a safe shelter – don’t waste time removing metal. While metal does not attract lightning, it does conduct it so stay away from metal fences, railing, bleachers, etc.

Myth: If trapped outside and lightning is about to strike, I should lie flat on the ground.
Fact: Lying flat increases your chance of being affected by potentially deadly ground current. If you are caught outside in a thunderstorm, you keep moving toward a safe shelter.


USA SOFTBALL SAFETY AWARENESS GUIDE

Lightning Guidelines

All individuals participating in or observing an outdoor softball event are responsible for their own safety and should monitor threatening weather conditions. Before each practice, warm-up time, or game, the home plate umpire should appoint an individual as the designated “weather watcher.” If the home plate umpire is the only official at the event, then the home plate umpire should be responsible for the duties of the “weather watcher.” The individual will make the call to stop play, remove individuals from the field, and announce a warning to the spectators.

The designated weather watcher should be aware of weather conditions at all times, including observing the conditions and keeping abreast of the weather forecast. As a means of monitoring local weather, the designated weather watcher can consult the National Weather Service for current information. All storm warning and storm watches should be heeded.

When the weather becomes dangerous, the designated weather watcher will announce that all play activities are suspended and all individuals, both players and spectators, should seek appropriate shelter. No place is absolutely safe from lightning threat; however, some places are safer than others. Large, enclosed structures (substantially constructed buildings) tend to be safer than smaller structures or open structures. In general, a fully enclosed vehicle with the windows rolled up tends to be safer than being outside so long as contact with metal surfaces inside and outside the vehicle is avoided. The following areas are not appropriate shelter and should be avoided:

Any area of higher elevation; wide-open areas such as sports fields, tall isolated objects such as flag poles, light poles, or trees; metal fences and metal bleachers, unprotected open buildings like dugouts, picnic pavilions, rain shelters and bus stops.

When determining whether or not to suspend play, the designated weather watcher should use his/her common sense and good judgment. If a thunderstorm appears imminent before or during an activity or contest (regardless of whether lightning is seen or thunder heard), postpone or suspend the activity until the hazard has passed. Signs of imminent thunderstorm activity are darkening clouds, high winds and thunder or lightning. Even storms that are many miles away can pose a lightning danger. This may mean the appropriate decision is to suspend activities even before the first sight of lightning or sound of thunder.

All individuals should have the right to leave an athletic site or activity, without fear of repercussion or penalty, in order to seek a safer structure or location if they feel they are in danger from impending lighting activity. Safety is the number one consideration, the activity can be made up later.

If activity has been suspended due to lightning, the designated weather watcher should wait at least 30 minutes after the last lightning flash or sound of thunder prior to resuming activity. Each time additional lightning is observed or thunder is heard, the minimum 30-minute waiting period should be reset. A clear sky or lack of rainfall are not adequate indicators for resuming play. The minimum 30-minute return-to-play waiting period should not be shortened. Play should not be resumed even after the 30 minute waiting period if any signs of thunderstorm activity remain in the area or if the weather forecast indicates the threat is not over.

NO LIGHTNING SAFETY GUIDELINES CAN GUARANTEE ABSOLUTE SAFETY. IT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF EVERY PERSON TO BE AWARE OF WEATHER CONDITIONS AND TAKE APPROPRIATE ACTION TO BE SAFE. USE COMMON SENSE AND GOOD JUDGEMENT. PLAN AHEAD AND MAKE SAFETY YOUR NUMBER ONE PRIORITY.

For more information about severe weather threats and tips, see the National Weather Service website or the National Severe Storm Laboratory website.

DON'T BE A DUSTY! - Umpiring Tip For Success
TIP #2 - KNOW YOUR ROLE
 

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