Understanding the risk of lightning at outdoor football stadiums

The Weather Authority

Lightning strikes near Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field during a weather delay before an NCAA college football game between Florida and Idaho in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - 22 people have been killed by lightning strikes in the U.S. in 2016. One of the most recent deaths occurred along the coast of North Carolina. A 5-year-old was killed while seeking shelter from lightning with his family.

Sadly, the National Weather Service reports that a majority of lightning deaths occur while people are moving to shelter. This suggests either people wait too long to decide to seek shelter, or their shelter is too far away.

Dr. Laura Myers, a social scientist and director for the Center for Advanced Public Safety at the University of Alabama, explains that some people may wait to take action because they are not sure whether or not a storm will actually affect them or be that bad.

She says when people are at an event or place they paid for, they are even more likely to resist seeking shelter when hazardous weather is nearby.

In just a few weeks, tens of thousands of people will pack outdoor stadiums across the Southeast as college football begins. Tens of thousands of people who have zero protection from lightning when they are in the stands.

Summer is far from over, and the risk of afternoon thunderstorms continues into early September. "I think it is really important for them to know the higher risk especially in the SEC, because as we enter football season in this part of the country, there is a higher probability of thunderstorms," Myers said.

Myers says many people do not want to "miss out on the action," and that might cause them to ignore weather they know is a threat. This is especially important to think about if you are at a football game and a lightning delay is called. The officials in the stadium might evacuate the stands well before they decided to stop the game or get the players off the field; it takes a lot more time to move tens of thousands of people to a safe place in an orderly fashion.

If you plan to be outdoors, always identify a place of shelter and how long it takes to get there.

If and when officials order the evacuation of football stadiums, don't wait; act. Your life may depend on it.

Having a way of receiving severe weather alerts and lightning alerts is another pillar or being ready for any kind of weather. WHNT News 19's Live Alert 19 app has the capability of sending you a spoken lightning alert to your phone, along with how close the lightning is to your location.

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