NOAA 2001-070
Contact: Curtis Carey

Lightning Kills, Play it Safe
NOAA and PGA TOUR Alert Public

Summer begins this week, along with the peak season for one of the nation's deadliest weather phenomena – lightning. Safeguarding U.S. residents from dangerous lightning is the goal of the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's new public awareness campaign – "Lightning Kills, Play it Safe." The campaign is designed to lower lightning death and injury rates and America's vulnerability to one of nature's deadliest hazards. NOAA's National Weather Service and four-time Professional Golfing Association TOUR champion Rocco Mediate have teamed to alert the nation about lightning's risks.

The campaign was announced today at a news conference at the Buick Classic Golf Tournament in Harrison, N.Y. It marks the kick-off of the first-ever nationwide Lightning Awareness Week (June 18-22).

Officials said the campaign's theme, "Lightning Kills, Play It Safe," sends a strong, clear message. "No one should take the risk of being struck by lightning lightly," said Scott B. Gudes, NOAA's acting administrator.

"We can all learn something from the pros," Gudes said. The PGA TOUR has teamed up with meteorologists from The Weather Channel to help ensure immediate detection of lightning and hazardous conditions that would threaten the safety of players and fans. The bottom line is 'if there's lightning in the area, then tournament play is postponed."

Mediate, star of the awareness campaign's public service announcement and safety posters, said the PGA TOUR's partnership with NOAA will help target crucial safety messages to people engaged in outdoor activities -- from sports and concerts to picnics.

"Lightning death statistics are startling," Mediate said. "Whether you're a golfer, or someone who just enjoys being outdoors, we can all guard against being hit. Education and preparation are key."

During the past 30 years, lightning strikes have killed an average of 73 people each year – more than the annual number of fatalities caused by tornadoes or hurricanes. In 2000, 51 were fatally hit by lightning, compared to 37 flood casualties and 29 tornado deaths.

Lightning casualties occur year-round, although the summer months are the most dangerous. Lightning killed one person in Louisiana, one in Florida, and injured seven others in Florida during recent storms. The Sunshine State leads the nation in lightning strikes, with a daily average of more than 3,500, and ranks first in lightning-related deaths. Overall, 25 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes occur in the United States each year, according to the latest research.

Overall, 25 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes occur in the United States each year, according to the latest research.

Safety at golf tournaments is of paramount concern. Each of the over 120 events contested on the PGA TOUR, SENIOR PGA TOUR, and BUY.COM TOUR are staffed with an on-site meteorologist from The Weather Channel. As the "Official Forecaster of the PGA TOUR," The Weather Channel provides crucial up-to-the-minute weather
information to tournament staff. Armed with a sophisticated on-site lightning detection system and computer weather data which pinpoints conditions directly over the golf course, The Weather Channel meteorologists help ensure the safety of competitors, tournament staff and volunteers, and thousands of golf fans.

NOAA's weather service issues forecasts for thunderstorms as far as seven days in advance, and provides severe weather warnings for specific locations within minutes of a storm's arrival.

"All thunderstorms have the potential to produce lightning, so it's up to all of us to heed the warnings," Gudes said.

Last spring, Michael Utley, an amateur golfer who joined NOAA and Mediate at the news conference, was struck by lightning 15 seconds after an advanced lightning detector alarm sounded on a golf course in Cape Cod, Mass. Though he has no memory of the incident, witnesses said the lightning bolt blew Utley's shoes off. Paramedics twice brought him back to life on the way to the hospital. Utley spent 38 days in intensive care and nearly three months in physical rehabilitation.

Utley credits his golf partner's CPR skills with saving his life. "If he hadn't been there, I would have died," he said. Today Utley struggles to walk with a cane and has lost his sense of balance because of the incident. "My story should be a wake-up call for others about how dangerous and unpredictable lightning is," Utley said. "You have to be lightning aware whenever you're outdoors."

Dr. Mary Ann Cooper, director of the Lightning Injury Research Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said Utley's story mirrors the 90 percent of lightning-strike victims who survive but live to face difficult challenges.

"The most damaging consequences of a lightning strike are seen in the lives of the survivors," Cooper said. "Many survivors must re-learn basic motor skills. Michael Utley is a miracle. He beat all of the odds by still being alive." Cooper also addressed a common myth about lightning. "Lightning-strike victims don't die from burns, but from cardiac arrest. The victims aren't electrified, so it is safe to administer CPR immediately."

NOTE TO MEDIA: Copies of the lightning PSA, featuring Rocco Mediate, and B-roll footage of lightning and thunderstorms are available from Video Transfer,
(301) 881-0270. The PSA is also available for TV stations from NOAA Public Affairs at (301) 713-0622.

To access the Lightning Awareness Web sites, which contain survivor stories and graphics visit: and