UPDATE: A blog reader has examined the audio from the strike to determine distance. This is something I've done before but in this case I couldn't find a good video because the strike affected the camera feeds. That didn't dissuade John Huntington, who writes:
"I took the audio from the Texas Rangers lightning strike and stuck it in the Adobe Audition audio editor. There is a click on the audio track which I'm assuming is the lightning bolt, and then 0.159 seconds later (the highlighted part of the file, see "Duration" on the bottom right), the thunder clap wave front hits whatever was the closest open microphone (there were likely several mics open on the field). At 80 degrees F (total guess) sound travels about 1139 feet/second (http://www.sengpielaudio.com/calculator-speedsound.htm). .159 seconds x 1139 feet/second means the lightning strike was around 181 feet from the closest microphone. There are a lot of variables (video compression, exporting, my math difficulties, etc) but this estimate should be in the "ballpark" :-)"
This confirms that, if the strike didn't hit the stadium (which is longer than 181 feet), it was darn close.
ORIGINAL REPORT: It must be the week of weather-related baseball game mishaps. Just Friday, I was blogging about Tarpocalypse 2012; yesterday, lightning may have struck the Texas Rangers stadium last night (ESPN) around 7:10 p.m. CDT, during a game with the Minnesota Twins. It wasn't raining at the time, and there were no Severe Thunderstorm Warnings in effect, both of which seemed to surprise the media.
I believe that the edge of the rain (at the Earth's surface) was between 1 and 1.3 miles northeast of the stadium, based on the 7:11 p.m. radar image shown below, and Google Map views of the stadium. The vertical cross-section of the radar data below shows that the top of the storm was leaning towards the stadium, which means that lightning could have struck almost straight down from the top of the cloud (so it wasn't technically "out of the blue"). More likely, it simply struck out at an angle from the heart of the storm, hitting the ground where it wasn't raining, which is not unusual at all (in fact lightning has been documented striking at least 30 miles away from the storm. And the National Weather Service (little-known fact) does NOT issue Severe Thunderstorm Warnings based on lightning.
How well were the attendees protected from lightning? We may never know. Generally, lightning rods give you a 45-degree cone of protection, but that can still leave parts of the stands unprotected, as shown in the drawings below from a lightning study [PDF]. While the NCAA has rules about lightning and game play, I wasn't able to find those for MLB at the time of this writing, and my research has led me to believe that there are no enforceable standards on most government levels for stadium protection from lightning (perhaps I'm wrong, please leave a comment if so).
Luckily, the storm dissipated on arrival at the stadium 10 minutes later (radar loop), which prevented additional strikes from affecting it. Had it continued in that direction, the stadium may have been struck again. There is conflicting information on whether or not the stadium was actually struck, but trust me (because I have been within 30 feet of lightning strikes thrice in my life), it hit within a few hundred feet of the stadium. This article has pinpoint lightning data showing that it hit the stadium, but remember I proved a couple of years ago that the accuracy of that point data is a few thousand feet.
The videos show people laughing after the scare, but the reality is that they are all very lucky. We don't know what would happen if a lightning strike electrifies a metal stadium, but it could mean mass causalities or injuries, and, as storm chaser Charles Edwards points out, there would be no excuse for it. I can't believe that these types of strikes aren't more common, and you wouldn't catch me in stadium seating anywhere near a storm (of course, I don't like sports, but that's not affecting my judgement here). All stadiums need to have severe weather plans, protect themselves with lightning rods and employ a weather service such as AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions, to warn them of impending storms.
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