“If someone woke you up and said you had been struck by lightning, would you believe it?”
On June 27, 1988, Brian was camping with his girlfriend and two friends in Upstate New York, and though there were storms in the forecast, the threat seemed far away. Little did he know that one night would forever change his life.
After dinner that night, Brian and his friends returned to sleep in their tent but were suddenly awoken by bright lights. At 3:30 am, a bolt of lightning struck a tree near the campsite. The powerful charge traveled through the roots of the tree to the wooden platform that housed Brian’s tent. It then burned through the bottom of the tent and sleeping bags, and hit Brian and all of his friends.
“The next thing I remember, I woke up and saw flashlights outside our tent,” said Brian. “I soon realized the flashlights belonged to emergency responders who were running toward our campsite.”
Brian and his friend were knocked unconscious and convulsing violently. Brian woke up with a terrible ringing in his left ear “like I had been listening to very loud music” to the EMTs asking ‘are you okay?’
He realized that his girlfriend and other friend were gone – Brian later learned that although they could not feel their legs and had second and third degree burns where the lightning had entered and exited their bodies, they crawled on the sharp ground to a boat to call 911.
Brian’s third friend was not breathing at all. As the EMTs performed CPR, Brian ventured outside. He grabbed his jacket, which was burned and torn up from the lightning strike, and stepped out into the rain.
“There was so much lightning, the sky lit up like it was daytime.”
After they arrived at the hospital, Brian and his friends learned that the fourth member of their party could not be revived. Though the hospital staff and EMTs did everything they could, his friend was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.
To this day, Brian and his friends still bear the scars of the disastrous strike, both physically and emotionally.
According to NOAA, an average of 53 people are struck and killed by lightning each year in the U.S. Hundreds more suffer lifelong injuries as a result of a direct or indirect strike. These include hearing loss (the ringing in my ear was, fortunately, temporary) and vision loss (his wife developed a cataract in her left eye one year after the strike, at age 24!).
The National Weather Service says your chances of being struck over the course of a lifetime are about 1 in 10,000. In comparison, the odds of picking all 6 numbers and winning the Mega Millions jackpot are 1 in 259 million.
With these odds, you may know someone who has been struck. Brian’s father was a golf professional who witnessed a player on the course get struck and killed. So from an early age, he was taught about the dangers of lightning. Brian worked and played on golf courses from the time he was 15, has witnessed lightning striking nearby.
Brian loves spending time on the golf course and being outside with his family. But after being struck and losing a friend, lightning safety is something he takes personally.
“I’m committed to sharing my story and helping people understand that lightning can kill. As we head into severe weather season, I urge you to stay cautious, understand the dangers from lightning and severe weather, and use the weather and lightning tracking technology tools available to you. You just might save someone’s life or even your own.”
Today, Brian Smack is a manager for WeatherBug Club Safety at Earth Networks where he promotes lightning safety. He is also a former PGA golf professional.
For more information:
• NOAA’s lightning safety page has helpful information for all ages: http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov
• The nonprofit organization www.StruckbyLightning.org offers tips for helping someone who has been struck by lightning.
WeatherBug’s Spark feature delivers minute-by-minute, mile-by-mile lightning strike information so you can enjoy the outdoors and stay safer. Available for FREE in the WeatherBug mobile app! Get it today:
Stay Safe. Know Before™.
-The WeatherBug – Earth Networks Team