Last Saturday, we had our annual fun run and walk starting at Stewart Beach. Our junior guard staff and our national competition team hopefuls all got there at 5:30 a.m. to set up water stations and to get everything ready. You might recall the weather was pretty dismal.
About 6:50 a.m., I was in my truck at the starting line getting ready to call for the first runners to get ready to start. Our junior guard director, Penny Shull, was up in our headquarters checking the radar to see if we’d get a big enough break in the storm cells moving through to start the race on time. It was raining with dark storm clouds and looked pretty ominous.
Penny called me on the radio and said it looked like we’d have to hold off about 15 minutes as this cell looked like a bad one and could have some lightning in it. We decided I should run down to East Beach because a couple of guards were in a 4-wheeler and didn’t have shelter. I had just told her I’d head that way.
Whack! I didn’t remember seeing a flash or hearing thunder, but my ears were ringing. I looked around and it felt like I’d just woken up. My heart was beating pretty quickly, and my hands were shaking, but I didn’t know why. Suddenly, I noticed a volleyball court pole about 15 yards away was split in half and shards of wood were scattered in a radius of about 20 feet from the pole.
Suddenly, I remembered the conversation and realized those two guards were in a metal 4-wheeler 3 miles down the beach in the direction the storm was moving. On the way there, two more bolts hit close enough that I couldn’t tell a time difference between the bang and the flash but I never saw where they hit. When I got there, the three of us huddled in my truck without touching the sides or radios. We canceled the event.
Although many more people die each year on beaches from rip currents than lightning strikes — lightning is no joke.
The United States Lifesaving Association (www.usla.org) and the National Weather Service of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (www.noaa.gov) have recently formed a partnership to establish procedures to notify the public on our nation’s beaches when lightning poses a threat.
As the current vice president of USLA, I was fortunate to be the liaison with NOAA. I learned a great deal, but the main points were that the general public should seek shelter in a closed building that’s grounded or a vehicle when they hear thunder. Open buildings, non-grounded shelters or just getting out of the water and on the beach does not protect you or your family.
Our annual Beachfest competition will be from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Stewart Beach. Come watch the lifeguards and junior lifeguards compete to represent Texas in the National Lifeguard Competition.
Peter Davis is chief of the Galveston Island Beach Patrol. The views in this column are Davis’ and do not necessarily represent those of the Beach Patrol, Galveston Park Board of Trustees or any other entity. Information on the Beach Patrol is at galvestonbeachpatrol.com.