Know When To Leave The Ramp Before Lightning Strikes

Detection and monitoring systems, plus old-fashioned common sense can provide ramp agents with advanced warnings to prevent employee injuries and equipment damage.

With the summer season upon us, the risk for severe weather is more probable as the temperatures steadily rise and thunderstorms become more frequent.

Summer thunderstorms and other severe weather conditions reduce the normal margin of safety in an outdoor operating environment and recovery to normal operations may take time after an event.

As a result, knowing when severe weather will hit your airport is a very important element to prevent employee injuries and GSE damage.

One major concern to ground service employees is the potential for cloud-to-ground lightning. Advancements in technology have provided airline employees with more robust lightning detection, as well as lightning prediction systems that work in conjunction with the use of weather service providers.

Lightning detection systems include cloud-to-cloud as well as cloud-to-ground lightning warnings. If there is a system installed at your airport, it is important to know exactly what your local system is reporting.

Regardless of technology, however, anyone who sees lightning in the vicinity while out on the ramp should head inside until the weather passes.



Weather service information when combined with lightning predication and detection systems will help in making safe, accurate decisions about ramp operations when severe weather approaches.

Most of us are familiar with one such provider. The National Weather Service will provide bulletins about severe weather. These bulletins should be monitored and all relative information communicated to ground employees to ensure safety prior to any weather event.

Another severe weather tool that can be accessed is the Airport Weather Warnings, a specialized bulletin available from the NWS in larger hub cities throughout the United States. The AWW can be set up and customized to the specific needs of an aircraft operating environment.

For more information, contact your local office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ( or the National Weather Service (

Airport facilities across the United States have current detection/prediction systems that produce visual and aural alarms when severe weather (thunderstorms and lightning strikes) are approaching. When these alarms are triggered, the operational areas are then cleared of all ground employees; the return to the field notifications is also made using these systems.

Some airports use several different color lights:

  • Green for “all clear.”
  • Yellow for “warning.”
  • Red for “take shelter.”

Some experts, however, recommend using a blue, flashing light as best for single-light systems since it is less likely to be confused with other lights.

Horns or sirens may also be used, but must be able to be heard above the engine and equipment noise.

Automatic detection systems track storms, count and locate each lightning strike, and determine the potential for lightning strikes based on atmospheric conditions available. Many different systems are already in place in airports that are owned and maintained by either airline carriers or airport authorities.

When using a lightning detection/prediction system, the proximity of the severe weather is determined by a series of range rings on the station’s lightning display map. A minimum of three proximity rings is recommended.

However, if the system setting allows for four proximity rings, they should be set as follows:

  • 15 miles.
  • 8 miles.
  • 5 miles
  • 3 miles.

When a lightning bolt is indicated on the display of a lightning detection/prediction system, here are a few steps to remember when dealing with severe weather and lightning:

  • At 15 miles: Local station leadership (or a designated ground operations employee) should begin monitoring storm activity and communicating alerts and ramp closures to all operating departments.
  • At 8 miles: Ensure all airport operations employees have up-to-date information on the severe weather event. Local station leadership should be responsible for ensuring that a severe weather/lightning communications plan is implemented.
  • At 5 miles: Be prepared to stop fueling operations.
  • At 3 miles: Ground employees should discontinue aircraft communication with communications headsets.
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