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.

Be prepared to stop all ramp activity and clear the ramp at 2 miles.

If the ramp is cleared due to severe weather ensure all ground employees are off the ramp and not seeking shelter under the aircraft, under any facility overhangs, near light poles or fences.

These procedural suggestions have proven effective over time. They can result in less amounts of damage when advance notification of approaching severe weather is provided or when a severe weather event occurs without warning. The implementation of lightning detection and prediction systems have been found to be effective when properly maintained.

NOTE: Some of these systems are prone to false positives and some predict lightning potential that may never materialize into actual strikes. This can cause airport employees to lose confidence in the warning system. These systems require human monitoring, human interpretation and continual system maintenance for more accurate atmospheric condition analysis. Systems that combine several methods of detection along with visual observation are the most effective.



There are also a couple of nontechnological approaches to severe weather prediction:

  • The count method is based on the principle that sound travels at approximately one-fifth of a mile per second.

The approximate distance to the storm can be determined by counting the number of seconds between the flash of lightning and the sound of thunder. Divide the number of seconds by 5 to arrive at the approximate distance of the storm in miles.

  • The 30/30 rule recommends that outdoor activities stop following a cloud-to-ground lightning strike within 6 statute miles (corresponding to 30 seconds of time delay between the visible lightning strike and the sound of thunder) and not be resumed until 30 minutes after the last lightning strike within 6 statute miles is observed.

Additional research conducted on this rule solely for airport use on economic and operational impact reduced the “all clear” time from 30 minutes to 15 minutes after the last reported lightning strike within 6 miles of the airport.

While this could represent an increased hazard for ramp personnel, it results in a significant reduction in delay time. Again, common sense and extreme caution should always be used when confronted with lightning and thunderstorm activity.

A combination of some or all of these methods is a best practice, and some experts consider quality local prediction systems as the single most effective tool.

Any information regarding storm activity obtained from one or more of the above methods should always be used in conjunction with information from local weather professionals. Common sense and extreme caution should always be used when confronted with lightning and thunderstorm activity.

No two events are identical, but a broad flexible plan should provide enough options and information to provide safety to the ground crews out in the operation when faced with severe weather.


About the author:

Kevin P. Crowley, an analyst for ground safety programs, JetBlue Airways Corp., started on the ramp in Buffalo, NY, in 1993. He’s been with JetBlue for 12 years and began as an instructor at JetBlue University and taught aircraft servicing for the A320 and E190. He has additional experience in HAZMAT and dangerous goods; winter ops and deicing; and is a certified OHSA instructor.

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