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Saturday Afternoon Soccer Games

Another nice June afternoon. 820 and a mixed-up sky full of puffy white clouds and tons of sunshine. The field is green, freshly cut and painted just this morning. Mini-vans and pick-ups are filling the parking lot and kids and parents are tumbling out of them and setting up lawn chairs and picnic blankets and laying out bottles of Gatorade and Tupperware containers, with sandwiches and crackers and cheese and snacks. There might even be a few things in there for the grown-ups.

Coaches are starting to rally their teams of four-foot-tall players in their blue and gold or yellow and red uniforms, and a couple of the adults have volunteered to put on the black-striped jersey of the referees for the afternoon. Pretty soon a soccer game will begin. It will be a fun afternoon for everyone involved and it will be one of those days that kids will carry in their memories forever.

The game gets underway with a whistle blast and almost on schedule even, and a field full of 10 year olds begin running around all over the place, mainly vying for the attention of Mom and Dad and watching carefully to ensure someone is capturing these moments of their athletic supremacy on camera, and occasionally even kicking the ball. Every once in a while somebody’s kid even kicks one through the posts and when that occurs the assembled fans jump to their feet and cheer, as if in attendance at a world cup game in a stadium with a hundred thousand fans in Rio or Madrid or Berlin.

It all feels good as you take a pull on another can of “iced tea” and just as the first half is about to end, you notice something else too. The puffy white clouds now have dark bases on them. And in the distance, it looks like a pretty good rain curtain is coming out of more than one of them. And suddenly it occurs … this game might not get finished.

At the beginning of the season several of the parents had gotten together and picked up a Sport-Safety subscription to XkyFire Lightning. Recalling this now you pull out your phone and call-up the XkyFire webpage, then log-into your account. Handy this, having the entire app based on the internet. Someone else has already updated the location for the day to this very field, and you can see that there are positive cloud-ground lightning strikes that have occurred in the last thirty minutes, just on the outside of the alerting ring which has been set to 7500 meters. So, the clouds visible in the distance contain a thunderstorm, and from the looks of the map, there is pretty heavy lightning occurring over there. As if on cue, the clouds throw out the first strike visible to you at just that moment, and ten seconds or so later, the distant rumble of the storm and a slight puff of wind.  The kids, immersed as they are in the game do not notice yet, but a couple of the other parents saw the same thing, and they are reaching for their phones now too.

As the game continues you begin planning the next steps … all the supplies and chairs and blankets and spare socks and coolers and food and drinks that will all need to be moved back to the truck. Rounding up and sorting out kids to make sure you have not just kids, but the correct ones with you. And realizing everyone is suddenly going to need to do the exact same thing … and as always, there will be a little bit of chaos, and kids upset by the abrupt cancellation of the afternoon, with occasional arguments and a few tears, and …..

Flash. That one was much closer now, and it is followed by a text alert on your phone;

 <Lightning Alert, +CG Lightning sensed 5752 m away on 242.30, 06/19/2021 14:47:29h local>

Then, the rumble of thunder again, but now, much closer. Another look at the screen and it is obvious that with dozens of big strikes now painted on the map, and on a path that seems to have this field centered in front of the storm.  It is not a guess. It is not a “60% chance of thunderstorms in your region”. This area is about to get rolled by a heavy summer-time thunderstorm, and that is always dangerous.  As you look at it, then the sky, then the other parents …. It is obvious that with access to the same information, everyone is arriving at the same conclusion in the same moment. It is time to bug-out.

A quick conference at the side of the field between a few moms and dads and the ‘referees’, the kids now seeing too what is happening are already beginning to form up in a couple of lines to shake hands together then, the whistle blows. It is “officially” over. Quick hand-shakes between competitors and as fast as they came together teams are dissolved, and families reformed. And then, another SMS text sounds out of your phone;

 <LIGHTNING WARNING: Dangerous Lightning is occurring within 7500 meters of “SoccerField” 06/19/2021 14:52:38h>

That message is the one transmitted when there are repeating positive cloud-ground strikes near the placed site of our subscription. There are different types of lightning and the XkyFire system differentiates to show and call-out the type that is dangerous to people on the ground. An alert is one thing, and needs to be paid its due attention. A “Warning” message is a signal to find cover right away though. The next strike could very well be right on this location whenever a Warning is transmitted.

The scramble to collect equipment and people and dogs and Frisbee’s and empty Gatorade bottles gets underway and in ten minutes, and just as the last doors slide shut on mini-vans, the first big warm, heavy, wet drops of rain begin to pelt windshields.

And a goal post is hit by lightning that seems to send a shock-wave through the entire parking lot in the blink of an eye.

As you drive home in torrential rain (coming down in sheets now), and with lightning flashing almost constantly, and all around, the kids are sorting out cleats and uniforms and jeans and running shoes in the back seats …. An ambulance goes zipping by and turns a block ahead into the Country Club.  And the radio blares that “The National Weather Service has just issued a Severe Thunderstorm Warning for Parksville”. As you drive, you begin to process what has just, and what is now, occurring.

You usually see the lightning storms coming, and usually get out of the way just in time. Well, sometimes soaked, and with lightning flashing all around you, but usually ‘just in time’. The XkyFire app, that makes so clear what is occurring around you, and makes so clear the decisions to get a move on when it really is time to do so. That situational awareness. That really did make a difference today. Just another five or ten minutes could have been really bad just then.

But today, apart from a shorter than usual game, everything worked out just fine.