Lightning that hit Laguna golfer likely to be from outside watch radius

Lee U-Wen Business Times 6 Jan 11;

(SINGAPORE) The bolt of lightning that struck a 62-year-old golfer on New Year's Day could well be described as a freak accident. This is because the lightning that struck the Laguna National Golf and Country Club golf course where Chen Yuk Fu was playing had likely come from a thunderstorm outside the prescribed 5-6 km lightning watch radius.

Mr Chen, a director at a technology firm, survived the attack with burns to his head and hand, and had to be warded at the Changi General Hospital.

Responding to queries from BT, the Meteorological Services Division (MSD) said that it had issued a total of 63 lightning alerts to its subscribers in affected areas on that day.

There were no alerts sent out to Laguna as 'only light showers were observed and no thunderstorms were expected'. Laguna had earlier claimed that it had contacted MSD to check if it would issue a lightning warning.

'The lightning that struck at Laguna was likely to have come from a thunderstorm outside Laguna's watch area,' said a spokesman for the MSD. 'While we endeavour to be as accurate and comprehensive as possible in our lightning alert service, lightning can still strike at a large distance away from a thunderstorm.'

The MSD - which comes under the National Environment Agency statutory board - said that the thunderstorms that developed on Saturday afternoon affected mostly the southern and western parts of Singapore.

Typically, when the MSD issues a lightning alert, the golf club would then sound its siren to warn people off the course.

Golfers on the Laguna course at the time reported that there was no siren despite overcast skies and a slight drizzle. There was also no siren from the neighbouring Tanah Merah Country Club, which has a siren that can be heard from Laguna National.

After the lighting incident, Laguna National's management shut the golf course for the rest of the day and all the remaining golfers were asked to leave the course.

'Subscribers of the lightning alert service provided by MSD will receive an alert if thunderstorms are forecast to develop within 5-6 km of a particular location,' said the spokesman.

'Our adoption of the 5-6 km radius lightning watch area is to achieve a higher accuracy in the prediction of lightning striking the particular location. A larger watch area will result in more false alarms of lightning striking the location.'

Being in the tropics, Singapore has one of the highest rates of lightning from thunderstorms in the world. On average, there are about 170 thunderstorm days each year in Singapore.

The MSD has advised members of the public to take the necessary precautions if they are out in the open during thundery weather.

GOLFER HIT BY LIGHTNING: No alert as storm was 'too far away'
Bolt that seriously hurt man came from thunderstorm over 5km away, says weatherman
Straits Times 6 Jan 11;

NO ALERTS were sent out before a bolt of lightning struck golfer Chen Yuk Fu because the thunderstorm it came from was too far away.

The Meteorological Services Division (MSD) said the strike that left Mr Chen seriously injured last Saturday originated more than 5km from the Laguna National Golf and Country Club in Changi.

This is outside the radius in which lightning is monitored for any given area. The freak occurrence meant Laguna had no warning despite signing up for alerts from MSD.

Mr Chen, a technology firm director, was discharged from Changi General Hospital yesterday after five days. The 62-year-old had burns to his head, neck and hand after being struck by lightning while playing from a very high point at the 18th hole.

The MSD, part of the National Environment Agency, said thunderstorms, which provide an indication that lightning is about to strike, had developed mostly in southern and western Singapore that day.

As a result, there were 63 lightning alerts sent to subscribers in those areas. But no alerts were issued to Laguna in the east, as no thunderstorms were expected there.

Lightning specialist Liew Ah Choy from the National University of Singapore said electrical charges often drift away from the cloud they originated from during the final stages of a thunderstorm - sometimes travelling 8km to 10km.

But these drifting charges cause lightning to strike only once in a blue moon.

'If you want to be very safe, you can have a 10km to 20km radius, but then golfers can't play every time it rains anywhere. The current radius is a calculated risk,' Professor Liew said.

The MSD said monitoring a wider area might lead to false alarms.

Laguna general manager Benjamin Tan said the club has been in touch with Mr Chen's family and that there has been no talk of compensation or legal action.

The club is looking to enhance its lightning warning system, he added. It currently subscribes to the MSD alert, which is sent out at least 15 minutes before lightning strikes.

Mr Tan acknowledged that the MSD has one of the most sophisticated systems around, and said the club will not be judging it on the basis of this isolated incident.

The MSD advises the public to avoid being out in the open during thundery weather.