Struck By Lightning, Charged With Change

Earth Networks Manager of Club Safety, Brian Smack, recounts being struck by lightning and the impact it’s had on his life and career.

A Camping Trip Turned Tragedy

If someone woke you up and said you had been struck by lightning, would you believe it? On June 27, 1998, Brian Smack experienced a nightmare.

If someone woke you up and said you had been struck by lightning, would you believe it? Share on X

That day, Brian, his girlfriend (now wife,) and two other friends decided to go camping. While there were storms in the forecast, it appeared to be a beautiful summer night in upstate New York. Since the threat seemed far away, the group headed out into the woods for what they hoped would be an enjoyable night on beautiful Lake George.

However, the weather had other plans. After dinner, that night, Brian and his friend returned to sleep in their tent but awoke suddenly to bright lights. At 3:30 a.m., a bolt of cloud-to-ground lightning struck a nearby tree. The powerful charge traveled through the roots of the tree to the wooden platform that housed Brian’s tent. This indirect strike burned through the bottom of the tent and sleeping bags before hitting Brian and all of his friends.

Struck By Lightning

“The next thing I remember, I woke up and saw flashlight outside of our tent,” Brian said. “I soon realized the flashlights belonged to emergency responders who were running towards our campsite.”

Lightning strikes, even indirect ones, can cause extreme injuries to humans. The lightning strike knocked Brian and his friend unconscious, where they convulsed violently. Brian’s girlfriend and other friend lost all feeling in their legs and had second-and-third-degree burns where the lightning had entered and exited their bodies. However, that did not stop them from crawling to a nearby boat to call emergency responders. While they crawled, the two sustained injuries from the sharp ground. Remember, this was in 1998 when handheld cell phones were new and not as widely used.

Brian woke up with a terrible ringing in his left ear and the EMTs asking him “are you OK?” Brian was OK, but his third friend wasn’t. He was not breathing at all. As the EMTs performed CPR, Brian ventured outside of his tent. He grabbed his jacket, which the lightning strike burned up and tore, and he stepped out into the rain. Lightning continued to light up the sky “like it was daytime.”


When the group arrived at the hospital, Brian and his friends learned that staff could not revive the fourth member of their group. Though the hospital staff and EMTs did everything they could, his friend was dead on arrival at the hospital.

While the loss of one friend is tragic enough, it’s scary to think about what would have happened if two of the members of the party didn’t crawl their way to help.

The Stats

Unfortunately, Brian’s story is not unique. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, lightning strikes and kills an average of 53 people each year in the U.S. alone. Hundreds more who are struck by lightning suffer lifelong injuries as a result of a direct or indirect strike. These include hearing loss, vision loss, and sleep disturbance. While Brian’s hearing problems were not long term, his wife did develop cataracts in one eye just one year later. This is a common side effect.

The National Weather Service reports that your chances of being struck over the course of a lifetime are about 1 in 10,000 in the U.S. In comparison, the odds of picking all 6 numbers and winning the Mega Millions jackpot are 1 in 259 million. Being struck by lightning is more common than you think. The truth is, lightning probably struck someone you know.

What Brian Wants You To Know

Brian is still an avid outdoorsman. that hasn’t changed. He loves spending time on the golf course and being outside with his family. What has changed is that the now PGA Professional takes lightning safety and severe weather alerting very personally. He’s even turned this passion into a career as a Manager of Club Safety at Earth Networks. What does he want people to know?

Lightning can kill. “I urge you to stay cautious, understand the dangers of lightning and severe weather, and use the weather and lightning tracking technology tools available to you.” This goes for individuals and businesses as well. For example, golf clubs and other outdoor recreational facilities should be actively investing in severe weather safety measures for their patrons and employees.

Brian and his wife, Jessica.

“You just might save someone’s life or even your own.”

We Want To Hear From You

Have any questions for Brian or a lightning strike story to share? Please let us know in the comments below. If you’d like to learn more about severe weather safety at your park or golf course, please download our free ebook.