All Weather News

Back Country Lightning Safety

12 Jun 2017, 5:06 pm

Most likely you have heard the saying “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors” concerning lightning safety, but what if you are hiking in the mountains and going indoors is not an option.  

So, what can you do if you are out hiking and a thunderstorm moves in?  

First of all you need to know and be conscious about the dangers of thunderstorms and lightning strikes.  Lightning can strike more than 10 miles away from a thunderstorm which in many cases is a greater distance than the sound of thunder can be heard.

You can estimate the distance between you and a lightning strike by counting the seconds from when you see the “flash” to when you hear the thunder.  For every 5 seconds the storm is one mile away. Divide the number of seconds you count by 5 to get the number of miles.  If you hear thunder you are within range of a lightning bolt and should take shelter immediately.

July, 21, 2013. The view is from Shoshone Point on the South Rim. NPS photo by Michael Quinn.
Summer thunderstorms (July – September) provide beauty, excitement, and much needed water to Grand Canyon, but they also bring risk. Dangerous, potentially deadly, lightning accompanies thunderstorms. Lightning has killed and injured visitors to the park.
While absolute safety from lightning cannot be assured, knowledge and good judgment can help you reduce risk. Learn lightning dangers, practice basic safety precautions, and instruct your children to be aware.

Sturdy structures and hard topped vehicles are good protection when you encounter lightning but these may not be an option when camping or out on a hike.  There are precautions you can take in this case to help improve your safety.

  • Avoid open shelters or picnic pavilions.  These are not safe and may increase your chance of being struck indirectly or directly by lightning.
  • Don’t stay clustered together if you’re in a group of people.  Spread out to avoid the entire group from being struck.
  • Stay away from water including low areas and puddles.
  • Caves should be avoided too.  Caves can channel lightning.
  • Take shelter in a group of smaller trees among larger trees.  Lone larger trees and small groups of smaller trees should be avoided.
  • Shed metal object you may have.  Frame backpacks, trekking poles, crampons, jewelry, pocket change etc.
  • As a last resort crouch down on the balls of your feet keeping them close together and cover your ears.  This is a lightning crouch and is the last resort when lightning threatens.
  • If you feel hairs on your head, legs, or arms tingling and/or standing on end, means the electrical field for a lightning strike may be in place.  If you feel this, take action immediately to reduce your chances of being struck by lightning.  Move away from tall conductors of electricity and adopt the lighting position.

These are a few ideas to help you avoid being struck by lightning but staying ahead of the storms is your best bet.  Check the weather forecasts and conditions before heading out and pay attention to changing weather conditions.

For Weather Nation: Meteorologist Mike Morrison

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