Lightning Safety

Glancing at the evening weather report I see that we are once again in a thunder storm warning. Although this is a common summer time occurrence it is still something to be concerned about. It has been said that at anytime one can count over 2000 thunderstorms alive and active somewhere around the globe.

That’s a lot of potential lightning. Lightning is a frequent compliment to the thunder storms. I am certain you recall hearing the old tale that lightning never strikes the same place twice. Well, I am here to tell you that is not necessarily true. It is completely possible for lightning to strike at the same location more then once. When I lived out west, I noticed that the lightning would always hit the same areas with consistent frequency, so much for that urban legend.

Although the death rate associated with lightning is small it is still significant. These few deaths could have been prevented had the individuals concerned used some common sense and followed a few safety rules. When considering how to handle lightning a few simple facts must be understood. First, lightning can often travel a distance of 60 miles or more however, the average span is usually 10 miles. As for its impending danger a lightning bolt can reach a temperature of over 50,000 degrees F. That equates to about five times the temperature of our sun. Certainly sounds like something we should not mess with.

A few simple precautions can save your life when confronted with a sudden thunderstorm and its associated lightning. First off always stay alert. If you are able to you should monitor your local weather conditions via radio.

If you are normally out in the open a lot you should learn how to recognize the signs associated with an oncoming thunder storm. These are towering clouds similar to a “cauliflower” type of shape, exceptionally dark skies, and distant thunder sounds. When you encounter these conditions you should seek indoor shelter immediately.

Don’t wait until the storm is directly upon you for if you do it may be too late. Find a large building or if you are traveling in a car remain inside with the windows up. When seeking shelter avoid any small shed. Never seek shelter in a pavilion.

When inside keep a few feet distance between any window and yourself. Avoid being near open windows, toilets, sinks, tubs, electric boxes or appliances. Lightning is capable of flowing through the lines and bridging to the people standing nearby. Never take a shower or bath during a thunderstorm.

Avoid the use of conventional telephones except in a dire emergency. Lightning that has struck a telephone line has been known to travel the line and literally melt the house phones. Cell phones are safe to use during these conditions.

In the event that you are unfortunately caught outside and you are unable to get to a shelter there are certain actions that could save your life. Find a low spot that is far away from any trees, metallic fences, or tall objects. Look for areas where shorter trees are growing. Crouch yourself down but away from the tree trunks. Thus may sound strange and unusual but in the event that your skin starts to tingles or your hair feels like its standing on end then perhaps a lightning strike is about to occur. In that situation you should crouch down on the balls of your feet keeping your feet close together. Place your hands on your knees and slowly lower your head. The point here is for you to get as low as you possibly can without touching your hands or knees to the ground. Never lay down on the ground.

If you are in an open space such as swimming, boating or fishing and the sky starts to get extremely dark and you can hear slight distant rumbles get to land immediately and then seek an adequate shelter. If you are in your boat and find it impossible to get to shore then crouch down in the middle of your boat or if possible go below. A little common sense can go a long way with surviving lightning storms.

Lightning Safety
By Joseph Parish

Copyright @2010 Joseph Parish

Staying Safe When There’s Lightning Around

Lightning is great to watch, and makes a superb subject
for videos or photographs – from a distance. But it’s
pretty scary when it strikes nearby, and every year there
are news reports of lightning fatalities.

So what are your chances of being struck by lightning?

Fortunately they are pretty slim. But that’s probably what
the hundred or so people killed by lightning in an average
year thought.

So while you or I are most unlikely to be struck, the
consequences are so severe that it’s worthwhile taking
every precaution to make sure that we don’t end up a
lightning statistic.

A Few Lightning Facts

  • Although lightning is known from volcanic eruptions and in smoke from very large fires, it is always present in thunderstorms, and thunderstorms can occur anywhere and at any time of year. In the US they are most common in Florida and nearby states, and overall are most frequent from April to July. Lightning fatalities are most common in July, probably because more people are out of doors at that time of year.
  • Lightning is a very high voltage electrical discharge, with its source in a thunder cloud. Most lightning moves between clouds, or from cloud to air. The cloud to ground strikes are rarer, but are the ones to worry about.
  • Apart from floods, lightning causes more deaths than any other severe weather event, including tornadoes and hurricanes. Figures are not precise, but around 100 deaths occur in an average year, while injuries are at least ten times that number.
  • Lightning injuries are most common before and after the storm has passed over – before and after the rain, winds and hail have caused people to take shelter. Another reason is that lightning bolts can travel distances of over 10 miles (16km) from the cloud before hitting the ground.These “bolts from the blue” may arrive before any thunder from the storm can be heard, and even before the storm clouds have been noticed.
  • Deaths and injuries occur most commonly to outdoor workers, hikers, campers, and people involved in outdoor sport or picnics, including sporting teams. Quite often, the victims have delayed finding shelter until the last minute.

More information on lightning can be found at my website,

Deaths and Injuries

A lightning strike is a very short lived, high voltage
electrical current, but has different effects to a
home or industrial electric shock. Most lightning
fatalities are instantaneous through failure
of the heart or breathing, or severe nervous damage.

Lightning deaths and injuries can occur in two ways – by a
direct strike, or indirectly from being within about 50
yards of the strike. A short-lived electric current can
travel through damp soil, wet grass, water, and along
fence wires, plumbing or underground cables. This
explains deaths or injuries to people who are indoors
but in contact with telephones, electrical appliances or
plumbing fixtures.

Unfortunately the effects of a non fatal lightning injury
are often severe and long lasting – often life changing.
They can include impaired mental ability and chronic pain.

But survival is better than the alternative, and immediate
first aid after a lightning strike is critical.

The first thing to remember is that the injured person is
not “live” – you won’t get a shock when you touch them.

Secondly, CPR – cardio pulmonary resuscitation – should
always be attempted if the victim has no pulse or is not
breathing. A lightning strike can stop either or both of
the heart or breathing.

Thirdly, medical attention is necessary, even if the
person seems to have recovered.

Reducing The Risk of a Lightning Strike

Many, if not most, lightning casualties are avoidable.
The small but real risks can be minimised by making a
few small sacrifices to your present enjoyment. The
peace of mind you gain will make it worthwhile.

Firstly, move to the safest possible shelter as soon as
you are aware of an approaching storm. Careful observation
of the weather is a good guide, and lightning detectors
are definitely worth considering, particularly if you are
responsible for others such as a children’s sports team
or an outdoor work crew.

In most cases, once you can hear thunder you are within the
danger zone, and it’s time to move quickly.

Now I know that almost every time an early move to shelter
will turn out to be unnecessary, and you may not always
get a warm reception for your course of action. But imagine
the alternative if half a dozen kids are injured or worse
after a lightning strike during a soccer or baseball game.

The best shelter is a fully enclosed building, bearing in
mind the easily avoidable risks associated with telephones,
electric appliances and plumbing.

Next best is an all metal car with the windows closed –
preferably not parked at the top of a hill or under a tall

Probably the third choice would be in a group of small trees
– assuming there are taller ones around. Tall trees are
high risk, as are isolated structures such as water tanks.
Partly open sheds are of dubious value and offer their
occupants little protection if struck.

Open spaces are dangerous places to be, and you should
have plenty of time to move elsewhere. Being the highest
point in a large area is not a good survival strategy.

If however you have no alternative, look for a lower area
that is not water logged, squat down on the balls of your
feet, with your head down. Don’t lie on the ground, and
stay away from wire fences.

And once you are safe, just sit back and enjoy the show.

Lightning – Scurge of Hikers and Mountaineers

Lightning is the scurge of hikers during the summer and even skiers during spring skiing in the high mountains. Lightning can even occur if its sunny! I was once on a summit at 14,000 ft during August watching a cloud coming towards us. I didn’t think nothing of it until the boom and lightning hit me simultaneously. It was terrifying! I found myself literally jumping off the summit landing in a pile of boulders hurting myself in the process. If there was a serious lightning strike I would’ve been struck by the lightning anyway since jumping 12 feet would not have been far enough to save my life.

Every year, 24,000 people get killed world wide from lightning. According to the National Weather Service, there are 51 deaths in the US every year due to lightning. What is lightning? It is an electrical charge that is built up from the friction between water droplets and ice particles. This results in a postively charged clouds relative to the ground. This can result in a discharge between two clouds or between the clouds and the earth. While lightning is beautiful it can be deadly especially for hikers in the mountains or those exposed in open plains. Even if you are not killed by lightning, long term injuries can be caused. People that experience a close strike can experience long term effects: chronic pain, sleep problems, attention deficits and even depression.

How far are you from lightning? Use the “F to B System” or Flash to Boom System:
Count the time it takes from the instant you see the flash of lightning to when you hear the boom. Divide the time by 5 for miles (by 3 for kilometers). Danger occurs if the lightning is 25 seconds or less- ie, less than 5 miles.

How does lightning work? Lightning is always trying to reach the ground. If you are between the ground and the sky–you, being over 90% water, are a perfect conductor for the electrical charge. So, you must get low so you don’t stand out. And/or insulate yourself from the ground so that currents from above or below cannot connect inside you! Remember, lightning doesn’t hit just a single point of contact. The lightning hits a zone and spreads out instantaneously so that you will be in a zone that is charged with electricity.

You can be in danger if you start to feel tingling on your skin-as if you ran into a spider web! You know you are in a potential strike zone if your hair stands on end! You might be laughing at the sensation but you should also getting down the mountain at the same time being careful not to hurt yourself in the process. Another clue to lightning danger is the presence of a blue glow around metal objects like summit markers or even ice axes sometimes called “St. Elmos Fire”. These are all signs of the static discharge occurring in the storm around you. Do not carry skis or long ice axes on your back. They should be abandoned and recovered at a later time. Also stay away from metal railings or any other metal structures in the mountains such as ski lifts, electrical towers or radio – weather towers.

Here are some things that will keep you saver: People most often get hurt from ground currents rather than direct strikes. The rubber soles on your boots are a good start. What if you are caught out in the middle of big field without any shelter in sight? You can squat down asian style with only your boots touching the ground. Do not rest your butt or hands on the ground as that will complete a pathway or circuit through which the electricity can travel. You won’t have to stay there forever, although it will feel that way. Storms do travel quickly and the immediate danger will pass in 15 to 20 minutes. You will be wet and cold but you will be safe from lightning. If you have a climbing rope or a pack you can sit on those objects to negate or “short” the circuit.

As far as shelter goes, don’t get under a rocky overhang or inside or a gully or crack. Remember- lightning is somewhat like water – seeking the path of less resistance down gullys, chutes, couloirs and under overhangs. Don’t sit under a solitary boulder in the middle of a field as the lightning will seek out that high point. Don’t get into an open pit as currents can jump a ditch and hit you. Lone trees should be avoided of course. But a large thick forest can offer safe protection. Stay off ridges and other high points at all costs. If you must go out of your way to camp do so. Descending a half mile off your route is worth the increased safety and protection that a lower camp site can give you. During the night remember that your sleeping pad is most likely rubberized which will nullify ground currents. Camp in thick trees if possible with your tent rear facing into the wind.

Lightning must be respected especially in the high mountains. With some common sense you can avoid dangerous situations. Are storms clouds moving in? Is the time between thunder claps growing shorter? Awareness of your surroundings is key. Know your weather. During periods of unsettled weather during Spring and mid Summer you must always consider thunderstorms and thundersnow as a possibility and something to be ready for.