Camping Survival: Lightning Storm Safety

Okay, so you have planned your camping vacation for weeks and you are all packed and ready to go. Excited and eager, the kids are setting up camp in the backyard for practice. You check the weather, expecting it to be in the mid-nineties, but instead the weather-man has bad news, predicting thunderstorms and rain for the next three days.

Not wanting to put your family in a dangerous situation should you…

A) Cancel the camping trip and start making plans for a sunnier weekend?

B) Go anyhow and ignore the storm warning? They taught you to swim by throwing you in the lake as an infant.

C) Prepare yourself by knowing the risks and what to do to stay safe?

This is a familiar scenario to most campers at some time. Obviously ignoring the situation will not keep you safe. Many campers actually love to camp out in a storm. If you are one of them, then it is important to know the risks and know how to stay safe. If not, it might be best to reschedule to a weekend when the sun is shining.

Staying safe during a lightning storm

Lightning safety is good to know whether you are a seasoned full-time rver, a newbie out in a tent or won’t even come close to camping. You should know how to stay safe in a lighting storm no matter where you are. There are many things in life that you do not want to attract to you. A bolt of lighting from the heavens often qualifies.

Shelter

When thunder roars, Go indoors!

The first thing that you want to do at the first hint of distant thunder is find suitable shelter. Do not wait too long to find shelter and stay sheltered for at least thirty minutes after the last strike of lightning Suitable shelter is considered a building or a vehicle that has a protective structure, the larger the better. A protective structure is one that is fully enclosed with a roof, walls, a floor and wiring or plumbing. Baseball dugouts, sheds, greenhouses and golf shelters are not suitable.

Your vehicle is a great choice when out in the wilderness. A safe vehicle is fully enclosed and metal-topped. Avoid touching anything metal. Do not use any electronic devices such as the radio. Convertibles, boats without cabins and riding movers are not suitable.

Your tent is not suitable shelter, however if this is your only shelter try to locate low ground, avoiding any tall trees. Ideally surround yourself with bushes and trees that are the same height or smaller than you if using your tent is unavoidable. A tent offers no protection from lightning.

Safety outdoors

You are not nearly as safe outside as you are in shelter. If you are stranded outside and suitable shelter is not within distance there are somethings you can do to lessen the odds of being struck by Thor’s Bolt. Your best choice is to find suitable shelter, however at times this option is not available.

If outside avoid anything that can conduct electricity. This includes water towers, radio antennas and all other elevated objects that act as lightning rods. Standing alone in a large open field is a definite safety concern because this will cause you to become a lightning rod.

Avoid open fields and the top of a hills Seek low ground. Set up camp in a valley, ravine or any other low area.

Out of the blue

Don’t let a blue sky and sunshine fool you. Very rarely a lightning bolt strikes out of the clear blue sky, giving “out of the blue” a deeper understanding. It may have traveled several miles to do so. Storms can be miles away and lightning can strike as far as ten miles.

Stay away from water

If your boat has no cabin, get ashore as soon as there is a chance of a storm. Stay out of the water and away from water. Stay away from wet items such as rope.

Closing Notes & Helpful Tips

When a storm is in the area, thunder trails behind the lightning by an estimated five seconds each mile. This is because sound travels about one mile in five seconds. Count the seconds from when you see the flash of lighting. Divide this by five to get an estimate of the distance of the storm.

It is best to stay indoors one half hour after the storm appears to be over.

Although it is great to know how to predict the upcoming weather, it helps tremendously when you have a professional on the job. Having a weather radio is a good idea to keep you up to date on local weather activity as soon as it is announced.

Getting struck by lightning is extremely rare. If it does occur get medical attention immediately.

The Importance of Lightning Surge Protection

When a thunderstorm rolls through, it’s pretty unanimously known that if people are outside, they should go inside. When the power goes out, people typically have plans and precautions to guide themselves around the house to a safe spot. What many people don’t think about, though, is the protection of their electronics and appliances.

There are four common ways a house can be subject to damage from lightning. The most common way is a strike to a power line. The electricity travels through the wiring to the house and the connected objects inside. The second most common type is a hit to objects connected to the home, but outside of it, such as an air conditioning unit or satellite dish. The same thing happens here as what happens with a struck power line. A similar effect can occur if lightning strikes the ground; electricity can travel through soil, reaching wiring connected to the wiring in the house. Thirdly, a home can be subject to damage by a strike to a nearby object not attached to the house, such as a tree, telephone pole, shed, or another outdoor object. Rather than traveling through wires as in the first two examples, the electricity emits an electromagnetic field that can be picked up by electronics in the house, damaging them. Lastly, lightning can directly strike the house itself.

For all these listed reasons and more, it is important to invest in lightning surge protection. Lightning protection systems exist; they work through the ground and over the home by using air terminals, conductor cables, and ground rods to prevent electricity from reaching and affecting the house. Though these systems are worth their cost (around 2,000 dollars), they are an expensive investment. What is worth more than its cost, though, is a surge protector.

As the name suggests, surge protectors are there to protect electronics from blasts of electricity. For instance, when a television is plugged into a lightning surge protection piece, and a heavy burst of electricity strikes the pole that connects to the house, the protector detects the high amount of voltage and switches the piece off, protecting the television from the attack. This typically occurs at 120 volts, with a strike from a storm being much stronger. But even with this information known, many people let the idea of lightning surge protection go by the wayside.

Think about it this way: a surge protector can cost as little as 10 dollars at the local hardware store and up to 40 dollars for a professional one. This is small in comparison to the thousands of dollars a new television and its accompanying equipment will cost to replace, and also small compared to a comprehensive protection system. For 1/100 of the expense, surge protectors help prevent three of the four situations mentioned above where excess electricity can reach the appliances and electronics within a home.

Lightning near a house is dangerous; don’t let it strike twice.

What Is a Lightning Rod and How Does It Work?

If lightning strikes a building, the electricity can cause a fire or can electrocute anyone who is nearby. But how can people protect themselves against one of the strongest and most unpredictable forces of nature? A lightning rod, also called a finial or air terminal, is a simple device that can protect all sorts of structures from electrical damage during a storm.

What Is It?

A finial is a metal rod that is mounted on top of a building or any other structure that needs to be protected from lightning, including bridges and ships. They can come in many forms besides just straight rods, including rounded, pointed, or flat. They may be hollow or solid, and can even be made up of bristles, similar to a brush. Whatever form they come in, the metal spikes draw the electrical charge from a lightning strike, diverting the energy by transferring it to the ground through a wire connected to the device.

How Does It Work?

A simple lightning rod depends on three integral pieces – the metal rod, a wire, and a grounded absorber. When the finial is struck, the electricity naturally travels along the conductive wire, which is made up of a conductive material, and into a ground. The ground, also called an earth, is another piece of metal that is driven into the actual ground. From here the electricity disperses without causing damage to the structure. However, if homeowners suspect that their rod has been hit, they should still be sure to examine their home for any damage since a great deal of energy has been transferred.

Buildings that need extra protection may use a system made up of several of these devices that have been networked together through bonding conductors, connectors, and supports. The conductors are then connected to the ground in the most direct path, ensuring that the electricity is sent away from the building as quickly as possible.

History of the Lightning Rod

Benjamin Franklin, the United States’ pioneer of electricity, designed the earliest lightning rod. He first came up with the concept in 1749, and over the next decade, he developed the idea into a usable household product. In fact, early incarnations of this device were known as a Franklin rod. There is some evidence that the first lightning rod was used on a tower in Russia in the early 18th century, before Benjamin Franklin’s invention, but there is no concrete proof that this was the intention of the design.

After the use of the finial had become common, people in the 19th Century began to use them as decorative accents for homes. They were often decorated with glass balls, which were both attractive and served to alert occupants that a strike had occurred, as the balls would shatter when hit.

Thanks to this ingenious device, people can now rest comfortably during an electrical storm and enjoy the awesome display of nature’s power without worrying that they are in danger.