What To Do When There Is Lightning

February 9, 2009

Lightning StormPhoto by: Julia Starr (Stock Exchange)

Lightening is beautiful and fascinating, but it can also be deadly. The National Weather Service estimates that there are 100,000 thunderstorms in the United States each year, and lightening is present at each and every storm. In fact even though we were all told as children that the sound of thunder was God bowling or some such story, it is actually the sound produced when a lightening bolt causes the air around it to expand and contract with an immense force.
National Weather Service statistics state that on average more than 70 people in the US die from lightening strikes each year, while at least 300 are struck and survive. So really your chances of being struck by lightening while camping are relatively low, but it is better to be safe than sorry. If you are camping and a thunderstorm crops up there are precautions you should take.
  • Move away from any solitary, tall objects including single trees. Lightening has a tendency to strike the tallest object in the area first.
  • If you are hiking and are on a ridgeline or peak, move to lower ground quickly.
  • Try to avoid exposed areas, but also avoid shallow caves and overhangs.
  • The best option if you are in the woods and no building are near, is to find a group of tress that are of a similar height and in a low-lying area.
  • Do not seek shelter in open-air structures such as picnic shelters or gazebos. If you must seek shelter in your tent try to squat on a camp mattress or something that provides insulation and do not touch the tent poles.
  • If there are no enclosed buildings, it is safer to be inside your vehicle than outside in the lightening. Just do not touch any of the metal parts, and keep the windows and doors shut until the storm passes. It is actually a myth that the rubber tires of a car provide insulation.
  • As a last resort, run for the latrine. Most campgrounds have facilities in wooden buildings. They are safe, but if you have ever had to seek shelter for the duration of a storm, you know it is not pleasant.
  • As an absolute last resort, crouch on the ground. Do not lie down, you want as little contact with the ground surface as possible. Keep your feet together and tuck your head between your knees. Wrap your arms around your knees for support, and try not to get to anxious.
This shouldn’t have to be mentioned but during a thunderstorm keep away from metal objects. This includes external frames on backpacks, tent poles, fences, trekking poles and even golf clubs. Also keep away from water. This is not the time for a swim, or a shower. Water conducts electricity, even if the lightening strikes miles a way, you could still get injured. Oh, and stay off the cell phone!
Many children are afraid of lightening. If you are with a child who shares this fear, teach them the counting game. After the lightening flashes, start counting the time until the thunder booms. Every 5 seconds equals a mile. You can tell if the storm is getting closer or moving away.
by Sandra M Webster

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