Lightning safety when hiking

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chumley
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Lightning safety when hiking

Post by chumley » Jul 06 2015 10:56 am

I was just reading up on lightning safety and thought it would be good to refresh the basics. So many hikers and outdoor enthusiasts in Arizona are vulnerable to lightning each year (especially during the summer monsoon). It is good to know the good and the bad.

The first and most important thing is that there is no such thing as a safe place outdoors during an electrical storm. None. Period.

If at all possible, get inside a modern building and stay away from metal. The second best alternative if you are outdoors is to get inside an enclosed vehicle with a metal roof. Convertibles, canvas top Jeeps or the bed of a pickup truck offer no protection from a strike.

Lightning Position
If shelter is not available the safest thing you can do is get in the "lightning position". Scientists are not aware of anybody having ever been injured in a lightning strike while in the lightning position.

To get in the lightning position, you should squat as low as possible to the ground and keep your feet together. Wrap your arms around your knees. Do this on a foam sleeping pad or pile of clothes if available. Close your eyes. Space yourself 50-feet from other members of your group in case somebody is injured, others will be able to help.

Understand how lightning strikes to minimize the potential that you become a streamer. In terrain with tall trees, mountains and ridges you can help identify risk areas and minimize those risks.

In rolling hills or flat, open desert, lightning strikes are much more random, and the only thing you can do is look for a ravine of some kind. Just a few feet of height can make a difference. It is why the lightning position is significantly better than standing up.

The National Weather Service has a website for lightning safety outdoors. It basically says "get indoors". http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/outdoors.shtml

Must-Read Guide
But the website also provides a link to a PDF published by The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). If you go outside regularly you should read this. Read it again until you understand it and remember it. There is a ton of useful information in it.
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NOLS Backcountry Lightning Safety Guidelines.pdf
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Tough_Boots
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Re: Lightning safety when hiking

Post by Tough_Boots » Jul 06 2015 10:58 am

thanks for posting, Chums. Great info!
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chumley
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Re: Lightning safety when hiking

Post by chumley » Jul 06 2015 11:25 am

Tidbits of data worth highlighting:

A tent is not safe. It may increase your risk. Where you locate your tent in relation to surrounding terrain can play a factor in the risk level. Be aware. In some cases it may be necessary to assume the lightning position inside your tent during an overnight storm. Laying down (prone position) is never a good idea during a storm. Depending on where your tent is set up (under a tree for shade?) you may need to leave your tent during a nighttime storm and assume the lightning position in a more favorable location nearby.

If your backpack has a metal frame (interior or exterior) you should take it off your back and move away from it. Do not squat on a backpack in the lightning position if it has a metal frame. Hiking poles, tent poles, fishing rods, umbrellas, and similar items also increase your risk of injury.
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SpiderLegs
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Re: Lightning safety when hiking

Post by SpiderLegs » Jul 06 2015 3:55 pm

Wish I would have known this 25 years ago. Had a pretty scary afternoon on Mt Lemmon after getting caught in a monsoon that snuck up on us. Holed up in a small cave for an hour or so.

Some great advice Chumley.

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Re: Lightning safety when hiking

Post by johnny88 » Jul 06 2015 5:07 pm

chumley wrote:Scientists are not aware of anybody having ever been injured in a lightning strike while in the lightning position.
This may be true, but I don't think the "lightning position" has much to do with it. It can't hurt, but according to this NOLS article, "You can minimize your exposure to ground currents by keeping your feet close together, especially avoiding a prone position. These actions can help minimize the amount of ground current going through your body, but most experts think these efforts are moot compared to getting to a safer location"
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azbackpackr
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Re: Lightning safety when hiking

Post by azbackpackr » Jul 06 2015 5:46 pm

I've heard the thick pad under your feet while assuming the lightning position is important because so often the charge will travel along/through the ground. I have done this while inside of a tent at Chevelon Canyon one time. Scary.

Thanks for posting.
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Re: Lightning safety when hiking

Post by MtnBart01 » Jul 06 2015 6:57 pm

I can tell you having been on the helideck twice during strikes that when sparks arc from the deck to skids and when the anti collision lights and position lights start popping it's too late. The flare boom was hit the first time and a communication tower the other time. I'm much more careful.
I find it interesting that people think cars are safe. A coworker was knocked unconscious and the entire engine was fused to all the other parts in the engine compartment when the vehicle she sought cover in was struck.
Btw it had a metal roof.
Last edited by MtnBart01 on Jul 06 2015 7:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Lightning safety when hiking

Post by nonot » Jul 06 2015 7:27 pm

@MtnBart

Cars are fairly safe places to be. You are in a Faraday cage and the rubber tires provide insulation against ground charge. However, if you are driving, your car can build up static charge, so being in a stopped car is slightly better than a moving car.

Lightning hits planes all the time. Same concept - you are mostly surrounded by metal, and the charge flows around the Faraday cage rather than through it.

The car being safe for people doesn't mean its safe for the car. Whatever lightning hits will be damaged.

If you are car camping or near the trailhead, jumping in your car is better than standing (or lightning position) outside. Plus you get out of the rain.
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Re: Lightning safety when hiking

Post by SuperstitionGuy » Jul 07 2015 6:35 am

A man's body may grow old, but inside his spirit can still be as young and restless as ever.
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Re: Lightning safety when hiking

Post by trekkin_gecko » Jul 09 2015 5:16 pm

a little more reading material:

http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/

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ddgrunning
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Re: Lightning safety when hiking

Post by ddgrunning » Jul 10 2015 11:40 am

Interesting info. in a Grand Canyon flyer on lighting: http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/u ... Danger.pdf

I liked the "flash to bang" distance calculator, indicating that as a general rule, every 5 seconds between the the lightning "flash" and the thunder "bang" represents about a mile. They recommend that a 30-second or less gap (i.e., 6 mi. or less) is the "high danger zone."

Also some interesting fact tidbits: Lightning moves at 90,000 miles per second and, at 54,000 degrees, is three times hotter than the sun's surface.

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Re: Lightning safety when hiking

Post by tibber » Jul 10 2015 11:46 am

ddgrunning wrote: Lightning moves at 90,000 miles per second and, at 54,000 degrees, is three times hotter than the sun's surface.
yikes!
For me, sometimes it's just as much about the journey as the destination.
Oh, and once in awhile, don't forget to look back at the trail you've traveled.

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Re: Lightning safety when hiking

Post by SuperstitionGuy » Jul 10 2015 12:26 pm

90,000 miles per second? Who measured it? :-k JJ ?
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Re: Lightning safety when hiking

Post by azbackpackr » Jul 10 2015 4:37 pm

I'm just SO relieved that everyone is spelling "lightning" correctly this season. Now I can go on with my peaceful summer.
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Re: Lightning safety when hiking

Post by Al_HikesAZ » Jul 10 2015 6:25 pm

Chums - I hate following that attachment away from HAZ and it is TL:DR!!

Here is my answer to a question on Quora. Joe - you can copy and past this as a survival article if you are so inclined.

What should I do if I'm walking along a mountain ridge with a metal frame backpack when a lightning storm comes?

A great source for mountaineering answers is "Mountaineering - The Freedom of the Hills"

FIRST, I try to avoid bad situations by planning and precautions. Where I live, thunderstorms usually fire up in the afternoon so I would try be off a ridgeline or summit before the storm.

But if I found myself in this predicament, this is what I would do with my group.
1) I would work my way about 100m down the side of the ridge opposite the direction of the storm. Even though this ridge has tall trees, I would still get off the ridgeline. The winds across the ridgeline will probably be pretty ferocious. Do not go into caves or under overhangs. I explain why below.
2) I would avoid tall trees and look for a stand of fairly even sized trees.
3) I would drop that pack about 20m from where I expect to hunker down.
4) I would put all items metal or graphite in the pack. Empty metal from my pockets. Even put my watch in the pack.
5) I would take out my tarp - marking sure it doesn't have metal grommets. If it has metal grommets, I would cut them off. It is likely to hail heavily so I could cover myself with the tarp.
6) I would take out my sleeping pad and move to a position about 20m from the pack. I would disperse my group in the same general area but about 10m apart.
7) You can tell how close the storm is by the time between the lightning and the thunder. Count the Flash to the Bang. Start counting seconds when you see the flash, stop counting when you hear the bang. Divide the number of seconds by 5. The result is the distance away from you. Sound travels at about 1 mile (1.6km) every five seconds.
8 ) as the storm got close I would crouch on the balls of my feet on my sleeping pad like a baseball catcher and I would cover my head and ears. .

UNDERSTAND THE DYNAMICS OF LIGHTNING.
"Most lightning ground strikes occur directly below a cloud and hit the nearest high point. But lightning strikes can emanate from several miles away toward high points ahead of (or, less frequently behind) the main thunderhead cloud formation - "out of a clear blue sky." Therefor, mountaineers can be in danger of a lightning strike at times even when the storm is not overhead" Mountaineering - The Freedom of the HIlls page 509

"Lightning can strike a climber in various ways:
Direct strike of a mountaineer in the open who could not find shelter

Splash strike, in which the lightning current jumps from an object it initially hit onto a mountaineer who sought shelter nearby

Contact injury, from holding on an object that lightning hits.

Step voltage, transmitted along the ground or through an object near a climber (even a wet rope)

Blunt trauma or blast effect, created by the shock wave from a nearby strike.

Lightning caused injuries include cardiac arrest, burns and internal injuries,"
Mountaineering ibid.

We refer to these as FLASH, SPLASH and FLOW.
FLASH being the direct hit.
SPLASH being side effects of the direct hit. Trees can literally explode throwing large branches and trunk pieces in all directions. Or the current can look for an easier way to complete the circuit by splashing to nearby objects.
And FLOW is the flow of the current as it heads downhill to ground. Lightning doesn't just hit and stop. It flows. Do not stand in the entrance of a cave or under overhanging rocks. By standing in the cave, your body could complete the circuit of the downhill flow and the current will flow right through you.

"If climbers are caught out in the open during a thunderstorm, they should try to seek shelter. Tents are poor protection: metal tent poles may function as lightning rods; stay away from poles and wet items inside the tent. Take the following precautions to avoid being struck by lightning:

Get away from water, which readily conducts electricity

Seek low ground if the party is in an open valley or meadow

Move immediately if your hair stands on end

Avoid standing on ridge tops, at lookout structures, or near or under lone tall trees, especially isolated or diseased trees

Look for a stand of even sized trees if in a wooded areas

Do not remain near or on rocky pinnacles or peaks

Do not remain near, touch, or wear metal or graphite equipment, such as ice axes, climbing devices and frame packs

Insulate yourself from the ground if possible. Place a soft pack or foam pad beneath you to protect against step voltage transfer of the lightning strike through the ground - though ground currents may move through such insulation

Crouch to minimize your profile, and cover your head and ears

Do not lie down - lying down puts more of your body in contact with the ground, which can conduct more electrical current"
Mountaineering page 555

Have fun and stay safe. If you are in charge, then take charge. If you are not in charge, shut up, listen, and follow directions. If no one is in charge, then step up to the plate and take charge. I like thinking through Survival and "What-if" scenarios so that I can try to stay sharp and keep my skills current.
https://www.quora.com/What-should-I-do- ... torm-comes

Be careful when lighting is in the forecast!! (I spelled it like that just to aggravate LizBeth)
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Re: Lightning safety when hiking

Post by azbackpackr » Jul 10 2015 6:43 pm

I love that book. Thanks for posting. So much good information!
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Re: Lightning safety when hiking

Post by Al_HikesAZ » Jul 10 2015 7:03 pm

SuperstitionGuy wrote:90,000 miles per second? Who measured it? :-k JJ ?
If you are serious, I can give you citations. But Yes, That is a valid approximation - (a "SWAG" - a scientific wild a*s guess"). The speed of light is approximately 186,000 mps (also a SWAG). Lightning is an electron discharge through the atmosphere. The initial "descending leg" is slower but the ascending and subsequent legs are faster. Lightning is rarely a single discharge. (no off-color comments here). Benjamin Franklin had no clue what he was doing with that kite.
Anybody can make a hike harder. The real skill comes in making the hike easier.
Not if we can help it UNCLE JACK. http://www.sleepingdogtv.com/reel/Uncle-Jack.aspx Not if we can help it.

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chumley
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Re: Lightning safety when hiking

Post by chumley » Jul 11 2015 5:53 pm

Al_HikesAZ wrote:Chums - I hate following that attachment away from HAZ
It is copyrighted material. Reposting it without permission could have put HAZ in legal jeopardy. Linking to it is permitted.
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Al_HikesAZ
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Re: Lightning safety when hiking

Post by Al_HikesAZ » Jul 11 2015 6:48 pm

chumley wrote:
Al_HikesAZ wrote:Chums - I hate following that attachment away from HAZ
It is copyrighted material. Reposting it without permission could have put HAZ in legal jeopardy. Linking to it is permitted.
OK I would hate to have to visit Joe in Prison. And I don't think HikeBot would take well to prison. Hikebot would post escape routes and get sent to Solitary. But it is a little TL:DR
Anybody can make a hike harder. The real skill comes in making the hike easier.
Not if we can help it UNCLE JACK. http://www.sleepingdogtv.com/reel/Uncle-Jack.aspx Not if we can help it.

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Re: Lightning safety when hiking

Post by Tough_Boots » Jul 13 2015 9:23 pm

I didn't realize until today that there is such a thing as a portable lightning detector. Anyone have any experience with these?
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