Basic Lightning Safety

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fotogirl53
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Basic Lightning Safety

Post by fotogirl53 » Jul 24 2009 3:40 pm

So, I made a comment about taking shelter under a ledge to wait out a storm with extreme lightning while descending Kendrick a couple of years ago. I was about 2 miles from my truck in the thick, tall Ponderosas. The static was making my hair stand on end and I could smell the ozone from nearby strikes. Another member commented that taking shelter under a ledge or in a cave should never be done. I don't think I could squat down and wait it out. Does anyone have any thoughts on the matter?
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Grasshopper
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Re: Lightning

Post by Grasshopper » Jul 24 2009 3:51 pm

I don't have the answers for the safest way(s) to wait out a lightning storm, but I would also like to know what the "official guidelines" are from a respected agency "in the know"...Who would that be and can someone post them here for further discussions?
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Re: Lightning

Post by allanalxndr » Jul 24 2009 4:00 pm

Grasshopper wrote:I don't have the answers for the safest way(s) to wait out a lightning storm, but I would also like to know what the "official guidelines" are from a respected agency "in the know"...Who would that be and can someone post them here for further discussions?
Would like to know the same!

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Re: Lightning

Post by wallyfrack » Jul 24 2009 4:16 pm

This is from the National Weather Service website. It's important not to ground yourself when doing the lightning crouch. If you have a rubber sleeping pad you could crouch on that as well.
BASIC LIGHTNING SAFETY GUIDANCE. The following guidelines have been compiled by lightning safety experts and reflect the current thinking on this topic. Please note the knowledge base on lightning is continuously expanding so readers are advised to keep abreast of new developments as they occur.

The National Weather Service routinely issues watches and warnings for thunderstorms that can produce tornadoes and other severe weather (high winds and large hail). It does not, however, issue warnings based solely upon lightning. Moreover, a storm need be neither tornadic nor severe in order to produce copious numbers of lightning strikes. When considering lightning any thunderstorm, by definition, has the potential to produce a "severe" lightning strike. While adhering to lightning safety rules can at times be inconvenient, one must consider the alternative of not following these simple measures. Adults are responsible for the safety of children under their care; this includes matters of lightning safety. In this spirit, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has issued guidelines for lightning safety for those in charge of team sports. K-12 educators have become active in promoting lightning safety on schools (Roeder et al., 2001). Ultimately each of us is responsible for our own safety during lightning storms. The most important fact is to realize that no place outdoors is safe when thunderstorms are nearby. Implementing a lightning safety and awareness plan is a multi-level process:

Level-1: If you are planning outdoors activities, obtain the weather forecast beforehand. Schedule outdoor activities around the weather to avoid exposure to the lightning hazard. Know your local weather patterns.

Level-2: If you are planning to be outdoors, identify and stay within travelling range of a proper shelter. Employ the "30-30 Rule" to know when to seek a safer location. The "30-30 Rule" states that when you see lightning, count the time until you hear thunder. If this time is 30 seconds or less, go immediately to a safer place. If you can't see the lightning, just hearing the thunder means lightning is likely within striking range. After the storm has apparently dissipated or moved on, wait 30 minutes or more after hearing the last thunder before leaving the safer location.

The "30-30 Rule" is best suited for existing thunderstorms moving into the area. However, it cannot protect against the first lightning strike. Be alert to changes in sky conditions portending thunderstorm development directly overhead. Larger outdoor activities, with longer evacuation times, may require a longer lead-time than implied by the "30-30 Rule."

Level-3: When lightning threatens, go to a safer location. Do not hesitate. The lightning casualty lore is replete with tales of persons just about to make it to safety when they were struck. Even a few extra minutes lead time can be life saving.

What is a safer location? The safest place commonly available during a lightning storm is a large, fully enclosed, substantially constructed building, e.g. your typical house, school, library, or other public building. Substantial construction also implies the building has wiring and plumbing, which can conduct lightning current safely to ground. However, any metal conductor exposed to the outside must not be touched precisely because it could become a lightning conduit. Once inside, stay away from corded telephones, electrical appliances, lighting fixtures, ham radio microphones, electric sockets and plumbing. Don't watch lightning from open windows or doorways. Inner rooms are generally preferable from a safety viewpoint.

If you can't reach a substantial building, an enclosed vehicle with a solid metal roof and metal sides is a reasonable second choice. As with a building, avoid contact with conducting paths going outside. Close the windows, lean away from the door, put your hands in your lap and don't touch the steering wheel, ignition, gear shifter or radio. Convertibles, cars with fiberglass or plastic shells, and open-framed vehicles are not suitable lightning shelters.

Level-4: If you cannot flee to a safer location, take action to minimize the threat of being struck. Proceed from higher to lower elevations. Avoid wide-open areas, including sports fields, beaches and golf courses. Avoid tall, isolated objects like trees, poles, and light posts. Avoid water-related activities such as swimming (including indoor pools), boating and fishing. Do not remain in open vehicles like farm tractors, cabless construction machinery, riding lawnmowers and golf carts (sun roofs offer no protection). Do not consider unprotected open structures such as picnic pavilions, rain shelters and bus stops. Avoid contact with metal fences, metal bleachers, or other long metal structures. And the cardinal rule remains: Do not take shelter under trees to keep dry during thunderstorms.

Level-5: If circumstances or a series of bad decisions have found you outside of a shelter, far removed from a safer place when lightning is occurring, there are still measures to be taken. If lightning is about to strike, it will sometimes provide a very few seconds of warning. Sometimes your hair may stand on end, your skin will tingle, light metal objects will vibrate or you will hear a crackling or "kee-kee" sound. If this happens and you're in a group, spread out so there are several body lengths between each person. Once you've spread out, use the lightning crouch. Put your feet together, squat down, tuck your head, and cover your ears. When the immediate threat of lightning has passed, continue heading to the safest place possible.

Level-6: If the worst happens, there are key Lightning First Aid guidelines. First, if at all possible, call "9-1-1" immediately. Since all deaths from lightning strikes result from cardiac arrest and/or stopped breathing, begin treatment as soon as possible. CPR or mouth-to-mouth-resuscitation is the recommended first aid, respectively. It is an enduring myth that strike victims retain electrical charge. They do not. There is no hazard posed to a care giver. If the storm's lightning is ongoing and represents a continuing risk to responders, consider moving the victim to a safer location

No lightning safety guidelines will provide 100% guaranteed total safety, but the preceding guidelines will greatly minimize the lightning hazard to humans.
Last edited by wallyfrack on Jul 24 2009 4:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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BobP
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Re: Lightning

Post by BobP » Jul 24 2009 4:18 pm

I hiked some Colorado 14ers last year and remember a few things.

The squat... balls of your feet heels apart.
Stay away from water.
If other people are with you spread out.
Get below treeline.
Others I can't remember.

As far as cave's go...A cave is a good option outside but move as far as possible from the cave entrance. Who can argue with momsteam :)

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Re: Lightning

Post by Grasshopper » Jul 24 2009 4:56 pm

wallyfarak wrote:This is from the National Weather Service website.
No mention "good or bad" about rock ledge overhangs or caves?

but it is clear that--->
wallyfarak wrote:the cardinal rule remains: Do not take shelter under trees to keep dry during thunderstorms.
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base871
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Re: Lightning

Post by base871 » Jul 24 2009 7:10 pm

Ive always heard to stay away from outcrops and caves. Something about lightning being able to arc into it or something. (I would think it would have to be wet though)
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Grasshopper
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Re: Lightning

Post by Grasshopper » Jul 24 2009 7:45 pm

wallyfarak wrote:This is from the National Weather Service website.
"Level 5-spread out so there are several body lengths between each person. Once you've spread out, use the lightning crouch. Put your feet together, squat down, tuck your head, and cover your ears. When the immediate threat of lightning has passed, continue heading to the safest place possible."
fotogirl53 wrote:I don't think I could squat down and wait it out.
It would not be a natural instinct for me to just stop in the open and use this recommended "lighting crouch", but it is supposedly proven to be the correct action one should take.. guess we just have to remember to do it if the other recommended options aren't readily available. Hiking with trekking poles must also be a no-no in this sitution.. toss them away from you, go into the lighting crouch, and grab your GoLite-Crome Dome umbrella and hide under it..
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Re: Lightning

Post by SuperstitionGuy » Jul 24 2009 7:52 pm

Someone with a recent copy of the Wilderness First Responder manual please look it up and publish an excerpt here on this thread. That is my source but I no longer have the manual as I gave all that away when I stopped working with Superstition Search and Rescue for Pinal County.
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Re: Lightning

Post by azbackpackr » Jul 25 2009 4:59 am

OK, here goes, from Wilderness and Rescue Medicine, A Practical Guide for the Basic and Advanced Practitioner, by Jeffrey Isaac, PA-C and David Johnson, MD, Published 2006 by Wilderness Medical Associates:

"Prevention of Lightning Injury
The height and isolation of an object are the only two factors that predict the likelihood of a lightning strike. The type of material has no influence on the probability of being struck. Metal, however, will do a much better job of conducting the current to ground than wood or plastic. Trees offer higher resistance to the flow of current and will become hot, burn and may explode as the water within instantly vaporizes.

In the field, the best tactic is to squat or sit as low as you can, ideally on your foam pad or backpack which will help insulate you from ground current. A group should be well spread out, so that a strike will not incapacitate everybody at once. Aboard a larger boat avoid having the whole crew clustered in the cockpit. Water is a good conductor, so don't swim or wade during a thunderstorm.

Another relatively safe place is inside a car...

...On a cliff, lightning current will follow the cliff face, especially where it's wet. Wet climbing ropes may also become conductors. Hollows and caves may seem attractive as shelter, but current can jump across the opening and include you in its path.

Since lightning can travel some distance (the longest documented lightning bolt exceeded 100 kilometers--60+ miles), you should evacuate hazardous areas as soon as thunder is heard. The rapid development of cumulonimbus clouds is an early warning, although orographic convection can cause lightning from a clear sky in dry climates. Lightning also can strike during snowfall in higher elevations."
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Re: Lightning

Post by joebartels » Jul 25 2009 6:44 am

Good call Owen
azbackpackr wrote:height and isolation of an object are the only two factors that predict the likelihood of a lightning strike
azbackpackr wrote:The type of material has no influence on the probability of being struck.
So we just need to be cautious of cave entrances?
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Re: Lightning

Post by imike » Jul 25 2009 6:55 am

I've always adhered to the 45 degree rule... putting yourself within the "protection" of a taller object, yet within 45 degrees down angle of it's shadow. The thought is that lightening will follow the path of least resistance. The idea is to put yourself as far away from the taller object yet still be within that 45 degree "shadow"... then, still augment with the proper crouch.
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Re: Lightning

Post by azbackpackr » Jul 25 2009 7:09 am

imike wrote:I've always adhered to the 45 degree rule... putting yourself within the "protection" of a taller object, yet within 45 degrees down angle of it's shadow. The thought is that lightning will follow the path of least resistance. The idea is to put yourself as far away from the taller object yet still be within that 45 degree "shadow"... then, still augment with the proper crouch.
I think the Boy Scouts used to teach this rule of thumb.

However, a lot of times you are just there, in your tent. At least, I have been in my tent quite a few times when a storm was passing over. And sometimes it was pretty scary, especially at night. Hopefully I have been cautious about where I set up the tent! I have sat in my tent on a pile of pad, sleeping bag, clothing, etc., in order to create insulation from the ground. Most lightning problems occur via ground current.

Spelling: "Lightening my load, I left my tent in the car and started out down the trail. Lightning struck nearby and the rain began, and having no tent, I had to seek shelter under a ledge. Lightening my load was not a good idea during lightning season."
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Re: Lightning

Post by fotogirl53 » Jul 25 2009 8:47 pm

Thanks for all the research from everyone. IF I'm every caught in a storm like that again in the thick, tall Ponderosas, I think I'd be inclined to go under a ledge rather than get hit. I can see in the desert or in a meadow how crouching or lying down would work.
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Re: Lightning

Post by nonot » Jul 25 2009 10:13 pm

Lightning is quite random, so there are no rules. I don't see any issues taking shelter in a small cave or alcove, that's pretty safe.

Been as close as 200 feet to a lightening strike once, they are really, really loud, and you can smell the ozone after they hit. Generally makes the bark explode off the trunk too.

Based on some photos, it appears that agave flower stalks on tope of the bare AZ mountain tops seem to act as good lightning rods!
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Re: Lightning

Post by azdesertfather » Jul 26 2009 4:14 pm

So what's the rule on metal then? I've always followed the rule of tossing anything metal, whether it be hiking poles (which I don't typically carry anyway) or any metal in my backpack. Is it worth finding and tossing?

When I think I might run into a thunderstorm I like to carry a big black trash bag as well. That way when I'm doing the crouch I can cover myself and keep from getting totally soaked, and it takes up little space in the pack. In fact, as I'm writing this, I think I could even have it precut, so that it covers more.
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Re: Lightning

Post by joebartels » Jul 26 2009 4:29 pm

dshillis wrote:So what's the rule on metal then?
azbackpackr wrote:height and isolation of an object are the only two factors that predict the likelihood of a lightning strike. The type of material has no influence on the probability of being struck.

Judging by the WFR information it appears not. It makes sense too if you think about it adding in imike's response. If you're holding a metal trekking pole it's still going to go for the taller tree. Also that tree is grounded. Your trekking pole is freely suspended. They put lightning rods high and ground them for just that reason(I think...).

The question is if you're a hiker out in an open field will it hit you or the pole. Personally I'd prefer it to hit the trekking pole! However it's probably not wise to stand out there like Luke Skywalker and take one for the team. You're best off jabbing your trekking poles in the ground, run fifty feet and squat :D
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Re: Lightning

Post by chumley » Jul 26 2009 4:32 pm

dshillis wrote:So what's the rule on metal then?
The height and isolation of an object are the only two factors that predict the likelihood of a lightning strike. The type of material has no influence on the probability of being struck. Metal, however, will do a much better job of conducting the current to ground than wood or plastic. Trees offer higher resistance to the flow of current and will become hot, burn and may explode as the water within instantly vaporizes.
I read that to mean that any metal in your pack doesn't matter. Hiking poles should probably be put down on the ground so that they don't create something that is taller than you in your crouch, but according to this, you could be wearing a metal hat and it's not going to "attract" lightning anymore than if you are wearing a rubber hat. BUT, if you do get hit, the metal hat will cause you greater injury.
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Re: Lightning

Post by azbackpackr » Jul 26 2009 5:19 pm

I think the main point to take here is that in your crouch or whatever you absolutely should endeavor to put your backpack or other thick object between you and the ground. Most lightning strikes that hit people are from ground current. If you are insulated somewhat it is supposed to help a lot. Also, I have heard that the rubber soles of your boots are not enough insulation. I would assume that if there is a lot of metal in your pack that is touching the ground and also touching you that it would become a conductor.

Our Scoutmaster, Roy Barker, in Tucson, told a horrifying personal story. When he was 16 he was in charge of a big herd of sheep in Missouri, and he had a 12-year-old boy as a helper. Roy was on a horse and the boy was on the ground walking when the storm came up. Roy was sitting on a saddle and on top of the saddle he had a poncho or big raincoat he was sitting on as well. The lightning struck. It knocked out the sheep and it knocked out the horse, without killing them. The younger boy was blown apart, literally. Roy, who was insulated by the horse, the saddle and the rolled-up poncho, was totally unhurt. He told us, 60 years later, that you never forget something like that.
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Re: Lightning

Post by nonot » Jul 26 2009 6:17 pm

It's not a rule, lightning could not hit your metal trekking pole and instead go for the taller tree, on the other hand, your pole could make for an attractive path. Golfers get struck the most by lightning each year, so holding a big metal wand (like a trekking pole) would not be advisable in the storm, but it doesn't guarantee you'll get struck either.

In an effort to attract lightning one idea that scientists have found the most success in is in shooting model rockets off at times that coincide with detecting high ionization in the area. (They're trying to find out if they can harness lightning as an energy source.) So, err, don't be doing that either :D

Edit: checking facts, the last study concluded farmers edged out golfers by 10% in terms of getting struck.
Last edited by nonot on Jul 26 2009 7:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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