Eight Tips for Surviving a Lightning Storm for Hikers

Storm
Moth­er Nature is a pret­ty pow­er­ful beast. After all, she cre­at­ed the incred­i­ble moun­tains, forests, and lakes that we can’t seem to get enough of.

But with the good comes the dan­ger­ous: in the face of a light­ning storm, a hike to the top of a moun­tain to take in epic views can very quick­ly become a seri­ous emer­gency. When every sec­ond mat­ters, you need to be able to react imme­di­ate­ly. Here’s what you need to know about sur­viv­ing a light­ning storm while out on a hike.

Check the Fore­cast
It seems obvi­ous, but check­ing the fore­cast is a good start to get­ting a feel of the poten­tial weath­er haz­ards you might encounter. Light­ning storms usu­al­ly form in the after­noon, so bear that in mind for lat­er hikes. Keep your eyes peeled for clouds and light­ning, and always lis­ten for thun­der. The soon­er you can spot a storm, the more time you will have to find shel­ter.

A Lit­tle Math Can Help a Lot
Here’s how to fig­ure out the dis­tance of light­ning: count the sec­onds between a flash of light­ning and the sound of thun­der. Divide this num­ber by 5: this will give you the rough dis­tance, in miles. If the dis­tance is six miles or less, you’re in the strik­ing zone.

The 30 seconds/30 min­utes rule can also help: if the sound of thun­der comes less than 30 sec­onds after the flash of light­ning, you need to find shel­ter imme­di­ate­ly. Stay in the shel­ter for 30 min­utes after you’ve heard the last rum­ble of thun­der.

Do Seek Shel­ter…
… in a cab­in, trail shel­ter, deep in a cave, or at the low point in low, rolling ter­rain. Find a val­ley or a depres­sion in ter­rain.

 

Shelter

Don’t Seek Shel­ter…
… at a moun­tain sum­mit, on an exposed ridge­line, under a pic­nic table, under a lone tree, or at the entrance of a cave. Avoid peaks, high points, and objects that are taller than any­thing else around it.

Beware of Met­als
Avoid con­tact with any­thing met­al while a light­ning storm pass­es over. Back­packs should be put aside (met­al frame packs should be left at least 100 feet away from you), and belts and met­al jew­el­ry removed and placed aside. Under­wire bras can be a haz­ard, and even fly zip­pers can be dan­ger­ous. Of course, you might not have time to remove every piece of met­al that you’re wear­ing.

The Light­ning Posi­tion
If the light­ning storm is pass­ing over and you’re unable to get shel­ter, assume the “light­ning posi­tion.” Crouch down low onto the balls of your feet, with your feet close togeth­er. Try to min­i­mize the size of your body. Don’t let any oth­er part of your body come into con­tact with the ground: avoid touch­ing any­thing at all. Close your eyes, tuck your head, and cov­er your ears with your hands.

Spread Out
If you’re caught in a flat, open area dur­ing a light­ning storm, spread out. Every per­son in your group should spread apart 50–100 feet from one anoth­er while the storm pass­es over. If a sin­gle bolt of light­ning strikes, this mit­i­gates the chance of the entire group becom­ing immo­bi­lized. If one per­son is bad­ly injured, at least there will be oth­ers who are able to help.

After the Storm Pass­es
If any­one in your group is hurt, act quick­ly. Once a per­son has been struck, they are safe to touch: there is no elec­tric residue. If the per­son is not breath­ing, start CPR imme­di­ate­ly. Check for burns, espe­cial­ly in areas where the per­son might have been wear­ing met­al. Keep the per­son warm, and seek help imme­di­ate­ly.