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.
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.
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.