There are an average of 51 deaths caused by lightning each year, and chances are that you have no idea what the proper course of action to take is in the event you find yourself in a lightning storm. Much like people who stay around the beach when there is severe receding ocean tides which indicate a tsunami is coming, not knowing the proper procedures to protect yourself in a thunderstorm could cost you your life. Below you’ll find five important actions you should take if you find yourself out hiking and caught in a lightning storm that you probably didn’t know you should take.
You’re in danger of being hit by lightning far in advance of when you think. In general, if you can hear or see lightning in the distance, you’re already in danger of getting hit. Some people use the 30/30 rule which says if you count 30 seconds or less after seeing a flash and then hearing the thunder, you’re in danger. For all intents and purposes, however, if you see or hear it, you’re in danger. Even if the thunderheads seem to be miles off in the distance, you’re still not safe. Lightning can strike 6 or more miles away from thunderheads you see in the sky. You should immediately seek the best available shelter upon seeing lightning or hearing thunder.
While it’s important to know which types of shelter are safe in a thunderstorm and which aren’t, there are some specific actions you should take if you find you’re outside hiking without the opportunity to get to a proper shelter. When hiking and out in the open, there’s no good place to be. Therefore, once you find the “least worst place” near where you’re at, you should know the following.
Take off Your Backpack
If you have been backpacking, take off you backpack and place it at least 100 yards away from yourself. This is especially true if it has a metal frame since this is conductive material which will attract lightning.
Get Rid of Your Walking Sticks and Water Bottle
If you are using walking sticks or have a metal water bottle, again, you want to get rid of those. In fact, any metal objects you may have on your person (phones, keys, belt buckles, etc) you want to take off and place at least 100 yards from where you will hunker down.
Don’t Huddle Together
If you’re in a group, the automatic reaction to a scary situation is to huddle together to comfort each other. This is the exact opposite of what you want to do. You want everyone to spread out at least 100 yards away from one another. A large huddled group is more likely to attract lightning, and if it does hit, all of you are likely to be injured. If you are spread out and one person does get hit, the others won’t be injured and can help the one in need.
Know the Lightning Strike Correct Position
With lightning coming down around you, you want to make yourself as small as possible, and as low to the ground as possible while touching the least amount of ground as possible. You don’t want to sit on the ground or lie down on the ground as the more your body is touching the ground, the higher the risk of serious damage to your vital organs if you are hit. This is the correct lightning strike position according to the NOAA:
(Photo courtesy of John Fowler)