While getting ready for my next backpacking adventure this weekend I took a look at NOAA’s weather forecast for the area. Not ideal…
I figured I should brush up on what to do if caught in a thunderstorm in the middle of the wilderness. I took a look at NOLS Backcountry Lightning Safety Guidelines by John Gookin, a NOLS Curriculum Manager. In an effort to finally retain some lightning safety, I’ve just picked out a few highlights. Take a closer look at Gookin’s full paper for some great information about how lightning strikes, reasoning behind safety suggestions, and more.
- Lightning tends to hit elevated objects: mountain tops, trees, a boat in water; so get low!
- Lone trees are especially dangerous. Also stay away from all tree trunks, they may send out surface arcs.
- If you feel your hair standing on end a lightning strike is imminent, spread out and assume the lightning position.
- Lightning position: squat with your feet together and your arms wrapped around your legs. It’s been debated whether squatting on your sleeping pad provides any additional protection, but I think the important part is to assume the position and get away from metal objects - like that metal rod in my backpack!
- If you’re in a group, spread out at 50 foot intervals – decreasing the likelihood that one strike will take out multiple people.
- A note for night time thunderstorms: if your tent is in “safer terrain” at least assume the lightning position, if it is in an exposed location get out and find a safer location until the storm passes.
“There are things you can do to reduce risk during a thunderstorm, but you can never get as safe as you could be in town,” says Gookin.
But what’s the fun in that?
-Happy (and safe!),