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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Hiking and Backpacking: Six Tips for Avoiding a Lightning Strike

A friend and I were hiking Pike’s Peak in northern California near Lake Tahoe. When we summitted, it was well into the afternoon. Seeing lightning strikes moving from peak to peak and  realizing that ours could be next, we did what our instincts dictated. We quickly hid under some huge boulders.

Storm South of Lake Tahoe
Image by ou_ags via Flickr
I have since been criticized for making this move to try to hide in what might be called a shallow cave. And, I have subsequently read that trying to avoid a lightning strike by hiding in such a cave is not a good idea.
But, hey. We were young and hadn’t read the book about avoiding lightning strikes. As you may have already guessed, we survived the experience — with no more harm than a strong ringing in our ears subsequent to the strike on our peak.
Here are six tips for avoiding being struck by lightning in the wilderness:
Tip #1: If you are on a hill or a Peak go quickly down to lower terrain.
Tip #2: Just like you should not, while standing in the shower, reach out and turn on a light, it’s a good idea to stay away from bodies of water during a thunderstorm. This includes lakes, streams and rivers. Water conducts electricity very nicely.
Tip #3: If you are overtaken by a thunderstorm while in the forest, take refuge in a low clump of trees. Stay away from tall trees, especially if they are isolated in the open. Lightning tends to be attracted to the tallest object around.
Tip #4: Separate yourself from your backpack and other objects that are made of metal or may have metal in them — that includes your cell phone and GPS.
Tip #5: If you feel your hair stand on end or your metal trekking poles start buzzing, make yourself as small a target as you can, squatting down and making as little contact with the ground as possible. Stand on the balls of your feet and hug your knees. Above all, do not lie down, thus making yourself a larger target.
Tip #6: If possible, stay out of areas that could be flooded by the downpour.
Keep these six lightning-strike-avoidance tips in mind while hiking or backpacking in the wilderness and stay safe.
by Richard Davidian, Ph.D.
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