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Protection from Lightning - Smart Strategies for Hikers and All Outdoor Enthusiasts

Prevention is your best protection against lightning. Be sure to check your local weather report before you head outside. Learn how to read the sky and where to run for cover. Lightning can and does strike in the same place twice, do not make yourself vulnerable by becoming a target.

Reading the Sky Stay aware of the sky above you with your eyes and ears. To estimate how far away a lightening storm is, count the time between the lightning flash and the sound of thunder. Every five seconds difference in time equals one mile in distance. If you hear thunder 12 seconds after you see a flash, the lightning struck just over 2 miles away (2 2/5 miles).

Things and Places to Avoid

  • If lightning is moving toward you, stay away from: Fences, metal pipes, clotheslines, power lines, rails and other metallic paths that could carry lightning to you from a distance.
  • Natural lightning rods such as a tall isolated tree in an open area.
  • Metal objects you may be holding or carrying (bicycles, ski poles, golf clubs, etc.).
  • Isolated sheds or other small structures in open areas.

Safe Havens The preferred (safest) place to be during a lightning storm is inside a home, large building or a car (but, never a convertible).

  • If you are miles from a suitable shelter, you must seek refuge in low areas away from tall objects such as trees, towers, or mountain ridges.
  • In flat country, head for dense woods, ravines or large groves of young trees.
  • For shelter in the forest, find a low area under a thick growth of small trees.
  • If you are caught in an open area, crouch in a low place like a valley or ravine. Be watchful of flash floods.

Stuck in the Storm To do your best to avoid injury:

  • Get on your hands and knees - just drop to your knees and bend forward. Never lie flat on the ground.
  • Use whatever insulation you may have available. Attempt to have as little of your body touching the ground as possible. Crouch on a log or your sleeping bag or foam pad.
  • Get out of your tent if it contains metal poles or other parts.
  • If your hair starts to stand on end, act quickly because lightning is about to strike.


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