Escape Plan: Reduce Lightning Strike Risk

Tips for lessening the risk of lightning in the backcountry.
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Tips for lessening the risk of lightning in the backcountry.

The forecast didn’t warn of lightning within 100 miles of your hike—but that crack was unmistakable and clouds are rolling in. Now what?

Lightning can strike ground more than 25 miles from storm clouds, so blue sky overhead doesn’t mean you’re safe. In fact, there’s no place in the backcountry that is completely safe in an electrical storm, but your first move should be to seek safer terrain. Move off of peaks and ridges, and to the lowest ground nearby. In rolling landscapes, drop into a depression, like a dry ravine. Stay away from water and isolated tall trees or towers.

If the time between the flash and the bang is less than 30 seconds (5 seconds = 1 mile), consider yourself at serious risk. If you hear buzzing, or static is making your hair stand up, a strike is imminent. Assume the lightning position: Spread out with at least 50 feet between you and other people so that multiple people won’t be struck by one bolt, incapacitating the whole group. Crouch or sit with your feet close together on a foam pad or pack (without a metal frame). Standing, laying down, and having your feet wide all increase the potential damage from a direct hit. Removing metal jewelry will reduce the risk of a secondary burn, but not a lightning strike.

If there’s a threat of lightning overnight, use the safe terrain con- siderations described earlier in this section to choose your campsite; tents offer no protection from lightning and may even attract it.

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