Backpacker Magazine – June 2012
Survival: Lightning Myths: Busted
1.) Myth: You can hide from lightning.
No place is 100-percent safe in the backcountry, but some spots are better than others.
>> Top priority:
Get low relative to nearby terrain.
>> Uniform forests
are safest. Avoid open meadows, lakes, caves, rock overhangs, peaks, or ridges.
>> Best option:
Go inside a building or hard-topped car.
2.) Myth: Under clear skies, you’re safe from a strike.
“Bolts from the blue” can travel and strike as far as 25 miles from storm clouds.
>> Check regional forecasts.
Be alert for storms within 100 miles of your route; watch the direction they’re trending.
>> You’re within strike
range if you can hear thunder. Look for shelter when (or before) thunder and lightning are 30 seconds apart.
>> Stay under cover until 30 minutes have passed
since the last thunderclap.
3.) Myth: Once a person’s struck, he’s dead—and you’ll be electrocuted if you touch him.
About 90 percent of strike victims survive. After being hit, they can’t shock you—but will likely benefit from first aid.
>> Administer CPR.
Almost all lightning fatalities are due to cardiac arrest. Immediate CPR may restart the heart and save a victim’s life.
>> Treat wounds.
Look for and address head injuries and fractures. Burn first aid: cool with water, apply antibacterial ointment, and bandage.
>> Immediately evacuate
any strike victim to a hospital.
4.) Myth: Crouching on a sleeping pad will insulate you from a direct strike.
Nothing in the backcountry insulates against a strike or ground current (the most common cause of lightning injury). Reduce exposure
to both by assuming a tucked, tight crouch.
>> Stay low.
Short objects are less likely strike targets.
>> Keep your arms and feet close.
Spreading them increases the severity of injuries and burns if you’re struck.
>> Don’t lie down.
Minimize contact with the ground; keep your body’s footprint as small as possible.
What Your Should Know
• Get off peaks early; descend by 2 p.m. in storm season.
• Avoid exposed campsites; tents provide no electrical shelter.
• Stay 50 feet from others.
• Move off lakes and away from tall shoreline trees.
• Flee meadows; even in low terrain the tallest objects attract • strikes.
• Avoid lone tall trees.
• Anticipate nighttime storms; plan a route to safer terrain.
• Safer: ditches and dips.
• An average bolt is five miles long, one inch thick, and has • enough energy to power a headlamp for 139,500 years.
• Doh! Guys get struck 4 times as much as gals.
• 5 Seconds it takes for the sound of thunder to travel one mile
Deadliest Wilderness Sports
Whatcha doing when lightning strikes?
Fishing - 25%
Camping - 24%
Hiking - 7%
Have to ditch camp in a storm? Learn how to set up your camera to capture the bolts you’re evading.