Plan Ahead and Prepare: Lightning Safety

With the third stretch of our John Muir Trail hike coming up and the past week of Sierra Nevada thunder storms, I figured it was a good time to brush up on lightening safety.

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.

– To estimate how far away the storm is, count the seconds between the obvious flash and the obvious bang. You’ll see light almost instantaneous and sound travels a mile every five seconds, so the idea is to count the number of seconds and divide by five to see how many miles away the storm is. Keep in mind the flash-bang ranging system is just a tool to get an idea, don’t bet your life on it.
– Lightning tends to hit elevated objects: mountain tops, trees, a boat in water; so get low!
– Lone trees are especially dangerous. Also stay a safe distance of about 40 feet 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!),

3 responses to “Plan Ahead and Prepare: Lightning Safety

  1. Pingback: John Muir Trail Part Four: Baxter Pass Junction to Whitney Portal | Trails' Guide·

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