Staying safe through storm season
Ryan Summerlin July 29, 2012
The biggest part of staying safe from a lightning strike is to keep out of harms way in the first place. But, should one find themselves in a danger zone – like above tree line, or on a river or lake – here are some tips on mitigating risks.
This time of year, “you can almost set your clock to the afternoon storms,” said Dave Miller, Keystone Science School’s school programs director and trained wilderness first responder. “If you’re going to summit, or be above tree line, it’s very important to start early.”
If you’re stuck on a mountain when bad weather sets in, try to get to lower grounds, or find a spot to hide inside the woods. If lightning strikes, it will most likely hit the trees, rather than you, Miller said. Make sure the trees are healthy, because in Summit County a thunder storm probably means wind, and you don’t want to get hit by a dead, falling tree, he said.
While they may look cozy, shallow caves should be avoided – lightning tends to find the “path of least resistance,” Miller said, and if it hits a rock you’re hiding under, it will go straight through the rock (and then through you) to the ground.
If hikers and bikers are close to their cars when the weather hits, it’s a relatively safe place to hide, Miller said. This is another case of “the path of least resistance;” It tends to go through the metal around the car, he said.
Another method of protection if caught outside is the “lightning position” – a crouching pose with heels touching. It may be uncomfortable to hold, but if there’s a ground strike and it goes up one leg, it should then just pass to the other and back down, rather than affecting the nervous system.
In order to measure how far away a strike is from you, use the “flash to crash” method.
“On average, sound travels at about one mile every five seconds,” Miller said. “If you see the lightning, you can count to five and know about how many miles away it is.”
But remember, lightning can actually precede a storm by about 10 miles. Strikes are not necessarily in the back or middle of a storm, but “everywhere,” Miller said.
Staying indoors is the safest place to be, although cell hones and electrical appliances can be dangerous. There has also been known strikes when someone’s in the shower, Miller said.
If someone is hit, CPR is the most successful way to revive a patient, Miller said. The biggest side effects in survivors are psychological, like depression, he said.
Miller, who has led numerous wilderness excursions, feels like he has had some close calls, but never any problems. People shouldn’t be scared to enjoy their lives, but be aware of how to mitigate the risks, he said.