Lightning Safety in the Great Outdoors

It was the beginning of July and we decided to throw our sleeping bags and bivy sacs in panniers and cycle/hike up to a nearby mountain ridge to watch the annual fireworks display. Nearing dusk, we found a spot to bivouac. Far off in the distance, a little storm caught our attention.

Avoid open ridges in thunderstorms. (Photo: M.Kopp)

Bolts of lightning lit up the sky. The system appeared to be heading in a north-easterly direction, so not a concern.

As darkness fell, the lightening show picked up and we were mesmerized by nature’s grand display – so much so that we nearly missed the little lights coming from the fireworks in the city below.

But as we watched Ma Nature overshadow human ingenuity, the storm started tracking our way. Headlamps in place, we quickly made the decision to pack up our gear and beat a hasty retreat.

As we reached the lower slope, cracks of thunder sounded overhead. One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand… crack! 

We were back at the bikes and racing down the fire lookout road as the rain hit. One one thousand, two one thousand… crack!

Sighing with relief, we reached the truck just as… one one thous… crack!

Safety Tips
The National Weather Service offers great tips on lightning safety outdoors. Top pointers include:

  • Know local weather pattern (e.g. in mountainous areas, thunderstorms typically develop in the afternoon, so plan to hike early in the day).
  • Check weather forecasts before heading out.
  • If camping  or hiking and a storm approaches, avoid open fields and exposed ridge tops.
  • Don’t seek shelter under isolated trees.
  • Stay away from water.

© 2011

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