Lightning At Camp: do's and don'ts

Last weekend, a crew of us here at ARS and MetalCloak headed into the high country for an overnight Rocklanding trip. Saturday was amazing, with good weather all day, up until about 7pm when the clouds started rolling in and things began to change. By 9pm, we had taken shelter to heavy rain and lots of lightning/thunder.

Now, having spent most of my life in the out-of-doors, it wasn't my first rodeo with lightning, but it always raises concerns for good reason. It was certainly a gentle reminder of what to do and not to do during an electrical storm, so I thought I'd gather some of those best practices and jot them into the newsletter for those who may not know how to handle such conditions.

Here's a list put together by the U.S. Forest Service, that outlines the best do's and don'ts when encountering such conditions.

What to do if there is lightning? 

  • Move immediately to safe shelter -- a building or inside a closed metal topped vehicle with the windows up -- when you hear thunder. Thunder means that lightning is nearby.
  • Stay sheltered until at least 30 minutes after you hear the last clap of thunder.
  • Stay low when outdoors – lightning hits the tallest object. Get off elevated areas such as hills, mountain ridges, or peaks. If caught in an open field, seek a low spot and crouch with your feet together and head low. If possible, insulate yourself from the ground (sleeping pad for instance).
  • Stay away from objects that conduct electricity, such as barbed wire fences, power lines, windmills, and other tall objects.
  • Drop metal objects like golf clubs, fishing poles, umbrellas, and backpacks with metal frames. Wet items, such as ropes, also conduct electricity.
  • Get off bicycles, motorcycles, horses, and all-terrain vehicles.
  • Don't stay on lakes, ponds, and rivers. Seek shelter when a storm approaches. Boaters who cannot get off the water before the storm hits should crouch low in the boat. Once on land, get at least 100 yards away from shore.
  • Carry a NOAA radio or visit for weather updates. Remember that weather information is provided for a nearest city and not for a national forest or grassland.
  • It is safe to touch someone who has been struck by lightning. Attend to people who have been struck by lightning. Call for help immediately. Perform cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, if necessary, and stay with the victim until help arrives.

What not to do if there is lightning?

  • Pitch your tent near the tallest tree – lightning strikes tall objects.
  • Stand near isolated trees, on cliffs, ridge tops, or rocky overhangs. Run into the forest if possible. Caves are a last resort for shelter, as they have high risks, including falling hazards, rock falls, and cold, dark conditions.
  • Stand in open fields. If you are caught in an open field, seek a low spot. Crouch with your feet together and head low.
  • Sit or lie down – these positions provide much more contact with the ground, allowing a wider path for lightning to follow. If you are with a group and the threat of lightning is high, spread out at least 15 feet apart to minimize the chance of everybody getting hit.
  • Return to an open area too soon. People have been struck by lightning near the end of a storm, which is still a dangerous time.