When you are out hiking, anything can happen, including sudden weather changes. A scenic mountain hike can turn into a frightening and serious emergency situation in a couple of minutes.
Lightning storms can be some of the most frightening weather hazards encountered on the mountains. They tend to occur without any notice especially on summer afternoons.
As a hiker, you must to know the “what to do” and “what not to do” before going on such expeditions because this information will be a lifeline to keeping you prepared and safe during the storm.
Precaution When Hiking: Check the Weather Forecast
Lightning storms usually occur in the afternoon. According to the marvelmountain.com good practice would be to hike early in the morning to cover some ground, and be prepared for any weather changes after midday.
However, anything can happen and lightning storms might appear in the morning. Always be on the watch for clouds and lightning. The sooner you spot one heading your way, the more time you will have to seek shelter.
In case you spot a lightning storm, some of the things you need to do include:
1. Calculate the Mileage Between You and the Lightning Storm
After seeing flashes and hearing thunder, it is important to calculate the storm’s distance from your position so as to know if you are in the striking zone.
This distance can be calculated by counting the number of seconds between the appearance of the lightning flash and the rumbling sound of thunder that follows then dividing those seconds by 5.
The result gives you a rough estimate of the distance of the storm in miles from your current position. If it is less than 6 miles out, you need to start seeking shelter immediately because you are in the striking zone.
2. Seek Shelter
Lightning storm shelters need to be lightning proof. Shelters such as lone trees, tall trees, cave entrances and tents on high ground are not good at all. In fact, these increase your chances of being hit by lighting.
If you are in a forested part of the mountain, take cover under shorter trees because they are less likely to be hit. If you find a cave, take shelter deep inside the cave, but do not go into the low spots in the cave. Rainwater might accumulate in such spots from the runoff.
If you happen to find cabins or shelters along the way, take shelter at the center-most point of these structures. However, if you are on open ground, with none of these available to hide in, avoid high ground. Go to the valleys or depressions and wait out the storm from there.
3. Get Rid of Metallic Objects
While the lightning storm passes by, avoid any contact with metallic objects such as jewelry and metallic backpack frames. Metal is a good conductor of electricity and having these items close to you, increases your chances of being hit.
4. Adopt the Lighting Position
If you are a novice hiker and you did not happen to look around for signs of lightning storms, it might ground you on very dangerous spots like on high ground. In such a case, assume the lighting position.
Crouch down on the balls of your feet, with the feet close together. Minimize your body size as much as possible and do not contact the ground with any other part of your body. Then tuck your head, close your eyes and cover your ears with your hands until the storm passes.
5. Spread Out
Either when waiting out the storm in a lightning position or in a shelter, it is always wise for the hikers to spread out 50-100 feet apart.
This is to reduce the chances of everyone being hit in case things get worse. In such emergency situations, it would be better off to have multiple hikers to provide first aid than to have multiple hikers requiring first aid.
It is important to stay away from lightning flashes. Sometimes you might even feel hairs on your head or on your entire body rising, which means you are in a high electrical field zone.
In such a case, you should move to a different place immediately. If anyone among the hikers gets hit, the others should act quickly. Someone who has been hit is safe to touch and can be given CPR if they are not breathing.
Also, check for the signs that might have caused the disaster to happen, for instance close proximity to metallic objects, and remove them immediately. As some hikers provide first aid, some of the hikers should ask for help immediately.
However, if everything works out well, the group of hikers can continue ascending or descending after the lightning storm subsides.
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