Thursday, July 14, 2011

Lightning Safety

Photo: John R. Southern/Wikipedia Commons
As reported in today's Salt Lake Tribune, there have been two tragic lightning deaths in Utah this week.  On Monday, a man was struck and killed near the Wedge Overlook in the San Rafael Swell, and yesterday a Boy Scout was killed while camping at Scofield Reservoir.  Apparently, the Boy Scout was moving to shelter when he was struck.  What a tragedy.

Perhaps today is a good day to discuss lightning safety and what you can do to minimize lightning hazard.  The NWS has a brochure on lightning safety available here.  The bottom line is that there is no outdoor place that is safe during a thunderstorm.  Head indoors or get in your car.  When car camping, move from your tent into your car.

Many readers of this blog spend considerable time in the backcountry where one can take steps to minimize (but not eliminate) lightning hazard.  Plan ahead.  Know the forecast.  The rule of thumb to be off high ridges in the afternoons is just that...a rule of thumb.  There are certain situations when this applies and when it doesn't.   Keep an eye to the sky.  When thunderstorms are near, stay away from open areas where you are the highest object and away from tall isolated obstacles.

Keep in mind that many people are struck either before or after it rains.   Don't wait to find shelter or minimize exposure, and linger a bit longer as the storm moves out.

Although there is a tendency for lightning-strike frequency to be higher on ridges and mountains, this does not mean that lightning cannot strike in lowlands or valleys.  For example, a few years ago after a thunderstorm in the Oregon Cascades, we observed a lightning-induced spot-fire at Crater Lake, well below the surrounding rim and nearby mountain.

You can minimize the odds of being struck by going low, but not eliminate it.  If you can get indoors or in a car, do so.

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