I was helping with a 3rd grade camping trip recently, there where about 40 young kinds and a handful of parents and teachers and it was fantastically well organized.
The first evening though a parent got a text along the lines of “giant thunderstorm, looks like it’s headed your way, prepare for the worst”. This created some immediate alarm, people weren’t sure how to stay safe, and tensions shot through the roof. A few folks, including myself, had some wilderness experience and we explained to everyone else that staying put, in your tent, on your foam pad is the way to go.
But here’e the thing…most people probably don’t know much about lighting…they know to stay in a car, or indoors, but what do you do if you’re camping? Here are my thoughts…
- Know local weather patterns. When lightning is most common, what direction it normally travels, etc.
- The FLASH is followed by the BOOM. When the time between the FLASH and BOOM is 30 seconds or less it’s time start minimizing your risk.
- Get some plastic between you and the ground, foam sleeping pads work great, so do life jackets, hiking boots, nylon ropes, whatever you got. Avoid things with metal in them, like backpacks or camp chairs with metal frames. Now don’t touch the ground!
- Avoid high places, bodies of water, tallest trees in the area, only tree in the area, wide open places, cave or building entrances…basically go for areas with normal tree cover. Lightning goes for things that stand out, so don’t stand out. I’ve also seen lightning go through big rocks, so I avoid those too.
- Spread out but stay in sight of each other, if you get hit and your friends don’t they can still help you out.
- Get comfy, have rain gear and a snack, keep calm.
- if you have a ten set up stay in it, even though it has metal poles. If you’re friend is sleeping and they are COMPLETELY on a foam pad let them sleep, if they slid off or a hand/foot is touching the ground/tent floor consider waking them up.
- Always pick the best spot around and stay there, never move during the lightning storm.
Distance: for every 5 seconds between the flash and the boom, the lightning is about a mile away. That’s 1 mile/5 seconds.
Now, if you are unlucky enough to get hit by lightning, or slightly more lucky but your friend still gets hit, the number of possible injuries are endless…just do your best with what you find, and then get to a doctor. If you want to learn how to deal with back country medical issues take a course with these folks here, the’re awesome.
And remember, you probably wont be hit by lightning…the odds are insanely low. Odds are the drive there and back is way more dangerous. But hey, why not minimize the risk?
On this particular trip the storm never came near us, but I’m glad folks knew what to do if it had. I always prepare for the worst, and then if it happens it’s not such a big deal.
More questions? Something need clarification? Have a personal experience or thought to add? Feel free to comment below!