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Survive Lightning

By Brian J. Lane

Second only to flash floods, lightning kills more people each year in the United States than any other weather-related incident. A single bolt can carry as much as 200 million volts and can strike a person up to ten miles away from the storm front.

To help prevent a possible lightning strike, you should familiarize yourself with the local weather patterns, especially the southwestern summer monsoon season, which results in widespread afternoon thunderstorms. Avoid hiking in exposed locations like cliff edges or being near isolated tall objects like trees and metal poles during these and other stormy times.

In order to monitor a storm front, remember that sound carries at one mile per five seconds, so if you count the number of seconds after you see a flash of lightning and divide it by five, you’ll know about how far away the storm is.

If caught outside in a lightning storm, get to a low area that does not collect water, take off your pack, and squat low on your sleeping pad or the pack itself (for insulation). If you are in a tent, stay on your sleeping pad and do not touch the tent walls. If at any time you feel the hair rise on the back of your neck, get down quick!

A lightning strike can accost you in many ways—a direct strike, ground current, and the blast effect, to name a few. If you or your hiking companion(s) happen to be struck by lightning they should be evacuated immediately.

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