With all this rain about lately, we have been presented with some pristine hiking and running conditions. However, when it is already overcast and cloudy, it is easy to forget about the lightning risk. How do we make sure we are staying safe out on the trail?
First and foremost, prevention is better than cure, and checking the weather report is the first port of call before heading outside. There are several websites where the weather report can be obtained such as YR Weather, Accuweather and Weather24. There are also several apps that can be used such as Weather Bug. Weather Bug can update you on information such as the closest lightning strike and a variety of other weather information that can be useful.
Whilst prevention may be better than cure, the common adventurer also often justifies heading out anyway, despite the risk finding themselves in more serious scenarios later. Whether it’s a bad call or simply just bad luck, one can quickly find themselves in need of making quick decisions to keep themselves safe.
So, you have checked the weather beforehand and still end up in a storm, what do you do?
If there’s thunder, there’s lightning! It is about time to move to lower ground. Avoid ridges, rocky outcrops, large bodies of water and solitary high points. If you are below a cliff you can move into the “Safe Zone” near a small cliff. To do this, estimate the height of the cliff and sit the same distance away from it.
The ‘Flash Bang Method’ can be used to determine roughly how far away the lightning is. Count the seconds between the lightning (flash) and the thunder (bang). Multiply this number by 340, because sound moves at 343mps (For sake of simplicity I always use 340). Your answer is in meters, for example: a flash bang of 10 seconds is 10 x 340 = 3400m therefore the lightning is 3.4km away.
If the lightning is closer than 15km away, it is about time to get into lightning position. A situation that many outdoorsmen reluctantly find themselves in. Place all large metal objects, like tent or trekking poles, away from the group. Place your bag or insulated sleeping mat on the ground. Sit on top of the insulated mat or bag on your haunches. Wait out the storm.
Sometimes the conditions are not right for the summit or the trip, it is a part of the outdoor lifestyle. Stay safe out there!