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Lightning Safety Facts

Backpacking and camping basics and other general trip planning discussion for the uninitiated. Use this forum to learn where to look for the information you need, and to ask questions, related to the beginner basics of backpacking and camping, including technique and best practices.
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Lightning Safety Facts

Postby maverick » Wed Jul 18, 2012 12:50 pm

Since the monsoonal flow is starting up it might be a good idea to brush up on the
the facts and precautions to take during a lightning storm.
http://www.lightningsafety.com/nlsi_info/thunder2.html
http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/outdoors.htm

Before you click on this link turn up the volume, click for full screen and start, now
that is pretty wicked!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&featu ... m3rHONOr9o
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Re: Lightening Safety Facts

Postby SSSdave » Wed Jul 18, 2012 4:01 pm

Very impressive video with audio capture. Those people are however rather ignorant about lightning dangers, else they would not be standing next to those tripods or that water channel just a few feet away. Reading down in the comments, one of them related they thought they were safe because that tree seen in the distance was higher than they are. Their thinking was that would then tend to draw any charge. Actually that tree would not draw lightning leaders away much further horizontally than the height of the tree. So they were sitting ducks.

I'm always dismayed at how poorly many people in the outdoors understand lightning phenomenon and that especially includes many backpackers, peak baggers, and climbers that don't seem to understand when they ought to turn around, find a safe location, and hunker down. If one is out in such weather occasionally, one owes some effort if they value their life to understand what to do.

Two soccer players were just killed in Houston after hiding beneath a tree during a storm:

http://news.yahoo.com/2-houston-soccer- ... tml?_esi=1

Looking like I may get some promising lake reflection photo ops on our Silver Divide trip about Graveyard Lakes and the big lakes across the divide. Just weighed my pack and carrying weight at 65 pounds. Its a beast.
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Re: Lightening Safety Facts

Postby sparky » Wed Jul 18, 2012 4:27 pm

Living some high school years in Kansas gave me a healthy fear and respect for lightning. If I hear thunder above treeline, i am heading for cover.

I witnessed close strikes just like in that video. The storms out there are absolutely incredible.
There is a million ways to be human, all are worthwhile.

True happiness is the absence of striving for happiness.
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Re: Lightening Safety Facts

Postby juscro » Wed Jul 18, 2012 8:07 pm

Those were some good links to read up on lightning safety. The last time we got caught we huddled up together but it sounds like it's better to spread ourselves out. With folks that are not used to that situation might be stressful. I've forwarded that link to my usual hiking buddies so we can relay that info.

On another note...I believe it is markskor (sorry if incorrect) that had photos of incredible lightning on matthes crest. Did you set up your tripod and hunker down somewhere? How did you get those shots without exposing yourself to harm?
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Re: Lightening Safety Facts

Postby shoenberg3 » Wed Jul 18, 2012 11:08 pm

Good information here. How long do lightning storms typically last in the sierra (I understand this is a rather broad question)? But are they usually less than a hour or do they typically span many hours?

THe only experience I had with foul weather while camping in the Sierra involved a downpour (with no lightning) that lasted perhaps 4-5 hours in the afternoon (started raining 1pm and cleared up miraculously around sunset).
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Re: Lightening Safety Facts

Postby maverick » Thu Jul 19, 2012 12:03 pm

Two more interesting sites about lightening:
http://ellerbruch.nmu.edu/classes/cs255 ... gmain.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
http://www.nssl.noaa.gov/primer/lightni ... asics.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Length of the storms vary but most start around 1-2 pm and last till 4-5 pm, but like mentioned there are exceptions like storms (with lightening) lasting till 2-3 am, or starting early morning, but these are much more rare occurrences.
HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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Re: Lightening Safety Facts

Postby kpeter » Thu Jul 26, 2012 3:10 pm

Last summer I camped at Wanda rather than try to cross Muir Pass in a thunderstorm, but numerous others trudged right on over. People did not want to get "off schedule" they said. I shook my head.

The next day when I got to the pass I found several groups that had stopped and huddled in the hut during the storm. Question: does the Muir Hut have a lightning rod and afford any protection? Not that it would make it wise to do what they did--I just wonder whether they were all sheltering in a death trap.

Another question. One of the links you provided repeats the advice to stay clear of metal objects. Would this be an argument to replace hiking sticks with carbon-fiber? I have often worried about my aluminum poles when I hear thunder, and tend to leave them aside when I hunker down.
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Re: Lightening Safety Facts

Postby jfelectron » Thu Jul 26, 2012 3:36 pm

The NOLS primer is quite comprehensive on this subject:

http://rendezvous.nols.edu/files/Curric ... elines.pdf
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Re: Lightening Safety Facts

Postby maverick » Thu Jul 26, 2012 4:13 pm

Hi KP,


Carbon fiber are flexible, lightweight, thermally and to a large extent chemically inert, and are good thermal and electrical conductors. In other words ditch them, also when things get are wet they conduct electricity.

NPS Wilderness Trip Planner 2012 states: "Do Not seek shelter in the Mt. Whitney Hut or the Muir Hut - lightning can be conducted to individuals inside."
http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q= ... jEtzLo_v-w" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Click OK to open pdf file, and scroll down to the Lightning Section.
HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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Re: Lightning Safety Facts

Postby giantbrookie » Thu Jul 26, 2012 8:09 pm

Regarding some aspects of lightning safety and the like. As is well known one wants to seek lower ground during the lightning storm but everyone should be aware that one is merely putting the odds in one's favor (and this is what we all strive to do), for there are no guarantees. I have seen some disconcerting lightning strikes during my many years in the high country, including watching repeated strikes to the bottom of the S. Fork San Joaquin Canyon (downstream of Florence no less).

Regarding the time, the most common is as Maverick notes is in the afternoon, but summer season seems to feature occasional weather patterns where the lightning storms will go nearly round the clock. I have both been awakened by and slept through (Judy told story in morning) some amazing middle-of-the-night fireworks. The most unsettling of the latter was a place we camped near the trail below Shepherd Pass (E side) above Anvil Camp, somewhere near the location known as the Pothole. We had been in and out of the storms all day including waiting out a few at the famed Colorado cutthroat basin. That evening things appeared to be clearing and Judy, exhausted, headed into the tent for an early sleep while I stayed up a bit and enjoyed the evening. The little scrubby pines (waist high) around where we were camped were very tortured looking, as is typical with vegetation at altitude, but, as I looked more carefully, I noticed that many of these gnarly looking bushes apparently arrived at their configuration because of past lightning strikes that had split their trunks and left the rest scorched. With things clearing I didn't worry about it too much and I crawled into my bag and slept soundly until morning. The next morning, Judy told me she was awakened by a serious thunderstorm in the wee hours of the morning and it was frightening with a number of time delays well under 1 second--she did not sleep at all after that.

One thing about thunderstorms many of us don't think about is trip planning for them to the extent that one's route is configured so that one actually has a change to get to safer ground should such storms roll in during the day. I have tended to think about this in terms of a day's itinerary because I once aborted a very interesting trip (Humphreys Basin over the top of Four Gables from Horton Lakes) because thunderstorms rolled in and I did not want to over the crest in such weather. Since then I have tended to plan (if feasible) to cross high points on a route, or do side peak bagging, in the morning, in case the thunderstorms arrive in the afternoon. One trip, however, had to be constantly improvised, with lots of schedule and route changes and 3 cancelled peak bagging attempts (perhaps more), because for most of 8 days thunderstorms rolled in sporadically around the clock.
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: http://www.fresnostate.edu/csm/ees/facu ... ayshi.html
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Re: Lightening Safety Facts

Postby kpeter » Thu Jul 26, 2012 8:30 pm

maverick wrote:Hi KP,

Carbon fiber are flexible, lightweight, thermally and to a large extent chemically
inert, and are good thermal and electrical conductors.
In other words ditch them. Also when things get wet they conduct electricity.

NPS Wilderness Trip Planner 2012 states: "Do Not seek shelter in the Mt. Whitney Hut
or the Muir Hut - lightning can be conducted to individuals inside."
http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q= ... jEtzLo_v-w
Click OK to open pdf file, and scroll down to the Lightning Section.


Thanks Maverick,

That is eye opening about the hut. One strike would probably have injured/maimed/killed a dozen people there, and I have to believe that many hikers go into the hut during storms. Seems like a terrible disaster waiting to happen.

So carbon fiber would be about as bad as my aluminum poles. I hate feeling like a walking lightning rod. Perhaps I should consider my old wooden staff. It had more character than my Komperdells, anyway!
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Re: Lightening Safety Facts

Postby jfelectron » Thu Jul 26, 2012 10:40 pm

Why don't they put a metal cage inside the Muir hut so as to function as a Faraday cage? Maybe they don't want to encourage people to push toward the pads with an impending tstorm.



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