The third in our new weekly How To series…
Our sandwiches started to get soggy as the rain quickly turned from a sprinkle to a steady pour. We got up from our seat on a fallen Aspen to seek shelter under a large Spruce tree. I was only one bite into the sandwich from my new dry picnic spot when I spotted it, a flash of lightning. Jay and I looked at one another and knew it was time to move. As part of a rather random volunteer assignment counting cows, we were alone at over 9,000 feet, within 1,000 feet of the top of a ridge line in the Manti La Sal National Forest. As we started making our way down the hillside into the gully we watched and waited, waiting to count the seconds between the next thunder and lightning bolts in order to estimate the distance. It was a steep hillside and we were getting off the ridge as quickly as we could without twisting an ankle. The rain mixed with corn hail which bounced off of our rain gear and blanketed the ground cover.
THUNDER – it reverberated off the steep sides of the gully, the sound waves seeming to multiply in force – I held my breath and counted, 1 … 2 … 3 … 4 … 5 … LIGHTNING. Eek! Too close to stop now. We kept trudging down and down into the bottom of the gully. The further we walked the more distant the storm sounded and the safer I felt. After only a half a mile we were reaching the edge of the storm and could see blue skies ahead.
It only takes one time caught out in the open with a lightning storm on your tail to remind you about this deadly, if uncommon, threat. Growing up in the desert southwest, Jay is no stranger to lightning strikes, and he and I reviewed the best practices for how to handle this situation and hope that you will head this advice and better yet, never have to use it.
What to do if you are caught out in the open during a lightning storm and can not get to a building or car:
The basic rule of thumb is, you do not want to be the tallest thing around.
- Get Low: If you are in a meadow or open area, find a low spot and crouch down with your feet together and hands over your ears (if it is very close). If you are at high elevation and you can move off the ridge safely, do so, but avoid being directly under tall trees or in water as lightning could travel through either one and hit you.
- Avoid Metal: If you are on a bike or carrying metal trekking poles and the lightning is getting close, ditch the metal objects.
- Estimate the distance: By counting the number of seconds between the lightning flash and the thunder you can estimate the distance, less than 10 seconds = less than 2 miles; 30 seconds or more = 6 or more miles. You are safe if you are 6 or more miles away.
- Split up: If you are in a group, try to keep at least 15 feet apart so that you can not both be struck by the same bolt.
If you can see it, flee it; if you can hear it, clear it.