Lightning Safety

Besides maybe being on the Farmington River at Flood Stage, potentially the most life-threatening situation you could encounter while recreating is a lightning strike. Statistics say that U.S. residents have a 1 in 3000 lifetime chance of being struck by lightning. Fishermen, campers and boaters are in the highest risk category. Only 10% of strikes are fatal, but they often leave permanent injuries.

Here are some quick facts:

  1. The speed of the lightning flash you see is extremely fast - 186,000 mph. The sound from the thunder however, travels relatively much slower - about a mile every 5 seconds. You can calculate how far away the lightning is by counting the seconds from when you see the flash until when you hear the thunder. Take the number of seconds counted and divide by five to get the distance in miles (for example if it takes 10 seconds for the thunder to reach you, the lightning was 2 miles away).
  2. People have been struck by lightning when the storm was as far as 10 miles away.
  3. A popular guideline is to take cover if the storm is closer than 6 miles away, and then also wait until it passes by at least 6 miles (30 seconds to hear the thunder) before going back out in vulnerable terrain.
  4. An average bolt of lightning carries a current of 30,000 amps.
  5. Sometimes people struck by lightning need immediate CPR to restart the heart or breathing.

Safety Tips:

  • Realize lightning often hits tall objects. The more exposed you are and the flatter the terrain around you, the higher the risk.
  • If you have access to a vehicle, get in it. They are the best shelters, but don't touch any metal inside during the storm.
  • Taking shelter under a large tree is a bad plan. Remember, lightning likes to hit tall objects and the charge can run down the tree into the ground and roots.
  • Water is a conductor. Lightning likes to follow paths of moisture. Stay away from anywhere where the water is running, or wet surfaces.
  • If you feel your hair stand up, you may be in trouble. A lightning strike close by is imminent. Crouch down (but don't lie down) on the balls of your feet and cover your ears. If you can crouch on anything that might insulate you from the ground, like a camp pad or life jacket, it may help.

Source: Teresa Gryder, American Whitewater March/April 2017