Do you know what to do when you're stuck on a mountain during a thunderstorm? Review some key lightning safety tips before you hit the trail during the summer hiking season, when wild weather can churn up lightning in the high country.
- Before you go, check the weather. There are many excellent weather resources available to hikers. Our favorite is the National Weather Service's mountains forecast page that provides a detailed forecast for hiking destinations (not just towns and cities) throughout Western Washington.
- Pay attention to the weather on your hike, and try to avoid ridges or walking into a storm on a peak summit. If you can hear thunder, then you're already at risk of a lightning strike, and it's time to take action to protect yourself.
- If you're on a ridge or in an open area (like a summit, high meadow or on a lake), retreat to a sheltered area. Try to descend in a gully, rather than on a ridge. Shallow caves or picnic shelters aren't good enough. Lightning can bounce around and strike you. Enter the forest, but do not choose the tallest tree in a stand of trees for shelter. Avoid water and isolated trees.
- If you cannot find shelter, crouch down with your feet close together. Do not lie down—doing so creates a larger target for lightning. Crouching on your pack does not lessen your chances of being struck, but if you have a foam pad, you can stand on that to reduce the impact of ground current.
- If you're in your tent, get out—the poles attract lightning.
- If you're near your vehicle, get in and roll up the windows—but do not touch any metal during the storm.
Make yourself less attractive (to lightning)
- Toss away metal objects (ice axe, trekking poles, tent poles, climbing gear).
- Get off the cell phone. This could attract lightning.
- Hiking partners should stay at least 15 feet away from each other.
Further reading for lightning safety
- Many of these tips are gleaned from Mountain Weather, by meteorologist Jeff Renner, which is also available as an ebook. The book is packed with good advice on thunderstorms, hypothermia and predicting weather in the backcountry.
- . [PDF] suggestions for staying safe in a storm
- Lightning guidelines from NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory.
- NOLS Backcountry Lightning Risk Management