Summary: Lightning (long)
BILL NELSON (nelsonb@AZTEC.ASU.EDU)
Thu, 8 Jun 1995 13:00:15 -0700
I have summarized some of the excellent notes
on Lightning safety. Please review and let me
know if I left any important information out.
I will probably turn it into a Web page and put
it on U.S. Scouting.
Be Lightning Wise!
Edited by: Bill Nelson, Unit Commissioner, Tempe District, Grand Canyon
As the Summer and Monsoon seasons approach, all of us who love the
outdoors need to be reminded that lightning injuries are the most common
of weather-related accidents. This was brought home to me in a
special way just last Summer. My 17 year old, J.B., used his training
as an Eagle Scout to probably save his own life. He was working at a
grocery store when a storm was blowing up. He went out to roll up his
truck windows, and as he closed his truck door he caught a view of his
reflection in the window of the truck. At that instant, what he saw was
his hair standing on end, waving about. He recognized that this meant
that he was statically charged and could be struck by lightning at any
time. He immediately crouched down by the front tire of his truck, and
immediately there was a loud crash of thunder and a blinding flash, as a
lightning bolt hit less than 50 yards away. He could hardly hear
anything for several minutes, but was not injured. Hearing his story
made my own hair stand on end!
Don E. Robinson M.D.; Assistant Scoutmaster Troop 10 Cherokee Area
(TN-GA), Cleveland, TN.
Lightning Safety Rules and Tips
Before Lightning Strikes...
* Keep an eye on the sky. Look for darkening skies, flashes of
light, or increasing wind. Listen for the sound of thunder.
* If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to the storm to be
struck by lightning. Go to safe shelter immediately.
* Listen to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for
the latest weather forecasts.
* An AM radio will pick up static from lightning strikes in your
vicinity even if you don't see or hear them (for example, as in the
story above: you are about to leave a building).
When a Storm Approaches...
* Lighting storms are often announced by a sudden drop in
temperature and increase in wind. The temperature drop and breeze are
usually the result of a downburst of cold air. Once the air hits the
ground, it has no place to go but outward in all directions. In the
process, the cold air mixes with the warmer air at ground level,
becoming a breeze and a temperature drop. Temperature will also drop
from the air moving toward you through all of that cold water, in the
storm, that is approaching. This can happen several minutes before it
actually begins to rain.
* Find shelter in a building or car. Keep car windows closed and
* Telephone lines and metal pipes can conduct electricity. Unplug
appliances. Avoid using the telephone or any electrical appliances.
* Avoid taking a bath or shower, or running water for any other
* Turn off the air conditioner. Power surges from lightning can
overload the compressor, resulting in a costly repair job!
* Draw blinds and shades over windows. If windows break due to
objects blow by the wind the shades will prevent glass from shattering
into your home.
* Stay away from open doors and windows. fireplaces, radiators,
stoves, metal pipes. sinks, and plug-in electrical appliances.
If Caught Outside...
* The summits of mountains, crests of ridges, slopes above
timberline, and large meadows are extremely hazardous places to be
during lightning storms. If you are caught in such an exposed place,
quickly descend to a lower elevation, away from the direction of the
approaching storm, and squat down, keeping your head low. A dense forest
located in a depression provides the best protection. Avoid taking
shelter under isolated trees or trees much taller than adjacent trees.
Stay away from water, metal objects, and other substances that will
conduct electricity long distances.
* Stay in the car if you are traveling. Automobiles offer excellent
* If you are in the woods, take shelter under the shorter trees.
* If you are boating or swimming, get to land and find shelter
Protecting Yourself Outside...
* Don't take laundry off the clothesline.
* Don't work on fences, telephone lines, power lines, pipelines, or
structural steel fabrications.
* Don't handle flammable materials in open containers.
* Don't use metal objects such as fishing rods and golf clubs.
Golfers wearing cleated shoes are particularly good lightning rods.
* Stop tractor work, especially when the tractor is pulling metal
equipment, and dismount. Tractors (including lawn tractors) and other
implements in metallic contact with the ground are often struck by
* Get out of the water and off small boats. If you cannot get out
of the small boat (ie, too far from land) you should position yourself
as low as possible in the boat, preferably with your entire body below
the line of the boat. Do not try to out race the storm to land. Also
when getting out of the water go at least 100 yards away from the shore.
* When no shelter is available, avoid the highest object in the
area. If only isolated trees are nearby, the best protection is to
crouch in the open, keeping twice as far away from isolated trees as the
trees are high.
* Avoid hilltops, open spaces, wire fences, metal clotheslines,
exposed sheds, and any electrically conducted elevated objects.
* Lightning takes the path of least resistance to the ground. Since
air is a very poor conductor, lighting seeks anything better - and an
upright human being is far better for its purpose than air! Stick up
above the grass and trees while hiking, and you become a prime target.
* When you are setting up a campsite in the summer-time, keep
thunderstorms in mind. Don't pitch your tent close to the larger trees
in the area, since these are the ones sought after by lighting. Be
especially careful to avoid trees that have long vertical notches in
their trunks, or have long, narrow strips of bark peeled from the trunk.
When lighting hits a tree, most of its force travels down the moist area
between the bark and the wood of the trunk. The bark gets stripped off
when the resulting stream forces its escape, and the narrow vertical
notches come about as the tree heals over the following years.
* Go to a low-lying, open place away from trees, poles, or metal
* Make sure the place you pick is not subject to flooding
Be a Very Small Target!
* Squat low to the ground. Place your hands on your knees with your
head between them. Make yourself the smallest target possible. By
squatting with your feet close together, you have minimal contact with
the ground, thus reducing danger from ground currents. If the threat of
lightning strikes is great, your group should not huddle together but
spread out at least 15 feet apart. If one member of your group is
jolted, the rest of you can tend to him. Whenever lightning is nearby,
take off backpacks with either external or internal metal frames. In
tents, stay at least a few inches from metal tent poles.
* If you can't get out of the open, put your pack, walking stick,
whatever, about 30 feet away from you, propped up high, and huddle on
* Don't sit on the ground or the groundpad, you make a larger
target. Crouch down on your feet on top of whatever supplementary
insulation you have and ride out the storm. If you are on a rock-
climbing trip, a coiled rope works well.
* Do not lie flat on the ground---this will make you a larger
After the Storm Passes...
* Stay away from storm-damaged areas.
* Listen to the radio for information and instructions.
If Someone is Struck by Lightning...
* People struck by lightning carry no electrical charge and can be
* Call for help. Get some one to dial 9-1-1 or your local Emergency
Medical Services (EMS) number.
* The injured person has received an electrical shock and may be
burned, both where they were struck and where the electricity left their
body. Check for burns in both places.
* Give first aid. If breathing has stopped, begin rescue breathing.
If the heart has stopped beating, a trained person should give CPR.
Learn First Aid and CPR
* Take a Red Cross first aid and CPR course. Call your local Red
Cross chapter for class schedules and fees.
The Guide to Safe Scouting (#34411) available from your BSA Council
American Red Cross materials:
1. "Are You Ready for a Thunderstorm?" (ARC 5009)
2. "Thunderstorms and Lightning...the Underrated Killers " (ARC 5001)
General Disaster Preparedness materials for children:
1. "Disaster Preparedness Coloring Book" (ARC 2200, English, or ARC
2200S, Spanish) for use by children 3-10.
2. "Adventures of the Disaster Dudes" (ARC 5024) video and
Presenter's Guide for use by an adult with children in grades 4-6.
3. To get copies of American Red Cross Community Disaster Education
materials, contact your LOCAL Red Cross Chapter.
Editor's Note: Thanks to the following people for contributions:
Lynn Whited, Seven Lakes Girl Scout Council
Norman J. MacLeod; gaelwolf@MARLIN.SSNET.COM
American Red Cross
Webelos Den Leader, Pack 878 ASM, Troop 14
Unit Commissioner, Tempe District, Grand Canyon Council
Phoenix, Arizona USA email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Terry Howerton Sakima Group, Inc. SCOUTER Magazine Kansas City