From Out of the Blue—Misconceptions About Lightning!

People are working outdoors frequently, often year around.  We also enjoy recreational activities outside in the summer months.  The weather can pose hazards any time of year, but as we enter the spring months lightning becomes more prevalent. 

While on a trip of a lifetime to Alaska last summer, I witnessed a distant lightning strike on the tundra on a nearly cloudless day. It took us all completely by surprise, and got me thinking. I never expected a lightning strike nearby that day. Later, while looking up the subject, I ran across some interesting articles regarding lightning myths and misconceptions. 

First: Under clear skies, you are safe from a strike.

“Bolts from the blue” can travel and strike as far as 25 miles from storm clouds. Before heading out to a worksite, or simply preparing for the day's activities, check your area’s weather forecasts. Look for storms within 100 miles of your area and watch the direction they’re trending. If you can hear thunder, look for shelter before the thunder and lightning are 30 seconds apart. Stay under cover until 30 minutes have passed since the last thunderclap.

Second: You can hide from lightning.

No place is 100-percent safe in the outdoors, but some locations are better than others. Get as low as you can relative to the surrounding topography. Avoid any open areas such as cleared lots, open meadows, or lakes. You should also consider avoiding taller natural structures such as trees, peaks, or ridges. You best option is to get inside a building or hard-topped car.

Third: While camping crouching on a sleeping pad will insulate you from a direct strike.

Nothing in the backcountry will insulate you against a strike or ground current (the most common cause of lightning injury). Reduce exposure to both by assuming a tucked, tight crouch. Remember, objects close to the ground are less likely to be lightning strike targets. Keep your arms and feet close together. Spreading them increases the severity of injuries and burns if you’re struck. Don’t lie down. Minimize contact with the ground; keep your body’s footprint as small as possible.

Fourth: Lightning strikes are always fatal—and you’ll be electrocuted if you touch a victim. 

Interestingly, about 90% of lightning strike victims survive. After being hit, they can’t shock you—but will likely benefit from first aid.  Administer CPR when appropriate; almost all lightning fatalities are due to cardiac arrest. Look for and address head injuries and fractures. Treat burns with water and a moist bandage. Call 911 and/or evacuate victims to a hospital as soon as possible.

Check out this resource from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and be safe this summer at work and play.