Lightning Safety

Since being struck by lightning on my ear, via a corded phone back in the 1970s, I have had a bit of a morbid interest in lightning.

I also have a very healthy respect (fear?) of it and despite researching all the things you should and shouldn’t do, Geoff and I have spent quite a few nights in the States, just lying motionless in the tent, holding hands and hardly daring to breathe, while a storm raged overhead, not to mention the afternoon we were circling a very large lake in a steep sided cym, and all we could do was split up, keep moving and pray…apparently, statistically, lightning finds it harder to connect with a moving target, but that afternoon is quite possibly the most frightened I have ever been in the mountains.

So when I was still heavily involved in MR, these experiences seemed to qualify me to pull out a lecture from time to time on lightning safety, and with the recent number of thunderstorm warnings we seem to be getting in the UK, I thought this might also be of interest to fellow walkers (or anyone in fact).

To this end then, I have uploaded some of the old Power Point slides from my lecture.

Obviously the subject of lightning is huge and I can only touch on it here, and of course I am not the world’s definitive expert by any means, but there are some excellent publications that I used to help me in my research. The main one was ‘Lightning Strikes – Staying Safe Under Stormy Skies’, by Jeff Renner, and there is also some good information in Eric Langmuir’s ‘Mountaincraft and Leadership’.

A few other things are worth adding:

  1. Lightning safety is a statistical thing, not an absolute science, ie: it’s about areas and situations where you are statisctically less likey to be struck
  2. Never forget about the other dangers which often accompany storms, such as high winds and flooding
  3. The idea about ‘getting rid of’ ice axes and other metal items in a storm is always a constant source of debate, with scientists polarised on both sides of the fence as it were. Whatever you decide to do in that situation however, never forget that these items might be essential to your safe travel in the hills anyway, so don’t actually get rid of them, but rather get away from them, you might well need them later!

11 thoughts on “Lightning Safety

  1. Didn’t know you’d been struck as well – also didn’t know you could get a shock from a landline but I suppose it is connected to wires outside.

    I was struck when I was about 8 in the Aran mountains when out with my parents. We all foolishly sat down on the path right next to an electric fence. I had my eyes tight shut until my world lit up very brightly indeed! The shock had come off the fence and gone for my foot which was on the now, wet with flowing water, path. It luckily struck my right foot as it did my right and left legs and my right arm but missed my top left quarter (containing my heart) – very lucky indeed. Strangely, I’ve been much less wary of storms since as I must feel I’ve ‘had my turn’!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gosh, you’re the first other person that I’ve met who’s been struck, too!
      We lived in a farmhouse high on the moors, with the telephone wires brought up to the house on poles. I was on the phone during the storm, looking out the window. The last telegraph pole was just outside in the field, and there was an almighty flash as the telegraph pole was struck and I screamed as my head was zapped, at the same time. I was about 15. Many years later, when Geoff and I lived in the farmhouse for a year, another storm one night also struck the pole and melted the phone! It was quite spectacular to see 😁 That same night about 8 cows who’d been sat together in a nearby field, were killed. It was a wild night.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Melted the phone is quite nasty! How scary. The power line is right outside my house – I share it with my next door neighbour – so it looks like we’ll have to be careful.

        Poor moos! I always think it’s sad when herds of cows die due to lightning strike (I’m assuming that will be the ground electrification you were talking about in your post).

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I think having a respect for anything that can kill you is healthy!
    Some really interesting stuff in there and a valuable resource any hill walker should read. Only been caught in thunderstorm when out in the mountains once (up on Great Gable). You could feel the electricity in the air and my hair (yes I had hair once) was standing on end. I remember feeling a little edgy but was probably too young, naive and inexperienced to be as fearful as I would have been today. I’m pretty circumspect these days and don’t tend to head out when I think there’s a risk

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Never been struck, but I remember being home alone watching Wimbledon during a storm and the channel changed by itself, to the film The Flood. No idea if it was connected to the storm, but gave me quite the fright! xx

    Liked by 1 person

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