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Lightning Hazards for Hikers and Boaters

Lightning Hazards for Hikers and Boaters
July 25
10:55 2016

Monsoon season increases the dangers of lightning to both hikers and boaters. There are over 25 million lightning strikes in the US annually, with Grand Canyon National Park averages more than 28,000 in a year, according to the National Park Service.

While your chances of being struck by lightning are a million to one, your chances do go up if you are outdoors in the afternoon when storms develop, are near (within five to ten miles) a thunderstorm, and are in areas targeted by lightning such as ridgelines, lone trees and tall protruding rock outcroppings. The targets for lightning sound a lot like the areas we love to hike to for their scenic value.

Last week one person was killed and two were injured by lightning on Humphry Peak near Flagstaff.

Hikers should take the precaution of checking the weather forecasts for the area on weather radio, local radio stations like KXAZ and KPGE, and on websites such as

Hike earlier in the day before thunderstorms build up in the afternoon. Watch for cloud buildup, observe what direction the clouds are moving, keep track of wind direction, and listen for thunder. Counting from the time you see lightning to when you hear the thunder will help you to estimate the distance from the storm. If sound travels about a mile in five seconds, you are in the danger zone if the time between lightning and thunder is less than thirty seconds. Find the safest spot you can as fast as you can. Keep away from conductors of electricity such as water and metal objects such as fences. Stay away from target areas; make sure you and your friends make yourselves the smallest targets possible by crouching and staying a distance away from each other.

Hikers are advised to wait thirty minutes in your safe area after last hearing thunder to make sure that the storm has cleared the area. The back side of the storm can be just as hazardous as the approaching storm and lightning can be a mile or more away from the storm.

Boaters should return to shore and take shelter in an enclosed building or car if there is time. If not, stay in your boat in as low and central a location as possible. Keep everyone out of the water and away from antennas and metal railings. Safety precautions such as those recommended for hikers are a good idea. If possible, disconnect and don’t use electronic equipment on the boat during a storm.

The majority of lightning damage to boats is to electronic equipment. If you think your boat has been hit by lightning, unplug shore power and turn off battery switches to prevent short circuits. Check the bilge. If it is not dry, arrange to get your boat out of the water as soon as possible to prevent sinking.

When the people and boat are safe, call your insurance company for instructions on what to do next.

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