Outdoor Safety: Lightning

Lightning strike in Schultz Pass during a summer monsoon storm

Monsoon season is one of the most beautiful times of year in Arizona's high country... and one of the most dangerous. Monsoon storms sweep in quickly, bringing dramatic skies, cooling rains, and dazzling displays of lightning. These storms can easily catch forest visitors unprepared and unaware of the dangers

Nowhere outdoors is safe during a lightning storm. Many visitors are unaware of the measures they can take to lower their risk of being struck. Know before you go. Educate yourself about lightning strikes. Stay near safe shelter and try to avoid high terrain, golf courses, and bodies of water during high lightning activity. Monsoon storm activity typically occurs starting in the late morning through the afternoon. However, storms may pass through during the evening. Keep an eye on the weather forecast for the latest, most accurate storm predictions.

If you are caught in a lightning storm...

Immediately seek shelter in a modern building or metal-topped vehicle.
Convertible cars, gazebos, porches, golf carts and other open vehicles and buildings will not shield you from a lightning strike. Do not lay down or lean on concrete floor and walls.
Descend quickly if you are caught above the tree line or on top of an exposed hill, ridge, or peak.
Get below the tree line as quickly and safely as possible and into a group of trees. Avoid the tallest and isolated trees.
Drop metal objects
Ditch the hiking poles, packs with internal or external metal frames, golf clubs, tennis rackets, and umbrellas. It's better to lose your gear than your life.
Get off bicycles, motorcycles, horses, and golf carts. Get away from power lines, fences, and other metal objects.
You need to get low, and get away from metal and conductive objects.
Spread out at least 15 feet apart.
A lightning strike can be hazardous 50 to 100 feet from the strike point. If you are with a group and the threat of lightning is high, spread out at least 15 feet apart to minimize the chance of everybody getting hit.
Avoid isolated trees, rock overhangs, and cliffs.
It is better to seek shelter in a forest or group of trees. Choose an area with shorter trees.
Get as low as possible if caught in an open area with no shelter.
Crouch with your feet together and head low. Never sit or lay on the ground. These positions provide much more contact with the ground, providing a wider path for lightning to follow.
Get off the water.
Swimmers, anglers, and boaters should get off lakes or rivers and seek shelter when storms approach. Drop any fishing rods. Boaters who cannot get off the water before the storm hits should crouch low. Once on land, get at least 100 yards away from shore.
Do not make camp near the tallest trees.
Lightning storms can develop in the middle of the night. Lower your chances of a lightning strike at camp, by pitching your tent away from the tallest trees in the area.
Wait 30 minutes after the thunder stops before leaving shelter.
People have been struck by lightning near the end of a storm, which is still a dangerous time.

If someone is struck...

Avoid further injuries
Get to safety as quickly as possible. Injured victims may be disoriented and require assistance. In hazardous conditions, waiting for the storm to pass before tending to incapacitated victims may be necessary to avoid others being injured.
Tend to the victim
People who have been hit by lightning carry no electric charge and can be safely tended to. Also, victims who appear dead can often be revived. If the person is not breathing, begin mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. But if a pulse is absent as well and you know cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), begin CPR. Stay with the victim until help arrives.

Remember: This information is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have a health-related concern, consult a physician. Also, the tips discussed here may lower injury risk, but the unpredictability of lightning affords no guarantees.

Know before you go! Additional information and resources


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