Lightning 411 for the BWCA

     Lightning can strike as much as 10 miles away from the rain area in a thunderstorm so if you can hear thunder then you can be struck by lightning.  That’s a scary thought when you’re out camping in the Boundary Waters and there is no shelter around.  If it’s lightning then get off of the water, away from the water and find shelter under shorter trees.  You don’t want to be underneath the tallest trees because that is where lightning is likely to strike. You also do not want to lie on the ground but should crouch on the balls of your feet according to the information below. Find out more lightning facts below. 

Lightning Medical Impacts

Lightning usually claims only one or two victims at a time and usually does not cause the mass destruction left in the wake of tornadoes ot hurricanes. Lightning generally receives much less attention than any other weather hazards.

During a thunderstorm, each flash of cloud to ground lightning is a potential killer. However, lightning deaths can be prevented only if people are aware of the dangers and seek shelter in a building or a hard topped vehicle.

Lightning can strike as much as 10 miles away from the rain area in a thunderstorm. That is about the distance that you are able to hear the thunder from the storm. If you can hear the thunder from a storm, you are close enough to be struck by lightning.

Where organized sports activities are taking place, coaches, umpires, referees, or camp counselors must protect the safety of the participants and spectators by stopping the activities sooner so that participants and spectators can get to a safe place before the lightning threat becomes significant.

Lightning Facts
  • An average of 87 lightning fatalities are reported each year between 1959 and 1995.
  • About 10% of the people struck by lightning are killed… This leaves the other 90% with various types of injuries.
  • The primary cause of death from lighting is cardiac arrest.
  • Unlike high voltage electrical injuries with which massive internal tissue damage may occur, lightning seldom causes substantial burns.
  • Most lightning burns are caused by objects such as rainwater, sweat, metal coins, and necklaces being heated up and causing the burn.
  • Lightning tends to cause injury to the nervous system and may affect any or all parts of the nervous system.
  • If the brain is affected, the result is often difficulty with short term memory, coding new information, and accessing old information.
  • Most lightning injuries and deaths can be prevented with advance planning, being aware of the developing weather situation, and good common sense.
  • NOAA Weather Radio can help keep you informed with the latest thunderstorm information and safety reminders.
Lightning Safety

Being outdoors is the most dangerous place to be during a lightning storm. The National Weather Service advises that when you hear thunder or see lightning to quickly move indoors or into a hard topped vehicle and remain there until well after the storm has passed.

Any location is dangerous durning a lightning storm, however some areas are more dangerous than others. Some of the riskiest locations include:

  • Anywhere near the water:
    • Boating
    • Fishing
    • Swimming
    • Activities on the Beach
  • Areas near tall trees:
    • The Golf Course
    • Picnic Areas
    • Hiking Trails
    • Isolated tall trees pose the greatest danger!
  • High terrains such as hill tops and ridges
  • High places such as house roofs during construction
  • Open areas like fields

Dangerous situations can arise when big groups of people come together outdoors during a lightning storm. This includes baseball, football, soccer, and tennis games, as well as community fairs and outdoor festivals.

It is important that everyone know some outdoor and indoor safety rules.

Outdoor Safety Rules

Knowing outdoor safety rules can help save your life or that of loved ones.

When lightning approaches, get inside a completely enclosed building. Carports, open garages, storage sheds, metal sheds, and covered patios are not safe shelters.

If no enclosed building is available, get inside a hard-topped, all metal vehicle.

Get out of the water! Get off the beach and out of small boats and canoes. If caught in a boat, crouch down in the center of the boat away from metal hardware. Avoid standing in puddles of water, even if wearing rubber boots. Thunderstorm winds create large waves and turbulent water, so please wear a life jacket!

If you cannot reach shelter, avoid being the tallest object in the area. Do not take shelter under an isolated tree or the tallest trees in the area. If you are in the woods, find shelter under the shorter trees.

If only isolated trees are nearby, crouch on the balls of your feet. A rule of thumb to follow is to stay twice as far away from a tree as it is tall. Don’t lie on the ground.

Avoid caves or overhangs. The ground current from lightning is very strong and can jump the Gap.

Avoid leaning against vehicles and get off bicycles and motorcycles.