Hiking, Mountaineering, Trad Climbing, Sport Climbing, Bouldering, Scrambling, Canyoneering
Why Did I Write This Article ?
Tooele TRANSCRIPT-BULLETIN: (September 19, 1994)
The medical examiner explained that Verl's heart had not failed him.
In fact, he added, the man's heart and the rest of his organs were in better shape than those he's seen in most teenagers.
But Verl was not a teenager; he was 86 years old.
If Verl had NOT been hit by a searing bolt of lightning, he might have
lived another decade or more, according to the medical examiner.
"Whatever it was he did, I want to start living like him!" the examiner reportedly remarked.
I'm writing this article in memory of our beloved friend, who fell victim to a lightning strike on August 19, 1994 in southern Utah.
Have you ever wondered why lightning strikes mountains?
Height, pointy shape, and isolation are the three dominant
factors controlling where a lightning bolt will strike.
Verl fishing in Utah's Dixie Nat'l Forest (1990)
What are YOUR chances of being hit?
The U.S. National Weather Service calculates a ONE-in-THREE hundred
chance that you or a family member will be struck by lighting sometime
during your lifetime.
Lightning bolts are extremely hot, with temperatures of 30,000 to 50,000
degrees (F). That's HOTTER than the surface of the sun! When the bolt suddenly heats the air around it to such an extreme, the air instantly expands, sending out a vibration or shock wave we hear as an explosion of sound. If you are near the stroke of lightning you'll hear thunder as one sharp crack. When lightning is far away, thunder sounds more like a low rumble as the sound waves reflect off hillsides, buildings and trees. Depending on wind direction and temperature, you may hear thunder for up to twenty miles away.
THE "30-30 RULE:"
If the TIME between seeing the lightning and hearing thunder is less
than thirty seconds, you're in danger of being struck!
FACT: If you are caught OUTSIDE in a thunderstorm far away from
structures and cars, find shelter in dense woods or a thick grove
of small trees. If you are trapped in an open space such as an alpine
area, get as LOW as you can in a gully or ravine and CROUCH down.
Put your feet together, squat low, tuck your head and cover your ears!
FACT: While lying FLAT on the ground gets you as low as possible, it
increases your chance of being hit by ground current.
FACT: Most cars are reasonably safe from lightning, but it's the metal
roof and metal sides that protect you, not the rubber tires!
After the storm is over, WAIT thirty minutes after the last flash of lightning or boom of thunder before going on your way. But be careful!
Ever the "30-30 Rule" cannot protect against the first lightning strike,
so ALWAYS know the weather forecast, and WATCH for possible
Developing summer thunderstorm in AZ (2008)
Further Facts about Lightning:
Flash flooding in AZ! (1993)
The human body doesn't store electricity. It's perfectly safe to touch a lightning victim to give them first aid.
The diameter of a lightning bolt is about a half-inch to an inch wide, but can be up to five inches wide. The average length of a lighting bolt from a cloud to the ground is three to four MILES long.
An estimated 2,000 thunderstorms are going on in the world at any one time.
A flash of lighting appears to flicker because there are usually several
bolts of lightning striking at almost the same time.
The longest bolt of lightning seen (to date) was 118 miles long. It was
seen in the Dallas-Ft. Worth, Texas area.
Lightning strikes 30 million points on the ground in a given year in the
Lightning can occur not ONLY in thunderstorms, but also in snowstorms,
sand storms, above erupting volcanoes and from nuclear explosions.
The deadliest U.S. fire started by lightning in recent years was the
January 2006 West Virginia coal mine explosion that claimed 12 lives.
The incident occurred approximately two miles from the mine entrance,
when methane gas was ignited by a lightning strike that occurred a distance
from the mine and followed a steel cable into the mine.
If LIGHTNING is about to strike near you, it might give a brief warning.
Your hair may stand on end, your skin may tingle, you might hear a
cracking sound, and keys or other metal objects may vibrate.
Storm over the Bering sea (1996)
Lightning over Alturs Lake (2008)-Skunk Ape
WHERE does lightning injure people the MOST?
These are the top U.S. states for lightning-related injuries:
Storm clouds near Denver (2008)-silversummit
I don't give much credence to LISTS. The reason why some of the northern states are high on this list may partly be due to people not taking adequate precautions. Utah, where my friend was killed, is ranked 11th on this particular list.The Fort Benning Incident of 1989:
Several thousand lightning-related injuries occur each year in the US, resulting in nearly 600 deaths. Most incidents involve individual victims; GROUP lightning strikes are rare. Ten soldiers were simultaneously injured in a group lighting strike while on training maneuvers at Fort Benning, GA.
NO deaths or loss of consciousness occurred, although two of the soldiers
had amnesia for the event. All of the soldiers were hospitalized and
observed for potential complications. Ninety percent of the soldiers had
first-degree skin burns, and ALL had focal muscular tenderness. Transient
hypertension and tinnitus were noted in 40% and 20% respectively.
ALL 10 soldiers recovered uneventfully and returned to full active duty.
Larry runs from a storm in Alaska! (1996)
[If YOU had a lightning-related experience in the mountains or backcountry, please attach your photos and feel free to comment.] For example, has anybody witnessed a unique meteorological
phenomena, such as St. Elmo's Fire??? ???
Trees & Lightning
TREES are frequent conductors of lightning to the ground. Since sap is a poor conductor, its electrical resistance causes it to be heated explosively into steam, which BLOWS off the bark outside the lightning's path. In following seasons trees overgrow the damaged area and may cover it completely, leaving only a vertical scar. If the damage is severe, the tree may not be able to recover, and decay sets in, killing the tree. It's commonly thought that a tree standing ALONE is more frequently struck, though in some forested areas, lightning scars can be seen on almost every tree.
After the two most frequently struck tree types, the Oak and the
Elm, the Pine tree is also quite often hit. Unlike the Oak,
which has a shallow root structure, pine trees have a deep central root
system that goes down into the water table.
Pine trees usually stand taller than other species, which also makes them a target. Factors which lead to its being targeted are a high resin content, loftiness, and its needles which lend themselves to a HIGH electrical discharge during a T-storm.
Tall pine in Arizona
UNDERSTANDING Lightning Bolt Behavior:
Even though lightning discharges occur most frequently near the freezing
level within thunderclouds, a 'cloud-to-ground' discharge can occur
ANYWHERE within the vicinity of a mature 'thunderhead cloud.'
THE CLOUD-TO-GROUND STRIKING PROCESS:
A stroke of lightning only takes 1/2 of a second to occur. There are
two key ideas associated with the process of lightning strokes. They are
termed as stepped leaders and return stokes. There is also a dart leader.
With these three components, the path of a lightning bolt can be 'traced'
from the place where it leaves the cloud to its connection with Earth.
A stepped leader is a very faint discharge of lightning INSIDE a cloud.
These discharges move toward the ground in series of steps; each step down
is about 50 yards long. When the leader steps down to Earth and
connects to the ground or a tree (for example) the circuit is
complete and the lightning strikes.
A return stroke is a lightning stroke that originates from the ground. The stroke travels back to the cloud.
A dart leader happens when electrons are discharged, taking the initial
path of the lightning stroke to the ground. This means that lightning can
strike the same place more than once.
Lightning has favorite sites to strike and is capable of following the
same path twice, contrary to what some people believe.
[Recent statistics show lightning strikes cause 10 to 20 injuries and at least one death in the state of Arizona each year.]