Thunder & Lightning - In Memory of An Old Friend

Thunder & Lightning - In Memory of An Old Friend

Page Type Page Type: Article
Activities Activities: 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.

<i>A Forever Kind of Peace</i>
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 thunderstorms.

Monsoon Storm Watch
Developing summer thunderstorm in AZ (2008)

Further Facts about Lightning:

Flood in the Desert
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
United States.

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.

Bering seacoast, AK
Storm over the Bering sea (1996)

Lightening over Alturs Lake
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:

  1. Florida
    Storm Clouds outside Denver August 8, 2008 Storm clouds near Denver (2008)-silversummit
  3. Michigan
  4. Pennsylvania
  5. North Carolina
  6. New York
  7. Wyoming
  8. New Mexico
  9. Arkansas
  10. Colorado
  11. Georgia
  12. Utah
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.
<B><font color=black>Approaching storm</font></B> 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.
GHOST of a CHANCE? 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.]


Post a Comment
Viewing: 21-40 of 75

lcarreau - Aug 4, 2008 4:45 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: I have been struck...

Congratulations for beating the odds. An evergreen tree is what my friend was standing underneath in that fateful year when he was killed.

As far as deciduous trees, oaks and elms are frequently hit. That's not to say that any tall object could be a likely target. Thanks for sharing your interesting experience, and please take care!!

Larry of AZ


Boydie - Aug 5, 2008 12:23 pm - Voted 10/10

Cracking read

Pardon the pun Larry, but that really was a cracking read. Lots of information there that I was unaware of. Will definitely bear in mind the 30-30 rule. Cheers 4 posting.


lcarreau - Aug 5, 2008 12:53 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Cracking read

I thought somebody should gather up information on lightning,
before the lightning gets it! If you get caught out in the open,
the only safe measure is to stay calm and make yourself look smaller.

"Mountainmanmark' has had experiences with lightning in the UK,
so Scotland must also get some.

Seriously, I hope your 'Cracking Day' does NOT include lightning.
It could very well ruin your picnic, if not your life! Indeed!
Take care, my friend Stephen! -LARRY


TeaM - Aug 11, 2008 5:59 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Cracking read

Obviously lightning&thunder are found outside US too. (lcarreau: "'Mountainmanmark' has had experiences with lightning in the UK,so Scotland must also get some.")
For example just a month ago 10 youth got hit while at a camp in Sweden, and they all required hospital care. And just some weeks before that we got headlines stating that a lightning had hit ground near a Norweigian football station hitting the players on ground for a moment. Also here in Finland lightning strikes are quite a common phenomen too. Acording to this interesting article about lightning in Wikipedia "Singapore has one the highest rates of lightning activity in the world".

The 30-30 rule i had not heard, I just have been taught that the ratio of the distance and the time between the lightning & the sound of a thunder is 1:3 (so if the time is 30 sec it is 10km away).

Your article was interesting reading thou, sorry for your loss.


lcarreau - Aug 11, 2008 5:39 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Cracking read

Greetings from AZ! My wife is from SE Asia, and she has a cousin
working in Singapore. I will inquire about this incident.

I must admit I've never visited in Scotland, Finland or Sweden.
(When I was riding a bicycle in the Netherlands in 1977, I thought I might get HIT by lightning.) Apparently, I lived to see another day. THANK YOU kindly for the information! LIVE LONG & PROSPER. -Larry


byates - Aug 6, 2008 12:12 am - Hasn't voted

smoke column lightning

The most unusual lightning I ever saw came from a smoke column of a forest fire. In 1988 I was a member of the Sawtooth Hotshots fire crew, in mid June on a fire in far Eastern Montana in the Custer national Forest for 2 nights in a row we saw lightning emitting from the smoke column from a very intense fire. The Lighting ignited spot fires in advance of the main fire. The smoke-heat Columns from this fire we were told rose to 30,000 to 40,000 ft. Fire storms and lightning at the same moment probably the most awesome, yet terrifying acts of nature I will ever see in my life.


lcarreau - Aug 11, 2008 5:51 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: smoke column lightning

Yes, Mother Nature knows no bounds. Reminder: need to search the
internet for lightning photos during the May 1980 eruption of Mt.
St. Helens. What a terrible yet wonderfully beautiful image! -Larry

Eric Sandbo

Eric Sandbo - Aug 8, 2008 1:41 pm - Hasn't voted

Ground currents

We had a rescue once on the S side of Mount Baker when a storm hit the area where people camp before climbing the Easton Glacier. Lightning struck one of the few trees up there and burned a trench through the dirt and right under the center of one woman's sleeping bag, 50 feet away. I never heard what her long-term effects were, just that she had to be carried out the next day.
Hail is a strong indicator for lightning. It takes a powerful updraft to throw rain back up high where it can freeze - the same kind of updraft that generates static electricity.


lcarreau - Aug 11, 2008 6:00 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Ground currents

Yeah - micro-bursts and updrafts can really THROW you for a loop.
We have some violent T-storms here in central Arizona. One time, I had returned to a metal boat 'launching' ramp at Roosevelt Lake to check out some things. The ramp was 50 yards from where it should have been; in an upside-down position. Apparently, it had been picked up by a micro-burst or mini-tornado. [This happened in central AZ, the land of the sun!] Thanks for sharing, Eric !!!



tanya - Aug 13, 2008 4:18 pm - Voted 10/10


Good Work Larry!


lcarreau - Aug 16, 2008 7:42 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Nice!

Thanks - just trying to take advantage of precious time. I got
a new job/transfer, so a slight change of scenery, even though
I'm still in AZ with all the T-storms and dry lightning. Thanks!!

Larry still in AZ !!


ClimberMan420 - Aug 17, 2008 1:21 pm - Hasn't voted

the million dollar question

The question that I would love to hear an educated answer to is the thermarest myth. If bunkered down in a powerful electrical storm in your little nylon tent how safe are you? If you are on a thermarest and atleast not deep in a puddle are you then good to rest easy? Would it be safer to camp near that big tree or in the open field, under the powerlines, far from the tower? I had some hectic nights while biking across Canada setting camp in farmers fields in the praires, or forests of Ontario. Well then there is another question probably easier to answer, will the rubber on my bike tires insulate me from a strike? would love any answers people have.


lcarreau - Aug 18, 2008 6:43 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: the million dollar question

Hey there CM, sorry for the late response. If you go on the SP
forum page, you can often generate a better response and perhaps
various 'answers' to your valuable questions.

(1) nylon tents: These offer NO protection in electrical storms.

(2) rubber tires: The rubber that they use for tires nowadays
will offer ZERO protection during T-storms. What will be to
your advantage is PROPER GEAR/CLOTHING so you can continue
your trek while MOVING, as not to present a "target" for sudden bolts from the heaven.

That's really awesome for you to ride across Canada. Ontario has
always been a special place, being that my idol Neil Young came
from that area. Please continue your line of questions; I really
don't know much about the Northern wheat-field country. I'm more
prone to think of the desert and attempt to avoid flash-flooding
across the Colorado Plateau and central Arizona. TAKE CARE!!

p.s. - If you are in the forest, you can HIDE beneath a tree like my wife and I did. Just make sure the tree is not being
currently occupied by a BEAR. HA ... have a great one !!!


lcarreau - Aug 18, 2008 7:06 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: the million dollar question

Absolutely right! Rubber tires & nylon tents just don't cut it!

Hey, Biglost ... why do I feel like I'm on the forum page?? Take
care of yourself up there, please. I'm getting rained on (again)
here in central AZ. Awesome !! -LARRY


lcarreau - Aug 18, 2008 10:15 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: the million dollar question

Right again, my friend. Especially if it touches ya.

Hey, what happened to the Pastor? Hope the man is well. Thanks! :)


ClimberMan420 - Aug 19, 2008 12:29 am - Hasn't voted

Re: the million dollar question

Alright thanks, it was a hell of a ride and certainly the weather was probably the greatest challenge along the way, obviously headwinds #1 but also violent storms in Ontario and Quebec posed a great mental challenge as I was doing it cheap and committed to camping everynight except those spent in large cities.

But definetly the question that needs an answer from everybody is if being on a thermarest matress will keep you safe in an electrical storm?


lcarreau - Aug 19, 2008 12:49 am - Hasn't voted

Re: the million dollar question

Yes, great question !! I have distant relatives living in the
great Province of Quebec. I would not TRUST a therma-rest mattress,
even though I have slept on one here in AZ; along with the rattlers, centipedes, scorpions and various brands of cactus.

I tend to shy away from large cities, but I would love to do what
you're doing. Thanks for the information on Ontario and Quebec.
That's where Celine Dion came from, right? Have a GOOD night, and
good luck on all your awesome outdoor adventures!! - lcarreau : ) It's all coming back to me now ... LOVE can move mountains!

Chris956 - Aug 19, 2008 11:31 am - Hasn't voted


Mate you should be a photographer... those photos are wicked!


lcarreau - Aug 19, 2008 11:51 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Photos

Thanks, mate. Perhaps you can answer this: Are there electrical
storms observed in the cities and outback of Australia ???

Those 'Aussies' must be having WAY too much fun down there! I would
like to know what their TAKE is on all of this. Best wishes, mate!!

karuzi - Aug 19, 2008 12:32 pm - Hasn't voted

lightning in the san francisco peaks

Larry ,

Thanks for the post. A friend and I were on humphrey's this past weekend and were caught in the thunderstorm saturday. We stopped at the 11,400 sign and tried to wait out the storm. From your experiences in this area, do you have any specific advice about thunderstorms around the san fran peaks? Oddly enough, I had heard that SAR was on the mountain that day prepping for a large group hike or event next month, and I never saw them come down. Would they have stayed above treeline in such conditions? Also, two groups - 3 hikers - continued to the saddle after we bailed and started back down? Did they know something we didn't or were they ignorant of the danger. I have had my hair tingle when at the saddle before and got down below quickly. Finally, I have heard that the blackish , glassy coating on some rocks on the humphreys summit is caused by lightning - any info on that?

Thanks !

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