Thunder & Lightning - In Memory of An Old Friend

Thunder & Lightning - In Memory of An Old Friend

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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: 41-60 of 75

lcarreau - Aug 19, 2008 1:36 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: lightning in the san francisco peaks

Fact: Lightning strikes on sandy soil can produce fulgurites.
These root-shaped tubes of melted & fused sand grains are sometimes called 'petrified lightning.'

Fact: Volcanic material thrust high into the atmosphere can
trigger lightning.

The San Francisco Volcanic Field of n. AZ has a history of
volcanic activity, and the exposed rocks are of volcanic origin.
I don't know if lightning can affect the coloration of rocks.

I've always wanted to climb Mount Theilsen, an ancient volcanic
'plug' north of Crater Lake in Oregon. To many people, it's
known as the 'lightning rod' of the Cascades. Though it's summit
consists of dark volcanic rocks, continued lightning striking
its summit may have altered the rock in that specific area.

The next time you visit northern AZ, take a look at some of the
Ponderosa pines growing north of Flagstaff. Many have been struck
by a searing bolt of lightning, producing vertical scars along
the trucks of the tree; and in some cases, destroying the tree

I'm not aware of a shelter being built above the 11,400' level on
Humphreys. Perhaps the group of folks you were referring to took
the Weatherford Trail back down to the treeline on the east side
of the Peaks. I would feel safer if I made it down to one of those 'Corkbark fir' trees where a person can protect themselves from wind, hail and the rest of the elements that Ma Nature will indeed be THROWING at you. (THANKS for your questions, and I promise to do more research on what is causing the glassy coating on some of those rocks, which is a very fascinating discovery on your part). -LARRY


Diveria - Aug 25, 2008 8:26 am - Voted 10/10

Sorry for your friend Larry

Now I understand your questions about lightning and fire.
Lightning are quite frightenning over mountains, I remember a day, several years ago, me and my father descending a glacier, running scared, with crampons and axe dragged with a long rope tied to our back pack with the air broiling around us!
As long as I lived I can't remember notice of fire starting here in Europe or Italy due to lightning, I guess what terrible lightning storm hit Virginia the day of the fire you mentioned!


lcarreau - Aug 25, 2008 7:10 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Sorry for your friend Larry

Yes, the state of Virginia is on the TOP TEN list of lightning hits. Unfortunately, I'm not very CLOSE to my brothers and sisters
in Virginia and the East Coast. In fact, I haven't been to the
grand continent of EUROPE in several years.

That's why I'm always sorting through the information on my computer, trying to draw conclusions or correlations from what I
am witnessing. (Kind of like a PRIVATE EYE.)

BRAVO to all your experiences with your family/friends in the mountains! Sounds like you are having a GREAT time of it.

-As always, Larry of AZ [Take care, my friend!]


silversummit - Sep 14, 2008 11:13 pm - Voted 10/10

Not to me but heard about this

I attended Outward Bound North Carolina in June '80 and of course they covered alot on lightning. We were bushwhacking up a mountain when a big storm came in. As told, we took off our internal frame packs and crouched down on them on the side of the mountain and waited it out. Afterwards, the instructors told us about the year before when a crew had two instructors struck by lightning on a nearby mountain. Crew members had to resuscitate both and treat for burns. It took hours to get out and get help in for them and one suffered heart damage and needed skin grafts.

I have lots of respect for storms now especially when I hear any distant clap of thunder.


lcarreau - Sep 14, 2008 11:30 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Not to me but heard about this

You're right - RESPECT is a big word when placed next to a
lightning bolt. When I was growing up in Utah, I've always had
a ton of respect for my Dad (still do).

Then came the day when I snapped a photo of my Dad standing next
to a giant Sequoia tree in California. Here was a giant (in my
humble eyes) being drawfed by a tree. I then knew that NATURE
was much bigger. I knew that NATURE was the one to follow.

If we respect Nature, how can any of us go WRONG ???
(Thanks for your comment, silversummit!)


donhaller3 - Dec 23, 2008 11:59 am - Voted 10/10

Dumb Thing That May Work

One frequently can't see over the horizon in the direction the storms are coming from. At least in mountains or canyons. So before setting out with kids for afternoon activities I would turn the care radio on while getting ready to leave the trailhead and listen for static bursts. Loud or many seemed to mean lightning was relatively close.


lcarreau - Dec 23, 2008 6:47 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Dumb Thing That May Work

GREAT IDEA, DON! It seems to me that most lightning-related
accidents occur in the backcountry, after the person or persons
have left their vehicles far behind.

If somebody can equate the frequency and number of static bursts
on the radio station with lightning strikes, they might think
twice before subjecting themselves to the forces of Nature.

Merry Christmas, Don!


donhaller3 - Dec 24, 2008 2:58 am - Voted 10/10

Re: Dumb Thing That May Work

Trailhead use with small kids. Although those that lug those little weather radio receivers (or ipods etc. with radio receivers) might find a further use here.

It does work. The first Hart Mountain trip I took with Mike, then 3 or 4, involved a series of thunder storms that marched by way off to the north as we ate dinner the first evening. I turned the car radio on trying to catch a weather report and noticed that distinctive static bursts occurred simultaneously with the flickering lightning. The bursts occurred all over the am and fm broadcast bands.

I have since "heard" thunderstorms coming over the radio before I could see them,while driving, but I've never actually aborted a hike because of this. Little use for afternoon local terrain generated storms on peaks, but as for the fronts that sneak up on you from behind the ridge or peak, might be useful.

I also turn car radios off driving through such storms as my guess is you could subject your radio to terminal front end overload from very close lightning discharge. Blatant attempts to hijack thread: What if any steps should we take to protect receivers (gps, sat radio, cell phones, ipods) if caught in the middle of a gawdawful thunderstorm.)

GOING BACK TO THE ORIGINAL THEME, as is mete and fit and proper, an excellent in memoriam.


lcarreau - Dec 24, 2008 2:16 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Dumb Thing That May Work

Great ... I need to continue my research on how lightning affects
electronic devices. When I venture out into the wilderness, I
(of course) turn off my cell phone whether I spot (approaching
weather) or not. I don't utilize GPS or ipods in the backcountry.
(I take a crumpled old map along with me.)

Are you familiar with SP-member Dean??? He could probably shed
some light on this "lightning-related" topic. I wouldn't be a
bit surprised if OTHERS have already developed a technique for
AVOIDING lightning, such as some type of receiver that they carry
along with them. This is a fascinating subject, Don! Take care,
and THANKS for getting my brain cells going!!!

Larry of AZ

Sierra Ledge Rat

Sierra Ledge Rat - Jan 4, 2009 5:20 pm - Hasn't voted

St. Elmo's Fire

I got to see a lot of St. Elmo's Fire when I flew jets in the Navy. Frequently our jet's windscreen and refueling probe were engulfed in St. Elmo's Fire. The most memorable experience was when we had St. Elmo's Fire shooting 35 feet out of the refueling probe for 5 mintes and the St. Elmo's Fire danced on the windscreen. Once our jet was struck by lighting but there was no damage.


lcarreau - Jan 4, 2009 7:11 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: St. Elmo's Fire

Thank you for your service. I served for four years, but I was on
top of the ocean. Being in the North Atlantic, we didn't come
across any lightning I can remember. The lightning I came across
was all in the mountains of Utah; after I returned to life as a

I suppose you remember your experience like it was yesterday, and
it must have been a true adventure. It takes a special kind of
person to be able to land jets on carriers.

I always wanted to dance with St. Elmo's Fire. Instead, I ended
up dancing with my wife. Have a safe 2009, Sierra Ledge Rat!!!!!

Sierra Ledge Rat

Sierra Ledge Rat - Jan 4, 2009 7:05 pm - Hasn't voted

Lightning on the summit of Mount Rainier

My brother and I were dropping off the summit of Mt. Rainier when we were electrocuted. There was a large lenticular cloud over the summit but no other clouds in the sky. I felt it first - like being stung by a swarm of bees. Our metal objects started humming and then the lightning started. It was extremely painful, but we were never directly hit by lightning. I guess we were getting a lot of electricity anyway. The lightning was all around us and the thunder was simultaneous with the lightning bolts. The lightning storm lasted for 20 minutes.


lcarreau - Jan 4, 2009 7:22 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Lightning on the summit of Mount Rainier

One word - fascinating! I was born in Tacoma, and not once did I
ever spot any sign of electrical activity on Mount Rainier.

Was this on the Ingraham Glacier route? It has been said that at
14,411', and protruding into the atmosphere the way it does, Rainier CREATES its own weather. And, it's very hard to calculate
or even predict what the weather will actually do.

Congratulations - you managed to beat off the grim reaper!

Sierra Ledge Rat

Sierra Ledge Rat - Jan 8, 2009 7:13 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Lightning on the summit of Mount Rainier

We traversed Rainier, Success Cleaver >> Disappointment Cleaver. We were 100-200 yards below the summit crater on the Disappointment Cleaver side when the electricity started.


lcarreau - Jan 8, 2009 11:59 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Lightning on the summit of Mount Rainier

Then, you probably know where Pyramid Peak is. I summited Pyramid
Peak several times with the Tacoma Mountaineers, coming up from
the West Side Road. Anyway, from Pyramid you can catch clear views of the Success Cleaver and Kautz Cleaver routes.

Looked to me that these routes could be ascended very quickly under the right conditions. Of course, mild weather always helps!
Rainier looks so heavenly from the Success Cleaver side.


Deltaoperator17 - Jan 19, 2009 2:22 pm - Voted 10/10


I never told you how much I enjoyed this article. I fine piece of work and effort that we get to enjoy for years to come.

All those years I was a Golf Professional, lighting is the one thing I was concerned more about than getting hit by a student swinging a club or an arrant ball to the nogin..LOL

All my best to you brother,



lcarreau - Jan 19, 2009 3:58 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Hola

Likewise, brother!

Hey, I thought your name was Steve. Okay, a light just went on in
my noggin!!! Gracias, Esteban!!! : )))

Rock Hopper - May 14, 2009 6:45 am - Hasn't voted

Lightning in Australia

I'm probably not the most traveled person to comment on Oz, as its a very big place. But yes we do get lightning, in some places lots. Darwin has recorded 1634 lighting strikes in a few hours during one storm (More than Perth would have for the whole year), but this is the "Top End" and it's monsonal, so they have an astronomical amount of lightning.

Closer to my part of the world, The Blue Mountains in summer gets frequent storms, frequent enough that canyoning trips are dependent on the daily weather forcasts. And decisions to go are very much done on the morning of the trip. Flash floods in canyons are very dangerous, water levels can rise several meters in minutes. North of Sydney, the Hunter Valley is world renownded for storms, and has its own stormchasers, much like those in the US.
There are about ten fatalities every year in Australia from lightning strike, in 2006 an Irish tourist was struck by lightning on Bondi Beach, Sydney's most popular beach.

Lightning storms are often very beautiful to watch, and like most things in life, have a sting in their tail.

Thank you for your story, your friend sounds like a remarkable man.



lcarreau - May 14, 2009 9:31 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Lightning in Australia

This (obviously) is PROOF that lightning is not limited to the
United States. I'm counting on the readers to comment on the
occurrence of lightning-related incidents in other countries.

Thanks for your report, Paul. Indeed, my friend Verl was
somebody who weighed his chances in life, and made the decision
to choose the outdoors OVER the computer and television set.

I was SAD to hear the problems Australia faced during the
"catastrophic" season of wildfires several months ago. Over
time, the Earth has a way of mending itself and maintaining
a special balance for the continuance of life.

With the advent of the "information age," all we can hope for
is that people (somehow) plan & prepare themselves for
everything Nature will be throwing at them. Time becomes a
precious commodity for those of us who follow the warning signs.

Just my two bits worth, as I always appreciate different opinions and (valuable) information from countries I've never visited. THANKS again, Paul!

SmokeSessionsdotcom - Jun 25, 2009 11:38 pm - Hasn't voted

lightning experience

This afternoon, in Southern Ontario (near Niagara Falls) i was driving on the highway in the middle of a huge thunder and lighting storm, radio on. There were points where i couldnt see the car in front of me from the rain and hail pouring down... anyways..

suddenly i felt my seat and center console vibrating. It felt as if my cell phone had fallen out of my pocket and between the seats, but more intense. I reached down to grab it, but realized that my cell phone was on my passenger was on my passenger seat, and there was no missed call, nor was it vibrating. I also felt a slight weirdness or numbness in my lower lip. This vibrating lasted probably less than 2 min. I know i was dead in the middle of storm. Did this happen because lightning hit really close by? Could it have hit my car? A lamp on the highway? Has anyone ever experienced this?

About 30 min later, I heard on the news station that I was listening to (the entire time), that one of their towers had been hit by lightning, and that was the cause of some of their bad signals. I was probably near (by near i mean in the same town) the tower that got hit.. any ideas? Was the vibrating i felt in my car because of the lightning? Or perhaps the ground was rumbling... ive never experienced something like this, especially while driving.

any ideas or suggestions would be appreciated.

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