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: 61-75 of 75

lcarreau - Jun 26, 2009 12:02 am - Hasn't voted

Re: lightning experience

Were you on your way to a showing of the new "Transformers" movie ???

(KIDDING!) I really appreciate your comment. I'm not an authority on lightning-related issues, but the intensity and spotinaity of your comment suggests to me that you had a terrifying experience, and were able to cheat the Grim Reaper.

Sounds to me that you received a "GROUND CHARGE." Just a
recommendation, but perhaps you should check yourself in to a
medical facility for a physical check-up. It wouldn't hurt!

By the way, the electrical current that you experienced could
possibly have discharged through your cell phone or car's battery. In the future, perhaps you should pull over until the
storm passes, reducing the hazards that you experienced.

I know we're all in a hurry to get where we're going, but some
of these storms have to be respected to the fullest.

Are you willing to disclose further information, such as the
make and year of the vehicle you were driving???

Keep in mind that things can always be worst, and there's a
silver lining IN every storm. Have a nice day and upcoming weekend !!! !! KEEP ON SMILING !!! !!

SmokeSessionsdotcom - Jun 26, 2009 12:16 am - Hasn't voted

Re: lightning experience

1999 Toyota Camry

What other info are you interested in?


lcarreau - Jun 26, 2009 12:20 am - Hasn't voted

Re: lightning experience

No further info, thanks!

It's time for me to retire for the evening, and have some good
dreams of mountains and such.

SmokeSessionsdotcom - Jun 26, 2009 12:21 am - Hasn't voted

Re: lightning experience

I definately considered pulling over, but was in an unknown place, and it was hard enough to see the lane i was in, let alone the shoulder. I've never been a fan of driving in the rain, especially thunderstorms, but was visiting my friend's mother near Niagara Falls, and just wanted to get there already.

As for going for a medical exam, I seem to be fine.. and shortly after the experience I had no issues. It was definately a little terrifying when I realized it wasn't my cellphone vibrating.

Is a ground charge something like something else getting struck, and the charge flowing through the rain water on the road to my car?


lcarreau - Jun 26, 2009 11:04 am - Hasn't voted

Re: lightning experience

So, you're stating that both your car and yourself survived the
lightning-related incident ???

A typical lightning bolt can discharge millions of volts and tens of thousands of amps in a fraction of a second.

The best way to AVOID being killed by lightning, not surprisingly, is to avoid being struck. Just because you're NOT right under a storm doesn't mean you're safe - lightning bolts
can reach more than ten miles away from a storm.

Since thunder can only be heard at a distance of three to four miles, it's possible to be hit by lightning before you even know
a storm is nearby.

In your case, it's possible that the lightning strike hit the tower, and traveled beneath the ground at an unspecified depth,
discharging in the vicinity of where your vehicle just happened
to be at that specific moment in time.

Boriss Andean

Boriss Andean - Dec 21, 2010 9:14 am - Voted 10/10

Lightning experience

Thanks Larry for sharing this article, very informative. Sorry about your friend Verl. I lost one of my very best buddies on a bad thunderstorm three years ago as well, since then I'm very careful when I'm in the high country.

Just came back from a trip a few days ago. We tried many times being a target for lightning by avoiding being on ridges, but the last experience was a scary one. We saw at least 30 people coming down from Cotopaxi's refuge, all of them with their hairs risen up (kind of punk style). My ice axe started to buzz and vibrate, it was time to look for shelter inside a bus. It happened right in a snowstorm.

As you said, there is one-in-three hundred chance that you or a family member will be struck by lighting sometime during your lifetime. Well, a female hiker took her chance a couple months ago in the same area, she died instantly.


lcarreau - Dec 21, 2010 6:53 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Lightning experience

Gracias, Boriss, and I'm sorry for your loss.

My friend Verl was preparing to eat his lunch (at 7,000' - 2133.6 m), when he was fatally struck down.

I have never climbed on Cotopaxi, but I'm sure it's capable of
creating its own weather. Sometimes, you gotta take the bad with
the good. A game we all play, but some seem to be much more luckier than others..


TimB - Mar 4, 2011 8:17 pm - Voted 10/10


A very interesting(and useful) article, indeed.


lcarreau - Mar 4, 2011 8:29 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Larry ..

Thanks, Tim. You guys up there in central Idaho probably don't
have as much lightning strikes to deal with, but I could be wrong.

Arizona gets quite a few strikes during the summer monsoon season.
My friend's house was completely "fried" several years ago when
it was hit by a lightning strike on the Fourth of July.

Hey, it doesn't help to get paranoid over it. Just remember to
keep tabs on the weather when you journey into the wilderness.

Just thinking ... if lightning were to strike an Idaho
potato, it'd probably end up looking something like this ..


TimB - Mar 5, 2011 4:44 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Larry ..

I just can't get away from taters, not even at SummitPost.

I don't think we get as much lightning here as you folks, but we do see some nice thunderstorms upon occasion.


lcarreau - Mar 5, 2011 8:31 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Larry ..

Yes, suppose you do. I wasn't trying to stray away from the
fact that becoming active in the outdoors could pose serious
consequences (to your body) when nasty weather is involved.

Several years ago, I had hoped to do some extensive hiking in
Idaho and Wyoming.

That hasn't happened yet; I'm now a married man with a married wife, so my horizons have been slightly limited by my marital status.
Such is Life. Go figure ..


xDoogiex - Aug 27, 2014 2:17 pm - Hasn't voted

Not sure

Ive been told I've been struck or at least buzzed by lightning yesterday, but wanted to here what other people had to say. I brought my gf up the kelso ridge on Torreys peak. I could handle it fine but she struggled and we went slow. She had a couple panic attacks and she wouldn't make it back down and rescue told us to finish it. We got to the knife edge at 14,000ft. I was looking for an easy way to the knife edge and the static sound from the rocks became super loud. I scrambled up a rock to find safety and I felt burning on my shoulder blade. It was maybe an inch or so wide. I was like wtf scratched at it and went down and it went away and made her lay down and laid on too of her. Then we were in a snow thunderstorm. Not sure what that burning was. I didn't notice a mark but I have some in the area and not sure if one was it or just scratches I probably had.


lcarreau - Aug 27, 2014 5:38 pm - Hasn't voted

Don't know Doogle ...

Might want to have that checked out by a clinical Doctor.

From my meager experience, learned that electricity travels through rocks. Here's one of the so-called "rules" when
climbing amongst the intensity of an electrical storm ...

Don’t lie down on ledges ...

If you’re on a cliff in a lightning storm, don’t lie down on a ledge or sit with your back against the vertical wall since current can pass through you. Instead try to sit or crouch, preferably on insulation like a rope, on the outside edge of the ledge. Also tie in crosswise so you don’t fall off if struck and keep the rope from under your armpits.


alexlbrearley - Dec 3, 2014 8:23 am - Hasn't voted

Here in Aus!

Don't know if you still follow this, Larry, but might as well share my interest!

We experience some pretty nice lightning shows here on the mid-north coast of NSW. Typically in the wake of a hot summers day, a westerly or south-westerly thunderstorm will roll through, and can sometimes catch you off guard...or it did for us anyway!

Being interested in sailing, and any other outdoor activity, I like to read the weather maps on a daily basis. It helps to know whats going on when sailing! I've been out on the lake and off the coast a few times as a nice powerful southerly cold front has come through, not always bringing thunder, but almost every storm starts with the air going completely still, and there is this feeling that a change is coming that I cannot describe, no doubt to do with dropping pressure and temperature.

Just this last weekend we made an impulse decision to sail to Newcastle from Lake Macquarie and, although I checked the weather and it seemed good, as we made our way up the coast the wind completely died and the clouds built up, bowling us down from behind. Making the stupid and completely unacceptable mistake of poor planning, we had forgotten our backup fuel can and we didn't have enough to make it to the harbour. Luckily we have friends that live in the harbour and half an hour later they arrived with more. What an experience it was transferring a can of fuel between two boats as we were swaying back and forth in the swell with the lightning closing in behind! "Your going to have to get closer than that, Shirley", captain Cook was yelling from the bow trying to toss us a line, meanwhile the boats are metres from smashing into each other. We shot some footage of the entrance into the harbour on our phones, but its no substitute to being there amidst all of the action! What really brings those chills down my spine are photos people have take of bolts hitting the water in the exact spots where we had been around the same time!

One year at our snow fields and our 'version' of mountains, which are hills to the towering mountains over in the states, as we finished up for the day there was a snow storm closing in and we were going up to make our final run. We were near the top of the T-bar in Smiggins - the beginners area, which is also the lowest altitude on the ski fields - when out of nowhere there was a single bolt of lightning, followed by distant rumbling of thunder. This goes to show its not just in the states where these forces of nature occur

In a few weeks time I will be going on a hike/lilo trip in the Colo River, Wallemi National Park. We will be hiking to the gorge where we will begin our decent into the river and spend the following days floating down on our inflatable beds, boulder hopping and camping on the sandy beaches. Last time we did it was winter, so there was plenty of water, very cold water, and good weather! We will then hike back out at Canoe creek. This time it is the beginning of summer and there are concerns of storms coming through causing flash flooding and bush fires, and there is only one way out - down stream! It will be interesting to see how it goes and hopefully we will return home safely with many good memories to share!

I think what has sparked my interest in weather (pun intended!) is the story my mum tells of pushing me in a pram though a storm, running for cover, in England and her hair, and most likely mine, was standing on end!

So yeah!, plenty of lightning down here! Your post is a great read and something to keep in mind whenever those dark clouds appear in the horizon! Your friend will be remembered!



lcarreau - Dec 3, 2014 2:23 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Here in Aus!

Good for ya, Alex! Fortunately, I follow this topic religiously.

My friend returned from Queensland's Gold Coast earlier this year. She had journeyed up to Darwin to visit Kakadu NP in the Northern Territory, and said the weather was cooperative with no mention of havoc raining down from the heavens during the entire couple months she was there ... must have been the dry season.

Great hearing of your adventures! Who is Captain Cook doing you a favour? He sounds like a very nice nautical man to meet on a stormy day !!!

I really miss the ocean. In AZ, we have inland lakes where the
lightning strikes during summer monsoon, but can't say I've ever
witnessed a lightning strike over the great blue sea.

Thanks for your post and best wishes for all your adventures and THANKS for sharing the Youtube video!

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