Lightning horror stories.

12:29 p.m. on May 13, 2012 (EDT)
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Summer is here, and the first thunderstorms of the season will be rolling through soon.

Many years ago I climbed White Cap mountain in Maine.  As I ascended, the wind picked up and the sky turned a greenish grey. I was midway up the peak, under sparse cover and sat down to wait it out.  A deluge of rain started and the thunder got louder.  Within minutes, I could see flashes of lightning and could smell ozone. The lightning was so bright it left after-images, and my ears rang from the thunder.

I've had a few close calls since then, but none that I remember so clearly.

Who else has a good lightning story?

1:14 p.m. on May 13, 2012 (EDT)
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Mini Lightning,

Many years ago I was sailing (racing) with my dad on his yacht and the clouds came in, in a similar way.  The air did not smell but we both got a weird uncomfortable inner body feeling.  The wind dropped and the thunder and some only high up in the clouds lightning started.  Then, the electrical insulator on the backstay did a poor job as bolts of electricity, mini lightning, would jump around the insulator from wire to wire of the backstay.

Start the motor and get out of there was soon discussed.

1:15 p.m. on May 13, 2012 (EDT)
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I have quite a few as a result of serving several long seasons on both BC Forest Service and Alberta Forest Service fire lookoputs from the mid-'60s to the mid-90s. I have been struck twice and some of my friends and colleagues have also been hit.

I was sitting on Doucette Tower on June 26th, 1993,the day before my 47th birthday, when a storm passed through. The tower is 105 ft. high, steel with a tiny fiberglass cupola on top.

Suddenly, a bolt hit the tower steel about ten ft. below the cupola with a sound like the crack of doom and it made me spill my tea all over my firefinder map, which really annoyed me. I was OK and once the rain had really started to come down, I climbed down the wet steel and made another pot of Earl Grey, a fundamental necessity of lookout life.

That was not the first time I was hit and it does agitate you for a bit, but, it is not as much of a danger as some other aspects of bush life.

2:07 p.m. on May 13, 2012 (EDT)
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Dewey  -  You've been struck by lightning more than once?  What did it feel like? Have you noticed any after-effects?

3:03 p.m. on May 13, 2012 (EDT)
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No, I am this weird by birth........

 

Many lookouts receive direct hits by lightning and it is not a big deal, one notices a bit of static in the air and some odor and that is about it. There are "lightning arrestors" on all structures and they work, so, one does not get fried to the proverbial crisp.

The freakiest situation I ever experienced, was on Natal L/O in the Flathead Valley in 1967,my first L/O at barely 21 years old. I had returned to the BCFS after a stint in Canada's Northwest Territories in '66 and this was my first "hill".

 Early one morning, I was awakened by an odd feeling and found my entire inside cable attachment to the mountain glowing because I had neglected to switch on the lightning arrestor....scared the crap out of me!  I got my broom and pushed the knife switch to "on"position and all the static drained into the earth.......I NEVER forgot that again!

You get used to these things or, you do not do a second L/O and some crack up every year, or, used to as things now are much different than when I started.

 I am careful in mountain storms about lightning and it is just one of several issues one should be cautious about if trekking-camping in the mountains....the West Kootenays, where I am from is famous for it's violent summer lightning storms and "fire season"has started with a couple of nice burns going in BC right now, makes me wish I were young,again.

4:30 p.m. on May 13, 2012 (EDT)
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I was on hawksbill in NC once on a partly cloudy day when i looked out over the gorge and saw a lone cloud about eye level with lighting coming out of it,,It was pretty cool..I am a winter backpacker and for me the more nasty,the better..

11:39 p.m. on May 13, 2012 (EDT)
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Even though I live in the lightening capital of the U.S. (Central Florida) I don't have any personal stories. Being raised here you learn a healthy respect for it and to get to proper shelter.  I understand that Kennedy Space Center has a sensor net that can tell within something like 10-20 feet where a strike hit in sensitive areas. 

My grandmother who lived in Miami was struck by lightening. It wasn't a direct hit. She liked to hang her clothes out to dry and was retrieving them and it hit the clothes line while her hand was on it.

The other story I have happened when my family was on vacation in NC.  there were 3 large long leaf pine trees next to our house which got struck.  My neighbors son was out in the yard working with a shovel to divert some water. Apparently when the lightening hit the trees it knocked him on his rear.  It didn't hurt him he got up immediately.  It killed all three trees and melted the neutral/ground wire on the service wire to the our house. 

The biggest problem around here is golf courses. Some of them build special shelters that you can drive cart in at full speed. 

9:23 a.m. on May 14, 2012 (EDT)
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Cascades...lightening storm moved in fast, struck a 80' pine tree next to our camp, blinding, then deafening noise, then the pelting...nothing like a truck load of bark being thrown at your camp, at like 100 mph, while you are trying to figure out which way the tree is coming down, TG most of the tree remained upright...I still have a huge piece of pine splinter I saved as a souvenir, in hopes lighting won't strike twice in the same place.


9:55 a.m. on May 14, 2012 (EDT)
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two years ago I took my little sister up to Whigg Meadow for her first backpacking trip.  Not far into the hike a powerful storm hit the mountain, dropping inches of water in minutes, and casting lighting all around. It was one of the most exhilaratingly scary storms I've been in. 

Experienced raised hair and that skin crawling feeling  while on both Hangover Rock and Huckleberry Knob. You can dodge of the side of Huckleberry in any direction, but not so on the Hangover unless you want to take a flying 150ft leap ;)

(report from the Whigg trip here: http://www.trailspace.com/forums/trip-reports/topics/76001.html)

1:00 p.m. on May 14, 2012 (EDT)
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Seth said:

Summer is here, and the first thunderstorms of the season will be rolling through soon.

Who else has a good lightning story?

 First --- had to check the date of OP's posting ....

A little early.   SUMMER arrives on 20 June.   SPRING here, by my reckoning.

And, now ... 'the rest of the story' ....

Although, I never knew him well, one of my best friend's father was / (is?) in the Guinness Book of Records, for being struck the most times by lightening.  A couple times while up on "Old Rag".  He was a Park Service Ranger in Shenandoah National Park (Virginia, USA).   He had been thrown clear out of his shoes a couple times.  A hole burned in the top of his hat, and his hair and eyebrows singed.   Had cognitive and neurological impairments.

 A nice, jovial man, never-the-less.

                                 ~ r2 ~

1:10 p.m. on May 14, 2012 (EDT)
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Here's a good article on Backcountry Lightning Risk Management

1:20 p.m. on May 14, 2012 (EDT)
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I’ve never had a backcountry lightning experience worth telling but many professional ones.

I worked in business telecom as a field tech for many years after electronics school and was troubleshooting a system when lightning struck a line and blew a piece of the casing off of the lightning protection device from the wall where the equipment was mounted and embedded it into the opposite plaster wall about 10 feet away. It missed my head by about 10 inches.

I’ve also seen lighting fireballs shoot down a hallway seemingly originating from a fluorescent light fixture.

Of course having worked with many old Bell and Western Electric techs I heard dozens of lightning stories over the years (didn’t believe all of them).lol

7:26 p.m. on May 14, 2012 (EDT)
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Three stories:

I was trying to do some large format film shots of the overview from the West Rim of Zion Canyon over Memorial Holiday.  That day small storm clusters were briskly passing through the area.  They would zap the tops of the buttes as they passed by.  I spent hours hustling up to the top, just to be chased off by the next incoming squall before I could get fully set up and get some images.  Finally got some late afternoon images worth the effort.

The second occasion was camping at Graveyard Lakes in the Sierras, above Lake Edison.  A storm front moved in as we made camp, and lingered for three days thereafter.  Each day in the late afternoon the storm would intensify.  The main lake where we camped sat at the opening of a side canyon where it enters the much deeper main canyon.  As the wind forced the clouds up then into our canyon it produced turbulence as it entered our canyon, and that generated lightning.  At one time the lightning got very close, and actually struck a tree just yards from our camp.

The last story was the scariest, perhaps because I was young, but as well because of the exposed situation, and the intensity and frequency of the lightning.  We were camped at Trail Camp, the main resting stop for those climbing Mt Whitney from Whitney Portal.  Trail camp sits at the mouth of a large box canyon, above tree line just below the summit.  A storm rolled up the mountain, and got trapped in the canyon.  Lightning started, and the cloud leveled dropped to where we had only a few hundred feet ceiling.  The storm intensified.  When bolts started touching the lake adjacent to the camp, everyone abandoned their tents and hid in the rocks at the base of a nearby cliff.  The lightning grew in frequency until you could read by it, and sustained for perhaps two hours more.  Very loud, bright, and intimidating.  When there was a break in the salvos, our Boy Scout troop broke camp in record speed, and got the heck down the mountain.

Ed

9:19 a.m. on May 15, 2012 (EDT)
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Rob - this is the most well-written, concise guide to backcountry lightning risk management I've seen.  AWESOME.

10:51 a.m. on May 15, 2012 (EDT)
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I was in a storm last year when I was at Wheeler Peak in NM.  I was well below treeline after descending from Lobo Pk but the lightning was still striking close because there was very little time elapsing between the flash and thunder.

11:36 a.m. on May 15, 2012 (EDT)
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nice supply of article 5073

1:21 p.m. on May 15, 2012 (EDT)
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I think I originally discovered that PDF on a climbing website but then I couldn't find the thread for it.  I did a Google search and luckily, it popped up.  Thanks to those cows, I'll know not to go near the barbed wire fences!!!

1:58 p.m. on May 29, 2012 (EDT)
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3:15 p.m. on May 29, 2012 (EDT)
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If you're inside a metal structure like a firewatch tower or riding in a vehicle, and get hit by lightning, the metal creates a Faraday cage where the current is carried around you to ground instead of going through you.


faraday-cages.jpg

Hope this isn't too far off-topic, but I thought it was kind of cool.

3:21 p.m. on May 29, 2012 (EDT)
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One comment though in regard to Ed's story. Apparently hiding in a cave or at the base of a cliff isn't that great an idea. A lightning strike above you  can jump the gap and travel through your body before dissipating.

4:13 p.m. on May 29, 2012 (EDT)
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An update is appropriate here!

This weekend's hike in the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area brought another close encounter.  As I walked atop a high, barren ridge, the sky darkened and a torrential rain came down.  Simultaneous lightning and thunder all around.  Though it was mostly intra-cloud, it was still pretty nervy!  The same storm system brought hail later and some very loud reports of thunder.

I'd second peter's comment - hiding in a shallow cave is a bad idea.  Currents can arc across the surface and fry the folks inside.  I have a co-worker whose daughter was blinded this way.  Deeper, dry caves should be safe.

4:19 p.m. on May 29, 2012 (EDT)
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Seth,

 

well did you assume the position?

 

And hopefully avoid any "flashover traveling into an orifice"....

 

 

4:21 p.m. on May 29, 2012 (EDT)
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Seth said:

This weekend's hike in the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area 

 Oh, I am so jealous, I really want to go there sometime! 

11:01 p.m. on May 29, 2012 (EDT)
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peter1955 said:

One comment though in regard to Ed's story. Apparently hiding in a cave or at the base of a cliff isn't that great an idea. A lightning strike above you  can jump the gap and travel through your body before dissipating.

 

I understand the hazards you mean to identify.  We were not under an overhang or in a cave, and the cliff did not end abruptly, rather it was girded by a scree pile.  We hid among the scree near the base of a large cliff, but not next to the cliff per se.  In reality there wasn't any good refuge in this situation; everything was very exposed, the bolts numerous, and touch downs occuring everywhere you looked.  I wouldn't be the least bit surprized if this location has a history of folks getting zapped.

Ed

10:00 a.m. on May 30, 2012 (EDT)
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I did not assume the "lightning desperation position!" I gripped my metal poles with vigor, drank a little sour mash, and hiked on!

Dolly Sods is a wonderful area, but quite crowded this past weekend.

10:54 a.m. on May 30, 2012 (EDT)
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Callahan said:

... as bolts of electricity, mini lightning, would jump around the insulator from wire to wire of the backstay.

 Would this be St. Elmo's Fire? Strange phenomenon, that.

11:14 a.m. on May 30, 2012 (EDT)
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I got one for you. I climbed mt monadnock yesterday afyernoon, despite the clouds and chance of rain. A storm came thru that generated several storm warnings and a tornado threat. I was on the summit when it hit, I dont know if you guys are familiar with that mtn. It has a large bald top, which is very slick when wet. I was stuck on top with big winds and rain so hard I couldnt see ten feet. The lightning was almost continious. Im not ashamed to say I was scared, it was amazing. After two hrs of hiding in a little corner with my emergency bivy held over my head I was able to head down the hill. The trip down was a nightmare with water to my knees where it is usually just a trail. The national weather service said we got between 5 and 8 inches of rain in those two or so hrs. I had my raingear and everything I thought I needed to stay dry, but I wasnt ready for the ferocity of the storm. I often hike mt mndk in the rain as it usually crowded when its nice. Im gonna have to reconsider these trips as yesterday gave me a lot to think about. I grew up in coastal north carolina and that storm rivaled the rainfall of a hurricane, just didnt have that deadly wind

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