Lightning-Safety during bushwalking

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Lightning-Safety during bushwalking

Postby Species 8472 » Sun 05 Aug, 2018 7:42 pm

Hi all. Last Tuesday ( 31st July) I camped overnight at Little Waterloo Bay in Wilsons Prom. A cold front passed which brought 100km gusts, 28mm rain and lightning overnight. As I was lying on my sleeping mat and after removing my watch I was wondering what would happen if my tent or the immediate area was hit by lightning. If it was hit would I be here to tell the tale? I would like to ask other members for their advice and knowledge about safety precautions to take in lightning when bushwalking and camping. My tent is a Moondance 2 ( stood up well btw ). An electrical linesman told me that the alum poles of my tent by grounding in all 4 corners would protect me. He said thousands of volts would radiate around the poles and leave me safe in the middle . Would this be true ? I'm skeptical. Also what would the advice be if walking and lightning commences? I think I can recognize storm clouds that drop to the ground as a warning that lightning may arise. Would ducking under rocks or lying low in shrubs be OK ? Doesn't lightning hit the highest structures first i.e trees ? However sheltering under a tree isn't recommended as lightning hitting a tree can create an area on the ground adjacent to the tree of a few thousand volts. Is this correct ?
Would anyone recommend that when lightning is imminent , is to seek shelter in your tent ?
Thanks sll
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Re: Lightning-Safety during bushwalking

Postby Warin » Sun 05 Aug, 2018 8:54 pm

Before a lightning strike .. only a little before ... your hair will start to stand on end. Well not all the way up, but you will feel it move.
Immediately seek a low point. Do not wait - go.

Do not lie down but crouch - minimise both your height and contact area with the ground.
You will not have time to put up your tent.

If camped, hopefully you have not picked to camp on the highest point around... or even the third highest point around. That minimises the chance of a direct strike.

Why the concern over the contact area with the ground? When lighting hits the ground the energy still flows thought the soil. It has enough power to make sand into glass. That power is evident in the voltages than can be present on the earth’s surface, can be a hundred volts between footsteps. Your sleeping mat should provide some electrical insulation, and being away form the direct strike area all help reduce the possibility of a significant ground voltage where you are. If your in flat country .. try to stay away from red areas - they have a high concentration of iron .. that is a good conductor and lightening is attracted to good conductors.

People struck by lightening have a high chance of survival. Someone who knows CPR and acts is very usefull.
That is about it, probably forgotten something.
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Re: Lightning-Safety during bushwalking

Postby CasualNerd » Sun 05 Aug, 2018 9:36 pm

IIRC Electricity follows the path of least resistance, so it will flow through the best conductor trying to make contact with earth.

I would suspect during a thunderstorm the water flowing off your tent would be the best conductor and it would bypass a dry person in a tent. Trees hit by lightning often have the bark blown off them as the lightning flows through the wet bark to get to ground. Similar with people having their wet clothes blown off but they walk away.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X14e9Fwxa8w
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Re: Lightning-Safety during bushwalking

Postby Species 8472 » Sun 05 Aug, 2018 10:18 pm

I like your advice but that YouTube has got to be a fake.
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Re: Lightning-Safety during bushwalking

Postby slparker » Mon 06 Aug, 2018 5:56 am

I suspect that if your tent gets hit by lightning you will be both showered in molten aluminium and shrink wrapped in molten nylon.
Perhaps just don’t camp on a high point in a storm.
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Re: Lightning-Safety during bushwalking

Postby Xplora » Mon 06 Aug, 2018 6:07 am

Avoid basalt.
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Re: Lightning-Safety during bushwalking

Postby Species 8472 » Mon 06 Aug, 2018 9:11 am

So do I turn into Ironman or Thor ?
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Re: Lightning-Safety during bushwalking

Postby kymboy » Mon 06 Aug, 2018 9:51 am

I imagine you'd be quite thor if shrink wrapped in molten nylon. boom boom.
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Re: Lightning-Safety during bushwalking

Postby Nuts » Mon 06 Aug, 2018 12:48 pm

A warning for the photogs. Apparently he was struck in the neck, a horror for his family:

https://www.news.com.au/national/adelai ... =rss-basic
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Re: Lightning-Safety during bushwalking

Postby Biggles » Mon 06 Aug, 2018 1:16 pm

Last I remember Little Waterloo Bay campsite was quite sheltered from the ocean with a few little nooks to snuggle a small tent in. There was a thoroughly filthy rain/electrical storm dumping on me at LWB in November of 2010. Nice enough afternoon walk in, then the wind dropped, the sky went opaque, a few drops of rain and then... BOOM! For maybe 6 to 8 hours it went on and on and on. Morning pack-up was wet and miserable and heavy rain and wind belted me all the way to Refuge Cove — then it cleared (!).

But to the question: the situation concerning lightning risk would be dramatically elevated if you were in the tent on an isolated plain with rocks or trees nearby offering no shelter. Lightning could strike one of the rocks or trees nearby (more commonly off rocks than trees, which would be destroyed) and "bounce" off to the next protruding object off the ground, e.g. you and your tent! The risk would be considerably less in an enclosed forest, even though you would think the Apocalypse is upon you as the noise reverberates through the forest and seemingly shakes the ground.

If you are in your tent, lie down low on an insulated mat (this would be in your kit as a matter of necessity anyhow) and cover yourself with a blanket or sleeping bag, and remain still until the storm passes over (30 minutes after the last flash). Even long, protruding tent pegs in the ground pose a risk, while tent poles could potentially become conductors. In that case, you simply must not touch anything metallic/aluminium. Same thing applies to being stuck in a car in a vicious electrical storm: don't touch anything metallic or put your hand on the metalwork outside during an electrical storm.

In summary, the risk of a lightning strike is higher on open, exposed areas. Photographers with tripods have been struck here in Australia photographing what they assumed was a distant electrical storm. Not quite so distant when St Elmo's Fire makes its menacing presence known... :shock:

EDIT: On my walk to Little Waterloo Bay in that rotten storm, I used the Mont Moondance 1, and I am still using that, even after 3 trips around Australia! The tent was damaged at Lake Lascelles, at Hopetoun last December when a super-violent windstorm wrenched it from the ground and hurled it onto a gravel road, then swept it up and impaled it on a barbed-wire fence!! I had just come out of the water skinny-dipping (as you would in 43° heat!) and was frantically trying to get the tent to hold still so I could get my togs back!!
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Re: Lightning-Safety during bushwalking

Postby Neo » Fri 10 Aug, 2018 6:16 pm

It comes down to how close the storm is. Under 30 seconds between lightning and thunder clap is the danger period apparently. Three seconds equals one km.


Have been taught, don't shelter in a tent with metal (poles) or sit on a backpack with a metal frame.

Lightning position is:
Crouch wearing rubber soled shoes to make yourself as small as possible.

Leave several metres between people and away from a tree or rock.

If you hear a rock buzzing (or your hair stands on end) move away immediately!

If you are on the water, get off the water straight away.

Also a storm that has obviously passed can still throw a bolt backwards 10km.



Here are some links I've saved to my phone for later reference, point 7 on the BOM link:

http://www.bom.gov.au/info/thunder/

http://www.lightningman.com.au/lightnin ... dures.html

Closest I've been was about 50m away, a tree was struck and not the tallest tree around. Bark exploded down one side and was smouldering, was late summer storms in the Blue Mountains. Interestingly I believe trees can live to tell the tale.
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Re: Lightning-Safety during bushwalking

Postby Species 8472 » Fri 10 Aug, 2018 8:54 pm

Thanks Warin , Casual Nerd , Biggles and Neo. And thanks to Neo for those links. I guess if you're walking with lightning imminent you can take neccessary precautions.
However if you're already in a tent in the middle of the night and it's pouring and lightning occurs then I don't think anyone here will leap out into the night and follow those recommendations.
So it comes down to common sense where to pitch your tent. In a lower area away from solitary trees and rocks although pitching in a group of trees seems ok so long as it's not near to the tallest one.
Of course being aware of any possibility of branches falling on the tent is also necessary. As well you don't want to be in a dip where rainwater can pool.
In other words there's not an ideal spot where you can pitch your tent to suit all conditions ( lightning wind and rain )
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Re: Lightning-Safety during bushwalking

Postby wildwanderer » Fri 10 Aug, 2018 9:06 pm

Species 8472 wrote:....SNIP
However if you're already in a tent in the middle of the night and it's pouring and lightning occurs then I don't think anyone here will leap out into the night and follow those recommendations.
So it comes down to common sense where to pitch your tent.....SNIP


I think alot of it comes down to luck. Take reasonable precautions but if a big storm appears out of no where in the middle of the night... all you can do is hope you tithed the correct deity at holiday time. :mrgreen:
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Re: Lightning-Safety during bushwalking

Postby north-north-west » Sat 11 Aug, 2018 1:08 pm

Species 8472 wrote:In other words there's not an ideal spot where you can pitch your tent to suit all conditions ( lightning wind and rain )


In the lounge room?
"Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens."
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Re: Lightning-Safety during bushwalking

Postby Lophophaps » Sat 11 Aug, 2018 5:44 pm

north-north-west wrote:In the lounge room?


Or inside a toilet, nice and sheltered. Rawson Pass is nice too.
Camping toilet.jpg
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Re: Lightning-Safety during bushwalking

Postby jdeks » Sun 12 Aug, 2018 4:59 pm

This is like the condensation threads.... generally correct in spirit but still a fair bit of physics misconceptions going on here, some quite dangerous

Without boring everyone to tears again (hopefully?), the short version is the only real safety is in not being exposed in an electrical storm. That is the defining risk element, the rest is largely inconsequential.

Long version:

Lighting forming tens of thousands of feet in the air doesn't care about small formations like tents, people, camera tripods, or even houses and buildings. It goes for the general area with the largest broad-scale opposing charge buildup, and the smallest average air gap. Typically, this is the highest body of earth immediately under the area of electrical activity ie hills and sometimes really big buildings.

The voltages involved are are mind-boggling. They make high-voltage transmission lines look like AA batteries. We can't even accurately measure them. At those voltages, EVERYTHING is conductive. Remember, lightning is sometimes arcing over kilometers of air already - a few cms of rubber in our shoes soles or camp mat is pretty much entirely irrelevant.

Lightning will descend down in 'stepped leaders' - a 'feeler' strike that randomly branches as it heads towards the ground. It's not until one of those branches gets quite close to individual features that they MIGHT influence the strike location. Rule of thumb is the 'circle of influence'; if one of these leaders happens to come within a circle of a radius equal to the height of the object, it may induce a static charge on said object thats strong enough to produce an upwards streamer that meets the downward leader, and complete a discharge path aka a strike.

It's not a hard and fast rule and is influenced by various factors, but the take-home point here is for your average person-sized meatsickle, exposed in an electrical storm, you will only 'attract' the lighting if it was already going to 'land' withing a meter or two in the first place - ie dangerously close. At this distance, with the forces involved, things like metal pack frames and wet tent skins are vanishingly insignificant. You could be wearing a tin pot on your head - as far as the physics go, it doesn't make a lick of difference in terms of strike probability (it may, however, impact the nature of injuries cause by said strike). Similarly, if you were 50m from a tree and it got struck by lightning, the lightning was likely already going to hit around that spot, even if the tree wasn't there. Different story for a radio tower - not because it's metal, but because it's got a zone of influence in the order of hundreds of meters wide, not to mention a notable reduction in the airgap between cloud and earth. It's only once you get to things that big that there's a diversion of real consequence.

The byproduct of this, though, is the unfortunate myth of the 'cone of protection' - namely that by standing within height 'h' of said radio tower, you're allegedly afforded some protection due to it 'drawing in' any strikes. The reality is that it's no guarantee - remember, the numbers here are insane. The tall objects can accumulate so much opposing charge that it 'overflows' into surrounding objects (ie you), which can then launch their own upwards streamers, or side flashes, should a stepped leader chance close enough. There's plenty of photo evidence of just this phenomenon happening - bolts striking the side of towers, nearby trees, the ground, or combinations of all of these. And even if it does strike the highest object, the subsequent ground distribution will likely harm you if you happen to be that close to the object anyway. There's so much power here it will go anywhere and everywhere it can.

The advice about keeping away from particularly tall stuff and crouching with your feet close together is theoretically reasonable for reducing the effects of ground differential potential near a strike (somewhat...), but even that is pretty specious as practical advice. The practical truth is there is really nothing you can do. Any advice other than "Don't Be There" has no support in physics and could give people a dangerous sense of safety that doesn't exist. Avoiding metal tent poles, camera tripods, basalt (???), tent pegs, water puddles won't help at all. Neither will rubber mats, or being in a forest. Lying down on your sleeping pad is a terrible idea that actually increases risk of harm. Better to stand straight up.... and run, as fast as you can for lower ground or substantial shelter.

Further reading if interested:

http://stormhighway.com/small_metal_obj ... g_myth.php
http://stormhighway.com/reduce_risk_lig ... tdoors.php
http://emergencypreparedness.cce.cornel ... yths-1.pdf
http://www.wec.ufl.edu/safety/backcount ... safety.pdf (note the stats on types of lightning mechanisms responsible for death)



* If you're reading this and wondering "Ah but why do tall buildings have big METAL lightning rods, if not to attract lighting?". Lightning rods are designed as accumulation points for the static charge that builds up in large, tall objects. This DOESN'T make the building any more likely to draw lightning from afar than it would be without a rod. Where is does help, is to increase the chances of the rod (vs say some expensive antenna) being the source of the upwards streamer, should a downward streamer be drawn in the building's innate area of influence. Being metal, it then acts as am (often sacrificial) path of least resistance for said strike, saving the rest of the wiring and/or people, in the building and also conducting it deeper into the earth, reducing the risk of dangerous differential ground potential at the structure base. While standing in an open field holding an umbrella would technically act in a similar way, it's a far, far, faaar smaller effect and again, if the leader chances close enough to be affected, you were going to have a bad day anyway.
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Re: Lightning-Safety during bushwalking

Postby Species 8472 » Sun 12 Aug, 2018 7:01 pm

Thanks jdeks for your thorough , knowledgeable and scientific reply.
So it basically comes down to luck as we all had suspected it was. I still don't really want to leap out of my tent in the middle of a stormy night though. I will , however remove all metal objects from my body and just lie there. Hoping.
I started this thread because I thought it was important. A lot of us here have been walking and camping for years and have endured numerous storms.
I was hosting friends on a day trek to Marions Lookout when we saw lightning to the west ( where the weather usually comes from ) I immediately asked them to run , literally, to the East side down the steep and less exposed track down to Dove Lake. We felt safer on that side of the hill. In other words we used common sense. However after reading your post it looks like the lightning could still have hit that east side.
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Re: Lightning-Safety during bushwalking

Postby jdeks » Sun 12 Aug, 2018 8:58 pm

Species 8472 wrote:Thanks jdeks for your thorough , knowledgeable and scientific reply.
So it basically comes down to luck as we all had suspected it was. I still don't really want to leap out of my tent in the middle of a stormy night though. I will , however remove all metal objects from my body and just lie there. Hoping.
I started this thread because I thought it was important. A lot of us here have been walking and camping for years and have endured numerous storms.
I was hosting friends on a day trek to Marions Lookout when we saw lightning to the west ( where the weather usually comes from ) I immediately asked them to run , literally, to the East side down the steep and less exposed track down to Dove Lake. We felt safer on that side of the hill. In other words we used common sense. However after reading your post it looks like the lightning could still have hit that east side.


Just dont linger on bare, elevated terrain when you expect storms. Once you're off upper summit areas of large terrain features, the risk drops substantially.
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Re: Lightning-Safety during bushwalking

Postby rcaffin » Mon 13 Aug, 2018 11:10 am

Via Alpina in Austria: a very long distance walking track in Europe, served by lots of Alpine Refuges.
This is by the front door of one of them. Basically, the sign says 'Struck by Lightning'. I was not able to find out whether the guy survived, but the lightning did burn his boots off!
2179.jpg
2179.jpg (81.03 KiB) Viewed 1161 times


Cheers
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