Thunderstorm Safety for Hikers

It is tough to predict the weather; you might leave the house heading to work, expecting the weather to be hot. However, later in the day, the weather changes, and all of a sudden, it’s cold. Considering the kind of clothes you had on, you need to buy a sweater to keep warm. Plus, protect yourself from a thunderstorm.

This is what is likely to happen when out hiking. You won’t buy the extra clothes but protecting yourself from the storm is the main priority.

Yes, you might have assessed the weather for the whole week and you are sure that it won’t change. However, when Mother Nature decides to take its course, all you need to do is adapt. What will you do when caught up in a thunderstorm? Will you panic?

This is something I won’t want you to go through. When one panics the decision made at that moment will pose a risk to you and others. This article is going to guide you on the steps to take when caught in a storm while hiking.

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1. Avoid being exposed to lightning when hiking

This is one of the most important measures you can take. Before organizing for the hiking trip, ensure you have done proper research about the place. This will help prepare and even know what to do when it comes to the storm. Here are the things to do to avoid getting caught in a storm.

1.1. Planning 

You must plan before going for a hike. This will determine whether you will be safe during a storm. Take time and go to the site you intend to hike. Access the region and see where the safe places are before the hiking date. Ask around and let the people who are familiar with the ground guide you to the safety spots.

Once you have discovered the safety place evaluate the time it will take you to reach the spot. You wouldn’t want to start thinking about getting a safe spot when the storm is 30 minutes away. This is because you will end up deciding in a rush which is something risky to you and others.

Plus the place you find has to be a few hours away from the hiking site. This makes it easier for you to access it during the storm. For example, if the spot is 3 hours away and you have to walk to the spot within the time frame. That means you will be caught up in the storm. Therefore I recommend you take time and evaluate the site before the hiking day.

1.2. Anticipating 

It is also another measure which you have to take when out hiking. You must anticipate whether a storm is coming or not. If you perceive a storm is heading your way look for a spot to shelter yourself. This can be a valley, depression, or even a cave, stay until the storm passed. However, it is crucial to stay clear from plateau, summit, and ridges. These are to places to avoid during a storm because it exposes you to lighting.

1.3. Leaving early 

This is another option you can take when there is a storm coming your way. For example, during summer the weather can be hot but changes during the day. Once you notice this leave the trail early and reschedule. It helps in avoiding a storm as they say prevention is better than cure.

1.4. Observation 

You need to be observant as a hiker. Look at what is happening around you and always pay attention to details. When out on the trails have a keen eye on how the animals, birds, and insects are behaving. According to a study, they have a way of telling if there is a storm coming or not.

 For example, during a storm, the frogs get louder and if the cows were up a hill they would start coming down. These are events that you have to be keen on when hiking. Do not assume since this helps to escape a storm coming.

1.5. Knowing when to turn around 

This is something you will struggle with since cutting short your hike can be disappointing. Nonetheless, you need to accept when things are not looking good.

You might convince yourself that the storm will pass, but what happens if it does? How will you shelter yourself from the thunderstorm? And how long will the storm last? These are the question that will run through your mind when sheltering during a storm.

 To be safe, you need to back out immediately. You notice the weather has changed. Do not take chances and later learn that the storm will take a while. This is because the storm can cause injuries or even death. Therefore know when it is the right time to throw in the towel; do not gamble with your life/health.

1.6. Inquire about the weather

As a hiker, this is an essential step that has to be taken before going to the park. Ask around about the weather patterns of the region. If that seems to be a problem you can use your phone to Google the weather forecast.

This enables you to know the weather patterns hence making an informed decision. Plus you must check out the weather forecast in the past week and even years. This gives you a picture of how the climatic condition of the region is.

2. The dos and don’ts when caught in a storm

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On the other hand, you might have done all the things mentioned above but still, you are caught in the storm. It is hard to predict the weather patterns at times. If such a thing happens, there is no need to panic. If you have anxiety issues, take time to breathe in and out to relax before making a decision.

Here are the things to do and not to do when caught in a thunderstorm.

2.2. Things not to do

2.2.1. Avoid water bodies

The first thing to do is to avoid water pools or water bodies such as lakes, rivers. I recommend that you keep 100 meters away from the water. This is because when lightning strikes during stormwater is the ideal current conductor.

The reason for this is that water contains free ions that are good conductors of electric current, just like metals. Hence it is safe to avoid these water bodies and pools when there are thunder and lightning.   

2.2.2. Keep away from metals

Metals are good conductors of electricity; this also makes it harmful to you during a storm. Lighting is a form of electric current and when it strikes a metal conducts the current. Hence when there is a storm, you must keep away from these objects. 

If you have them in your pocket or on the hand or even backpack get rid of them. Plus, if you feel or hear the metal is buzzing it’s a clear indication that it’s going to be hit with a lightning bolt. Get rid of the object and keep a distance of 30 meters. This includes your phones as well   

2.2.3. Do not shelter under an isolated tree

This is a mistake that most people don’t know the kind of risk they are putting themselves in. Shelter under a tree seems to be a safe place away from a storm. However, did you know that the tree can conduct electricity as well? Did you know that the tree can also fall on you when stroke? 

The electric current from the lightning can flow the top of the tree and hit you. This is because tree contains water in their tissues which act an excellent conductor due to the free ions. Therefore you must avoid trees at all costs. 

2.2.4. Do not shelter under a rock

This may seem to be a haven but it’s not. Most of the time the lightning can strike the rock and it could fall on you. 

2.2.5. Do not stay at a high point 

High points are more likely to be stroked with lightning. Therefore avoid plateau, summit and even ridges. This will protect you from lightning until the storm passes. 

2.3. Things to do

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2.3.1. Do seek shelter

This is the first step to keep you safe from the storm. Therefore look for a place to shelter yourself until the storm passes. The perfect place to seek shelter when hiking can be a car if it is near the site. 

Head into the car and roll up the windows, and make sure you don’t touch any metal while in the car. On the other hand, if the vehicle is not near you can opt for other places such as valleys or low points, depression or even a cave.

 However, you should go deep into the cave to be safe until the storm passes over. If you choose to seek shelter at the valleys of depression, be on the lookout for flash floods.

2.3.2. Move away from a group

You must avoid been in groups when there is a storm. What you need to do is put a distance between each other to minimize the chances of everyone being hit with lightning. The safe distance between you and the others should be 65-100 feet.

2.3.3. Assume the lightning position 

At times you might get caught up in a storm while heading to your safe spot. Hence movement will be limited but you need to protect yourself at the same time. Here is where you assume the lightning position.

To do this crouch low onto the ball of your feet. Make sure your feet are close together. Close your eyes, tuck in your head and cover your ears with your hand. This is done to minimize the size of your boy. You must ensure no part of your body is in contact with the ground and avoid touching anything.

2.3.4. Counting the distance of the lightning

This still applies when caught out in the open when the storm starts. It is a bit of math that will help to save your life and even prevent you from any getting injuries.

Finding out the distance of lightning helps to determine whether you are in a striking zone or not. Hence you need to count the distance between a flash of lightning and the sound of thunder.

Once you have determined the number divide it by 5. The answer you get is the distance in miles. If your answer is 6 miles or less it means you are within a striking region or zone.

There is also the 30 seconds/30 minutes rule. This states if the sound of thunder comes less than 30 seconds after the flash of lightning. Then you need to seek shelter immediately and stay for 30 minutes until you heard the last rumble.

2.3.5. Lightning First Aid

Lightning is an electric current that flows when one is hit with it. Here are the things that are done to remain safe. 

  • After the storm has passed, take a headcount of everyone in the group. This can be done by calling out their names and waiting for the response. If someone doesn’t respond, head to their location to see if he or she is okay. Do remember that person can be touch since the current would have left him or her. 
  • Start to revive the victim with CPR if he or she is not breathing.
  • If there are any burns on him or her, give first aid for burns. To be able to locate the burns check around, buckles, jewelry, and fingers. However, the critical part to check is the toes for the burns 
  • Once you have identified the burn and performed first aid, start to treat for shock. Ensure that he or she is warm and calm before calling for help.


When out hiking there are so many variables that we cannot control and one of them is nature. The weather may seem to be cool and hot but can change all of a sudden. Considering global warming which has changed the weather patterns. 

Therefore you need to take precautions to remain safe even when there is a storm. Having undertaken the measures mentioned above you will be safe during a thunderstorm. Therefore take precautions and always be on the lookout for such weather.


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