Tips: Lightning safety while in the mountains

By: The Associated Press
July 17, 2014 Updated: July 20, 2014 at 12:37 pm
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A storm gathers over Rocky Mountain National Park just west of Estes Park, Colo., Monday, July 14, 2014. Two fatal lightning strikes on consecutive days the previous weekend pinpoint dangers not always apparent to visitors to the 11,000-foot exposed high country of the park. Afternoon storms visible miles away arrive overhead suddenly. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

Check the weather: In the high country, a bright summer day can turn stormy within minutes, with lightning, high winds and even snow. In the Rocky Mountains, thunderstorms typically develop in the early afternoon.

Get out early: If hiking, start your hike early in the day - and plan to be down the mountain by noon. Summer thunderstorms can form quickly anytime in the afternoon. Get below treeline or to safe shelter before a storm strikes.

Stay alert: If you hear thunder, lightning is close enough to strike you. If you see lightning in the distance, it's close enough to strike you. And at altitude, if skies look threatening, a thunderstorm can develop immediately. A significant lightning threat generally extends up to 10 miles from the base of a thunderstorm cloud. And on rarer occasions, bolts can strike up to 15 miles from a thunderstorm.

Above treeline: Get away from summits, isolated trees and rocks. Find shelter but avoid small cave entrances and rock overhangs. They won't protect you. Crouch down on your heels.

Below treeline: If you are in a forest, stay near a lower stand of trees. Stay away from tall, isolated trees or other tall objects.

What's safe shelter: Tents, trees, small caves and picnic shelters are not safe. A vehicle or a substantive, enclosed building are. Stay away from water and any metal.

Essentials: Carry these: rain gear, map and compass, flashlight or headlamp, sunglasses and sunscreen, matches or other fire starter, candles, extra food and water, extra layers of clothing, pocketknife and a first aid kit.

The Associated Press

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