No matter what kind of adventurer you are — mountain biker, hiking enthusiast, or avid trail runner — it’s important to know what to do when you encounter a lightning storm out on the trails. Everyone navigating Colorado’s epic landscape should be fully prepared for the diverse range of weather conditions that comes with exploring the wild beauty of Colorado.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) most lightning deaths and injuries occur when hikers get stuck outdoors in the summer months, typically in the afternoon or evening. Here’s everything you need to know about staying safe and surviving a lightning storm while out for a hike. Follow these lightning safety tips and be sure to share with your fellow hikers.
Note: Weather conditions can change rapidly while hiking in Colorado. A general rule of thumb is to start your hikes early in the morning and be below tree line by noon. Don’t be afraid to turn back if the sky darkens or thunder or lightning occurs.
1. Avoid Bad Weather
As many Coloradans know, the weather here is very unpredictable. Hikers should be ready for all kinds of weather including afternoon thunderstorms, strong wind gusts, lightning, ping-pong to golf-ball-sized hail, and surprise snowfall – especially at higher elevations. One of the best ways to avoid getting caught in a lightning storm is to check the weather forecast before heading out. Be aware and delay hiking plans as necessary.
2. Use the 30/30 Rule
The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends following the 30/30 rule to determine the threat of lightning in your area. Count to 30 after seeing lightning. If you hear thunder before reaching 30 seconds, stay indoors. Wait at least 30 minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder before resuming outdoor recreational activities.
3. Seek Shelter
If you’re caught outdoors when lightning is close by, avoid high-risk areas including bodies of water, tall trees, mountain summits, rocky overhangs, tents, and other open areas. Seek shelter in low areas under a thick growth of small trees. If no immediate shelter is available, follow the next tip to reduce your risk of being struck by lightning.
4. Get Low
Never lie down on the ground to protect yourself from lightning. Instead, squat down on the balls of your feet, place your hands over your ears, and hang your head in between your knees. Taking this “baseball catchers” stance can help provide protection from lightning storms.
5. Create Space
If hiking in a group or with just a friend, spread apart to avoid group strikes and reduce the number of injuries. Distance yourself from any possible conductors as well. This includes hiking poles, camera tripods, backpacks, and more.
If anyone in your hiking group is struck by lightning, you’ll need to act fast. If breathing or the heart has stopped, call 911 immediately and begin administering CPR. If a pulse is identified, check for burns and serious injury including possible signs of nervous system damage, broken bones, and loss of hearing and eyesight.