Lightning and thunder are a serious physical threat to people, especially when recreating on the water. Lightning kills hundreds of people annually and starts wildland fires.
“Outdoor enthusiasts can plan to prevent the physical threat of lightning, just as they plan to avoid hypothermia or attracting bears to a camp,” said Liz Lodman, FWP boating safety coordinator.
Boating can be particularly dangerous in a lightning storm because a person doesn’t need to be in contact with the components of the boat to be struck. Lodman said a side flash can occur where the electrical charge jumps from one component of the boat to another, seeking a better path to ground. A human body is often that better path for an electrical charge on a boat, because a person’s feet are wet and in contact with metal which extends to the water.
“Boaters should keep an eye on the horizon and allow ample time to get off the water and back to camp when weather conditions are threatening,” Lodman said.
If boaters can get back to camp, they should head for the closest shore and wait out the storm.
For recreationists not on the water, a good rule of thumb is to take immediate defensive actions if lightning is two to three miles away, such as:
* avoid water,
* avoid metal objects such as electric wires, fences, golf clubs, machinery, motors, power tools, railroad tracks, etc.
* do not use tents, golf carts, small open-sided rain shelters or isolated trees for shelter,
* avoid hilltops and open spaces.
Whenever possible, find shelter in a building or in a fully-enclosed metal vehicle such as a car, truck or a van with the windows completely shut.
If it is not possible to find appropriate shelter and the lightning is striking nearby, avoid direct contact with people and get into a ditch or shallow depression, crouch down, with feet together and hands on your knees. Make sure there are no metal objects nearby.
“The goal is to make yourself the smallest target possible and to minimize your contact with the ground. Do not lie flat on the ground,” Lodman said.
Lodman said a person injured by lightning does not carry an electrical charge and people who are qualified to administer first-aid can safely handle them.