Surviving a lightning storm in the Himalaya

These set of facts and tips are compiled from various websites on the internet. They were then discussed with employees of Indian Meteorological Service, New Delhi to validate their correctness. The purpose of this article is to educate a trekker about the dangers of a lightning storm in the Himalayas.

Nevertheless, these tips and facts will not help you avoid a thunder storm or escape a lightning strike unscathed. Remember that theory needs to be tempered with experience to be counted as wisdom.

Table Of Contents

Lightning facts

Far away, through the gash that led the way into the mountains, he heard the thick mouth of the perpetual thunder. — Stephen King, The Gunslinger

  1. Lightning moves at 144,000 km per second. Its current is 20,000 amperes.
  2. Air expanding rapidly due to the heat of a lightning flash causes thunder.
  3. An average bolt is five miles long, one inch thick, and has enough energy to power a headlamp for 139,500 years.
  4. Lightning is 30,000°C, three times hotter than the sun’s surface; however, serious burns are uncommon as the current “flashes over” the victim.
  5. Lightning can hit a tree and “splash” on to you or pass through the ground to you.
  6. If you are within 10 km of lightning flashes— 30 seconds flash to bang — you are in the HIGH DANGER ZONE. Seek shelter!

Lightning rules

  1. The simplest lightning rule: If you see it, flee it. If you hear it, clear it.
  2. 30 – 30 lightning rule: If the sound of thunder follows a lightning flash within 30 seconds or fewer, take shelter. High danger may continue for as long as 30 minutes after the last lightning or thunder event.
  3. Flash to bang – find the approximate distance to the last lightning flash. Count the seconds between a lightning flash and bang of thunder. Divide the number of seconds by 3 to find the distance in kilometres from you to the lightning (3 seconds = 1 kilometre).

Avoiding lightning

  1. Plan ahead and read updated weather forecast.
  2. Watch small cumulus clouds for strong, upward growth (indicates approaching thunderstorm).
  3. Do not camp or climb in a narrow valley or gully.
  4. If a storm is coming your way, use your safety plan. Do not wait until the last minute.

Caught in a storm

  1. Get away from any water source.
  2. Move away from rocky outcrops, cliff edges, canyon rim, lone trees, the tallest trees, poles.
  3. Do not touch metal or graphite.
  4. In a forest: Seek a group of small trees surrounded by tall trees or look for dry, lower ground (ravine, depression, etc.). Avoid individual tall trees.
  5. Seek low ground in an open valley or meadow
  6. In open space (e.g. an exposed ridge top): Seek lower ground and become a smaller target. Crouch, as best you can, on the balls of your feet – heels touching, head down, and hands covering ears. Hands should not touch the ground. Do not lie flat on the ground.
  7. If in a group, spread out so that people are at least 100 feet from one another.
  8. If your hair stands on end or your skin prickles, an electrical charge is building near you and lightning may strike you. If so, find a religion, make your peace and move away immediately.

 Crouching on the balls of your feet reduces the risk of lightning strikes. by Melanie B. Fullman, US Forest Service. Image ©

 Crouching on the balls of your feet reduces the risk of lightning strikes. by Melanie B. Fullman, US Forest Service. Image ©

Crouching on the balls of your feet reduces the risk of lightning strikes. by Melanie B. Fullman, US Forest Service. Image ©

Lightning victim assistance

  1. It is not dangerous to touch a person injured by lightning.
  2. If lightning victim is in a precarious position, such as on or near a cliff, protect them from falling or other hazards.
  3. If lightning danger continues, move the victim to avoid further strikes.
  4. Check victim for pulse and breathing. Apply CPR if the victim is not breathing.