Lightning Strikes ~ Understanding and Avoiding The Dangers

Lightning Strikes – We have all heard the crack of lightning strikes, and have jumped out of our boots, right? Lightning strikes are loud! Lightning strikes are also beautiful and mesmerizing.  We love to watch the electrical show in the skies; the dancing of light.

If you are a photographer, or wanna be like me, you want to capture the awesomeness and power to share and enjoy over and over.  The pictures in this post are from a hike at Lake Pleasant, in Arizona.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  I was relatively new to hiking and when the storms started rolling in, I just saw all the lighting strikes as a chance to capture a great photo.  A little rain won’t hurt me, right?  As with several other times, it was Hendrix that brought me to my senses, and showed me that being in the middle of the desert, during lighting strikes and thunderstorms was not my best decision. Especially when, at the time, I had no knowledge, or understanding on how to stay safe, when caught out there.  When one of the lighting strikes hit, Hendrix bolted around the mountain we were on, heading to the car.  He came back, once his brain cleared of the immediate fear, but he was definitely torn on wanting to run to safety, and wanting to stay by his human’s side.

5 Mechanisms To Being Injured by Lightning Strikes

  1. Not very many people obtain a direct hit by a lightning strike, but that is a mechanism.
  2. Another mechanism is touching something that is hit by a lightning strike; direct transmission.
  3. Blunt trauma from the shock wave or explosive force, just like with a bomb.
  4. Just like someone can splash you with water, another mechanism is lightning strike splash. (You may have heard this: The lighting jumped!)
  5. The last mechanism, and most common, is from ground current.

Unsafe Places To Be 

  • Mountain tops
  • Peaks
  • Ridges
  • Hills
  • By a lone object; tree, pole, rock
  • In an open meadow
  • Large bodies of water and shorelines
  • Shallow caves
  • Close to pipes, wires, wet ropes

Possible Injuries Related to Lightning Strikes

    • Heart may stop.
    • Neurological deficits: loss of responsiveness, paralysis, seizures, loss of functions
    • Burns
    • Temporary loss of sight
    • Temporary loss of hearing
    • Trauma from being thrown


Persons being injured from lightning strikes may require CPR.  (They won’t shock you!)  Next step in treatment will be to get to a safer environment, and to medical treatment as soon as possible.  When in a safer environment, burns may be covered to prevent dirt getting into the wounds and any obvious fractures can be supported with items available, while waiting for an opportunity to move forward with seeking medical treatment.  Emotional support for injured person(s), in the event of sight and/or hearing loss may be necessary.


  • Know what the weather predictions are prior to adventuring should always be a top priority. If possible, monitor weather during adventures also.
  • Thunder is a real indicator of pending danger.  If you can hear thunder, you are not safe.   A phrase I learned in my wilderness medicine training class goes like this:


  • Know that lighting strikes can happen miles ahead of a storm or behind a storm.
  • Know that while some places are safer than others, no place outdoors is 100% safe when there is lightning strikes happening.
  • Set camp sites up for optimal protection; in uniform patch of trees or low rolling hills.
  • If you are with another person or group, and are caught out in thunderstorms, and lightning strikes, spread out.  Do not stand together, and risk everyone being struck by lightning strikes

Safer places to be when you cannot get indoors during lightning strikes

  • A bunch of trees that are relatively the same height.
  • Lowest part of a mountain you can get to.
  • Assume squatting position when these are present:   hair standing up, cracking/static sounds from the air, skin tingling, something you are carrying is vibrating.
  • Squat on a foam pad, rope, backpack, etc.
  • Squat with feet facing down the mountain, with hands off the ground
  • Squat with feet together
  • If on a trail, and it goes up and down, squat on the lowest spot you can pick.
  • If hiding in a cave, make sure it is a deep cave.  Get as far back into the cave as possible, and assume the squatting position, keeping your head away from the ceiling.

While I used my resources from my NOLS wilderness medicine training for most of the content in this post, I also used this and this site for information.  You can never read too much information about this subject.

*For those of you that do not know, I am an RN.  I have practiced in an ICU/Emergency Room setting for the majority of my almost 12 years of being a nurse.  I have completed my Wilderness Upgrade For Medical Professionals in 2016, with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS).  Content for these posts are obtained from my nursing training/practice, and training from my WUMP certificate.  In an attempt to make wilderness medical situations/emergencies just a little less scary and/or confusing for those who don’t have medical training, I am going to periodically put out “Monday’s Medical Moment” posts. Posts will be for basic information only.  Care and treatment by a medical professional is not to be replaced by this post.  

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