Aug 192011

Right now outside my window is raging an absolutely FANTASTIC storm. The trees are sideways, streetlights are shaking, the rain and hail are heaving themselves  horizontally, the thunder and lightning are finally drowning out the sound of the Pentecostal church service across the street. I LOVE it!! Holy wow, I just NOW saw a lightning bolt hit the top of a nearby building and consequently my heart blew out onto my keyboard. And now there is a sea of car alarms and fire engine sirens. Great moment to be writing this blog post. It seems dangerous, out-of-control, really wild, and I’m immediately reminded that it IS, as I look over at the smoke coming from the nearby building. However, there are kids screaming with joy and playing in the streets, and everyone else’s face is flat against their window enjoying the spectacle (I’m sure not at all aware of the strike I have the advantage of a third floor view of.) This is the kind of storm that makes you stop and value where you are (unless you’re out there in an open field perhaps), makes you bond with whomever you happen to be with, makes you feel vulnerable. Pure nature passing through for a quick New York City falafel.

We’ve been waiting for this storm. It’s done quite a little square dance with a few areas before us. And I am immediately thinking of my friends currently hiking the Appalachian Trail nearby. A storm like this is right up there with “bear encounter” as one of the most humbling (and fascinating) experiences you can have on the trail. I am apparently charmed in my walking ventures in that every time a storm brews up, a shelter of some sort appears, no kidding. I feel like I can’t hold that spell forever and so have done a bit of research on what to do when I fall out of Thor’s favor. Here’s the basics if you are caught in one in the wilderness:

How To Handle A Violent Thunderstorm In the Wild

  1. First of all, keep your eye out for one. If you are unable to check a forecast, as many people on long-distance expeditions are, you will need to know how to read the sky for anything brewing. Tall, dense, fluffy clouds are the surest indicator of a lightning-bearing storm. If you see this type of cloud growing taller in the sky or becoming lopsided on the top (anvil shape), you can be sure a storm is about to come and behave accordingly. Also, quick drops in temperature and an increase in cool winds can be signs.
  2. Especially in narrow canyons and in the desert, it is important to ascertain where excess water flows and make sure you’re not standing in it. Don’t wait for the rain to start to assess this as washes can flash flood from rainfall that is far from you. Areas where temporary water flows are usually greener than the surrounding areas and sometimes there will be debris caught in foliage not at ground level. Get a decent height away from any area that may channel rainwater. But not so high that you are on a…
  3. Ridge. Avoid exposed areas such as ridges and open fields. Do not be the tallest object around and do not take shelter under a solitary tree or picnic shelter. Large groupings of trees are suitable in areas lacking more obvious forms of shelter.
  4. Avoid exposed hillsides that do not have any growth on them. Besides the clear lightning danger, sloped areas of earth with no foliage are prime mud slide areas.
  5. Stay out of water. I know you all know this, but if I didn’t just say it…
  6. If there is absolutely no shelter around, squat on the ground, with as little parts as possible touching the ground, with your hands over your ears. This will not guarantee your safety, but will help potential strikes flow over your body rather than through vital organs. And it’s reasonably good exercise.
  7. Metal does not attract lightning, but removing metal from your body can reduce the injury if lightning should strike. It is especially important to remove headphones or earbuds from your ears.
  8. Stay sheltered and cautious even if the storm seems to be gaining some distance from you. If you can hear thunder, lightning could still strike near you.
  9. Once the danger is gone, go ahead and accept that your skin is waterproof and enjoy the rain. It’s a vibrant part of what you came out there for.


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