Lightning Protection in New Mexico
Date: Summer 2014
I am taking a two week trek with the Boy Scouts in New Mexico. Apparently every afternoon there are thunder storms. Since there is no safe place in the outdoors and it comes down to the basics we are taught (mostly luck), I was curious if there was any clothing, material or other techniques that one could use to increase their luck from a scientific perspective.
It sounds like you may be going to Philmont Ranch. If so, they are the local experts, so consult them. Even if you are not going to the ranch proper, they would be an excellent source of knowledge.
Having said that, a prime piece of advice is to make sure you are not on top of any local relief in the afternoon. Sitting atop a hill or mountain peak watching the thunderstorms roll in is not an activity conducive to general heath, well being and a long life. Clothing, etc., is no proof against the massive voltage and heat of a lightening strike.
Your best defense is to learn and follow the guidelines on lightening safety available from the National Weather Service and similar organizations and sources.
As one who has done geological and geophysical field work in the Rockies, avoiding lightening is not luck but strict adherence to safety principles.
Hope this helps and let us know how it goes.
Enjoy your trek at the Philmont Scout Ranch. My son and I did that in 1996 and I have taken Scout Troops and Venture crews from Virginia during different Summers. It is an experience of a lifetime.
There is no CLOTHING or OTHER MATERIALS that you can wear that will protect you from a lightning strike while on an outing, but there are TECHNIQUES that can reduce the probability of you getting struck by lightning while on an outdoors adventure.
The Boy Scouts of America has published guidelines (techniques) that you can use to minimize your exposure and therefore minimizes the probability of being struck by lightning while on an outing.
These guidelines are published on-line at: http://www.scouting.org/scoutsource/HealthandSafety/GSS/gss03.aspx#g
I will copy and paste the pertinent part here:
Lightning Risk Reduction
In many parts of the country, Scouting activities in the outdoors will be at risk to thunderstorms and lightning strike potential. In a thunderstorm, there is no risk-free location outside.
First, to be prepared for your outdoor adventure, it is important to know the weather patterns of the area. Weather patterns on the Florida coast differ greatly from the mountains of New Mexico and the lakes of Minnesota or the rivers of West Virginia. In addition to patterns, monitor current weather forecasts and conditions of the area you plan to visit to modify your plans if needed.
The National Weather Service recommends that when the Thunder Roars, Go Indoors! The only completely safe action is to get inside a safe building or vehicle. When a safe building or vehicle is nearby, the best risk-reduction technique is to get to it as soon as possible. Move quickly when you:
First hear thunder,
See lightning, or
Observe dark, threatening clouds developing overhead.
Stay inside until 30 minutes after you last hear the last rumble of thunder before resuming outdoor activities.
Safe Building—one that is fully enclosed with a roof, walls, and floor, and has plumbing or wiring. Examples of safe buildings include a home, school, church, hotel, office building, or shopping center.
Safe Vehicle—any fully enclosed, metal-topped vehicle such as a hard-topped car, mini-van, bus, truck, etc. If you drive into a thunderstorm, slow down and use extra caution. If possible, pull off the road into a safe area. Do NOT leave the vehicle during a thunderstorm.
Risk Reduction (when no safe building or vehicle is nearby):
If camping, hiking, etc., far from a safe vehicle or building, avoid open fields, the top of a hill, or a ridge top.
Spread your group out 100 feet from each other if possible.
Stay away from tall, isolated trees; flag poles; totem poles; or other tall objects. If you are in a forest, stay near a lower stand of trees.
If you are camping in an open area, set up camp in a valley, ravine, or other low area, but avoid flood-prone areas. Remember, a tent offers NO protection from lighting.
Stay away from water, wet items (such as ropes), and metal objects (such as fences and poles). Water and metal are excellent conductors of electricity.
If boating and you cannot get back to land to a safe building or vehicle: On a small boat, drop anchor and get as low as possible. Large boats with cabins, especially those with lightning protection systems properly installed, or metal marine vessels offer a safer but not risk-free environment. Remember to stay inside the cabin and away from any metal surfaces.
If lightning strikes, be prepared to administer CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) so that you can tend to lightning victims quickly (they do not hold an electrical charge). Take anyone who is a victim of a lightning strike or near-strike to the nearest medical facility as soon as possible, even if the person appears to be unharmed."
This article ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lightning_strike) provides the following statistics:
"According to the www.noaa.gov over the last 20 years, the united states averaged 51 annual lightning strike fatalities, placing it in the second position, just behind floods for deadly weather.
In the US, between 9% and 10% of those struck die, for an average of 40 to 50 deaths per year (28 in 2008). The chance of an average person living in the US being struck by lightning in a given year is estimated at 1 in 500,000, hile the chance of being struck by lightning in a lifetime is 1 in 6250 (estimated life span of 80 years)."
So as long as you ARE NOT FOOLISH and follow the above techniques, your chances of being struck by lightning are pretty slim.
At Philmont, the biggest threat you will face are the bears. The mountains are their homes and sometimes weighing as much as 800 pounds, they get to do whatever they want and they want to eat. So BE PREPARED. Listen and comply with what the Philmont guides tell you to do. Nightly, prepare a bear bag (there are bear bag facilities at each campsite) and be sure to put all (and I mean all) "smellables" in the bear bag and hang it from a tree as the guides will show you. Take small plastic bags with your name on it to keep your personables separate from others while in the community bear bag. Have a special set of clothes you wear while preparing and eating food so you can change them out for the bear bag and wear non-food smelling clothes when you turn in for the night.
We never saw a bear while we were on the trail in Philmont. We saw scat on the trail, but we never saw a bear during our 10 days on the trail at Philmont. We have seen bears on two of our past fifteen trips on the Appalachian trail in Virginia, but following our BSA training, we have suffered no injuries. Properly treated bears do not want anything to do with people. Be especially cautious if you see cubs. Momma is around somewhere and you do not want to mess with a mother bear who has cubs. But just in case I get charged by a bear, I went to a sporting goods store (Bass Pro) and got a 13 oz cannister of pepper spray. I've never had to use it, I have been told that it will turn a charging bear around, and it is soothing to know that I have it. Do not spray pepper spray around your campsite at night. In that form it ATTRACTS bears.
AND HAVE A GREAT TIME AT PHILMONT!
Your concern is well taken.
Have you consulted the NM Weather Service for advice? Trust me, they know!
It is never luck, it is in preparation! A Scout is always prepared.
I am an Eagle Scout, 1967. Peter E. Hughes, Ph.D. Milford, NH
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Update: November 2011