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  protection from lightning
  Posted by: old_user on Jul-02-11 7:58 AM (EST)
   Category: unassigned 

What to do if you're caught paddling on a lake or river and a storm erupts with lightning? My assumption (untested) is that the best thing is to paddle close to the shore but not to take out. I'm assuming the shore is tree lined, so trees can attract the lightning. But if the shore has no trees?

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Messages in this Topic

 

  good basic advice here
  Posted by: willowleaf on Jul-02-11 10:41 AM (EST)
this link gives some basics.

http://www.canoe-kayak.org/pages/how5.html

Lightning is complex and frivolous. The notion that it will ALWAYS go for the highest object around is not true. I saw a fellow camper get knocked to the ground by a lightning strike as he was walking ahead of me on a wide path between lines of tall pine trees. (he was stunned but not badly hurt). I've read first person accounts of people paddling in deep gorges being struck. And in the mountains, it may enter overhangs and caves rather than higher adjacent ridgelines. If I was trapped too far offshore to make it to land within reasonable time I would stash my regular paddle, grab my short wooden storm paddle for bracing, and fold myself as low over the foredeck as I could until I could judge by sound and light timing that the storm was passing by. If I could make it to an open beach I would quickly exit the boat, crouch to drag it above the surf line and then remove my PFD and crouch on it with my head down until the storm passed. MOuntaineering safety courses advise people to do the same thing with their backpacks (crouch on them) if caught in the open or on an exposed slope. This is to insulate you from ground currents.

And electrocution hazards (including from stray currents at badly grounded docks and marina structures) are more likely on fresh than salt water. Salt water is more conductive so it is a more attractive path to ground for current than a human body.

BTW, many people don't realize that carbon fiber is electrically conductive like metal so be aware what your paddles and helmets are made of.
 
 
  What NOAA says
  Posted by: Dr_Disco on Jul-02-11 11:55 AM (EST)
http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/outdoors.htm
 
 
  So, what is your position on what NOAA
  Posted by: ezwater on Jul-02-11 4:42 PM (EST)
says? Is their advice always evidence based, or extrapolated from isolated incidents? Do they compare the risk of being struck by lightning outdoors with other risks, such as being killed or injured driving to and from recreational activities?

I like the one about SCUBA divers diving deep into the water to wait out a lightning storm.

My experience is that the risk of drowning is much higher for paddlers than the risk of being struck by lightning. This is obvious not only from the experience within paddling clubs and paddling websites, but also from reading the newspapers. I've recreated outside during thunderstorms from childhood to old age, and I say I'm not going to have NOAA use their nanny neuroses to restrict my life. They are so focused on lightning that they can't see the rest of existence.

Lightning is not the risk they make it out to be. Their recommendations make sense only if one puts a very high priority on minimising a rather low risk.
 
 
  My position is to adopt what they say to
  Posted by: Dr_Disco on Jul-02-11 10:54 PM (EST)
the situation you are in. What they say is the straight facts. What you do about that is your decision. It is important to know that certain strategies do not reduce your risk or do so minimally. Why are you opposed to knowing what things work and what things don't?
 
 
  Straight facts? It's shot through with
  Posted by: ezwater on Jul-03-11 12:28 AM (EST)
unexamined generalizations, and is unreferenced to any other scale of risk. How is one supposed to know what to do, when one has no way of judging the level of risk? NOAA wants everyone to cower indoors for half an hour after they last hear thunder. Is there any comparable level of customary cowering?

I want them to admit that the actual level of risk is low, compared to other, everyday risks. Then we can decide what to do about their recommendations.
 
 
  If NOAA wasn't hyper conservative in its
  Posted by: scombrid on Jul-03-11 1:39 PM (EST)
If NOAA wasn't hyper conservative in its recommendations they'd get sued every time somebody got struck.

You want them to admit that the risk is low as if they are being deliberately deceptive. To what end would they perpetrate such a deception?
 
 
  They are not being deceptive, They
  Posted by: ezwater on Jul-03-11 11:09 PM (EST)
are so focused on one problem area that they have lost perspective.

To ask people to stay indoors for half an hour after the last time they hear thunder shows tremendous lack of perspective. To ask people to forgo outdoor recreation when the thunderstorm probability rises above 30% shows that NOAA does not understand the difference between physical life and real life.

Your statement about NOAA being sued is based on legal ignorance. They are in no such danger.

All I want is for NOAA to tell the facts, and the truth about the risk of being harmed by lightning. All of us are in more danger from auto accidents, from risk of drowning, and probably from risk of fire, certain diseases, and from depression and boredom waiting indoors, measuring the amount of time since the last thunder.
 
 
  I understand the limited liability
  Posted by: scombrid on Jul-04-11 11:14 AM (EST)
I understand the extremely limited liability of government forecasters under sovereign immunity. That doesn't stop people from bringing suits or complaining to their congressman that "something has to be done". NWS, USGS Hydrometeorological Prediction Center, etc... get sued all the time over thunderstorms, hurricanes, inaccurate river forecasts, rip current drownings,.... The vast majority of suits are thrown out under FTCA protection but a few are successful. Inaccuracy in forecasting is immune from negligence or liability claims for the most part. Giving the all clear when data still indicates "some" level of risk has resulted in a couple of successful lawsuits.
An irrational public gets you unreasonable safety recommendations from an agency concerned with public safety. This is the reason that a rotating thunderstorm that might produce an EF0 at most generates the same automatic "run for the hills" canned tornado warning as an obvious supercell with a hook echo and likely tornado on the ground.

As far as the relative risk of lightening. If I never modified my activity around storms, living where I live, the risk of death or severe injury by lightening probably would become comparable to other more common causes of death or severe injury, not up there with driving a car but not insignificant either. When we are having one of our typical summer storms with lots of lightening I'd be foolish to go out and do scheduled intervals on the lake in my carbon fibre boat with my carbon fiber paddle. Likewise, if I followed the 30 minutes rule or the "if you can hear thunder rule" I'd never go outside during the wet season. But I don't consider completely dismissing the risk entirely as too remote to worry about to be a reasonable action in an area with the strike density that we have.
 
 
  That's good. I wouldn't worry too much
  Posted by: ezwater on Jul-04-11 1:03 PM (EST)
about carbon fiber. I don't recall any special concern about aluminum canoes or aluminum shaft paddles, versus FG or wood-canvas, back when aluminum hulls predominated. I have a custom Double Torque aluminum bent shaft kayak paddle with carbon blades, and I wouldn't worry any more about using it in a thunderstorm than I would when using a wood kayak paddle. The liklihood of being struck is the same. There would be a difference in current from a nearby strike climbing into the paddle, but I'm waiting for some real data on conductivity of carbon blades and shafts.
 
 
  Shouldn't this be on B&B?
  Posted by: salty on Jul-05-11 10:56 AM (EST)
 
 
  You need to normalize your observations
  Posted by: MintJulep on Jul-03-11 11:15 AM (EST)
The reason there are more apparent drownings that lightning strike deaths is that there is ALWAYS water present when paddling but lightning is present only occasionally. And there are fewer paddlers out and about on days when lightning is present.

 
 
  Why look at it that way? The only
  Posted by: ezwater on Jul-03-11 11:16 PM (EST)
relevant comparison is whether in any given year of paddling, I stand more chance of being killed by lightning, drowned in a paddling accident, or killed in an auto accident.

That's how you compare risk. You don't "normalise" based on time of exposure.

Even saying that, I think NOAA way overstates the risk of being killed by lightning while paddling or hiking. We've had about five times as many deaths in my area from trees landing on cars during storms as we have from lightning. And then there's those poor souls who drowned in a ditch after getting out of their cars to take shelter from a tornado.
 
 
  why not?
  Posted by: scombrid on Jul-04-11 11:26 AM (EST)
""""That's how you compare risk. You don't "normalise" based on time of exposure.""""

Why not? I paddle about 12hrs a week. If I always did scheduled training irrespective of the weather my time of exposure to lightening would be quite high (we get a lot of lightening in central Florida especially since I live where the seabreeze collision happens most often) and the risk of dieing due to strike relative to all the other things in life would increase. Time of exposure matters. Back when I lived in the Shenandoah valley I could be outside everyday all day and be exposed to less lightening than I am down here just walking to and from my car.

http://www.lightningsafety.com/nlsi_info/lightningmaps/US_FD_Lightning.pdf

Down here, lightening is much more likely to kill you than wind (at least with our summer storms, winter thunderstorms that are associated with frontal systems and mid-latitude cyclones are a different beast).

http://www.uic.edu/labs/lightninginjury/holle30yrs.htm

The numbers of weather deaths in general are vanishingly small compared to car accidents but there aren't that many people knocking about in severe weather while just about everybody is hurtling down the road everyday.
 
 
  If you drive to the water before you
  Posted by: ezwater on Jul-04-11 8:41 PM (EST)
paddle, your risk of death by car is greater that day than your risk of death by lightning.

And your method of comparison is NOT the way risk of death is set up. I say this as one who has had to wade through many, many studies of risk of death by suicide. The risk is stated as the number of deaths per year per 100.000.

Even in Florida, NOAA exaggerates the risk of death by lightning. It doesn't really matter how risk is calculated. NOAA makes it seem as if the risk of death by lightning is quite high, and it isn't.
 
 
  dude, you're obsessing hopelessly
  Posted by: slushpaddler on Jul-11-11 3:31 PM (EST)
-- Last Updated: Jul-11-11 3:33 PM EST --

The OP was regarding what to do if caught out by lightning while p[addling. The NOAA link provided by dr. disco provides advice on what to do in various situations in a lightning storm. The stats are but a tiny piece. Additionally, the link says quite clearly that in the event of a storm there is very little we can do. But they do have a liability concern.
Your obsessing over the precision of the stats does nothing to answer the question, which I certainly wouldn't say of the NOAA link. You're diluting the topic. Instead of derailing a thread, how about starting with a more relevant post?

 
 
  Electrically conductive materials
  Posted by: M-J-B on Jul-03-11 4:26 AM (EST)
I remember reading a study somewhere (I'll try to locate it) stating that the material of the pole (or paddle) attracting the lightning is not that essential.

I paddle with a carbon paddle but I do not think switching to a wooden paddle during a thunder storm would make that much difference.

Lightning might strike a plastic paddle as well as a carbon paddle. The current will travel on the surface of the shaft and the shaft is most likely to be wet due to rain and salt water exposure making it conductive. If the electrical resistance in the paddle turns out to be too big then the lightning will simply take a different path (i.e. your hands holding the paddle).
 
 
  sounds like good advice
  Posted by: jonsprag1 on Jul-04-11 7:27 PM (EST)
prayer wouldn't hurt either (lol) after all it is a lightning strike we are talking about.
 
 
  Send out de Grumman foyst
  Posted by: FatElmo on Jul-02-11 12:13 PM (EST)
-- Last Updated: Jul-02-11 12:35 PM EST --

Wit de tallest paddler in it usin' a ZRE waarin' a MAC-T or a more fashoonable Tin Foil Tilley.

http://www.mikeholt.com/mojonewsarchive/LSP-HTML/HTML/LightningQuestions~20020716.htm

http://www.accuweather.com/blogs/news/story/51337/lightning-safety-on-the-seven.asp

FE

 
 
  lightning
  Posted by: mrmannerz on Jul-02-11 3:14 PM (EST)
No trees. I would go to shore and get out. I would get away from my canoe as I do have metal objects in my gear, even if my canoe is royalex. Then, you crouch and keep your ankles together so that, if a strike is nearby, the electricity does not travel up one leg and down the other - try to eliminate a path up and through the body and back to ground. Remember, lightning is an electrical arc bridging a thousand feet or so...if it strikes nearby, it isn't going to have much trouble arcing around your pfd or tennis shoes.

It doesn't always strike the tallest object, but it does strike the taller objects more often.

If it is just a threat, you should be paddling near shore and if the shore is tree lined, within the area described by a 45 (or so) degree slope from the treetops to the water. Because, it is more likely to strike the tallest object. You should be near shore just because of the winds that a thunderstorm might bring with little warning.

A forest is reasonably safe, a big tall isolated tree is not.

Do not, I repeat, do not start golfing.
 
 
  I tend to agree with you...
  Posted by: jaybabina on Jul-03-11 6:36 PM (EST)
About getting out. I've seen lightning bounce on the water. It can actually skim on the surface and that's scary. I once paddled in with lightning cracking right over us. You just start praying. Supposedly that squat position is supposed to be best once you're out of the boat. I'm very cautious about dark clouds in the summer and don't take chances. I can understand why some may feel more secure sitting in their kayak next to shore with no trees than getting out. Tough call.
 
 
  Sorry incorrect info
  Posted by: kayamedic on Jul-04-11 11:45 AM (EST)
as the 45 degree cone is a myth

http://www.lightningsafety.com/nlsi_pls/cone-of-protection-myth.html

Trees are no help either if you happen to be in contact with roots.
 
 
  Thanks
  Posted by: dressmeister on Jul-11-11 8:12 PM (EST)
For the reasonable response.

Seriously.
 
 
  another tidbit to drop = graphite flyrod
  Posted by: bigspencer on Jul-02-11 9:21 PM (EST)
-- Last Updated: Jul-05-11 11:35 AM EST --

Carbon graphite.....a canoe with CG layup?, definitely anything *mostly graphite...a flyrod left standing up = a NO-NO. Cellar-garage door left open with just screen during a hot mid-summer t-storm...and graphite flyrod, in 2 ~40" sections, standing up next to a water pipe ~20' away from the door = zapped. Could hear the SNAP and see the electric-like flash from upstairs in the kitchen, ~20' away...but well surrounded by plenty of wall and floor. Yep the flyrod had whitish powder mark. I've also seen many lightning bolts occasionally strike/eminate-from low-lying shorelines..maybe rock? Have always paddled my buns off to get to shore and walk into somewhat dense, middle-height trees...up from any exposed or rocky shoreline... As said...don't expose yourself or be near to exposed objects.
$.01

 
 
  Usually
  Posted by: Glenn_MacGrady on Jul-02-11 9:45 PM (EST)
I'll just paddle close to the shore and stay in my canoe in your lake scenario (or a river) with nothing else around. Whatever is on the shore, trees or no trees, there's nothing you can do about it. Of course, I wouldn't park under an isolated tree.

I feel the odds are that the lightning is more likely to strike the land around the lake or river than the water surface. Hence, I prefer to stay in the boat right near the shore rather than get out and sit on the land. Of course, if it's a real downpour and my open canoe starts to fill up, I'll eventually get out to dump it.
 
 
  could be very accurate Glenn....
  Posted by: bigspencer on Jul-05-11 11:38 AM (EST)
makes sense.....
 
 
  Good read about lightning
  Posted by: mrmannerz on Jul-03-11 9:45 PM (EST)
The excellent outdoor/nature writer, Gretel Erlich, was struck by lightning while working a ranch. She wrote a pretty interesting book about recovering from the big zap. Here's a link to a review

http://www.storycirclebookreviews.org/reviews/match.shtml
 
 
  odds of being struck
  Posted by: old_user on Jul-04-11 8:59 PM (EST)
The discussion seems to have taken an odd turn. The odds of getting struck by lightning overall are pretty low. These general odds don't apply if your outdoors in a lightning storm, since the general odds include everyone and not just people in lightning storms.

After watching a bolt hit about 50yds away as I was standing on the side of a river last year I reviewed that NOAA site. My recollection is that there was no proven method of significant improving your odds of not getting hit apart from getting indoors. I would portage an aluminum canoe during a lightning storm but I'm not confident that I know of any course of action to lessen the odds of getting hit.
 
 
  What you say is true. But are the odds
  Posted by: ezwater on Jul-05-11 11:08 AM (EST)
of getting struck in a thunderstorm, even if you are portaging in the middle of one, high enough to make you cancel outdoor plans? Because that seems to be what NOAA wants us to do, whenever there is a chance of thundershowers.

I was inside my house, safe in bed, when lightning struck a tree in the yard outside. It was the 1950s, when we were trained to duck and cover in a nuclear attack. So, I hit the floor before I smelled the ozone. But if I had been wandering around outside in the storm, would my odds of being struck have been much higher? Or would I have died of a respiratory disease?

Just to re-emphasize the irrational focus NOAA has on lightning, note their advice that SCUBA divers dive deep in the water until lightning is over. NOAA does not even mention the possibility that the total situation should be assessed before deciding what the divers and support boat should do.
 
 
  It depends
  Posted by: old_user on Jul-05-11 11:47 AM (EST)
Around here in Colorado, the rule is to get off high mountain peaks by early afternoon because by 3pm thunderstorms will be coming in and all hell will be breaking loose up there. I follow that advice. If I was paddling on a high mountain lake, I would do the same thing. Predicted thunderstorms don't usually stop me from paddling on low elevation rivers.
However, I have no objective data to support the wisdom of these decisions. It's probably safer to hide in my basement but I don't.
 
 
  Yes
  Posted by: waterbird on Jul-05-11 7:27 PM (EST)
The high likelihood of afternoon thunderstorms in July and August would make me (1) paddle early in the day and (2) stick close to shore for a hasty retreat if I'm out in the afternoon.

I wouldn't cancel my plans, but I would definitely modify them.




 
 
  marinas more dangerous than storms
  Posted by: willowleaf on Jul-05-11 11:28 AM (EST)
Personally, I am more concerned about electrocution hazards around docks and marinas than I am about lightning.

http://www.todaysthv.com/news/PDF/electric_shock_drowning_incidents.pdf

Being a career electrician and electrical inspector, I cringe at the wiring installations and jerry rigging I see around shoreline structures and powered boats and am very leery of metal docks, particularly in fresh water. There has been suspicion that more drowning deaths occur due to electrical faults around these facilities than are officially accounted for. This is because it is difficult to substantiate that a drowning only occurred because the victim was immobilized by stray currents.
 
 
  a storm comes up while paddling ........
  Posted by: pilotwingz on Jul-05-11 11:30 AM (EST)
-- Last Updated: Jul-05-11 11:58 AM EST --

....... they happen and there's always been time in advance to get prepaired for it as best as possible . Been there enough to know that I want to get to shore if at all (and as soom as) possible to find the best cover available from the direct force of the storm .

It will pass . I'll will have put on my rain gear and hunkered down . My canoe may be able to be on shore with me so I could use it to help cover me . The trees if thick enough can help block the winds and driving rains to a great extent . if there isn't anything more substantial than the forest to take cover in/under , I'll just sit down and be exposed as little as possible .

Oh , lighting ... well , I'll be hoping it doesn't come down and hit me . It's busting all around and missed me so far , probably will stay that way ... or it won't and zap .

I mean you don't know where that next lighting bolt is going to hit , how close or far it will be to you , if it will hit the ground or not ... can't tell you how many times I've said , man that was close after I regained my composure . That lighting crack is loud , startles the hell out of you , and sometimes you can feel some type of air impact or sensations from a close strike .

And if that lighting seems to be trying purposefully to zero in on me and gets me spooked , maybe I'll jump up and run around in zig zag motions like a jack rabbit all over the area thinking it's harder to hit a moving target , lol .

I guess my main point is , you're out there , the storm is on you , you may wish you were some place else at the moment , but you're not . So protect and cover yourself from the beating that's coming your way as best you can with what you've got ... and it will pass , you'll either be there to see it go away , or you won't .

Chances are you're going to take some level of thrashing , so do what you can about those things you have some control over ... i personally don't think you have any control over the lighting other than being inside a building . etc. , and even then people have been struck just sitting inside their house .

 
 
  Thread Starter Lightning
  Posted by: Booztalkin on Jul-05-11 12:52 PM (EST)
Every summer we can count on at least one good lightning thread.

According to the Lightning Safety Institute or some such body, the only safe places to be in lightning storms are a "substantial" structure or a completely enclosed vehicle. Other than that, you roll the dice, because lightning is completely impetuous and unpredictable. There are no rules. It can strike anywhere.

If you live in the mid Atlantic region, and you pursue paddling in summer, especially if you take overnight and longer trips, you are going to get stuck in a lightning storm sooner or later, either while you are on the water or camped. Short of finding a substantial structure or completely enclosed vehicle, you are going to be at risk, and it doesn't matter much if you get out of your boat and kneel on your pfd, keep paddling, under trees, not under trees; you are at risk.

I take comfort from the stuff I see sticking out of the water. There are duck blinds, pilings, osprey nests, navigational markers and the occaisional tree. Such objects are usually considerably taller than I am when I am paddling, and if lightning is such a huge risk, why do we still see these things on the water? Why are they not charred by lightning strikes--these things are out there for every storm for years on end? OTOH, we don't see those objects that got hit. They are not there anymore. But, if being 3 feet tall on open water automatically drew lightning, these objects sticking out of the water would not be sticking out of the water.

I do not disparage any of the advice given by other posters, but I maintain you are just as safe continuing your trip when lightning starts, repeating this mantra: small target, big water. It doesn't really help, lightning still scares me pooh-less.

I was camped on a river bank on the Potomac the morning of July 3. A booming T-storm rolled through from about 4-5 a.m. We survived. About 7:30 a.m., I'm sitting there enjoying some coffee and oatmeal, watching the mist roll over the river. There was no wind to speak off. Suddenly, there was a cracking, crashing sound as a large tree came falling out of the forest about 50' away, slamming down onto the riverside rocks. That's the second time I've been camped on the Potomac when a tree randomly crashed down on an otherwise peaceful morning. A fellow was killed on the C&O towpath the same day. He was biking and a tree fell on him. I'm beginning to think all this emphasis on lightning is misplaced.

~~Chip
 
 
  Surface
  Posted by: jimyaker on Jul-05-11 2:42 PM (EST)
If lightning hits water, it apparently tends to spread across the surface, reaching out over a wide area. When lightning hits a tree, it tends to go straight to the ground, through roots, or nearby objects. We had a local swimmer killed by lightning last year when lightning hit the water about 10 miles in front of a storm system.

So, my preference is to be off the water and if lightning happens to hit right where I'm standing, it was just my day to go. If I stay on the water, lightning might hit hundreds of feet away and still reach over to where I am as it travels over the surface looking for that path of least resistance.

I've never heard of a local paddlers getting hit by any type of lightning, but I don't want to be the first.

Every now and then you get a pop up thunderstorm and there just isn't a good spot to toake out and at that point you just have to look around and see what option makes the most sense to you, but it's not a good feeling when you can't get out a full "One-Mississippi" before the thunder sounds.
 
 
  good question
  Posted by: old_user on Jul-05-11 3:10 PM (EST)
That raises an interesting question. Has anyone ever heard of a canoeist or kayaker being hit by lightning when they were on the water? I've heard of lots of sailboat masts being hit but never personally heard of a paddler being hit when on the water.
 
 
  Yes, a kayaker took a near-hit on the
  Posted by: ezwater on Jul-05-11 5:13 PM (EST)
Hiwassee. Friends of mine were cowering on exposed rocks on the Chattooga, and were lightly zapped by a strike nearby. But in my 35+ years of canoeing, verifiable reports of people zapped on the rivers are rare.

That's why I say, NOAA is focused on the finite possibility that people may be outside and take a direct strike. They say, go indoors instead, and no one can argue with that. If you put maximum priority on not taking the big lightning hit that will kill or maim you, get indoors, stay indoors.

But NOAA does not admit that the chance of a direct hit is low. It isn't irrational to be enjoying the outdoors in a thunderstorm. It's even kind of exciting.
 
 
  trees falling .....
  Posted by: pilotwingz on Jul-05-11 10:23 PM (EST)
..... once out on Lake Redman early in the morning , mist just lifting , we heard this loud cracking sound that drew our attention . We couldn't see the tree that was falling but the fall sounded long as it was takimg a number of branches from trees close to it . Very loud echoing down into the lake area . The falling tree was on a pretty steep hillside .

Back about 71 give or take a year , a young couple from G.B. high school were in Patapsaco (swinging bridge area) and a tree fell and killed him . They were friends of the girl I was dating who became my wife later .

hey Chip , we were up on the C&O in Hancock on the 4th . I'm guessing you were asleep in a tent when the storm rolled through . When a storm wakes me up while camping , I just roll over and go back to sleep , what else can you do ?? Having a tree 50' or so away fall while drinking morning coffee would be an interesting start to the day !!

 
 
  My Tilley Hat has the optional
  Posted by: Jsaults on Jul-05-11 7:44 PM (EST)
Faraday cage.

I paddle with impunity.

Jim
 
 
  Lightning strike probabilities
  Posted by: cave_demon on Jul-10-11 6:52 PM (EST)
There seem to be a lot of comments blaming NOAA for "overreacting" to lightning, but their "fear-mongering" is justified. I'm a meteorologist, so this is one topic that I actually know something about (unlike most others). The reason why the probability of being struck by lightning appears to be low is because the vast majority of the population is not outside when severe storms occur. If everyone ran outside when a severe storm is occurring, you'd find that the chances of being struck are a lot higher than you think. Most people are sane enough to stay indoors when severe weather occurs. The reason why few paddlers get struck is because not many people go paddling when there is a strong chance for storms. Of course you can, especially in the South, get caught in an afternoon quickie thunderstorm, but these are rarely severe thunderstorms, and tend to last for a very short duration. The big frontal severe storms are well-forecasted and people generally stay inside those days, especially if you have outdoor plans.

If you're out on the water when a severe thunderstorm is approaching or lightning has struck nearby, get to the shore as quickly as possible, unless it's just rock outcrops or barren sandy beach. If so, then you're simply in the position of hoping you don't get struck.
 
 
  This is a classic problem
  Posted by: Dr_Disco on Jul-10-11 8:15 PM (EST)
and this is a cogent comment. At the individual level, the question of how likely YOU are to be struck by lightning comes down to what the environmental circumstances are that increase or decrease your "chances". What can you do to decrease your chances in the circumstances you are in? You cannot derive those statistics from aggregate statistics. That is a well known statistical fallacy. But you can get a handle on it by analyzing the physical processes involved. So "exposure" may be important for aggregate statistics but useless for individual fate.
 
 
  Waiting it out in wet wetsuits
  Posted by: pikabike on Jul-10-11 8:30 PM (EST)
I've gotten out of the kayak only to wonder if standing around in wet clothing is riskier than changing out of the wet wetsuit.

If I were done for the day, this question would not occur to me; I'd change and drive home. But if I'm merely waiting for what looks like the last storm cell to pass and will get back on the water after that, should I be standing on...oh, I dunno, maybe my PFD? The picnic tables nearby are vinyl-coated steel.
 
 
  I see your logic, cave demon, but don't
  Posted by: ezwater on Jul-10-11 11:30 PM (EST)
agree with your contention that there are so few paddlers out during thunderstorms that no one gets struck.

In fact, summer thunderstorms ride over the Ocoee, the Hiwassee, the Nantahala, the Tuck, and the Pigeon when there are very large numbers of people on the water. Raft services don't cancel trips because of the possibility of thunderstorms. Private boaters don't stay home because thunderstorms *may* come up in the afternoon.

In my 35 years of being in close touch with what happens on these rivers, I know of only one incident where a WW kayaker was stunned by a near miss on the Hiwassee.

I guess if you had any actual statistics, you'd provide them. But don't argue from the supposed rarity of exposure. There's plenty of people out on the water during thunderstorms, and given that, the low rate of actual strikes stands in sharp contrast to NOAA's nanny advice.
 
 
  "large" is relative
  Posted by: paddlemore on Jul-10-11 11:52 PM (EST)
There are very large numbers of paddlers (who are a small percentage of the population) in a relatively small and low population density area. The sum total is a 'relatively' low number of people, hence the relatively low number of people struck by lightning.

Companies don't cancel trips, and private boaters might not stay home, if there is a possibility of a thunderstorm. HOWEVER, when there IS a thunderstorm people seek shelter. Most get off of the water when a thunderstorm is happening in close proximity.

 
 
  "large" is relative
  Posted by: paddlemore on Jul-10-11 11:52 PM (EST)
There are very large numbers of paddlers (who are a small percentage of the population) in a relatively small and low population density area. The sum total is a 'relatively' low number of people, hence the relatively low number of people struck by lightning.

Companies don't cancel trips, and private boaters might not stay home, if there is a possibility of a thunderstorm. HOWEVER, when there IS a thunderstorm people seek shelter. Most get off of the water when a thunderstorm is happening in close proximity.

 
 
  which of you is the meteorologist?
  Posted by: slushpaddler on Jul-11-11 2:12 PM (EST)
 
 
  People vs. Other lightning targets
  Posted by: Booztalkin on Jul-11-11 3:45 PM (EST)
First of all, if I read the literature correctly, getting off the water is only an effective deterrent to lightning strike if you get into a substantial structure or enclosed vehicle. Just getting off the water may change your small odds of getting hit, but does not eliminate the risk.

Secondly, I was thinking about this thread the other day while paddling on the Magothy River (Chesapeake trib). There are hundreds of objects sticking out of the water, from pier pilings to trees to derelict boats to random poles. Are they not as attractive a target to lightning as a human? If a kayaker, a 3' bump on the water, is a prime target, why are all those 10' targets out there year after year, storm after storm?

Don't get me wrong. I am scared of lightning and hate to be stuck on the water in a storm. I do not advocate paddling through lightning storms. But why isn't that other stuff getting zapped all the time, or is it zapped and just doesn't show any sign of it?

~~Chip
 
 
  boats
  Posted by: NateHanson on Jul-11-11 6:07 PM (EST)
Boats do get hit by lightning often. I personally know a handful of people whose larger sail and motor boats have been struck by lightening. It really screws things up too. A direct strike can destroy all the electronics on board. A work boat that just got hit here sustained over $15,000 in damage to the electronics. Ouch.
 
 
  Advice from lightning photographer
  Posted by: Dr_Disco on Jul-11-11 5:07 PM (EST)
http://strikeone.com.au/avoid/avoid.htm
 
 
  Voltage Gradient
  Posted by: TommyC1 on Jul-11-11 5:21 PM (EST)
You don't have to get hit by lightning to get hurt by it.
A lightning bolt is a big static shock. Millions of volts. When it strikes a tree or other object that voltage dissipates to ground through what ever is around it.
At the strike that voltage will be very high. Moving away from the strike the voltage drops. Depending on the conductivity of the media, whether that is earth or rock or water or roots or whatever the voltage will drop faster or slower. There can be a potential of thousands of volts between a few inches of ground. More between the ground and water or the ground and rocks or the ground and roots.
So if you are standing with your feet a foot apart, or with your back against a tree, or one foot on ledge and the other in the water you may be exposed to that very high voltage if lightning strikes nearby.
So if it's striking all around you, keep your feet together on one medium and minimise your contact with the ground.
In a near miss that might improve your chances.
 
 
  We have been caught several times
  Posted by: jackl on Jul-11-11 6:58 PM (EST)
in lightning storms in the middle of areas where there is no getting away from it, and the worse case I can remember was on the Nine Mile Pond canoe trail in the Everglades National Park.
We were several miles from the take out and in the middle of water and grass.
We enjoyed the show, and figured if the Man upstairs wanted us he would get us when He deemed the time was right!

Jack L
 
 
  Funny Anecdote
  Posted by: dressmeister on Jul-11-11 8:31 PM (EST)
So when the lightening threads come up, I always tell people that I'm far more worried about slipping on a winning lottery ticket on a wet floor than I am about being hit by lightening.

This changed slightly the Sunday before Memorial Day, my wife and I were working on our rooftop garden (rubber roof) as a thunderstorm was approaching. Plenty of tall trees around, taller houses, etc.

It was already sprinkling so we were wearing our rubber boots and Gore-Tex.

"Not to worry," I told my wife.

Suddenly, the sound of Rice Krispies on steroids caught my attention. I turned towards my wife and saw blueish threads dancing from the garage-house power line towards the tree above (four or five feet from my wife).

A fraction of a second later, the blinding flash and the deafening boom of a lightening bolt struck in the neighbors' yard.

My wife dashed for the door (presumably for some new panties) while I pondered the event and slowly followed.

I relayed the funny anecdote to my downstairs neighbor / best friend / landlord who told me that as he was grilling burgers (free-range bison) standing on a treated lumber deck wearing leather flops, he felt the hair on his neck and head stand up (smart guy, not one to exaggerate). Meanwhile, we never felt a thing.

My anecdotal lesson: Due to the triboelectric effect, charges build up between the ground and sky. Eventually, the path of least resistance (variational calculus, here) rules. The PoLR is quite fickle

If ever caught in a storm again, I will stay in my boat, near shore, but not go ashore. I believe that being IN the water puts you in one of the paths of least resistance, but being slightly ABOVE the water, away from trees, decreases your risk.

$0.005

Dress
 

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