How to protect yourself from lightnings in case of thunderstorms

Foto via Thomas Gatzweiler, Flickr.
Pic via Thomas Gatzweiler, Flickr.

We are getting closer to autumn, one of the most popular seasons for walking the Camino de Santiago. It’s also the season, however, when rain and storms start to become more frequent. For those pilgrims walking the Camino, this presents a small but non-negligible risk: being struck by a lightning during a thunderstorm.

The risk of being hit by a lightning is indeed much higher in the countryside than in the city, since there are no tall buildings with metallic structures that might act as lightning rods. In order to prevent this, the best thing is to plan our route so that a hypothetical storm doesn’t catch us in the middle of the stage. Thus, we should follow these guidelines:

  • Pay attention to weather forecasts.
  • When in the road, observe the sky in case there are dark clouds or lightning flashes. Seek shelter in a safe place immediately if that’s the case.
  • During the summer, thunderstorms tend to take place after four in the afternoon, so try to plan your route so that you reach your destination before that time.

 

If, despite all, we are caught by a storm in the countryside, this is what we should do:

  • Avoid any high places, such as hills, and seek shelter in lower zones. It’s not a good idea to lie down on the floor, though, since electricity can travel along the ground.
  • Get rid of all metallic objects, and leave them at least 30 meters away. This also includes powering down and leaving cellphones.
  • In the same way, we should avoid metallic objects: fences, electric poles… as well as masses of water (rivers, puddles…).
  • Do not run, and much less with wet clothes. Your movement could create turbulences in the air that “attract” lightnings.
  • Avoid open, flat spaces, since we will stick out in the landscape and we could also attract lightnings.
  • In the same way, we should not seek shelter underneath solitary trees, rocks and other features that stick out from their surroundings.

 

Where should we hide then? A good place could be a forest or group of trees, specially if there are other taller trees nearby. However, the best place to hide in the countryside is a closed car, with the engine turned off, radio antenna lowered and windows closed. If lightning strikes it, the car will be electrically charged only on the outside, while the inside will be protected, thanks to the physical phenomenon known as “Faraday cage”. Nevertheless, we should be careful not to touch any metallic parts of the car once we get out.

If we cannot get in the car and have to remain outdoors, the best thing is to squat as low as possible, with hands on the knees and touching the floor only with your shoes.

If a person has been struck by a lightning, these are the first aid measures that we should perform:

  • If the person struck is unconscious, check for breathing and pulse.
  • If there’s no breath, mouth-to-mouth resucitation should be provided. If there’s no pulse, perform CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). People suffering from cardiac arrest due to a lightning strike have more probabilities of recovery than those due to other causes; therefore, first aid should be performed as soon as possible.
  • Check also for other injuries, such as bone fractures or burns. Do not move the patient if there are vertebral fractures.
  • Keep the patient warm until medical help arrives.

 

(Source: Asociación Profesional de Agentes Forestales de la CC. AA. de Madrid).