Adventure Safety Tips | What To Do In The Event Of An Electrical Storm

by | Feb 14, 2023 | Safety, Adventure, Bike, Outdoors, Paddle, Run, Safety, Safety, Sports

A couple of weeks ago my buddy Nic took a late afternoon wander down the beach to a known haunt to see if we can collect a shad (elf) or three for the braai.

Under an ominously pregnant sky, each armed with an 11-foot lightning conductor (carbon fiber fishing rods) we trudged down 40-odd stairs and then plodded around 150m down the beach.

On my third cast my rod buzzed in my hand as though it was electrically charged. It was the weirdest, light-sabre-esque sensation and was very confused. I shouted to Nic: ‘What the hell is going on with my braid (multi-strand woven fishing line)? It’s making static or something?’

The very next cast and the rod got ‘shocked’ clean out of my hand – full static charge. Not two minutes later and a big electrical storm came rolling in over the dunes.

Never have seen two guys break down their rods and sprint up a beach so fast. It was a scary (and unexpected) experience and had me questioning the correct modus operandi should this happen to you while out trail running, cycling or, like us, fishing. According to the South African Weather Service, approximately 260 people are killed by lightning in South Africa each year.

Now, when it comes to fishing, it has been said that once you’ve seeing lightning, if you can count to 30 before hearing thunder, the odds are you’re out of range of the lightning. A count of five before hearing thunder means that you are roughly 1.5 kilometres from a lightning strike, however, thunderstorms move very fast so this is definitely not recommended.

Read on for a rough rundown on some basic safety tips for what to do in an electrical storm:

Take shelter immediately

The first thing you should do if you’re unexpectedly caught in an electrical storm while outdoors is to find shelter immediately. Tall bushes and rocks can provide some protection from the lightning, but they are not guaranteed to be safe. Tall trees, especially if they are isolated are not a good idea at all. If you’re near a cave, building or a car, the best you can do is head inside as fast as possible.

Yes, while a car is metal, according to this article by Arrive Alive, a car is a safe place to find shelter because it acts as a ‘Faraday cage’ which prevents current from flowing through the vehicle and its occupants. If you are unable to find shelter, find a low spot and squat down with your feet close together, making yourself as small a target as possible.

Electrical Storms Can Come Out Of Nowhere
Electrical Storms can build up very quickly, especially on the Highveld.

Avoid metal objects

Lightning is attracted to conductor metals, so if you’re carrying trekking poles, or fishing rods, put those down. If you’re riding, get off your bike immediately and don’t touch it. In fact, avoid touching metal objects, such as metal gates or fence posts. If you’re wearing a metal-framed backpack, take that off too and keep it away from your body.

Stay away from bodies of water

If you’re near a body of water, stay as far away from it as possible. Water is a good conductor of electricity so if you are in a boat on a dam, in a kayak or surf ski or surfing, get out onto dry land as fast as you can.

Electrical Storm
(c) Anton Kudryashov / Pexels

Don’t lie down

If you’re caught in an electrical storm while trail running, don’t lie down. This increases your contact with the ground and makes you more vulnerable to being struck by lightning.

Wait for the storm to pass

Once you’ve found shelter, wait for the storm to pass. Avoid using your phone or any other electrical devices, as they can conduct electricity.

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