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Lightning Information for Outdoor Recreation

Parents hike near a stream with their two children.

If you are caught in a lightning storm while camping, hiking, playing sports, or during other outdoor activities, it is often difficult to find a protected place. However, you can avoid lightning injuries by taking certain precautions.

  • Check the forecast
    Before participating in outdoor activities, always check the weather forecast. Thunderstorms with lightning in the mountains occur most often during the summer months, in the late afternoon or evening. If you are heading to the beach or other water-related activities, check the forecast to know what to expect during the day. See Lightning Information for Water Activities.
  • Did You Know?
    The best place for shelter during a storm is inside a structure with four walls and a roof or an enclosed vehicle. Small, open shelters and tents do not provide protection. Large caves and valleys are protective. Small caves, overhangs, and wet stream beds are likely to be more dangerous than open areas because water conducts electricity and electricity can jump gaps between rocks.

    When thunder roars, go indoors
    Find a safe, enclosed shelter when you hear thunder. Even if you see blue sky, you could still be in danger. Tents, picnic shelters, gazebos, baseball dugouts, and other open shelters DO NOT provide protection from lightning. Don’t resume outdoor activities for at least 30 minutes after the storm. The beginning and the end of a storm are the most dangerous times.

  • Seek shelter immediately, even if caught in the open
    If you are caught in an open area, act quickly to find adequate shelter. The most important action is to remove yourself from danger. Crouching or getting low to the ground can reduce your chances of being struck, but it does not remove you from danger.
  • If you are caught outside with no safe shelter nearby, the following actions could reduce your risk of being struck by lightning:

    If you are caught in an open area, Do NOT lie down. Lightning causes electric currents along the top of the ground that can be deadly more than 100 feet away.

    • Immediately get off elevated areas such as hills, mountain ridges, or peaks.
    • Never lie flat on the ground. Crouch down in a ball-like position with your head tucked and hands over your ears so that you are down low, with minimal contact with the ground.
    • Never shelter under an isolated tree. If you are in a forest, shelter near lower trees.
    • Never use a cliff or rocky overhang for shelter.
    • Immediately get out of and away from ponds, lakes, and other bodies of water.
    • Stay away from objects that conduct electricity, such as barbed wire fences, power lines, or windmills.
  • Separate from others
    If you are in a group during a thunderstorm, separate from each other. This will reduce the number of injuries if lightning strikes the ground.
  • Don’t carry metal
    Don’t carry any metal objects, such as golf clubs, fishing poles, umbrellas, or backpacks with metal frames. Metal doesn’t attract electricity, but it is a good conductor. Your chances of a direct hit are higher when you are carrying a conductor above shoulder level. Be sure to avoid other metal objects as well, such as wire fences. You are more likely to be burned if you are in contact with metal when you are struck by lightning.
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