Do you love hiking in the forest but get nervous when thunderstorms start brewing?
You’re not alone. Many people are unsure about how dangerous a thunderstorm can be while hiking.
While it is certainly important to take precautions and be aware of your surroundings, as long as you follow some simple safety guidelines, you should be able to enjoy your hike without any problems.
How dangerous is a thunderstorm in the forest?
Thunderstorms can be dangerous if you’re caught out in the open, but what about if you’re hiking in the forest?
Is it safe to continue your hike during a thunderstorm, or should you seek shelter?
Let’s look at how dangerous thunderstorms can be in the forest.
Dangers of thunderstorms in the forest:
- Branch breakage: If a tree is struck by lightning, the branches can easily snap and fall on top of you.
- Flash flooding: Heavy rains can quickly cause flash flooding in the forest, which can sweep you away or drown you.
- Lightning: A bolt of lightning can easily kill you if you’re caught out in the open.
- Wind blow: A strong gust of wind can knock you down and cause serious injuries.
So, what can you do to stay safe during a thunderstorm while hiking in the forest?
What to do during a thunderstorm in the forest?
As hikers, we should all be aware of the dangers of being in the great outdoors.
One of these dangers is being caught in a thunderstorm while out on a hike.
While there are steps you can take to try and avoid getting caught in a thunderstorm, sometimes they are simply unavoidable.
I will explore what you should do if you find yourself in the middle of a thunderstorm while hiking.
1. Never stand under a tree
The first and most important rule is to never stand under a tree during a thunderstorm.
You might think that you’re safe because you’re not out in the open, but lightning can easily strike a tree and cause it to collapse.
You could be seriously injured or even killed if you’re caught underneath.
It is safer to be in an open meadow than under a tree unless you can find suitable shelter.
2. Avoid staying outside in the open
If you can, try to avoid staying in the open during a thunderstorm.
Lightning strikes the ground more often than anything else, so you’re at a higher risk of being struck if you’re out in the open.
Instead, look for shelter inside a building or a car.
If you’re caught in the open, stay away from tall objects like trees or power lines.
If you can’t find any shelter and you’re stuck in the open, your best bet is to crouch down.
Make sure you keep your feet close together and your head down.
This will help to reduce your risk of being struck by lightning.
3. Seek shelter in a hut or cave
If you’re caught in a thunderstorm while hiking, your best bet is to seek shelter in a hut or cave.
Make sure you stay away from the entrance of the hut or cave, as lightning can strike the ground and travel into the opening.
Also, avoid touching the walls or floor, as they might be conductive and could cause you to be electrocuted.
4. Seek shelter in hollows and pits
If you can’t find a hut or cave, your next best option is to seek shelter in a hollow or pit.
Make sure the hollow or pit is as deep as possible, and avoid touching the bottom.
You should also throw away your hiking poles, as they can easily attract a lightning strike.
5. Distance from water
Another factor to consider when seeking shelter from a thunderstorm is how close you are to water.
Water is a great conductor of electricity, so you’re at a higher risk of being struck by lightning if you’re near a body of water.
Try to move away from lakes, rivers, or oceans and find shelter in a dry area.
6. Disconnect from electronics
If you’re taking shelter from a thunderstorm, it’s good to disconnect any electronics you have with you.
This includes your phone, your GPS, and your laptop.
These devices can easily be damaged if they are struck by lightning.
7. Watch the weather
Once you find a suitable shelter nearby, you should continue to monitor the weather.
Will your shelter be sufficient if the storm gets worse?
Are there any other dangers you should be aware of?
8. Take refuge in a car (Faraday cage)
If you’re caught in a thunderstorm while driving, your best bet is to take refuge in your car.
Your car acts as a Faraday cage and will protect you from the effects of a lightning strike.
Ensure you disconnect from any electronics and stay inside until the storm has passed.
You shouldn’t stop anywhere near trees because they could fall and crush your car.
How to avoid being in the forest during a thunderstorm?
Hiking is a great way to get exercise and enjoy the outdoors. Still, it’s important to be aware of the dangers of being in the forest during a thunderstorm.
Here are some tips on how to avoid being caught in a dangerous situation:
- Be aware of the weather forecast before heading out. If there is a chance of thunderstorms, it’s best to stay home or hike in an area not forested.
- Use APPs weather radar and lightning to help you plan your hike.
- If you hear thunder, immediately seek shelter. The best option is a large building or car. However, if you cannot find either of these, try to crouch low to the ground beneath a rock.
What to do during thunderstorms in the mountains?
There are also forests on the mountains up to a certain altitude.
Maybe you are on your way up and have to pass through a piece of forest area.
What should you do if you’re hiking in the mountains during a thunderstorm?
First, try to get inside a building.
If you can’t find shelter, stay away from tall trees, cliffs, water, and metal objects. And finally, don’t stand near other people.
I was once tipped by an experienced hiker to remove my hiking pieces and electronics like the smartphone and seek shelter in a pit or under a large rock.
In the mountains, you should be able to find that, but you have to watch out for falling rocks.
Thunderstorm calculator: 3-second rule
What’s the best way to avoid being caught in a thunderstorm while hiking?
According to the 3-second rule, you should start looking for shelter when you see the first lightning flash.
This handy calculator can help you figure out how long you have until the storm hits.
How the 3-second rule works:
The 3-second rule is based on lightning travels at about 300,000 kilometers per second.
This means that lightning takes about 3 seconds to travel from the cloud to the ground.
So, if you see a flash of lightning, count to three and then start looking for shelter.
You should be able to find a safe place before the storm hits.
The 3-second rule is a general guideline, but it’s not foolproof.
Lightning can strike as far as 10 kilometers away from a thunderstorm, so you should always look for shelter.
You’re close enough to be in danger if you can hear thunder.
You should also be aware that thunderstorms can change direction quickly.
Just because a storm is heading away from you doesn’t mean it won’t turn around and head your way.
So, always be prepared to find shelter, no matter where you are.
Tip: Read also my article about hiking in fog.
Emergency help in the forest
If you’re venturing out into the forest, it’s important to be prepared for emergencies.
In case of an accident or injury, it’s important to know how to get help.
Here are some tips on how to get help in the forest:
- If you’re injured, try to make a signal fire. If you can’t make a fire, try to whistle or use another loud noise to attract attention.
- Make sure you have a map and compass with you to find your way back to civilization.
- If you’re lost, stay where you are and wait for help to come to you.
- If you need emergency assistance, call 911. This is the US emergency number, and it will connect you with local emergency services. Be prepared to give your location and the nature of your emergency. Stay calm and don’t panic. This will help ensure that you can communicate effectively with emergency services.
Being prepared for emergencies is critical when hiking or camping in the forest.