Lightning Strikes

Posted by: Whitney Zone

Lightning Strikes - 07/29/05 02:34 PM

Posted by 1105, 07-29-05

Lightning kills man in Sequoia
Seven others are injured in mishap during a Boy Scout camping trip.
By Tim Eberly / The Fresno Bee

(Updated Friday, July 29, 2005, 6:10 AM)

One man was killed and seven people were injured when lightning struck a Boy Scout troop Thursday in Sequoia National Park, authorities said.

The name of the man who was killed had not been made public as of Thursday night.

Two other people, a teenage boy and adult man, were severely injured and flown to University Medical Center in Fresno, park spokeswoman Alexandra Picavet said.

Five other people received medical treatment, but the extent of their injuries was unclear.

The lightning strike happened at 4 p.m. along John Muir Trail near Sandy Meadow, Picavet said.

The group of seven juveniles and five adults was on the seventh day of a nine-day camping trip. There had been lightning storms on and off most of the day, Picavet said.

The Boy Scout group was in a meadow surrounded by trees when the lightning storm became heavy. They split into two groups and set up two tarps more than 50 feet apart to seek refuge from the storm, Picavet said. Then, a lightning strike made a direct hit on one tarp.

"Everyone under that tarp was affected in some degree," Picavet said.

Using a map of the park, two teenage boys made a 25-minute run to the nearest ranger station and hurried back with the on-duty ranger, Picavet said.

When they returned, people were performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation to the injured. The Park Service's emergency personnel were called, and it took five helicopters to recover and evacuate the group.

The lightning death was the seventh fatality in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks this year.


Posted by 1105, 07-29-05
Posted on Fri, Jul. 29, 2005

Calif. lightning strike kills Scout leader

JULIANA BARBASSA

Associated Press

FRESNO, Calif. - Lightning struck a group of Boy Scouts taking shelter from a storm, killing the troop leader and leaving a 13-year-old scout brain-dead, authorities and the teen's grandfather said Friday. Seven others were injured.

Ryan Collins, 13, was was being kept on a ventilator so that his organs could be donated, said the grandfather. "He would never recover or anything else," Bill Collins said.

Collins said his grandson was a scout for three or four years and loved the outdoors.

"He was a fabulous boy. He was doing what he loved to do," Bill Collins said. "It's just a tremendous shock to everybody."

The strike happened Thursday in Sequoia National Park, and at least one of the injured was kept alive only because the troop managed to administer CPR for an hour, park ranger Alex Picavet said Friday.

"That's amazing," she said. "It's very difficult. It's probably because of their Boy Scout training."

Ryan Collins was listed in critical condition at the University Medical Center in Fresno, but his family appeared to have given up hope Friday.

"We just lost our son," mother Sue Collins said after rushing to the hospital in Fresno where some of the scouts were airlifted.

The assistant scoutmaster, Steve McCullagh, 29, was killed instantly when the bolt struck Thursday afternoon, the Tulare County coroner's office said.

"He didn't even make it off the mountain," Sue Collins said, crying along with her husband and younger son at the hospital. "It's horrible. It's a fluke."

The scout group from St. Helena, which Picavet said included five adults and seven teenage scouts, was hit when a lightning bolt made a direct strike on one of the two tarps they had set up in a meadow.

Two teenagers ran 25 minutes to a ranger station, and five helicopters flew in to evacuate the group.


Posted by scotthiker2, 07-29-05
Why were they in the meadow? I always move into the trees and stay low. Seems like most of the literature instructs people to get out of open spaces (meadows, near lakes, above timberline, etc.)

I don't want to be second guessing, but I am wondering why the Boy Scouts apparently did not take shelter in the trees? Were they on the move or were thay planning to stay there (in the meadow) for the duration of the storm.

Seems like we have had a two or three deadly Boy Scout incidents this week across the nation.


Posted by a_treehugger, 07-29-05
Was wondering the same thing. What really happened at Sandy Meadow? Were they in the trees or out in the open of the meadow?


Posted by Memory Lapse, 07-30-05
Getting under trees is not a recommended safe haven but neither is setting up a tarp with what I assume was some type of pole.


Posted by scotthiker2, 07-30-05
I would agree that getting under a few lone trees does not provide safe haven. However, I have never read of any deaths (attributable to lightning) when people have taken cover under a forest canopy. I have often read stories of numerous cows getting killed by lightning while they were resting under a tree. I think in all those cases, the trees were few and far between.

Also, during an intense lightning storm I would advise that people spread out and not group together. At least that way if someone gets hit, the damage is limited to one person (not to trivialize it.)

Sometimes I consider myself lucky to have survived so many lightning storms above 13,500' in Colorado (high altitude surveying work.) Since lightning originates both from the sky and the ground (and merge to meet one another in the air) it could be that I just don't have enough of a positive charge. I would not bet my life on that theory, however.


Posted by 1105, 08-01-05
Newspaper article published 7/30/05;
Scouts did what they could to reduce risks
By David Castellon
Staff writer at the Visalia Times Delta Newspaper

There are many things hikers and campers can do to reduce their chances of getting struck by lightning, and a group of a dozen Boy Scouts and adults hiking in the Sequoia National Park back country Thursday did just about all they could to reduce their risks, a park official said.

But that didn't prevent a bolt from striking the group, killing a 13-year-old Scout and an assistant Scout leader as well as injuring the rest of the group to varying degrees.

"They were in [the] forest, amid trees. They weren't out in the open. They were sitting under a tarp," said Bill Tweed, chief naturalist for Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks, who has hiked the Sierra for the past 40 years.

"They were not doing anything drastically wrong," he said.

But lightning doesn't always act the way people expect it to.

"Lightning is one of those things in this world you can reduce your risk, but you can't eliminate it," Tweed said.

The National Weather Service estimates that nationally more than 25 million bolts of lightning strike the ground annually in the United States, killing an average of 67 people a year -- more than the number of people killed in tornadoes -- and summer is the peak time for thunderstorms.

They are particularly common in the Sierra and other mountain regions.

"Mountains encourage convection -- that is, columns of hot air that that rise off of peaks ... and can form thunderstorms when the atmospheric conditions are right," Tweed said.

He said park workers could recall only two other fatal lightning strikes in Sequoia, one 15 years ago and the other about 25 years ago.

Tweed said this summer's tropical moisture from Mexico is generating afternoon thunderstorms in the high Sierra.

As a result, there have been several storms in the Sierra over the past week. Daniel Harty, a meteorologist with the Weather Service in Hanford, said there is a 20 percent chance for more storms over the next week and more storms are expected through September.

Bill Dalton is Scout executive for the Mount Diablo-Silverado Council 23 of the Boy Scouts, of which the brain dead 13-year-old is a member. He said training in avoiding lightning threats is available to Scout leaders, but it isn't mandatory.

The same is true for Scout leaders in Tulare County and other troops in the Sequoia Council, said Larry Bethers, the council's field director, who added that Scout leaders are encouraged to attend the training classes.

Literature about lightning risks is also available to Scout leaders.

"Guide to Safe Scouting" states that summits of mountains, crests of ridges, slopes above timberline and large meadows are extremely hazardous places to be during lightning storms.

"If you are caught in such an exposed place, quickly descend to a lower elevation, away from the direction of the approaching storm, and squat down, keeping your head low.

"A dense forest located in a depression provides the best protection.

"Avoid taking shelter under isolated trees or trees much taller than adjacent trees. Stay away from water, metal objects, and other substances that will conduct electricity long distances."

But most important, Tweed said, is to "keep an eye on the sky" for dark, rumbling clouds.

"Another warning [sign] is either a hissing sound or your hair begins to stand up straight on your head" from static electricity, Tweed said. "Nature is telling you something": A static electricity charge is building up, and lightning is about to occur.

Prior fatal lightning strikes in Sequoia involved people on or near peaks.

"If you are in a spot where you can't get off the top of something, get low, clear to the point of laying on the ground," Tweed said.

"And finally, if you are part of a group, it might be helpful to disperse because lightning can't hit everyone at once," he said.

If the group hit Thursday had been wider apart, there may have been fewer serious injuries, he said.

The reporter can be reached at dcastell@visalia.gannett.com.

Originally published July 30, 2005


Posted by scotthiker2, 08-01-05
Given the more accurate information posted above, the first thought that crossed my mind is what about the plastic tarp? (It was plastic correct?)

We have a plastic slide in our backyard. Every time my son slides down, the hair on his head stands on end (we don't live in a very dry climate - western Oregon).

My point being, plastic can contain static electricity. When opened up it may have already been electrically charged. It's a thought anyway.

More needs to be learned about lightning.


Posted by Denbo, 08-03-05
I Googled "How to avoid lightning strikes" and came up with several sites that say the same things.

1. Don't stand near trees or other tall objects that can conduct electricity.

2. If shelter is available, use it. I guess the exeption would be the stone hut on the top of Whitney.

3. Squat close to the ground making as little contact with the ground as possible. Don't be the tallest object in the area.

I would guess that if you are above the juncture of the Whitney Trail and the John Muir Trail when a thunderstorm occurs, 3 would be your best bet, but nothing is certain under those circumstances.

My friends and I encountered thunderstorm conditions at Trail Camp in Sept. 1999 and it was very violent, with rain, hail, snow, sleet and gusty wind. Thunderstorms can be nasty at 12,000 ft.

Several people turned back from part way up the Switchbacks because they were frightened by the conditions.

The members of our group also faced possible hypothermia because we were wet from sweating and from the rain and it was cold. 3 guys arrived early and did not have the tents. We had to put our tents up with trembling hands so that we could get out of our wet clothes. I felt relatively safe doing that there, because there were lots of objects much taller than our tents in the area. Hypothermia seemed more certain at that time than a lightning strike.

Thunderstorms usually move on, but perhaps not so fast near a mountain ridge. I suppose if you were squatting, hoping that the storm moved on and it didn't, hypothermia might become a problem. You might eventually have to carefully move to get out of the rain.


Posted by scotthiker2, 08-03-05
I would say do eveything you can to prevent emitting a static charge. Quite a bit of research has been done and I believe in most cases it works like this (greatly simplified!)

Lightning originates in the sky, but it comes down to join a charge coming up from the ground (sorry I am tired and not very clear headed.) The two charges actually meet somewhere off the ground to complete the circuit.

Turn off any radios, cell phones, GPS units, etc. Don't do anything that creates a current (if that makes any sense.)


Posted by VersatileFred, 08-03-05
There is also some good information on the thread Hiking Poles and Lightning.
_________________________
Orientation Notes for Whitney First Timers


Posted by Bob T, 08-08-05
Denbo said one of the basic rules he found at all the sites is, "If shelter is available, use it. I guess the exception would be the stone hut on the top of Whitney."

No, it is VERY important to remember, the exception is ANY shelter that is not reasonably lightning safe. Some of the sites aren't are clear as they could be on this subject. If you read this link carefully, http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/outdoors.htm then you can figure it out, but this site doesn't say it well enough. It says a fully enclosed shelter is safe, and goes on to say that a fully enclosed shelter is one with a roof, walls, and floor, but then it goes on to say that a fully enclosed shelter is safe because of wiring and plumbing (and points out you should stay away from the plumbing during a lightning storm). So a "fully enclosed" shelter without wiring and plumbing (or otherwise constructed to be lightning safe) can actually be more dangerous in a lightning storm than being outside.

Last week, a Boy Scout was killed at a camp in the Uintas Mountains in Utah. The "Adirondack" three-walled log cabin that he was sleeping in was a shelter, but not a lightning safe shelter, and a fourth wall wouldn't have made it lightning safe. Yeah, it was a pretty ***** accident (lightning apparently hit a tree next to the cabin, went down the tree and jumped over to the cabin), but "shelter" can do you more harm than good in a lightning storm if it isn't "lightning safe" shelter.

People in the Whitney shelter were injured a few times before injuries and a death occurred in 1990. The NPS had known that the structure presented an illusion of safety so that people would be drawn to it in a storm, so that it should be made more lightning safe. I believe that the lightning warning on the door came after the NPS got hit with a big verdict from the 1990 incident, and they also made some changes to improve the safety of the structure for lightning. In other words, the structure is now more safe than it was before in the event of lightning, and now also contains a warning sign telling you not to be inside in case of lightning. Why make it more safe and put a sign on saying stay away? It is all about liability.

But without knowing more about what they did to improve things, and how to be lightning safe inside, I still wouldn't use the hut for shelter in a lightning storm. Of course, I would also do everything possible to avoid being on the summit in a lightning storm. It makes sense to be cautious. I would rather miss a summit unnecessarily than be caught in a lightning storm on the summit unnecessarily, because there is nothing necessary about reaching the summit.

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