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    JSH's Avatar
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    Lightning and thunderstorms and hammocking

    I have an overnight trip coming up in the Blue Ridge. Our group is camping near the summit overlooking the Shenandoah Valley. I've suggested hanging in a grove of spruce below the summit because there is a risk of random thunderstorms.

    I have never seen data on the level of protection we have from hanging versus being on the ground beneath trees in a tent. Anybody got any information?

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    cmc4free's Avatar
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    I've only ever been nervous about sleeping in storms in the Tensa4. Suspended from lightning rods!

    IMO, any vulnerability to nature while in a hammock would be basically no different than in a tent.

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    New Member tsshaw78's Avatar
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    This is the general way to think about lightning, it is traveling several miles from the clouds to ground. Is being the last 6 feet will have negligible influence on its path.
    A lone tree on a bald can be tall enough to influence the path.
    In a grove of trees, it comes down to random chance that the tree you are near will get hit. But you are safe in the grove versus in the open field.
    That said, it is unlikely there is any quantifiable safety difference between hammock and tent when it comes to lightning.
    A day camping in the rain is better than a good day at work,
    --Shaw.

    tsshaw78 is too hard to say on the trail - Just call me Shaw.

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    SilvrSurfr's Avatar
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    There was a guy, BC9696, a few years ago who obsessed about lightning, so much that he posted the same topic twice in a month.

    https://www.hammockforums.net/forum/...ng+backcountry

    https://www.hammockforums.net/forum/...ng+backcountry

    I personally don't worry much about it, but I do love these stats on lightning deaths:

    http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/cfoi/jeh5_05_45-50.pdf

    1) Eighty-nine percent of lightning deaths are white people.
    2) Eighty-five percent of deaths are male.
    3) Fifty-four percent of deaths are people aged 20 to 44 years old.

    So the best safety strategy regarding lightning would be to get as far away as possible from white males age 20 to 44 years old! If you happen to be a white male age 20 to 44 years old, I think you're probably screwed.
    Last edited by SilvrSurfr; 05-16-2019 at 15:16.
    "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Ralph Waldo Emerson

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    Now that I'm too old to be hit by lightning, here's my 2 cents. I worked as a ranger one year, and there was clear evidence that exposed rocks (i.e. the ground on a ridgeline) get hit as much as trees. Whether you're hanging from a tree, or camped at it's base, I bet you'll suffer the same hurt when lightning strikes. Take reasonable precautions and don't worry about it.

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    TrailSlug's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JSH View Post
    I have an overnight trip coming up in the Blue Ridge. Our group is camping near the summit overlooking the Shenandoah Valley. I've suggested hanging in a grove of spruce below the summit because there is a risk of random thunderstorms.

    I have never seen data on the level of protection we have from hanging versus being on the ground beneath trees in a tent. Anybody got any information?
    If your unlucky enough to be near a strike it's not going to matter if you are hanging or laying but the odds are in your favor. I have a friend that was in a cotton hammock when lightning struck the tree. He suffered severe burns to his bottom and lived to tell about it. He even has his baby daughter in his lap and she wasn't hurt.

  7. #7
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    With electricity, you don’t want to be the path to ground. While you are hanging in the air, you are still between two trees. Now If you could just hang from only one tree....
    Maybe a cantilevered stand that only attaches to one tree?

  8. #8
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    Apropos of nothing perhaps, here's some lightning data I came across during some research I'm doing to plan out the proper installation of an amateur radio station in my home. Even if you're not a ham, you might find the information here to be fascinating.

    This post should not be construed as giving any sort of advice or guidance for the avoidance of a lightning strike. If a bolt has your name on it, there's not a lot you can do about it, but consider that according to NOAA lightning accounted for an average of 73 deaths a year in the US for the 30 years up to and including 2009. Considering there are an average of 22 million lightning strikes in the US every year, there's not a lot of bolts with names on them.

    Mitigate your risk by following common sense guidance just like you do when walking down the street or driving your car on the freeway.

    First, a link to the .pdf:

    www.bwcelectronics.com/articles/WP30A190.pdf

    Here's a couple of copy and pastes of data that jumped out to me:

    -"Table 1
    Average US yearly lightning strikes: 22,000,000
    Number of yearly US insurance claims filled for lightning damage: 307,000
    Estimated yearly US lightning damage cost: $330,000,000
    Continuous worldwide lightning strikes: 44 strikes per second
    Lightning ionization channel temperature: 15,000 to 30,000 degC (About 3 times the surface temperature of the sun)
    Average peak current: 25,000 Amps
    Average strokes per flash: 4
    Average channel blast wave energy: Equivalent to 200 pounds of TNT"

    -"The exact path an ionization channel takes is uncertain and numerous changes in direction are common giving lightning the familiar jagged appearance. The ground has no influence on this process until the last few steps form just above the earth’s surface. Older theories have been updated and it is now believed that structures less than 150 feet above average terrain do NOT trigger lightning. However, a structure above the average terrain will attract a forming channel whose last prior step is within 150 feet."

    Something that doesn't paste well but is one of those things I should have known (but didn't) is this:

    We all know lightning is hot and contains a ton of electrical energy. So much so that when a tree (hopefully not one you're hanging from lol) is struck, many times the moisture in the tree will flash to steam causing the tree to explode. This is pretty well known, but what I didn't put much thought into was what happens to the energy once it actually hits the ground. It just dissipates, right? Not exactly...you can be electrocuted via the ground even though you're not actually struck by the bolt itself.

    When the strike "contacts" the ground, it dissipates in a sort of spherical pattern outward from the contact point. This pattern is circular when viewed from above and radiates outward from the center, and is spherical from the side radiating both outward from the center and down into the earth itself. Here's the interesting part that I should have known:

    The energy level dissipates as it radiates outward, this much is obvious. But if one were to be unlucky enough to be within this circle standing with one foot closer to the contact point than the other (ie: not actually facing the strike), the difference in potential across your feet could (probably would) be enough to cause current to flow through your body in the same way touching a live power line would. I have another document somewhere I can't find right now breaking this down even further and saying shuffling your feet vice stepping normally could make a difference here. I make no claims to the veracity of that statement and wonder about how anyone would have the presence of mind to remember something like that when a primal event such as a nearby lightning strike acts on the "lizard brain".

    Anyway, enjoy.

  9. #9
    cmoulder's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JSH View Post
    I have an overnight trip coming up in the Blue Ridge. Our group is camping near the summit overlooking the Shenandoah Valley. I've suggested hanging in a grove of spruce below the summit because there is a risk of random thunderstorms.

    I have never seen data on the level of protection we have from hanging versus being on the ground beneath trees in a tent. Anybody got any information?
    Your suggestion of getting off the ridge is a good one, not just for lightning but for extreme wind bursts. On a ridge or a mountain top you're kinda 'asking for it...'

    Beyond that it's still a crap shoot whether you're in a tent or a hammock, although statistically the chances of getting struck by lightning or having a tree fall on you at any specific time and place are near zero.

    A few weeks ago some friends who were tenting and I in my hammock were experiencing a lightning storm that lasted about an hour and a half. Next morning, we joked about how we were all doing the same thing, counting the seconds between flash and boom, and how the shortest period was about 4-5 seconds, which is a decent buffer at the speed of sound. And we also had the same thought that if it does strike you.... well, your 'number is up' and at least you'll never know what hit you.

    Still safer than sitting home on the sofa eating Fritos and binge-watching TV.
    UL, because nobody ever asks "How can I make my pack heavier?"

  10. #10
    JSH's Avatar
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    Thanks everyone. Appreciate the feedback. I've hung probably 180-200 nights during the last several years, almost always in a valley or well down the mountain from the summit. This trip is unusual in that it is designed for a summit. We are looking for views day and night from one of the highest points within 100 miles. I reconnoitered the hike two weeks ago and could see upwards of 40 miles. Pretty neat.

    There will be about 10 of us on this hike. The forecast looks decent with low chance of thunderstorms. I've decided if it gets rough, to plan on trekking further down the mountain and ride it out. We can use a 4 wheel drive access road for this if it comes to it.

    I'll post a trip report of this weekend. Thanks everyone.

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