By Johnny Molloy
The day started bright as I tramped into the mountains of the nearby Cherokee National Forest, on a little hiking trip. The sky slowly clouded over as morning became afternoon. I could hear dull thuds of thunder somewhere over the mountains, but steep hills afforded scant view of the sky.
The rain came in torrents, followed shortly by sharp bolts of lightning and wind so strong it was downing branches from trees. I shuddered with every nearby crackle and flash of the ensuing bolts.
The storm passed and I was left with nothing but a rapidly beating heart and a renewed sense of gratefulness.
Lightning can strike outdoors enthusiasts, and with fatal results. However, the odds are better that you will be injured in a car wreck on the way to a hike rather than by lightning. Nevertheless, play it smart. When you sense a storm coming, have a plan as to what you will do when it hits.
Lightning does kill. It is the number one weather killer in the state of Florida. However, the odds of an average Tennessean being struck by lightning in a given year is 280,000 to 1. In determining whether lightning is dangerous use the 30-30 rule.
If you see lightning, count the time until you hear thunder. If you hear thunder before you reach 30, then seek shelter.
Height, shape and isolation of a given object, whether a tower, tree or person, are the three factors that affect where lightning will strike. If you are paddling, get out of your boat and away from water. Get out of the water if swimming, too. If on the trail seek shelter in a low area or in a grove of larger trees, not against a single tree, then wait it out. Avoid being the tallest object. If your skin tingles or your hair stands on end, squat to the ground on the balls of your feet. Put your head between your knees, making yourself into the smallest target possible. It’s called the “Lightning Crouch.” You are getting as low as you can yet touching the ground as little as possible. Lying down on the ground actually increases your chance of getting hit by the electric current of lightning.
As far as getting to a car, the rubber of the tires does not provide added insulation against lightning. However, the metal roof and metal sides of the automobile will provide protection, especially from windborne debris that often comes along with lightning storms.
So next time you are out there and hear thunder or see lightning, look around for shelter and be prepared to do the “lightning crouch.” It may save your life.
Great Smoky Mountains
With its secluded mountain waterways, awe-inspiring views from grassy balds, diverse plant and animal life, and impressive stands of old-growth forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers an overwhelming number of outdoor adventures. Top Trails Great Smoky Mountains National Park describes both the park’s classic destinations and lesser-known jewels in 50 must-do hikes.
The trails range from an easy family stroll by a soothing stream to a 7-mile trek through spruce forest atop a peaceful ridge to a 22-mile overnighter to a mile-high camp. This guide will help you leave the roads to explore the heart of the park. Whether you’re looking for a scenic stroll to stretch your legs, a full-day adventure, or a rewarding backpacking trip, you’ll find it here.
Each hike includes:
• Clear and concise directions to the trailhead
• A detailed route map and elevation profile
• “Don’t get lost” milestones
• Expert trail commentary
Author Johnny Molloy has spent over 800 nights backpacking in the Smokies, and used his vast experience to choose the best hikes to maximize your national park experience.