Thunderstorms and Lightning in Yellowstone

Summer thunderstorms may be vital to helping the park’s ecosystem thrive, but the lightning can prove perilous.
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Lightning Storm. Photo by Blair Lucken

Lightning Storm. Photo by Blair Lucken

Summer thunderstorms may be vital to helping the park’s ecosystem thrive, but the lightning can prove perilous. While getting drenched in a downpour may be uncomfortable, it’s the lightning that typically is most dangerous.

In the summer of July 2013, Yellowstone park officials recovered the body of a hiker who failed to return after a hike to 11,000-foot Electric Peak. Reports said that the last contact he made was a cell phone call letting friends know he was heading back to the trailhead because of lightning.

If you’re in the backcountry and a thunderstorm rolls in, follow these steps from Backpacker Magazine to avoid lightning strikes.

1. Get low relative to nearby terrain, preferably in a forest.

Avoid wide, open expanses and water. If possible, get into a car or building.

2. Blue skies don’t necessarily mean you’re safe

Be sure to check weather forecasts within 100 miles of where you’ll be and keep an eye on the direction it’s heading. You’re within strike range if you can hear thunder, so get to shelter when (preferably before) thunder and lightning are 30 seconds apart. Remain under cover for 30 minutes after the last thunderclap.

3. You won’t be electrocuted if you touch a person who’s been struck

Hurry to administer CPR. Address head injuries and fractures; cool burns with water and apply antibacterial ointment and a bandage; and evacuate the victim to a hospital.

4. Get into a tight, tucked crouch

Stay low, keep all arms and legs in toward your body and minimize contact with the ground.

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