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Jack Newton
(figster) - F

Locale: Central Arkansas
Lightning on 05/17/2010 09:01:50 MDT Print View

I need to make sense of something that happened to me yesterday.

I was hiking up my mountain here in Central Arkansas when a thunderstorm rolled through. Naturally, I decide its a good time to train scrambling, soaking wet, with a full load of ultralight gear.

Everything was going smoothly. I kept things to a slow pace so I woudln't break my neck on slick granite. About two thirds of the way up, the lightning gets fierce and thunderclaps are very close.

By the time I made it to the top, the lightning had mostly faded. My pack was jumbled and needed stabilizing so I took it off to adjust and drink some water when I suddenly was more terrified than I have ever been in my whole life! My hair stood up and, for just a split second, I could feel every single water drop on my body. That was followed by numbness and brief terror. Everything I have been told about lightning safety indicated to me that God was about to call my number. I run across a boulder field (stupid I know) to cover and to be closer to a couple, who was also on the mountain, so they would know a man just got hit by lightning.

Praying that what I felt was some area affect, I yelled to the couple to see if they felt anything. No dice. I calm a bit and begin to marvel at the natural world when it happens again. This time I saw the bolt, it appeared far ~ maybe five miles or so, but I felt it through my whole being.

My dad, a PhD in Biology, and his twin, a full time Doctor, are both convinced I was struck by lightning. Something about short leads and positive charges... and they both are convinced that I need get my heart and lungs checked out.

Anyone else have any experience with mild electric jolts or know of any stories of such things? There is surprisingly little noted about minor shocks and a whole plethora of literature on lightning derived electrocution.



Ike Mouser
(isaac.mouser) - F
wow on 05/17/2010 09:47:32 MDT Print View

you almost got pwned, would have been a human bbq. Never had anything like that happen, but i would say a bolt was going to materialize there but did not have enough energy to fully materialize, instead, it just dissipated through you and the surronding area. Next time be sure to fly a metal kite as well, really, you should not be scrambling up cliffs during a lightning storm that was right on top of you! Be safe out there.

Jack Newton
(figster) - F

Locale: Central Arkansas
In defense on 05/17/2010 09:55:03 MDT Print View

I know it was monumentally retarded, but I was in one of those positions where up was the only course.


Ike Mouser
(isaac.mouser) - F
jack on 05/17/2010 09:58:56 MDT Print View

If it didn't seriously hurt, i would say your organs are fine. If it was bad enough to fry your organs like sizzling delicious bacon, you would have felt it. I would say your fine.

Dont Wantto
(longhiker) - F
on in dreams(nightmares?) on 05/17/2010 10:04:15 MDT Print View

I've read about lightning danger and it is my top worry when I'm in the backcountry because I don't really understand what I could possibly do if I am stuck on a high open area with a few trees..

what you describe sounds very similar to some dreams / nightmares I've had about being stuck in such a place during a lightning storm :)

Never come close to such an event though.. not sure I've even been camping during a thunderstorm.

Jack Newton
(figster) - F

Locale: Central Arkansas
Static?? on 05/17/2010 10:18:14 MDT Print View

I was wearing an Icebreaker 150 1/4 Zip Short Sleeve shirt, nylon pants, and a silnylon Zpack Zilch. Clouds were dancing on top of us.

Wool++Nylon++ChargedAtmosphere++Nearby(overhead?)lightning == LargeStaticShock?

The more I dig, the more I find that even the experts don't know as much as they'd like!


Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Static?? on 05/17/2010 10:41:16 MDT Print View

If you are on a mountaintop and the storm cloud is high above you, then the lightning bolt connects the cloud to the earth or vice versa, and there is an instantaneous voltage discharge. Typically you will find tens of thousands of volts in the discharge. After it is over, you may find black burned spots where the discharge happened, and it can burn or destroy whole trees. It can easily kill a human.

Sometimes, the storm cloud is low, almost like fog on the earth. Quite often, there are many little points for the electric discharge to happen through. So, instead of one big CRACK! you get little effects which we call static discharges and St. Elmo's Fire. You might feel your hair standing on end. You might see brief flashes of light inside a tent. The electrical voltage difference gets bled off in tiny bits instead of the one deadly bolt.

(This was from the Department of Been There, Done That.)


John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Lightning on 05/17/2010 10:43:58 MDT Print View

You were probably not struck my lightning, but were in an area of moving positively charged particles that move with the thunderstorm (as far as hair standing on end).

Lightning can travel along the ground and have an effect on a person too. I can't explain why you thought a bolt was five miles away but felt something. Just doubt you were struck though.

"How Lightning Develops Between The Cloud And The Ground

A moving thunderstorm gathers another pool of positively charged particles along the ground that travel with the storm. As the differences in charges continue to increase, positively charged particles rise up taller objects such as trees, houses, and telephone poles. Have you ever been under a storm and had your hair stand up? Yes, the particles also can move up you! This is one of nature's warning signs that says you are in the wrong place, and you may be a lightning target!

The negatively charged area in the storm will send out a charge toward the ground called a stepped leader. It is invisible to the human eye, and moves in steps in less than a second toward the ground. When it gets close to the ground, it is attracted by all these positively charged objects, and a channel develops. You see the electrical transfer in this channel as lightning. There may be several return strokes of electricity within the established channel that you will see as flickering lightning. "

Edited by jshann on 05/17/2010 10:49:22 MDT.

Bradley Danyluk
(dasbin) - MLife
nm on 05/17/2010 10:49:02 MDT Print View

way better answer above.

Edited by dasbin on 05/17/2010 10:50:49 MDT.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Lightning on 05/17/2010 11:02:52 MDT Print View

I was skiing up Lassen Peak in Northern California and one buddy was along. We got to a point about 100 meters vertically below the summit where we paused for a breather. We were on the opposite side of the mountain from where the storm was approaching, so we couldn't see it. The electrical cloud cleared the peak and then surrounded us. I looked up at my friend, and his blond hair was standing up on end, and he had this strange look on his face. He could feel the electricity in the air, but of course we could not see anything. I had my parka hood up, and all of a sudden an electrical discharge went off inside the hood. It sounded like buzzing bees for a second, and then it was gone. We knew that we stood a chance of getting struck by a lightning bolt, so we instantly laid down flat on the snow. Right then, a strike of ball lightning occurred about 300 meters away. After a minute, we could feel the tension in the air had gone, and then it started snowing like crazy. Despite the fact that we were so close to the summit, we bailed. We skied down the mountain and back to our camp before we became Crispy Critters.


Rakesh Malik

Locale: Cascadia
Re: Static?? on 05/18/2010 12:12:41 MDT Print View

I think Bob nailed it with his theory about St. Elmo's Fire.

You'd know if if you'd gotten hit.

Just to give a sense of scale, think about how good an insulator air is. Now imagine the same insulator only 10,000 feet thick. And now imagine how much power you need to punch through that much of that good an insulator.

(And people think that rubber tires are what makes cars save to be inside during thunderstorms....)

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Static?? on 05/18/2010 12:34:07 MDT Print View

I was leading a group of climbers up Mount Shasta, and we stopped halfway up the mountain to camp overnight in the snow. I could see a storm front approaching from the west, so I told everybody to get in their tents and hunker down. A little while later, we were laying there quietly, not asleep. Suddenly it seemed as though somebody had turned on a fluorescent light inside the tent. It flickered for a second and then died. It did that three or four times. Needless to say, there was no fluorescent light. It was St. Elmo's Fire static discharge, and it was dancing off the various metal tent parts and ice axes. It's kind of scary until you think about it. We were actually in the middle of the electrical cloud, so the static was bleeding off any conductive object.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Lightning on 05/18/2010 19:14:33 MDT Print View

You should buy a lottery ticket.

Long time ago I was climbing up the trail to Half Dome with friends. A thunderstorm was approaching. Our hair stood on end. It was scary. I don't remember feeling anything else like you described, but apparently just being near a thunderstorm can cause what you experienced without actually having to be struck.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Static?? on 05/18/2010 20:09:54 MDT Print View

Hi Bob

> Typically you will find tens of thousands of volts in the discharge.

Could be a LOT more than that! Cloud to ground gradients of over 1 million volts are not unrealistic. Otherwise, yeah, all sort of effects such as St Elmo's Fire. You got it.


Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: Lightning on 05/18/2010 20:24:41 MDT Print View

If it were me, I'd say a few "thank-you's" to the Almighty, and humbly walk away from an event most people will never get to experience. Or, experience and live to tell about it. Must have been quite the moment. I'm actually jealous.....sort of.

Denis Hazlewood
(redleader) - MLife

Locale: Luxury-Light Luke on the Llano Azul
Re: Re: Lightning on 05/18/2010 23:23:32 MDT Print View

"I know it was monumentally retarded, but I was in one of those positions where up was the only course."

Your high retard quotient was being there when you should know better.

Hike smart. We'd rather have your posts here than hear your story on the evening news.

Rule of thumb: Clear skies, go up. Thunder and lightning, go down.

Edited by redleader on 05/18/2010 23:25:31 MDT.

Daniel Fosse
(magillagorilla) - F

Locale: Southwest Ohio
near lightening on 05/19/2010 12:54:38 MDT Print View

I have been within 60 feet of a strike. I had the same feeling. Hair standing up, not from fear but from charged atmosphere. What I noticed just before the strike was a very high pitched ringing sound, almost out of my hearing range. Then, POW! The strike hit a transformer not 60 feet away. The air was highly ionized after this and gave a feeling much to your description.

I think you were not hit but may have received some of the voltage cast off from a near by strike.

Rakesh Malik

Locale: Cascadia
Re: near lightening on 05/19/2010 17:37:18 MDT Print View

"I think you were not hit but may have received some of the voltage cast off from a near by strike."

Voltage is a measurement of electric potential difference, similar to the slope of a hill or the hydrostatic head of a hydroelectric power plant. The current is what flows across the potential difference, like water crashing down a cascade. The voltage is what makes it do that.

That potential difference comes mostly from the static electric charge that the clouds create by bouncing particles together. Because clouds are enormous, i.e. mountain-sized (not the puny east coast mountains, I mean Real Mountains (tm) like Tohoma and Kulshan), they can easily gather up a tremendously large charge. As it builds, it also affects the ground below it, because of the opposites attract thing.

So at the ground, if you're in the area where the opposite charge is building, and you're sticking out from the ground (which means that you're a conduit for the charge to get slightly closer to its opposite in the clouds above, since that reduces potential energy), you might well acquire a sizable electric field yourself, which is what causes St. Elmo's Fire.

That's part of what you experienced. The bolt ionizes the air it passes through, and turns it into plasma more or less instantly, leading to an audible shockwave (the thunder). You probably felt that ionized air washing over you.

In case you haven't guessed, I was the science geek at my high school AND college :)

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: near lightening on 05/19/2010 17:44:53 MDT Print View

"In case you haven't guessed, I was the science geek at my high school AND college :)"

Rakesh, didn't we go to different schools together?

I think an earlier poster meant Lightning, and not Lightening.


James Klein

Locale: Southeast
lightning? on 05/19/2010 18:31:37 MDT Print View

With all due respect to lightning safety, I would say you are lucky to have experienced such a cool thing - though I doubt Ill try it myself

It sounds like you experienced something similiar to what Bob has described. You were probably surrounded by a charged cloud which was in the process of dissipating its charge to ground. The charge would have (to some extent) accumulated on you as it travels thru you to ground. This would make all your hair stand up and your skin tingle.
As far as feeling a lightning bolt w/ all of your being...idk...maybe you were all psyched out by the prior events, a little on edge &....