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Shoalhaven Bushwalkers Inc.

PO Box 403
Nowra NSW 2541

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Lightning Strikes

by Ron Anderson

On a recent club activity, I (along with several other Shoalhaven Bushwalkers) witnessed a lightning strike that destroyed two trees in the middle of our campsite. Various people were within fifteen metres of the strike and large pieces of bark and timber exploded in all directions. Every one experienced an electrifying feeling. I was surprised at the time when I discovered that no one on the trip knew what to do to minimise a lightning strike! We all knew about avoiding trees in a thunderstorm if you are on a golf course, but that was as far as it went.

I thought that we were in a safe place because there was a hill about one hundred metres high close behind us. We were camped on the edge of the Clyde River in medium height and medium density trees. It was an absolutely beautiful waterfront camp site, but as I now know, an extremely dangerous place to be in a thunder storm.

The two trees that were struck were on the very edge of the river bank. The Clyde is about a half a kilometre wide at that point. Interestingly, the two trees were not the tallest at the spot.

A brief summary on lightning strike avoidance is as follows:

AVOID: water, metallic objects, high ground, solitary tall trees, close contact with others (spread out about five or six metres apart). Avoid open spaces. Avoid contact with dissimilar objects (water and land; boat and land; rock and ground; tree and ground).

SEEK: Seek clumps of trees of uniform height, ditches, trenches or low ground. Seek a low, crouching position with feet together with hands on ears to minimise acoustic shock from thunder.

KEEP: Keep a high level of safety awareness for thirty minutes after the last observed lightning or thunder.

KAYAKERS: Tall trees and rocky outcrops along the shoreline and on nearby land may be a more dangerous place than being on the water!

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(July 2005)