Lightning

As I sat on the beach this afternoon at St Brelade’s I watched the build up of cumulo-nimbus towards the French coast both to the south and the east. The concerns about the possibility of lightning were confirmed with the occasional rumbles of thunder.  A check on the phone on the live lightning website indicated that storms were nearby.
Lightning is a major hazard for all sea paddlers and at the first hint of a storm it is important to get off the water, if at all possible. Seek shelter in a building and if that is not possible seek an area of dry ground. Avoid high ground as lightning normally joins the cloud with the closest point of land, ie. the highest part. For the same reason avoid sitting directly underneath a tree. Don’t sit under boulders or in bunkers, these are particularly dangerous areas unless there is at least 5 metres of head room.  Several years ago a sea kayaker in Maine was killed whilst sheltering in a bunker during a lightening storm.
The fickle nature of lightning was frighteningly illustrated to me whilst paddling in the French Alps about 20 years ago. We were preparing to launch and without any warning of an impending storm, there was a huge flash and a strange tingling sensation running through our bodies. Looking up we could see that all the windsurfers on the lake had been blown off their boards. It was with horror that we look around and saw that the two people who had been standing closest to us had been struck by lightning, one had died immediately and the other person died later. We managed to shelter in a building for the remainder of the storm and gather our thoughts as to how close our escape had been.
So what are the key points that we need to be aware of?   Firstly check the weather forecast. If thunder is forecast keep close to land and look out for the build up of cumulo-nimbus.
 Be prepared to get off the water quickly and try to find a building in which to shelter.
 If you are on the water make sure that you are wearing your buoyancy aid, if you are struck by lightning and go unconscious there is no chance of being saved if you sink.
 If you are on land and there are no buildings try to get into an open space, crouch on the balls of your feet and cover your ears with your forearms by grasping your hands together behind your head.
With the development of Apps and smart phones its so much easier to monitor the position of any approaching storms.  Live Lightning is a great website for up to the minute information about the location of lightning strikes.  Whilst paddling in the United States we used the Storm App from Weather Underground, which proved to be great for keeping us up to date about approaching severe weather.  I also like looking at some aviation weather sites, so for example this afternoon as I saw the clouds building I looked at the Jersey Met Aviation pages, which showed that the largest clouds could reach up to 30,000 feet.  That is a pretty big cloud!
It is important to keep up to date with your First Aid practice. A lightning strike does not necessarily mean death, but be prepared to resuscitate quickly and effectively.  In addition when it appears that the storm has passed you are potentially still at risk so wait at least 30 minutes after lightning ceases before starting paddling again.
Knowledge and up to date weather information will help ensure your safety but remember to treat and potential storm with the utmost respect.

Lightning
A storm approaching the Canadian Gulf Islands. We were stuck in camp for most of the day.
Lightning
The safest position to adopt if you are caught out in the open with a storm raging.
Lightning
An early evening storm over Jersey.
Lightning
This beautiful afternoon on the Greek island of Atokos, an uninhabited island to the east of Ithaca, Greece. Little did we know that we were going to be exposed to a lightning storm of such terrifying proportions the following day we just paddled to the shelter of a flat for a couple of days respite.