What to do when lightning strikes: Hikers have close call with dangerous lightning on Colorado 14er

CLEAR CREEK COUNTY, Colo. — The rule of thumb when hiking Colorado’s mountains is to be off the summit by noon, when lightning storms can typically roll in.

Saturday morning, hikers following that rule on Mt. Evans and Mt. Princeton were forced to run down the mountain to safety when thunderstorms rolled in around 11 a.m.

“At the top, it was sunny. The weather was great,” hiker Nate Horne told FOX31.

Horne and his friends summited Mt. Evans on July 6 around 11 a.m. and began hiking back down at 11:30.

“It starts snowing and we’re like this is awesome,” Horne said. “It snowed for about 20 minutes…We heard thunder so we’re like, oh man we’ve got to book it and get [off] this mountain.”

They were still well above tree line when he says the began to feel the electricity in the air.

“We heard this noise, this buzzing, clicking sound,” Horne said. “At that moment static electricity just took over my whole body. Like when your leg falls asleep it was like that across my whole body and my friends felt the exact same thing at the same moment and we realized oh man, lightning is about to strike.”

He said he saw a woman running past them and her hair was “straight up in the sky” due to the static electricity.

“Going through my mind was like, man this could be it. We’re hopeless and there’s really nothing we can do except get down that mountain as fast as we could,” Horne said.

He said the supercharged sky never lashed out with lightning.

“We were all just kind of in shock and very thankful that we made it off the mountain because we knew it was a close cal and lightning could have struck at any moment,” he said.

FOX31 meteorologist Chris Tomer said, “11 a.m. is early for lightning but not unheard of in July-August, Monsoon season. Since 1980, there have been 20 lightning casualties in Colorado before Noon.”

Tomer also said when your hair stands on end “You're part of the circuit being created by the thunderstorm. A spider's web of electricity is "stepping up" towards the thunderstorm. It then decides whether to complete the circuit. Taller objects become the primary target.”

In order to maximize your chances of surviving a nearby lightning strike, you need to stand in “lightning position” until the storm passes:

  • Keep away from anything metal that could be a conductor for electricity
  • Crouch down, like a baseball catcher
  • Stand on the balls of your feet only, with your heels lifted off the ground
  • Make sure your elevated heels are touching each other. In the event of a strike, electricity will travel in one foot and out the other, instead of throughout your body
  • Cover your ears and close your eyes to protect from the loud clap of thunder and bright flash of light
  • Stay in the lightning position until you no longer feel threatened by lightning
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