After dodging smoke and wildfires we arrived late at the dunes, camped overlooking the backside of them while sleeping just under the edge of the smoke from the southwest. We anxiously approached the dunes in the morning, imagining we were somewhere in the Sahara without the intense heat. Hitting them in the morning was a great plan as the sand surface can reach 140 or 160 degrees or something like that.
After an hour of play and hiking we hit the Visitor Center where we listened to the Ranger talk about Lightening Safety–safety for us, not the bolts!
Lightning kills about 125 people every year in the USA, injuring another 500 or more…and that’s just those that are reported so it could be even more than that. Being out here on the sand dunes means we’re the tallest thing around for a long ways, and you know how you’ve been told all your life that lightning strikes the tallest object? Its pretty easy to be the tallest object in this barren spot. So here’s some tips:
- Always move away from bodies of water. Since water is a great conductor of electricity, if there is a strike anywhere’s nearby the energy can flow through the river or pool or whatever and essentially strike you.
- Whenever possible take shelter in a enclosed, substantially built buildings like a reinforced structure.
- In the absence of a strong building, you should seek shelter in a hard-topped vehicle. Even though you could be injured if the vehicle is hit by lightening, it is safer for you to be inside than to be outside. Keep the windows up, and try not to be touching any metal, which is a good conductor.
- If you are in the forest, you don’t want to be under the tallest trees as they are the greatest target. Find a smaller clump of shrubs or trees at lower elevation. Be aware of flash-flooding if you are in low-lying area.
- If you get caught out in the open like here at the Great Sand Dunes, you want to stay away from anything tall such as flag poles.
- You want to have as little contact with the ground as possible while making yourself the smallest target possible.
- DO NOT lay down on the ground as this makes too much contact between you and the ground, and makes you are a larger horizontal object to hit. So while you want to be close to the ground you do not want to have a large area of contact with the ground.
- Squat low to the ground, and cover your head. Rise up on the balls of your feet, making the least amount of contact with the ground as possible.
- Avoid tall structures, such as towers, tall trees, fences, telephone lines and power lines. Lightning strikes the tallest object in an area. So here at the Dunes its easy to avoid those tall structures…but that’s what makes you an easier target.
- If you feel your hair stand on end (which is a sign that lightning is about to strike), immediately make yourself the smallest target possible. Remember, squat on the balls of your feet.
Lightning is one of the most dangerous weather events in terms of lives lost. It might be fascinating to watch but certainly becomes unnerving when it gets too close for comfort.
So we learned these safety tips when dealing with lightning…but we didn’t experience any of it here at the Great Sand Dunes.
I think I’m okay with that.