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Hilltop Hazard


#1

Rain static is alive and well as this video, shot on a hilltop
yesterday afternoon, shows:

It was closely followed by a very long rumbling sound of thunder and
my aerial was taken down very quickly indeed before I adopted the
correct position on the hilltop to minimise my own risk (the correct
position is sitting rolled up in a ball - not lying down).

73

Richard
G3CWI


#2

In reply to G3CWI:

Is there an available website with details of the appropriate actions to take in the circumstances described? Whilst such self-protection behaviour may be well known to “serious” hill-walkers and climbers, many SOTA activators are less experienced in such matters, and would appreciate guidance if they are unexpectedly caught in such a potentially dangerous situation.

73 de Les, G3VQO


#3

In reply to G3VQO:

There is a whole article devoted to just this topic in the current Radcom!

See also:

http://www.torro.org.uk/TORRO/research/lightning.php

73

Richard
G3CWI


#4

In reply to G3CWI:

Your article in Radcom was very timely and comprehensive. As you rightly point out avoidance is by far the best policy.

However here’s a bit more info that might be of use if the worst happens and you are in a position to help:

Quoting from the standard MR textbook ‘Casualty Care in Mountain Rescue’ 2nd Ed Edited by John Ellerton

“The most common pattern is for a transient cardiac arrest with spontaneous recovery of the heart rhythm but a prolonged respiratory arrest. Indeed, lack of breathing is the most likely cause of death after a lightning strike. In such circumstances, artificial breathing, even for prolonged periods may be all that is needed. A casualty who does not suffer a cardiac or respiratory arrest has an excellent outlook; if supported and protected, spontaneous recovery occurs.”

Essentially then, timely mouth to mouth resuscitation by other survivors or rescuers can be a life saver.

There is some more stuff on secondary injuries due to being flung around and spinal injuries can also occur as well as injuries due to burns etc. The full internal effect of burns don’t always manifest until some time after so hospital assessment should always be sought afterwards even if someone appears to be ok.

Again if the worst happens it is important to remember that lightning does strike the same place twice and often evacuating casualties and survivors to a safer area becomes one of the highest priorities.

In terms of triage, again quoting the MR cas care handbook:

“If a group of people are affected, the priority of the rescuer is, unlike other situations, to leave anyone showing signs of life and concentrate on those with no breathing. Almost all people with any signs of life will recover without intervention.”

I have to say that if I were manning a radio link station (Even on a live mountain rescue callout) in the conditions shown on the video and described I would abandon the link, gear and all, taking only basic gear like my coat, survival bag, whistle, map and compass and leg it on to lower ground to wait until conditions changed and recover my gear later (30-30 rule). The escape needn’t be too far before the risk drops quite a lot, especially if you can get to a safe triangle at the base of a wall or cliff - a distance in front of the cliff which is the height of the wall but not within the first metre of the base. [MR cas care] [Langmuir, “Mountaincraft and Leadership” give ‘not within 3m’ of cliff base and minimum cliff height of 7m].

Oops, sorry this post has got a bit long.

73s

Neil


#5

In reply to MW0ECX:

I have to say that if I were manning a radio link station (Even on a
live mountain rescue callout) in the conditions shown on the video and
described I would abandon the link, gear and all, taking only basic
gear like my coat, survival bag, whistle, map and compass and leg it
on to lower ground to wait until conditions changed and recover my
gear later (30-30 rule).

Neil

I agree, but on rolling moorland this can be tricky. It is a matter of judgement and in my case I was packing up at the time so there was no intention of staying longer. Running across the hill before dropping off the top seemed to represent a higher risk than staying put for a while. I could be wrong there of course and what “feels right” is sometimes not the best course of action!

The very nature of what we do does, I feel sure, put us at greater risk than a typical hillwalker. Perhaps next time I will consider my “lightning plan” at the start of the portable activation so that I know where I can run safely. Once the “action” starts, one’s thoughts may not be as logical as they should be!

73

Richard
g3CWI


#6

In reply to G3CWI:

I wholly agree with your comments Richard. With the change in climate conditions, we do need to have a strategy in place to work to and not trust our thoughts on the spur of the moment.

Out of 96 activations to date, I’ve experienced severe static problems on 3, but have never been out in an actual thunderstorm, though it was close on Stiperstones where I was rather exposed. I think everyone needs to be aware that you can be on the periphery of the action and still be affected. Caution and preparation should be the watchwords.

73, Gerald


#7

In reply to MW0ECX:
“The escape needn’t be too far before the risk drops quite a lot, especially if you can get to a safe triangle at the base of a wall or cliff - a distance in front of the cliff which is the height of the wall but not within the first metre of the base. [MR cas care] [Langmuir, “Mountaincraft and Leadership” give ‘not within 3m’ of cliff base and minimum cliff height of 7m].”

There is more to it than this, and in fact below a cliff can be quite a dangerous place. You must make sure that you are not directly downhill from a gully, by their very nature gullies are drains, and although the drainage seems to disappear when it reaches the apron of scree below the cliff, it is still there at no great depth. Lightning hitting the top of the cliff tends to track down gullies and then follow the hidden watercourse, and if you are just above the watercourse you may get the shock of your life!

I would suggest that on the apron below the cliff you are safest sheltering on top of one of the raised flutes that will probably be visible if you look for them. Similarly on a hillside you will see a pattern of ridges and hollows running down the hill, shelter on the ridge, the hollow will be a watercourse and a lightning strike further up the hill will run down the hollow. Plus, of course, the ridge may be windier which will quickly disperse the rising column of warm air which points straight at you and may offer a path for lightning.

Scary, isn’t it!

Once I looked DOWN on a horizontal stroke of lightning from Striding Edge, I felt as exposed as a pimple on an elephants rear! Nowhere offered a safe option so I just relaxed and enjoyed the storm. Sometimes thats all you CAN do!

73

Brian G8ADD


#8

Here is an interesting article published in German (pdf):
http://www.tellmed.ch/include_php/previewdoc.php?file_id=1654

Because of a (fast!) coming thundersturm I had to
qrt in a big pile-up two weeks ago on HB/VD-022.vy sri

Weather changes fast on summits, even the temperatur
felt from 22°C to 9°C within 30 minutes.

A good webside for HB-forecasts is:
http://www.meteocentrale.ch/index.php?id=10&L=1

and for DL-forecasts:
http://www.unwetterzentrale.de/uwz/index.html

Vy73 and take care

Fritz HB9CSA,DL4FDM


#9

In reply to G3CWI:

I take your point, Richard - indivdual circumstances will vary and on broad flat ground as far as I can see you’ve little choice other than do what you did. - likewise Brian’s point about cliffs - bottoms of cliffs are dangerous for other obvious reasons too and gullies even more so. - all these things are general (though very standard in the mountaineering literature) guidance. Reality is always more complex.

On Gerald’s point a dynamic ‘risk assessment’ and contingency planning right from the start is always good policy in the hills - The hardest decision is that of turning back before the objective is achieved, especially if you’ve made a lot of effort to get there.

The nearest I’ve been to a strike was running down to the first camp on the “Howling Howgills” KIMM with my brother and the flash and crack were simultaneous to our ears - I think about 100 - 200 m to our left - we were already running downhill as fast as we could anyway so we just carried on! It was both scary and exhilarating.

Neil


#10

In reply to G3CWI:
Did ask you if you wanted to do a mulit-operation from tw-004, we had rain for 10 mins the sunshine rest of the day. just up loaded our video’s,


we never had any sparks up here
Steve m0sgb


#11

In reply to MW0ECX:

On Gerald’s point a dynamic ‘risk assessment’ and contingency planning
right from the start is always good policy in the hills - The hardest
decision is that of turning back before the objective is achieved,
especially if you’ve made a lot of effort to get there.

The lightning strike is too complex electromagnetic problem to calculate in head when you are up on the summit.

First before the activation you need to study and understand the weather forecast. During the activation regular risk assessment is needed:

  • is the weather changing?
  • is there anybody else on the summit or everybody have already left?
  • how do the clouds look like? in high mountains approaching storm or rain can be seen from distance
  • if the rain starts is the descent still safe?
  • can I find the way back if the visibility becomes bad?
  • is there any shelter nearby?
  • can I get help and how if I need?
  • in winter: what is the level of snow avanlanhce risk? is the snow on the moutain stable?

Turning back is the normal thing to do in high mountains. So you need to start practicing it already if you want to survive later in Alpes.

73, Jaakko OH7BF/F5VGL


#12

In reply to F5VGL:

Well said, Jaakko!

The Scottish mountains are not high by global standards but in winter they can experience really ferocious weather that can literally strike out of a blue sky in a matter of minutes. When I was a keen winter climber I baled out on numerous occasions, stubborn climbers often make it to the obituary pages, I preferred to make it to the pub!

Weather can change with startling rapidity in summer, too. I have seen the clouds go from “fair weather” cumulus to cumulus congestatus to cumulo-nimbus in less than half an hour, which doesn’t give you long to suss out the change and start retreating if it doesn’t look safe. Usually the anvil clouds just herald passing showers and perhaps a side-order of hail in this country and you need to cultivate a real “weather eye” to distinguish between such uncomfortable but innocuous weather and the sort that really means business!

By the way, Richard (G3CWI) I read your article last night. It is useful and timely but I suggest a follow up might possibly be a good idea since it does not say over much about the sort of situation that an inexperienced SOTA activator or hill-top contester might find themselves in, being apparently more directed to casual low to medium level outdoor experiences. Many SOTA people already had hill walking experience but I know that people are being drawn in rapidly as SOTA takes hold and some of them may not have much experience in the hills. Some of the things discussed in this thread plus coverage of “padding season” and winter hillcraft might be useful - people coming to SOTA from the radio side might need some advice on, for instance, crossing a swollen river…I remember being bemused to find Scottish rivers in springtime being a lot wider and deeper to cross in descent than when I crossed them several hours previously going up, even though no rain had fallen in the meantime - snowmelt!

73

Brian G8ADD


#13

In reply to G8ADD:

All noted Brian. Can you imagine the Letters Page if I wrote a column in Radcom about crossing swollen rivers! Suggest you pen the article and submit to Radcom (possibly under a pseudonym).

73

Richard


#14

In reply to F5VGL:

This is exactly the point I was trying to make - perhaps I didn’t make it explicitly enough.

Neil MW0ECX


#15

In reply to G3CWI:

In reply to G8ADD:

All noted Brian. Can you imagine the Letters Page if I wrote a column
in Radcom about crossing swollen rivers! Suggest you pen the article
and submit to Radcom (possibly under a pseudonym).

73

Richard

The idea tickles my funnybone, I will give it some thought! It will be difficult to find a balance between encouraging people and warning them…

73

Brian G8ADD