Web Editor's Note: While I was preparing this web page I asked Jack Wright to share why he had prepared this document and some of what he had learned in the process. The following is from Jack Wright:
Reasoning behind my research:
At our Cherokee Area Council Camp Skymont they
(8 years before I was involved) had a lightning fatality and very
serious injury of two 10 year old Webelos in a tent during a storm.
One of the most tragic scenes I've EVER heard about, when I finally
got to the bottom of it. I'll spare the details. Some Council
adults still whisper about it, and some parents won't send their
sons to camp because if it! A lot of false rumor and info has
had time to develop on it, too. Very tragic, since most scout
leader positions have turned over in 10 years and all they've
heard is rumor. I heard 3 different implausible stories before
I interviewed the eyewitnesses.
Skymont has more than its share of summer storms
and lightning because it's located high (1000 ft., 7-800 ft. off
the valley) on the western edge of the Cumberland plateau, and
most summer weather comes SE from NW, from Nashville. The charged
clouds unload their lightning into the elevated iron-rich soil
of our camp. It travels farther horizontally along the ground
because we have 6' of wet dirt on top of solid limestone. Many
times again in the last 10 years there have been strikes and twice
campers have been sent to the hospital (8 at one time), but fortunately
no more serious injuries.
Now since my own son would be going there,
I wanted to know what we're up against. As a professional safety
engineer, I wanted to first review current technology, so I did
a mini-project on my own in Spring '95. Local library weather
texts, web sites, CD encyclopedias, ham radio magazine articles,
and asked NOAA for materials. If anyone knows other good sources,
I'll continue to accumulate stuff.
A check of my "lightning" subdirectory,
shows 46 files totaling 3.2 MB. Most of these, however, are downloaded
from about 10 web sites including a couple from NASA and some
eqpt. companies who do consulting for radio & TV towers.
A lot of GIFs and .htmls. You and other scouters can probably
use only 2 files for sure, a fact sheet and part of our camp emergency
procedure. I'm not sure any of it will be new to scouting. I've
seen some scout lightning protection info. somewhere, and I adapted
my stuff right out of NOAA brochures.
I put all the info I gathered and copied into
a notebook which is now about 2" thick. I don't think it
would copy well, because some of it is getting dog-eared, and
most of it is xerox anyway. Reading it gives one a pretty good
education on the current state of science on the subject. The
best printed material by far is a 12 page slick color brochure,
NOAA/PA 92053, "Thunderstorms and Lightning", Jan. '94,
by NOAA, NWS and FEMA. The same thing is ARC 5001 by American
Red Cross. Wallet cards are NOAA/PA 76018, "Lightning Safety",
July '82, printed by USGPO 379-595.
Most past research has been to develop devices
to minimize damage after strikes; lightning rods, arresters, etc.
It seems to me there's a lot more room for "bleed off and
prevent the strike in the first place" dissipation device
research. The closest thing I've seen to success at this has
been produced by Glen Zook, a ham operator (W5UOJ), who details
a sort of hefty metal grounded "broom" mounted splines
up, which can glow pink while it bleeds off the charge from the
air. His antenna farm, close to the highest location in his town,
has not been hit in 22 years, despite very damaging regular hits
close by all around him. It's published in the Feb. '95 issue
of "73 Amateur Radio Today".
How to prevent lightning at camp locations:
Our camp Directors and medical staff have looked
at the notebook. We adopted a set of procedures for detection
and pre-warning of approaching storms, i.e. observation &
communication, alerting mechanisms, when to evacuate to the dining
hall, etc. Things like monitoring ham radio Skywarn repeater
nets on the Nashville side, NOAA freqs., etc. That stuff is specific
to Skymont, and probably wouldn't do others much good, just prudent
safety procedure. On the first day of each camping week, the
Director spends 5-10 minutes on it in a general safety orientation
and announcement session. All adults and campers are taught and
practice the "lightning-safe crouch". Some campers
have said they've experienced their hair tingling in a storm,
and done the crouch. Maybe we've prevented something in just
the last 2 summers. I don't know how many other scout camps may
be in high-lightning areas of the country, but each would need
to develop their own specific plans.
Making permanent campsites (we have 15) "lightning-protected
areas" is possible in my opinion, but would take a lot of
attitude and fortitude. Cut top limbs out of tallest site trees
(Scouters cutting main campsite trees???). Install tall properly
grounded (difficult for us) power poles taller than the trees
in woods between sites to bleed off or draw strikes away from
sites. To do an effective selling job to spend that much on something
that's questionable, may have to wait for the next fatality, sorry
to say. I hope my son won't be it. Normally, most people and
our Board members still live with fear and myth that lightning
is inevitable, not preventable, and just a normal risk of the
outdoors. Money is always tight.
One relatively easy thing to do is have all
tents on wood pallets and evacuate all campers to their tents
before and during a storm. Train everyone STRICTLY to stay on
the pallets until an all-clear is sounded. Our fatality 10 years
ago was just out of the lake, wet, and unknowingly standing on
the GROUND between 2 pallets removing his bathing trunks so as
not to get his floor or bedding wet. His best friend 3 ft. away,
was on the pallet, and lived.
This web page was written by Jack Wright,
I do hope some of this work will benefit others in Scouting and help
to prevent tragedies like the one we had 10 years ago. I can correspond with any
scout camp interested and in a high lightning area. My address is 1701 Julian Ridge Rd. Chattanooga, TN 37421. I consider all this in the public domain.
Skymont Scout Reservation, Chattanooga, Tennessee
with web authoring assistance by Michael F. Bowman,