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I went for a bike ride in the evening knowing ahead the weather report had an 80% chance of rain, but at the time, I had no recollection of thunderstorms or even heavy wind, perhaps I overlooked those details.

That said, I did a few things wrong, a few things right, I think.

  1. I should have checked the most recent weather report, and if lightning was forecast, then I wouldn't have been out. Mistake #1, inadequate planning.

  2. After I was out, (it was dark out, so I couldn't look at the clouds), the winds picked up rather quickly, from nothing to about 30 mph + sustained winds. I knew at this point that there was a storm on top of me, but since I didn't recall there being lightning in the forecast, proceeded on even though anytime there have been a change in winds that strong, it is accompanied by lightning. Mistake #2 was continuing along the ridge toward the peak.

  3. After the winds, the sky opened up with rain literally in less than 30 seconds. Mistake #3 was again proceeding the same direction rather than turning back toward the backside of the hill which would (in theory be safer from lightning).

  4. After the rain, it was about a minute or so when the first flash of lightning occurred and it was within a mile of me being about 3 seconds. Mistake #4 was again, proceeding the same direction.

  5. Once all of this occurred, the only thing I think I did perhaps somewhat right was to ride in the middle of the road as the road was lined with trees. My rationale was that I didn't want to be directly under the tree if it were struck.

  6. I believed it was safest to keep moving and stay on the bike as it would hopefully get me out of harms way, protect me from possible Eddy currents. At the same rate, the bike being largely metal would perhaps be attracting lightning, so maybe this is a wash.

In hindsight, I should have down things differently.

In my mind at the time, I had already thought about reversing course to go down the backside of the hill rather than over the peak. However, it wasn't as clear cut as that. Reversing course would have left me on the ridge for about 3 minutes (at the same elevation) whereas continuing forward would require me to get over the peak (about 50' additional vertical) and less than 2 minutes of riding. Also, at the time, I wasn't thinking the risk of lightning strikes on the backside versus front side of the hill were different, I thought they were roughly equal. Another factor was that my course was the shortest to a shelter that would offer protection albeit requiring me to crest a hill and descend to get there. I believe the lightning was in front of me, the direction I was heading ...

I should have planned better, but I'm asking so I can perhaps make better decisions in the field to reduce risk.

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    The storm is not necessarily approaching from the apparent wind direction, which can be rotating around the storm centre. So the wind can be say from the west, but the storm centre might be approaching from the north. This is more obvious when you look at an extremely localised storm such as a tornado. Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 18:37
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    I don't know for sure but I doubt the bike would do enough to protect you with grounding etc. A car will because it is an enclosed cage on fat tyres. I think probably best to get off bike, and do as you would for walking/outside during thunderstorm.
    – bob1
    Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 22:29
  • Hmm, so going over the peak wasn't such a bad idea. As for the tires and grounding, I think that would be interesting to see what protection it might provide.
    – John Doe
    Commented Jan 31, 2023 at 4:02
  • A car protects you because it’s a Faraday cage. A bike won’t make much of a difference compared to walking. In both cases your body is a better conductor than the surrounding air, so electric current will “prefer” it. If the rubber of your shoes (or tyres) is actually a better insulator than air the electric current can simply exit your body at the feet and go through the air. I think a bike might offer an advantage if most of the current goes through your head, arms and the metal frame instead of going through your torso. You’ll still suffer severe burns.
    – Michael
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 8:29

2 Answers 2

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Needless to say, it is better to avoid being outside in a lightning storm and if you are caught in one the best thing to do is to seek shelter in a house. But what should you do if no shelter is nearby?

Lightning will usually hit the highest point around.

So being in an open field is very bad because then you are the highest point around (regardless of whether you are still on the bike or just sitting/ standing next to it).

If there are a bunch of trees around seek shelter under a small one or stay some distance away from them. What the ideal distance is is hard to say because you want a) any potential lightning should hit the tree and not you and b) if it hits the tree, you want stay unharmed. Do not stay directly under a large tree.

Hiding inside a car is better than being outside on your own (cars are Faraday cages) but not nearly as good as being inside an actual house.

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Reviewing my actions for my own edification in the event I get caught in another storm in the future.

  1. I should have checked the most recent weather report and confirmed there were no thunderstorms especially when out at night.

  2. When the wind picked up, I should have changed course, descending rather than continuing along the ridge line.

  3. I omitted 3 because, #2 put me about equal distance from the crest and reversing back to the point where I could safely descend. When the first flash of lightning occurred, I should have sought shelter off of my bike, away from tall objects and gotten into a lightning position.

  4. Getting off the bike would have been the safest. While I was equal distance from the trees on either side, I was still on my bike.

  5. The tires on the bike would do little to protected from ground surge given the high voltage.

The majority of the safety is in the prevention. But, it is also important to know how to respond so that it is instinctive and quick.

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