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  1. #1
    Senior Member asmac's Avatar
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    Lightning while riding

    I have a 75 km charity ride coming up tomorrow and thunderstorms are forecast.

    The ride is mostly through farmland on open, secondary highways. What is the best course of action in the case of lightning? I don't plan to lie down in a ditch so expect I should just keep going and avoid trees or other similar shelter. Is there a better choice?

    In a car I believe you are protected by the metal cage and by the rubber tires. I don't suppose small, wet bike tires provide much meaningful insulation.

    Do you know of any actual expertise on this or just opinions (like mine)? Neither of the items below really help in the situation I expect but here they are:

    The National Weather Service says this: "Motorcyclist/Bicyclist: Protect yourself when on a bicycle, motorcycle or dirt bike. Carry a portable NOAA Weather Radio or listen to commercial radio. If you see threatening skies in the distance and you are near a safe building, pull over and wait 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder before resuming your ride."
    Here's their link to a 3rd party site:
    http://rendezvous.nols.edu/files/Cur...Guidelines.pdf
    Last edited by asmac; 07-26-13 at 08:10 AM.

  2. #2
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    Car tires don't provide insulation protection either. Air is an insulator, though not as good as rubber, but instead of a couple of inches of rubber, there are miles of air which the lightning is travelling through. Any insulator can be overcome with sufficient voltage. What protects you in a car is called a 'farraday cage'.

    Nothing on the bike will protect you; however, since it is a charity ride I would expect the organizers to postpone if there is any real danger.

  3. #3
    on by skijor's Avatar
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    That's good advice. I've done my share of charity rides too. I look for a farm or some such to hang out if it the threat seems near enough.
    That said, lightning can travel from cloud to cloud before it strikes ground. So you could be many miles from the origin and still be in danger. Don't sweat it too much.

  4. #4
    24-Speed Machine Chris516's Avatar
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    Don't forget being under a highway overpass will work.

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    "Common wisdom" says that when you're NOT the tallest "thing" in your immediate vicinity, you're safer. Personally, I'd get under the underpass, or yeah -- in a ditch, which is a low point.

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    Senior Member JerrySTL's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris516 View Post
    Don't forget being under a highway overpass will work.
    Well.... It will for lightning, but don't even think about it in high winds or a tornado. The Bernoulli effect of the wind going through the under/overpass can greatly increase the speed of things like sticks, rocks, Dorothy and Toto, etc., flying through the air. Very dangerous.

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    24-Speed Machine Chris516's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JerrySTL View Post
    Well.... It will for lightning, but don't even think about it in high winds or a tornado. The Bernoulli effect of the wind going through the under/overpass can greatly increase the speed of things like sticks, rocks, Dorothy and Toto, etc., flying through the air. Very dangerous.
    The underside of a bridge overpass can work in high winds, for a person's safety. They will just need to get another bike. A person can crawl all the way up the slanted supports underneath the bridge, where the bridge is connected.

    It is suggested by NOAA when there is no other shelter that can be reached in time.

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    Senior Member delcrossv's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris516 View Post
    The underside of a bridge overpass can work in high winds, for a person's safety. They will just need to get another bike. A person can crawl all the way up the slanted supports underneath the bridge, where the bridge is connected.

    It is suggested by NOAA when there is no other shelter that can be reached in time.
    Yep. This. You can even squeeze your bike up there if you're timely. Up the incline and between the bridge beams.
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    incazzare. lostarchitect's Avatar
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    I rode over the Manhattan Bridge in a bad thunderstorm one time. It was terrifying.
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  10. #10
    Senior Member asmac's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PlanoFuji View Post
    instead of a couple of inches of rubber, there are miles of air which the lightning is travelling through. Any insulator can be overcome with sufficient voltage'.
    Duh! Good point! There are 2000 riders and they say it goes rain or shine. I'm feeling lucky, I guess.
    Last edited by asmac; 07-28-13 at 03:48 PM.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris516 View Post
    The underside of a bridge overpass can work in high winds, for a person's safety. They will just need to get another bike. A person can crawl all the way up the slanted supports underneath the bridge, where the bridge is connected.

    It is suggested by NOAA when there is no other shelter that can be reached in time.
    Yes it is recommended because it is the best of a bad situation; however, there have been cases of people being killed/injured in such underpass locations. Both by flying objects and in at least one case they were sucked out. The latter was a situation where a number of people were sheltering in the underpass and it appears there were one too many for the available safe area.

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    Quote Originally Posted by asmac View Post
    Duh! Good point! There are 3000 riders and they say it goes rain or shine. I'm feeling lucky, I guess.
    I would be surprised if they give it a go ahead in the event of lightning storms (or very strong winds) since their liability for doing so would be pretty severe.

    Hopefully the worst the weather will throw at you is some rain. Have a great time!

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    I've read that if you can hear lightning/thunder then you're in danger of being striken. Like PlanoFuji said, car tires don't insulate against shock...and a bicycle/motorcycle and soft-top convertible don't have a faraday cage. Even an open car (or home) window decreases your level of protection.

    In the event of lightning/thunder, immediately seek shelter indoors. Unenclosed shelters are very dangerous, and depending on the material they're constructed from, may be more dangerous than being unsheltered. Lightning can bounce underneath open structures such as unenclosed structures and bridge supports. I've known of two homes struck by lightning where the lightning bolt went down the chimney.

    As you surely know, your bicycle can attract lightning. If shelter isn't available, crouch low with only your feet touching the ground. Stay away from anything that will attract electricity, including your cell phone, ipod, and bike.
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    Senior Member koolerb's Avatar
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    When I hear thunder I just ride faster. It's a great training aid.

  15. #15
    rugged individualist wphamilton's Avatar
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    I have no expertise unless you count being a science geek with undergrad physics, but I do have some experience. Earlier this year I participated in a charity century with thunderstorms expected, the same warnings you have. I went anyway of course. As it happened, I I was at mile 80 when the worst of the storm passed directly over me - visibility was so bad that I couldn't see the markings and had to backtrack. The organizers said there were tornadoes and shut it down; I didn't see any but the wind was god-awful. Doing it over again I would seek shelter immediately when it started blowing in, not only because of the lightning but also the wind and flying debris. Shelter would be anything with a roof. You're not supposed to stop under a tall tree (lightning and falling branches).

    Metal bikes and electronic devices don't actually attract lightning, but with a strike or near strike they can channel electricity and increase the severity of injury.

  16. #16
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    I'm thinking a fiber-glass, carbon fiber, or bamboo bike might be a good thing - but I don't have any direct experience but I think I would feel more comfortable riding one then a conventional metal tube frame bike with lightening around.

    Also the danger of lightening varies greatly depending on where you are. On the east side of Montana its a big concern because that is flat land country with only very gentle hills, where as on the west side unless your standing on top of a mountain peak the odds of you being hit or incredibly low even if you stood in the middle of a puddle holding the bike up over your head trying to make it strike you because there are trees, hills, and mountains everywhere and with 10,000's of trees around your immediate vicinity all of which are taller then you some on hills that are way taller then you lightening strikes on anything man made except for power poles where it is a case of the charge in the electric wires attracting the charge in the sky are very rare. Basically on the east side of the state the flat land prairie side a lot of barns and silos and other man made tall stuff gets hit by lightening and burns down, on the west side of the state lightening usually hits trees and starts forest fires and then the forest fire burns down the man made stuff if it gets going well enough. Anyway, that's what I know about lightening strikes up in my area. On the west side of the state actually getting struck by lightening on my bike in a thunder storm would be the last thing I would worry about, other vehicle operators on the road hitting me because of the reduced visibility and me getting all wet and nasty from sloppy road goop would be what I was thinking about. On the east side, yes, in a bad lightening storm I would worry about it.
    Last edited by turbo1889; 07-27-13 at 06:17 AM.

  17. #17
    Senior Member asmac's Avatar
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    I'm alive! I'm alive! As they say, more plans are ruined by bad weather forecasts than by bad weather. As it turns out, there was a bit of rain and some wind but that was it. A nice ride.

    The problem would be with a couple of thousand riders spread out over several miles with no place to go for shelter including highway overpasses. Looking at it, I think the best thing (in the absence of proper shelter) would be to stay on the road. There are power lines, poles and trees beside the road and they are much more likely targets than me. Perhaps stop near (but not too near!) where a wire crosses the highway. No perfect answer and not really much choice anyway.

    Apparently they had a situation a few years ago when lightning was rolling in from a few miles ahead so they stopped everyone at the checkpoints. Not such a good idea, maybe, as checkpoints are usually treed areas with a few flimsy aluminum-framed shade structures. Add in a large group of people and it could be a big problem.

    Anyhow, I'll continue not to worry about it too much but would be nice to have some idea what to before it's an issue if it ever is.

    BTW, I think this was on my mind because of a recent radio interview with a woman who was zapped while wiping her countertop. She's now in a wheelchair. Very unlucky.
    Last edited by asmac; 07-29-13 at 10:05 AM.

  18. #18
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    Having ridden through the middle of an intense cell, with multiple near lightning strikes, I can tell you that being in an open field is the worst place to be. That makes you the highest thing around. It's how and why golfers are common lightening strike victims. Ideally you want to be near (but not under or immediately close to) trees which will become the likelier targets.

    Also time the strikes and when there's thunder within 1 second of a flash (under 1,000') it's time to dismount and lower your profile, or shelter near better targets. Another not so early warning of imminent strikes is the clear smell of ozone.

    BTW- if you do decide to keep riding, find a taller rider, or one with a high safety flag, and stay close, but not too close.
    Last edited by FBinNY; 07-28-13 at 04:39 PM.
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  19. #19
    Cycle Year Round CB HI's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PlanoFuji View Post
    I would be surprised if they give it a go ahead in the event of lightning storms (or very strong winds) since their liability for doing so would be pretty severe.
    I would be interested in the cases you are aware of, for which an event is held responsible for "acts of god".
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  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by CB HI View Post
    I would be interested in the cases you are aware of, for which an event is held responsible for "acts of god".
    No one is ever held responsible for an act of god. But the decision to go ahead in the face of a predicted storm can be viewed as poor judgement and actionable. This is why schools close when snow is forecast, dive and fishing boats don't leave port when there are small craft warnings (even in Mexico), and all manner of events are delayed or cancelled because of actual or predicted "dangerous" weather.

    At the very least a ride sponsor would have to remind riders of the predicted hazards, and suggested proper responses. Remember, we live in a litigious society and ride sponsors don't allow helmetless participation, even from adults because they may be found liable for failure to effectively promote safety.
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  21. #21
    Cycle Year Round CB HI's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by FBinNY View Post
    No one is ever held responsible for an act of god. But the decision to go ahead in the face of a predicted storm can be viewed as poor judgement and actionable. This is why schools close when snow is forecast, dive and fishing boats don't leave port when there are small craft warnings (even in Mexico), and all manner of events are delayed or cancelled because of actual or predicted "dangerous" weather.

    At the very least a ride sponsor would have to remind riders of the predicted hazards, and suggested proper responses. Remember, we live in a litigious society and ride sponsors don't allow helmetless participation, even from adults because they may be found liable for failure to effectively promote safety.
    Any successful cases?

    What does riding without a helmet have to do with acts of god like storms?
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  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by CB HI View Post
    Any successful cases?

    What does riding without a helmet have to do with acts of god like storms?
    I don't know if any have made it through the courts, but that's a terrible indicator. The vast bulk of these types of cases are settled before trial. Success is hard to define. If an insurer and plaintiff settle for $50k or $100k, is that success?

    There's no direct link between mandatory helmets on organized rides and acts of god, but there's a parallel in that in the event of a death on a ride, for any cause, the promoter may become a target for suit based on the theory of strict negligence, of failure to exercise due care to protect the participants. Plaintiff lawyers don't like acts of god because they can't bring him into court, however the promoter is there and has a deep pockets insurer.
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  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by CB HI View Post
    I would be interested in the cases you are aware of, for which an event is held responsible for "acts of god".
    Look up the May day run in Fort Worth a few years back (Just one of several incidents where I am personally aware of such suits). There were a number of suits--though they were settled out of court since the organizer didn't have a leg to stand on. It is called negligence, not an act of god when a outdoor event (for which people pay a fee that they would forfeit) when the weather forecast calls for severe weather--ie the weather service has issued warnings...


    Of course, I suspect you are just looking for another argument where you fail to understand the reality...

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    Excuse me while I fail to tremble at the prospect of lightning. Here's the deaths per state this year due to lightning:
    http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/fatalities.htm


    I would be more concerned with the road selection on the ride since the primary hazard cyclists face seems to be motorists. YMMV.

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    There's a reason that being struck by lightning is the standard for a long odds event.

    But in all fairness, the majority of people struck by lightening survive, so the death figures understate the odds of being struck by quite a bit.
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