2 injured in Zion National Park after lightning strikes tree; safety tips

Stock composite image, background image by eric_urqhart/Getty Images; St. George News

ZION NATIONAL PARK – Two people were injured in Zion National Park after an extremely strong line of thunderstorms blew through the area Thursday evening.

Backcountry lightning safety information courtesy of National Weather Service, St. George News
Backcountry lightning safety information courtesy of National Weather Service, St. George News | Click on image to enlarge

A man and a woman were injured while hiking on the Emerald Pools Trail after lightning struck a cottonwood tree, park spokeswoman Aly Baltrus said.

The lightning strike knocked down an 8-inch branch which struck the hikers.

Emergency personnel responded to the incident, and both were transported to Dixie Regional Medical Center by ambulance in stable condition.

The storm that roared through Zion struck St. George at around 5 p.m., prompting a search for a missing kayaker in the Virgin River, toppling trees and causing power outages.

Read more: Kayaker located; power outages, property damage reported

High winds and heavy rain then impacted Zion National Park.

“We stopped allowing visitors in at 6:30 p.m. and focused additional shuttles to help move those in the main canyon out as quickly as possible,” Baltrus said.

“We registered 0.19 inches (of rain) in the main canyon and .4 inches on the east side.”

Lightning safety

“The best thing folks can do is to avoid the storm in the first place,” Baltrus said, “stormy weather is not the best time to see Zion. If possible, come back on a better day.

“However, if it’s not possible to plan around the storm, find shelter immediately,” she said. The visitors center, the museum and the Zion Canyon Lodge are the best places; shuttle buses and even shuttle stop shelters are better than nothing.

“Most importantly, avoid precipices – Angels Landing or Observation Point, bodies of water and narrow canyons with high flash flood potential,” Baltrus said.

According to the National Weather Service,the only completely safe action is to get inside a safe building or vehicle.

If you absolutely cannot get to safety, you can slightly lessen the threat of being struck with the following tips:  Know the weather patterns of the area you plan to visit. For example, in mountainous areas, thunderstorms typically develop in the early afternoon, so plan to hike early in the day and be down the mountain by noon.

Check the weather forecast for the outdoor area you plan to visit – the forecast may be very different from the one near your home. If there is a high chance of thunderstorms, stay inside.

If you can’t get indoors, follow these guidelines:

  • Avoid open fields, the top of a hill or a ridge top.
  • Stay away from tall, isolated trees or other tall objects. If you are in a forest, stay near a lower stand of trees.
  • If you are in a group, spread out to avoid the current traveling between group members.
  • If you are camping in an open area, set up camp in a valley, ravine or other low areas. Remember, a tent offers no protection from lighting.
  • Stay away from water, wet items, such as ropes, and metal objects, such as fences and poles. Water and metal do not attract lightning but they are excellent conductors of electricity. The current from a lightning flash will easily travel for long distances.

For more information on backcountry lightning safety, see the National Weather Service outdoor lightning safety webpage.

For additional guidance please visit the NWS website on Lightning Safety.

Email: japplegate@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

 

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