317 Is the risk of a lightning casualty actually less in an open field than a forest?

Tuesday, 25 January 2011
Washington State Convention Center
William P. Roeder, Private Meteorologist, Rockledge, FL
Manuscript (136.6 kB)

Handout (142.5 kB)

The fundamental principle of lightning safety is that ‘No Place Outside Is Safe When Thunderstorms Are In The Area!' Lightning safety education should emphasize planning to avoid the treat and knowing when and where to go for safety. While no place outside is safe, some outside locations are less risky than others. A frequent question from the public has been whether an open field or a forest is safer from lightning. Common wisdom within the lightning safety community has been that a forest is safer from lightning than an open field, since a direct lightning strike is more likely to a person in an open field since that person would be the tallest object. However, a direct lightning strike is only one of five mechanisms that cause lightning casualties and is the causes only a few percent of those casualties. The other four lightning casualty mechanisms are direct contact, side flash, step voltage and ground streamer, and upward leader. A model that considers all the lightning casualty mechanisms has previously been developed by the author to estimate the effectiveness of one procedure for no-notice outdoor lightning risk reduction. This model is now applied to estimate the effectiveness of that same procedure in a forest. Preliminary results suggest that, contrary to popular belief, an open field is actually safer from lightning than a forest. The analysis will be completed and reported in this paper. Further research is needed to verify this result.
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