NC Appalachian Ranger District shared an injury report from mid-July with the club to bring attention to this severe weather hazard. Two couples, one with a small baby, walking across the open balds on the Appalachian Trail across the Roan Highlands were indirectly hit by lightning. The bolt was described as a fireball coming towards them through the water flooding the trail path during a heavy thundershower. The young mother apparently got the brunt of the lightning jolt which catapulted her two to four feet into air. The lightning strike numbed their feet temporarily with blood circulation gradually returning to their extremities. While all victims were able to subsequently walk, the mother also exhibited some signs of shock. The group was led back to the Carvers Gap parking lot but was scared by any further thunder in the distance.
The weather that day was scattered thundershowers. The group had hiked out onto the open balds during sunshine, but a passing front quickly changed the situation. Awareness of any forecast for thunderstorms should change your plans especially for trails in the elevated areas common in our region. If thunder is heard, immediately seek safe shelter which is likely your vehicle back at the trailhead, even if your weather is currently good since lightning can strike many miles away from the storm. Stay sheltered for at least 30 minutes after you heard the last clap of thunder. If unable to safely reach your vehicle, seek lower elevation away from tall and/or isolated trees. Being alert regarding the weather to take appropriate actions is the best safety approach.
Note: The August 17th hike on A.T. from Tanyard Gap to Rich Mountain Firetower was rescheduled from original June date due to prediction of thunderstorms. Who wants to be in a metal box raised high above a ridgeline in a lightning storm?