Living in the Western Cape has its perks, but I really do miss the thunderstorms of my home turf in the Waterberg (along with thorn trees and proper fire wood) – the smell, the sound of thunder and nature’s pyrotechnic display is awe-inspiring. Thunderstorms, however, are a real danger to hikers and other people who love the great outdoors. South Africa has one of the highest lightning-death rates in the world, with the latest government estimate being 6,3 per million annually. However, fatalities from lightning strikes can be reduced significantly by understanding how lightning works and what safety precautions are to be taken. It should also be noted that our high incidence of lightning fatalities is not only due to people being outdoors, but to a large degree due to people living in structures that are not lightning proof.
I have been hiking in the Drakensberg for many years, and have thus experienced many thunderstorms. What struck me (excuse the pun) when doing the research for this article is how often I placed myself in more danger, thinking I was making my situation safer! Seemingly logical responses, such as lying flat on the ground or finding shelter under a rocky overhang actually increases the risk of being struck – read on to find out why and what’s best to do.