Learn from the Handbook: Count on It

BSA-Handbook-Cover Let’s say you’re on the trail when you see a distant
lightning strike. Or you’re at your son’s soccer game when thunder rumbles in
the distance. Is it safe to continue?

Knowing how far away a lightning strike is and whether it is coming
toward you or drifting away can be an important tool in keeping you, your
family, and your unit safe. You don’t have to be a meteorologist to figure it
out, either—you just need page 352 of the new Boy Scout Handbook. And knowing how to count helps, too.

When you see lightning, start counting: one-thousand-one,
one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three, and so on. Stop once you’ve heard
thunder. Sound travels a mile every five seconds, approximately. So if you’ve
gotten to one-thousand-five in your count, the lightning strike was a mile away.

Many scientists say that if lightning is closer than three
miles away, the danger is imminent. In fact, any time you can hear thunder you could be in striking distance of lightning. Thirty-one people have died in 2009
because of lightning strikes, so don’t take this warning lightly. Seek shelter
immediately in a permanent building if the storm is nearby.

For more information on lightning safety and awareness,
check out this site from the National Weather Service.

Update: We've corrected some of the numbers and information in this story. Thanks to Rob and Marc for pointing out the previous inaccuracies.


  1. Ugh… this is a horrible piece. Timing the lightning strike to the sound of thunder tells you nothing about how far away the storm is, just how far away that lightning strike was. It’s not uncommon for lightning strikes to ignite dry prairie because it extends out from the sides of the storm, or from the storm’s anvil. Because of this the reference to a three mile risk is misleading, as the NWS advises here – http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/overview.htm
    “Lightning can strike as far as 10 miles from the area where it is raining. That’s about the distance you can hear thunder. If you can hear thunder, you are within striking distance. Seek safe shelter immediately.”
    And that’s the rule in my pack… if you can hear it, you can be killed by it.

Join the conversation