The National Weather Service says all tents are unsafe during a lightning storm. However, steps can be taken to make them safer. Location, rather than tent design, is the greatest help in avoiding lightning strikes, according to the National Weather Service. Another factor is the height of the tent, as well as the materials used in construction.
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Stay away from ridges, metal fences, open fields, hilltops and tall objects like isolated trees. In a forest, stay near a lower stand of trees; the taller trees attract lightning. To avoid lightning, set up your tent in a valley, ravine or other low area. Take care, however, to avoid areas that are subject to flash flooding and collected runoff during storms.
The height of the tent is a factor in lightning safety. The taller the tent, the more likely it is to be struck by lightning. The height of the tent in relation to its surroundings is also important. A tall tent on a ridge or in the centre of an open field is most vulnerable. Choose a tent with a low profile and set up in a sheltered clearing, close enough to the trees to allow them to draw the lightning but far enough away from the trees to allow the ground to dissipate any residual charge.
Tall metal tent poles attract and conduct electricity. This includes residual current that may travel through the ground when a nearby object is struck. Flexible, non-metal poles do not carry electric current up from the ground as strongly as metal poles do.
Other Tips and Suggestions
If you are camping in a lightning storm, go to a secure building and avoid touching metal and electronic devices until 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder is heard, the National Weather Service recommends. A secure vehicle with a hard top is next best. Landscape features also offer some protection. If your tent is small enough, you can remove the poles and wrap yourself in it to avoid the rain. Remember, although being rain soaked can be uncomfortable, being hit by lightning can be fatal.
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