Jacob Mendez
Jacob Mendez

Storm season in the Tatra Mountains. Dangerous lightning

— says Piotr Konopka, TOPR rescuer. – You can't play with them, because nature is stronger than us – he adds.

The number of fatal lightning strikes is statistically small, considering how many people visit the Tatra Mountains. – The number of shocks is marginal in relation to the number of storms and marginal in relation to the number of people who wander during storms – says a TOPR rescuer. – Maybe it is even a per mille of all accidents, but if this per mille concerns us or our loved ones, it becomes a hundred percent and the question is whether we want to play such a game – he adds.

– When it comes to mountains, storms are one of the most dangerous phenomena – confirms Paweł Parzuchowski, manager of the IMWM station in Zakopane. – Piorun likes to find the shortest route to its destination, which is why it is most dangerous high up on a ridge – he adds.

The greatest tragedies in the Tatra Mountains are related to storms. In August 1939, six people died and a dozen were injured in Świnica. Lightning struck a group of Jewish scouts. A block of rock fell from the top, causing a rock avalanche.

Five deaths are the result of the tragic storm over the Tatra Mountains in 2019. Four people died after being struck by lightning in the summit dome of Giewont, and 157 were injured. One person died on the Slovak side.

– In 2012, in the Pieniny Mountains, on the border of the forest, a few hundred meters from the shelter, the bodies of a family of four were found – recalls Paweł Parzuchowski. – They took shelter from the storm under a tree. Lightning struck the tree and caused side shock – explains the manager of IMWM in Zakopane.

Safety is, above all, the ability to predict. Everyone who plans mountain trips should remember this. The weather in the mountains is changeable and can be very dangerous. When we leave in the morning, we may have blue skies and high temperatures, and a few hours later, when we are at the top, we may have gusty winds, a violent storm and temperatures below freezing.

– We have two types of storms: frontal and convective, local. Recently we have been dealing with mixed types that are difficult to predict. It is worth following websites that monitor storms on an ongoing basis – recommends the manager of IMWM in Zakopane. It should be a habit to regularly check the weather forecast before going to the mountains and during the trip, but you should not blindly trust technology and weather alerts. – Our own senses – sight and hearing – are no worse, and often even better, information about an approaching storm. If it is muggy, hot and humid in the mountains, it is known to be stormy weather. Clouds developed vertically, with characteristic anvils growing upwards, are storm clouds. If we see such a phenomenon, we should descend into the valleys as quickly as possible – explains TOPR rescuer, Piotr Konopka.

By observing lightning in the sky and listening for thunder, we can determine approximately how far away the storm is. Sound travels much slower than light. The speed of sound in air is approximately 343 meters per second. To calculate the distance of a storm, we use the time difference between seeing the lightning and hearing the thunder.

. It is an atmospheric phenomenon that occurs when air is ionized near high points such as masts, towers, steep cliffs or trees. – It's an interesting phenomenon. Electricity is generated in our body, we feel a metallic taste in our mouth, and our hair stands on end – says Paweł Parzuchowski. – If we are near a mast or a building, we can literally hear electricity, crackles and the buzzing of electricity. Then we know that we are in a storm cloud and it is very dangerous – he adds.

. – Plan trips so as not to be within the storm's range, i.e. early departures and early returns are the main rule – says a TOPR rescuer.

However, if the storm finds us in the mountains, we should descend into the valleys as quickly as possible, but be careful when descending. In panic, many people start running away, which is a direct path to an accident. – Unfortunately, we often carry such victims down from the mountains. Tourists go to the mountains, despite the warnings given to them along the way, and then, running away in panic, they break their arms and legs – adds a TOPR rescuer.

If it is not possible to descend quickly, you should look for the safest possible place to wait out the storm. – Preferably on a ridge, but not on the ridge itself, not in a watercourse, as far as possible from metal elements, chains, ladders.

– You have to go below the ridge, isolate yourself from the ground, sit on your backpack. Hug your knees with your hands, do not sit wide apart, so that any discharge does not go through all your limbs, because this is very dangerous – says Piotr Konopka.

– We do not touch wet rocks, through which electric charges can easily pass. We choose a leeward place. Statistics say that on mountain ridges from the direction from which the storm moves, for example from the Polish side, from the north, this ridge is hit by the most lightning, more than from the south – adds the manager of IMWM in Zakopane. You absolutely should not hide under a tree or in a clearing. Shacks and caves are also not a good idea. The rule applies: the lower, the safer. If we are walking in a group, we should spread out and stay at a distance so that in the event of a lightning strike, as few people as possible will be harmed.

the physical properties of these devices are too small to cause a lightning strike. Thunderstorms are usually accompanied by heavy rain, so it is best to secure the phone, put it in a plastic bag and remove the battery so that we can call for help when the need arises. Emergency numbers in the mountains: TOPR 601 100 300, GOPR 985 or international emergency number 112.