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How to stay safe if you are caught riding during an impromptu summer thunderstorms

Along with the summer heat and humidity comes the occasional threat of a thunderstorm complete with pouring rain, driving winds, hail, lightning and cracks of thunder

Lightning strikes an electrical substation in the city of Phoenix.

by Dan Way

Lightning strikes an electrical substation in the city of Phoenix.

Thunderstorms pose a unique risk to cyclists. They can come on suddenly leaving you stranded and desperately seeking shelter and safety. This is especially true on rural roads that are exposed to the weahter. If and when possible, be proactive. Check the forecast before you depart for a ride and consider rescheduling if there is a significant chance of a storm. Most lightning strikes happen in the afternoon or evening so riding in the morning before work is perhaps the safest time of day to beat a thunderstorm. Morning’s are often the coolest too.

If you do find yourself in the midst of a thunderstorm, heed the following advice for staying safe and avoiding danger.

At the first sign that a storm is about come through, seek shelter immediately. If lightning is present–which you can usually determine by listening for thunder–you should immediately head indoors or find protection. This shouldn’t be too hard if you are riding in an urban setting but can be tricky if you’re riding rural roads or are on trails in a park.

If isolated in an open area, avoid taking shelter under a lone tall object such as a tree. This may mean continuing to ride in order to find shelter. Again, being aware of changing conditions can help you act before the risk becomes too severe because riding in high winds or a downpour can be equally as dangerous as staying in an exposed area.

Direct lightning strikes to a person are rare but one can be injured in other ways. Side flashes, ground currents and conduction are other ways that a lightning strike can cause injury. If you do get hit either directly or indirectly by lightning, call 911 immediately and seek assistance.

Lightning is not the only risk to be aware of during a thunderstorm. Intense rain can create washouts, flash flooding and mudslides that pose a risk to roads users including cyclists. Hail can also be a physical risk and winds can blow around objects which can strike and injure cyclists.

Exercise extreme caution when riding in a storm. Seeking temporary shelter and protection is the smart and sensible thing to do even if it means putting your ride on hold.

A version of this story first appeared at runningmagazine.ca.