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Lightning strikes and ground shocks: pics



In August 2008 my wife and I were camping in a lake system on Crown land in Ontario. We'd visited this area many times before and whenever we made it to the main large lake in this system, we camped in the same spot for the first night before portaging into more remote lakes the following day. This trip was no exception. We made camp in our usual spot the first night, stringing our tarp between two trees and pitching our tent close by. In the morning we packed up and made our way to the surrounding lakes where we spent the remainder of our trip. On the second night of our trip, a violent thunderstorm moved through the area. We were now several miles away from where we'd camped the first night and we could tell that the most violent thunderclaps were coming from where we'd been the night before. Eight days later we paddled for home and decided to stop for lunch where we'd camped the first night.

As we approached our former campsite I noticed a pine tree had been struck by lightning. The tree had long vertical gashes in the bark high up on it's trunk. Closer examination revealed that the strike had boiled the sap in the tree, causing the bark to literally explode off the tree right down to ground level, leaving strips of bark strewn around the tree for several meters. An old metal fire grate that we'd left hanging on a nail on the tree trunk was lying over two meters from the tree in some blueberry bushes. Worse yet, one of the tree's roots had also heated up, boiled, and exploded. What's interesting is this tree root had been growing about two feet or more underground, embedded in large fissures in the rock. The root was now exposed above ground, the rock and ground over it completely blasted open, and the metamorphic rock around it was fractured and overturned like a jackhammer had been applied to it.

This pine tree was the very one to which we always tied our tarp's ridge line, including the night before that storm struck. Our tent had been pitched just a few meters from it. Since this was such a large tree on rocky ground, it's roots no doubt extended very broadly and I doubt there is any place near the tree where our tent would have been safe from ground shocks. I don't like to think what would have happened to us if we'd been under that tarp or asleep in that tent when that lightning bolt struck.

Ever since this, I have made a point of not stringing my tarps to such tall trees, especially those so close to the water's edge where they are more likely to be struck than a shorter tree a little farther from shore.

I'm relating this tale in part to dispel the idea that ground shocks from tree roots are only mythical. The chances are remote, but not insignificant, and people do die this way. In fact, two summers ago, an Ontario man died in an RV campground owned by his girlfriend's mother when lightning struck a nearby tree and he was shocked by a tree root that ran beneath his tent. His girlfriend's son, who was also in the tent, was shocked, but not killed. Unsurprisingly, the tent floor and sleeping pad were not enough to insulate them.

The chances of perishing this way are slim and it won't stop me from camping, but I expect that from now on, when Thor's hammer strikes, I won't be sleeping through it as I used to do.

Here are the photos:

Vertical gashes in the trunk

A closer view of the lowest gash in the bark

Strips of boiled bark that were strewn about for several meters

The once buried root that exploded out of the ground, leaving a trench

A closer view of exploded stone

Hope this helps,


Pretty dramatic! I was deer hunting about 20 years ago and came across a recent lightning strike in a pine tree. It had split the tree and left it smoldering.
Jul 25, 2012
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WOW! I've never seen such clear evidence of lightnings effects. We some times think of ourselves as the masters of our world but when the real forces of nature speak we are reduced to mice running under the feet of giants.
Martin, thanks for the effort you put into this and all your posts, this is one I'll be sure to remember and try to apply.


Wow, Pinemartyn (Cute screen name!)! I was on Crown Land about three or four years ago and we had a couple close lightning strikes. The next morning, we discovered that one of our guylines was melted. You did a great job of documenting the damage. The storms in Ontario are more intense than those in Wisconsin and I've often wondered why.
Jul 31, 2011
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Dodgeville, Wi
The biggest storm of my life was in WCPP on an island camp in Middle Kilburn. I remember saying to myself "so this is the storm that killed me". I have never seen such fury before in my life. I would agree with thekat, it seems the storms in Ontario have more energy than those of Wisconsin.

Feb 1, 2013
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Amazing photos Martin. I would've been tempted to put up a hammock on that tree so close to the shore. Lightening strikes are one more extra thing to think about before stringing up a ridgeline for me now.