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Safety first in outdoor strikes

Pam LeBlanc
pleblanc@statesman.com
In this photo taken Aug. 21 using a slow shutter speed, traffic streams along Airport Road in Billings, Mont., as lightning illuminates the sky as thunderstorms moved across the area.

I wrote recently about an Austin man and two companions who survived a lightning strike while backpacking near Mount Whitney in California.

The article spurred a response from Donna Franklin, who leads the National Weather Service's Lightning Safety Awareness Program.

"Every year we see the same thing over and over: Men who are enjoying the great outdoors when a thunderstorm moves in and they make bad decisions, which lead to death or injury," Franklin said.

Of the 24 deaths due to lightning strikes so far in 2012, three occurred in Texas. The Lone Star State is tied with Florida for the most lightning-related deaths.

Franklin says following some basic safety rules can prevent lightning deaths. She shared these tips for people stuck in the backcountry during a storm:

1. Know and pay attention to local weather patterns. Change your plans if thunderstorms are predicted. Set turn-around times that will get you off exposed terrain before afternoon storms pop up. If you hear thunder, lightning is close enough to strike and you should head to safe terrain.

2. Lightning tends to hit high points and the surrounding area. Avoid peaks, ridges and higher ground during a thunderstorm. If your tent is on a ridge or near a tree, get out and move to safer terrain until the storm passes.

3. Avoid trees and bushes that that are taller than others. Look for a ravine or depression before a storm hits. If you're with a group, spread out at 20-foot intervals to reduce the risk of multiple injuries. Never huddle together.

4. Most lightning deaths are caused by ground current. Never lie flat on the ground. Reduce your overall footprint by crouching and putting your feet close together.

Shed the shoes, runners.

Barefoot's the way to go at the second annual Naked Foot 5K on Oct. 6.

The race, sponsored by ALTRA Footwear, is part of a whole festival of happenings celebrating the naked foot. Also planned? Toe painting (yes!), a stand-up paddleboard race, an obstacle course, live music and prizes.

The 5K starts at 9 a.m.; the festival runs until noon at The Quarries, 11400 N. MoPac Blvd. (Loop 1).

Keep your shoes on if you prefer.

Entry fee is $40 ($25 for students and free for children under 12.) To register, go to active.com/5k-race/austin-tx/the-naked-foot-5k-2012.

The Nashville-based program Soles4Souls will collect donated shoes and deliver them to people in need.