Lightning strikes couple camping in Catskills forest

Above: Two hemlock trees scarred by the lightning that hit a husband and wife in Tannersville on Wednesday, March 16. Photo by Forest Ranger Rob Dawson. 

A man and woman from Princeton, New Jersey were struck by lightning while camping in the Greene County Catskills on the night of Wednesday, March 16, according to the New York State Department of Conservation.

The married couple, a man and a woman in their twenties who are otherwise not being identified, were camping in the Catskills with their dog on Wednesday night. 

They had set up their campsite in a hemlock grove about three-quarters of a mile from the North-South Lake Campground in the town of Hunter, New York State Forest Ranger Rob Dawson said.

Around 6 p.m., as they were cooking dinner, a thunderstorm swept over the area, Dawson said.

Lightning struck two hemlock trees located about five feet away from where they had pitched their tent, Dawson said.

“It basically had its bark blown off,” he said of one of the trees.

The lightning travelled from the trees to both the man and the woman, either through the “ground effect” or from a “side flash” coming off the trees, Dawson said.

The woman was knocked unconscious. The man possibly lost consciousness as well, Dawson said. Their dog was uninjured. 

The man called 911 from a cell phone, and soon about 30 first responders from seven different Catskills rescue agencies were mobilized to respond to the incident.

A command post was set up at a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation parking area at Schutt Road, Dawson said.

Responders hiked about a quarter of a mile into the woods amid rain squalls to reach the couple.

When they arrived, the found that both husband and wife had been injured by the lightning strike, Dawson said.

The man had a loss of sensation in his legs and could not walk; he was carried to an ambulance a quarter of a mile away in a litter, Dawson said. He also sustained a concussion. The woman was able to walk the distance with assistance, he said.

Two ambulances from Hunter Ambulance Service transferred the pair to Albany Medical Center. The woman was released from the hospital on Wednesday, March 16 after being treated for minor injuries and is doing well, Dawson said. 

The man was still in the hospital being monitored on Thursday, March 17, Dawson said. 

Responders from the Tannersville Rescue Squad, the Haines Falls Fire Department, Greene County Emergency Medical Services, the Palenville Fire Department, the Hunter Fire Department and forest rangers from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation were at the scene from 6 p.m. to about 8 p.m., Dawson said.

The incident was an unusual one, Dawson said. Lightning strikes are rare in the North-South Lake area of the Catskills, particularly in March, which is not thunderstorm season, he said.

Above: The view near North-South Lake in 2013. Photo by Andy Arthur, via Flickr

The couple was camping in a location that was relatively low-risk for a lightning strike, Dawson said. They were in the middle of the forest under a canopy of trees—not on a peak, a summit or in an open meadow. The trees that were struck were higher than the rest of the canopy, Dawson said.

Even more odd was the fact that the pair were the only two campers in the entire area that night, Dawson said.

“We’ve never had something like this, on a Wednesday in March with only two campers in the entire preserve,” he said. “They pick a spot and get struck by lightning. It’s very surprising.”

Correction: The couple is from New Jersey, where they recently moved from Texas. Also, the woman was released from the hospital on Wednesday night, but the husband remained in the hospital on Thursday for monitoring.