Tips for Camping in a Thunderstorm

Tips for Camping in a Thunderstorm
High winds, heavy rain and hail associated with thunderstorms can be frightening. But it's the lightning from these storms that poses the most serious danger to campers. Lightning will strike whatever is closest to the cloud it is coming from. The National Weather Service's Lightning Safety website minces no words on this topic, stating simply: "There is NO safe place to be outside in a thunderstorm."  Weather will do what it will do, but as a camper it is possible to prepare for what Mother Nature dishes out, even when it is raining bullets and the sky is cracking with thunder. The best way to stay safe is to avoid the threat of lightning. But when that is not possible, there are still ways to reduce your risk.


Difficulty: Moderately Easy


Things You’ll Need:
  • Weather radio
  • Dry rubber sleeping pad
Step 1
Bring a weather radio on camping outings so you can be aware of severe-storm advisories. You can also estimate how far away lightning is striking by counting the number of seconds between when you see the flash of the lightning and when you hear the boom of thunder. Five full seconds represents 1 mile. If you only count 10 seconds, then you should be looking for cover.
Step 2
Avoid exposed areas like mountain summits, ridges and large meadows when choosing a campsite. Also stay away from especially tall or isolated trees. Do not camp right below the tallest tree in a field or open area. Once again, it will strike near the tallest thing around. Low-lying settings that are prone to flooding also are less than ideal.
Step 3
Seek a safe shelter when you hear the first rumbles of thunder. If your tent has a lot of metal poles in it, opt for setting up a tarp until the thunderstorm is over and hunker down under it amongst the trees. If possible, head to your vehicle or an enclosed building. Don't come back outside until 30 minutes after you stop hearing thunderclaps.
Step 4
Keep away from water bodies, metal camping gear and tall, isolated objects if you see lightning.
Step 5
Kneel or squat on a dry rubber sleeping pad with your feet close together if a lightning strike appears imminent and there is no time to seek safe shelter. Each member of your camping party should maintain a distance of at least 15 feet from one another to prevent lightning from traveling between persons.

Tips & Warnings

Get an early start when hiking in the mountains so you can make the descent from exposed peaks before thunderstorms typically begin forming in the early afternoon.
In an average year, lightning claims more lives than hurricanes and tornadoes combined.

Article Written By Kirk Brown

Kirk Brown is an award-winning freelance writer with two decades of diverse media experience. A former newspaper reporter and editor, he also was managing editor of an acclaimed scuba diving magazine. Brown has written scripts for more than 50 half-hour TV programs focusing on technology and health topics.

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