Camping When Severe Weather Strikes

Even though we just talked about camping in bad weather last month in this blog, with the tragic deaths of at least four from a tornado hitting a boy scout camp, I wanted bring it up again.

I love to camp, but I think it’s better to be safe than sorry, so being prepared is essential.

The first thing I’m going to recommend to everyone is that you know where you are. By that I mean know what county you’re in. It’s on just about every map you look at so before you go camping anywhere, make note of the county so that if bad weather is headed your way you know if you’re in danger.

The next thing I’m going to recommend is that you get yourself a portable weather radio like the Oregon Scientific WR602. It’s small and portable so it will take up very little space when you’re packing all your camping gear. Some FRS radios even have built in weather radios so you may want to get a multi tasker if you use portable radios to communicate with your group.

The next thing to be aware of is understanding the dangers possible where you’re camping. If you’re camping in the gulf coast area or Atlantic seaboard in mid to late summer then there’s always a chance of a hurricance and I probably don’t have to tell you you don’t want to do that. Fortunately, there is little chance of getting hit by a hurricane while camping since you’ll almost always have ample warning.

The bigger dangers are the weather events that sneak up on you like tornadoes, lightning and flash flooding.

Since tornados have been in the news a lot lately and they can happen with very little warning, let’s talk about them first.

Obviously, no tent, camper, RV, or park model, is a safe place to be during a tornado so staying put is not a good idea in this case. Again, being prepared is going to be the best bet. Ask a park ranger where to go in the event of bad weather – most campgrounds have shelters that are safe places to be during a tornado (typically bathrooms, but be sure to ask).

If you can’t find a shelter or there simply isn’t one nearby, but you are close to your vehicle – leave. I know that most people say that your vehicle isn’t a safe place to be in a tornado but if you know which way it’s coming from – your vehicle is probably the fastest way to “get the heck out of dodge.” And remember, at least in your vehicle, you’re strapped in and somewhat protected from flying debris.

If a tornado is coming and you have no way to escape and there’s no shelter nearby, head for the low ground. If you can find a ditch, lay down in it and cover your head. Otherwise, just find the lowest area possible since tornadoes don’t typically down very well.

Another very real danger especially right now if you’re camping just about anywhere in the midwest is the danger of flash flooding. Most people don’t view water as being a threat, which makes it even more dangerous. Unlike with tornadoes, if you’re in a low lying area experiencing torrential downpours or there is a flash flood warning in your area, then you’ll want to make your way to high ground. Don’t try to cross any rivers or streams even if you were able to before the rain because the additional water can easily sweep you off your feet and pull you under.

Heavy water can wash out trails, roads, and bridges, so be very careful when there is the possibility of flash flooding.

The last danger I want to cover is lightning, but keep in mind this is not a comprehensive list of dangers you should be cognizant of. Lightning doesn’t typically get a lot of press as a major danger but it does claim its share of hikers each year. For example, when hiking mountains in the summertime, guides will typically recommend that you start early in the morning because later in the day lightning is the number one danger of being on the mountain, and in the mountains weather shifts can happen dramatically and catch you off guard.

If you can heard thunder then there is danger of lightning. If you are near a shelter or a vehicle, then go inside. Remember, with lighting, your vehicle is a safe place to be as long as you’re not touching the outside of your vehicle. However, when that’s not possible then you want to stay low to the ground while maintaining minimal contact with the ground. You don’t want to lie flat on the ground. Instead, squat with your head between your knees. Remember that lightning doesn’t need to strike you directly to injure or kill – it only needs to get close.

I hope you’ve found these safety tips helpful, and I certainly don’t want you to think that camping is dangerous and that your life is in peril every time you venture to the great outdoors. All I’m saying is that a little bit of awareness and preparedness can go a long way in making sure that every camping trip you take has a happy ending.

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