Jump to content

Nighttime Thunderstorm During Campout - Shelter in Place or Evacuate?


Recommended Posts

It's time for Springtime pop-up thunderstorms that can occur any time day or night, often without warning. So, your troop consisting of 30+ scouts and a half dozen ASMs have bedded down for the night at a local state park, each in their own COVID-required tent or hammock, pitched in a stand of mature pine trees. No severe weather watches or warnings are in place. The campsite is adjacent to a large lake with relatively level surrounding topography.  Nearby is an open picnic shelter adjacent to the lake, and an enclosed bathhouse a little further away. At 2 AM in the morning you're awoken by sudden intense lightning and thunder, and light rain. The rain quickly ramps up to a torrential downpour but with no significant wind. Phone reception is spotty and radar slow to load, but the storm continues unabated. Having been jolted awake by the sudden onset of the storm, in your addled state do you leap from your (hopefully) warm and dry cocoon yelling for everyone to jump out of their sleeping bags and hightail it a hundred yards to the shelter or bathhouse, or do you tell everyone to stay put and hope for the best (and what if they disagree and refuse)? Go!

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Replies 33
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

Top Posters In This Topic

Popular Posts

Maybe you switch to a location where you can get weather radar. I think you'd earlier compared lightning deaths to things like biking, dog bites, etc. One difference with lightning is the possibility

The only correct choice would be go to the bath house as this is the only substantial building present. (Any Close hard top cars would be good also Open shelters look inviting but offer no l

The only surprise by the weather in Western PA is when it is unnervingly calm for more than 18 hours straight. Those bright sunny days with little breeze give me the willies.

The only correct choice would be go to the bath house as this is the only substantial building present.

(Any Close hard top cars would be good also

Open shelters look inviting but offer no lighting protection and maybe even an increased risk.

Just look on the first page of BSA lighting awareness page.

If they youth refuse to go good subject for a troop confernce .

your other adults are the main issue?

 

Lighting you go indoors no questions (search lightning deaths if you have any questions)

 

John

  • Like 1
  • Upvote 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

You hunker down and warn them to stay in their tents and not get in the open.  The shelter is just as likely to be a lightening draw as a tent, as is the boathouse, and they are on the lake which is also open.  Stay away from the trees if possible.  Do not touch metal of any kind.  Assure they all understand and whatever you do, they need to stay separate as they are.  Once the storm moves out, you can appraise the damage, if there is any.  Do not need what we had at the 85 Jamboree the first night when Hurricane Bob ran a squall line through our campsite, knocking down one tent, busting tree branches, and causing some boys to panic.  

 

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
8 minutes ago, jcousino said:

The only correct choice would be go to the bath house as this is the only substantial building present.

(Any Close hard top cars would be good also

Open shelters look inviting but offer no lighting protection and maybe even an increased risk.

Just look on the first page of BSA lighting awareness page.

If they youth refuse to go good subject for a troop confernce .

your other adults are the main issue?

 

Lighting you go indoors no questions (search lightning deaths if you have any questions)

 

John

I would be leery of the bath house unless I knew for sure it was grounded.  It is on the lake and likely has lots of metal, like pipes.

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

Read BSA policy on what type of building is best. Backpacker had a Short QA on part of that question March 26,2010 Are Hammocks Safe in Lightning?

Heavy rain only i would stay put heavy wind or lightning i am moving the the building, Plumping is one of the items that make a building more lighting safe.

 

  • Upvote 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
19 minutes ago, skeptic said:

You hunker down and warn them to stay in their tents and not get in the open.  The shelter is just as likely to be a lightening draw as a tent, as is the boathouse, and they are on the lake which is also open.  Stay away from the trees if possible.  Do not touch metal of any kind.  Assure they all understand and whatever you do, they need to stay separate as they are.  Once the storm moves out, you can appraise the damage, if there is any.  Do not need what we had at the 85 Jamboree the first night when Hurricane Bob ran a squall line through our campsite, knocking down one tent, busting tree branches, and causing some boys to panic.  

 

Let me revise this a bit.  Shelter in place if you can determine a safe location that is low, dry, and less likely to carry current.  Rethinking my concern for the boat house, if there are is enough space, as long as it is separated from the ground inside, that may be best.  Obviously, a vehicle is better, but you still have to get to any of these things.  The picnic shelter is an absolute no-no.  Kind of a hard decision, and storms do catch you on occasion, no matter how well planned, especially on back packs.  Away from trees, stay insolated from the ground a well as possible, do not touch metal or anything likely to carry current, stay low and as small as possible (they recommend grabbing knees in some info).  Now, if there is enough time, other options may be better.  Hopefully you chose a good spot for the tent, if you have to stay in it, one that is not too low or near large trees.  The insolation issue still applies.  You also need to stay as far from the water as possible; but that should have been part of setting up in the first place.  Fortunately, in the mountains, you can be able to be the lesser transmitter of the lightning.  At summer camp, we generally try to move the people inside the buildings of course.  We do have some outlying campsites, and they could be an issue if getting to the buildings exposes them more.  No absolutes.  Low, insolated, do not touch things, and hope it blows over so you can adjust more safely.  

 

Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, Rock Doc said:

It's time for Springtime pop-up thunderstorms that can occur any time day or night, often without warning. So, your troop consisting of 30+ scouts and a half dozen ASMs have bedded down for the night at a local state park, each in their own COVID-required tent or hammock, pitched in a stand of mature pine trees. No severe weather watches or warnings are in place. The campsite is adjacent to a large lake with relatively level surrounding topography.  Nearby is an open picnic shelter adjacent to the lake, and an enclosed bathhouse a little further away. At 2 AM in the morning you're awoken by sudden intense lightning and thunder, and light rain. The rain quickly ramps up to a torrential downpour but with no significant wind. Phone reception is spotty and radar slow to load, but the storm continues unabated. Having been jolted awake by the sudden onset of the storm, in your addled state do you leap from your (hopefully) warm and dry cocoon yelling for everyone to jump out of their sleeping bags and hightail it a hundred yards to the shelter or bathhouse, or do you tell everyone to stay put and hope for the best (and what if they disagree and refuse)? Go!

Well first I would say monitor reports before you go and modify plans if necessary. If the atmosphere is that unsettled, might not be a good weekend to camp. Or, adjustments might need to be made as far as location. Move to a less interesting location closer to hard shelter. Second, make sure you have all the necessary weather apps and a weather radio however, don't rely on weather apps which are often wrong. Keep your eyes up and monitor weather yourself. Third, don't set up in a stand of mature trees. Pick a clearing that is not elevated or in a low or runoff spot prone to water. If no clearings, then follow same -- avoid elevation and low spots; pick a location somewhat sheltered from expected wind/storm direction; don't set up under any grandfather trees. Go plans are also dependent on region and geography. Tornadic activity is rare where I am in the northeast but common in the southeast where part of my family is from. In the northeast, I'm more likely to chance outdoor activity; less so in the southeast. If you have not planned this out ahead of time and are caught out, head for the closest hard structure. If you are in the northeast and wind is not an issue, heading for cars you've kept close by might be acceptable. No debate allowed about go time.  That procedure should be established before hand. My attitude towards adverse weather is different than some. In the past, I have had to cope with it on a professional level and I don't take chances. I've noted a different attitude among those who interact with it recreationally and are looking forward to a weekend out with kids that they don't want to cancel and are more willing to take risks.

Thanks for this. I think these tabletop exercises are really useful.  

 

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

We had a situation at a summer camp a few years ago.  Storm hit middle of night, constant lightning.  Camp had us stay in tents as they felt the run/walk across an open field was more dangerous.  It was nearly four hours of constant lightening... scouts were able to play cards without flashlights in their tents.  One of the worst lightening storms I was in. Nearly no wind.  
 

It was a tough call either way.  I think they probably should have evacuated us before the storm hit but who knows how quickly it ramped up.  

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

This concern over lightning strikes seems like nothing more than yet another case of "We got sued, so now we have rules for it".  The death rate in the US for lightning strikes is around 50 per year.  To put that in perspective, 17,000 people in the US die every year from slipping or tripping and falling down.  And yet, we have guidance from the BSA telling us that "safety" requires dragging people out of bed in the middle of the night and then hustling them through the woods over uneven ground to shelters because they might get struck by lightning.

So yeah, I'm not getting my scouts out of bed for a thunderstorm.  Now, if you tell me there is a storm from coming with anticipated straight-line winds of 50+ mph, that's a whole different story. 

However, I did have a mate get electrocuted on a high adventure when I was a scout.  He set up his tent over some tree roots and ended up with a couple of nice stripes across his chest  where the lightning arced over his chest. (he was fine, don't worry)  So if I thought storms were coming, I would do a safety check to make sure no one was immediately under a really tall tree or a tree with branches that didn't look healthy.

________________________________________________________________

Other things with a similar mortality rate in the US:

Death by bees, hornets and wasps: 62/yr

Death from dog bites:  30-50/yr

Death from flood: 101/yr

Death from skiing: 38/yr

Death from bicycling: 84/yr

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Weather can be very unpredictable and being prepared can be a challenge. Over a long period in Scouting, I remember dealing with a tornado passing very near camp while we were away from any manmade shelters as well as at least three lightning strikes in the immediate camp area. Portable weather radio, weather apps on cell phones today and improved forecasting make it much easier to be prepared.

 My most vivid weather  lesson, however,  came as a private pilot. I had flown my son and a couple of his friends to a nearby state park that had a runway. We spent a great morning on the lake and made plans to leave immediately after lunch. I am always wary of summer pop up storms and was anxious to leave as soon as possible. We only had a short thirty minute flight to our home airport. Even though the skies looked fine with some cumulus building, I made  a quick phone call to flight service to double-check conditions .  They saw no weather issues and their radar was totally clear. Good to go. Or so I thought …

About ten minutes into the flight, the stormscope in the plane began to light up behind us indicating lightning and rapid storm development. In the next ten minutes, it was like watching popcorn erupting on the storm scope encircling us in all directions around us. Air traffic control could see the development of storms on their radar and recognized the danger to us. They provided us with an amazing job routing us directly above a major metropolitan airport straight into our adjacent home field. As I approached the airport, I witnessed one of the most amazing sights that I have ever seen. It was a black curtain of blinding torrential rain about three miles north heading toward the airfield. The tower was urgently issuing instructions to other small plane pilots who had been caught unaware also. We landed just a couple of  minutes before the rain engulfed us as I taxied off the runway.  I sat inside the plane with the oblivious boys, my clothes just as soaked as if I was sitting outside. It was a lesson in the awesome power and unpredictability of Mother Nature that I have never forgotten.

Link to post
Share on other sites
20 minutes ago, gpurlee said:

Weather can be very unpredictable and being prepared can be a challenge. Over a long period in Scouting, I remember dealing with a tornado passing very near camp while we were away from any manmade shelters as well as at least three lightning strikes in the immediate camp area. Portable weather radio, weather apps on cell phones today and improved forecasting make it much easier to be prepared.

 My most vivid weather  lesson, however,  came as a private pilot. I had flown my son and a couple of his friends to a nearby state park that had a runway. We spent a great morning on the lake and made plans to leave immediately after lunch. I am always wary of summer pop up storms and was anxious to leave as soon as possible. We only had a short thirty minute flight to our home airport. Even though the skies looked fine with some cumulus building, I made  a quick phone call to flight service to double-check conditions .  They saw no weather issues and their radar was totally clear. Good to go. Or so I thought …

About ten minutes into the flight, the stormscope in the plane began to light up behind us indicating lightning and rapid storm development. In the next ten minutes, it was like watching popcorn erupting on the storm scope encircling us in all directions around us. Air traffic control could see the development of storms on their radar and recognized the danger to us. They provided us with an amazing job routing us directly above a major metropolitan airport straight into our adjacent home field. As I approached the airport, I witnessed one of the most amazing sights that I have ever seen. It was a black curtain of blinding torrential rain about three miles north heading toward the airfield. The tower was urgently issuing instructions to other small plane pilots who had been caught unaware also. We landed just a couple of  minutes before the rain engulfed us as I taxied off the runway.  I sat inside the plane with the oblivious boys, my clothes just as soaked as if I was sitting outside. It was a lesson in the awesome power and unpredictability of Mother Nature that I have never forgotten.

This is why you can't pay attention to weather apps beyond general information. You need to understand that weather can literally happen over your head. You need to have a healthy respect for it.  

Link to post
Share on other sites

Oh yeah weather can be unpredictable. I went camping with my family on a bald. Checked weather prior to going on the trip, again in the parking lot, a third time on the climb up, and a 4th time prior to setting up camp. Wife was in the kids tent reading to them, and something told me to check the weather radio one more time. Sure enough lightning storm was a few miles away and headed in our direction. took us two trips to move everything, and the wife and I barely made it on the second trip before the storm hit.

Link to post
Share on other sites
13 hours ago, jcousino said:

The only correct choice would be go to the bath house as this is the only substantial building present.

(Any Close hard top cars would be good also

Open shelters look inviting but offer no lighting protection and maybe even an increased risk.

Just look on the first page of BSA lighting awareness page.

If they youth refuse to go good subject for a troop confernce .

your other adults are the main issue?

 

Lighting you go indoors no questions (search lightning deaths if you have any questions)

 

John

In absolute terms I agree with you that the bathhouse would be the safest option. However, what are your thoughts about how quickly you could roust 30+ scouts (including moody teenagers who can sleep through a zombie apocalypse) and get them to stumble 100 yards in the dark while the rain is coming down in buckets? FYI my question is loosely based on an actual situation

Link to post
Share on other sites
13 hours ago, skeptic said:

You hunker down and warn them to stay in their tents and not get in the open.  The shelter is just as likely to be a lightening draw as a tent, as is the boathouse, and they are on the lake which is also open.  Stay away from the trees if possible.  Do not touch metal of any kind.  Assure they all understand and whatever you do, they need to stay separate as they are.  Once the storm moves out, you can appraise the damage, if there is any.  Do not need what we had at the 85 Jamboree the first night when Hurricane Bob ran a squall line through our campsite, knocking down one tent, busting tree branches, and causing some boys to panic.  

 

This ended up being our decision, to hunker down primarily due to lack of high winds. We reasoned that trying to wake and move 30+ scouts in the dark during heavy rain might be more risky than staying put. Our situation was not any different than the surrounding area (no prominent features), was not prone to flooding, and the bathhouse was too small to accomodate our entire group.

Link to post
Share on other sites

If there is any chance of thunderstorms in the forecast, I'd be ready to head to the shower house OR have enough vehicles available for scouts/adults to shelter in. Doing anything else will put yourself and the scouts at risk. 

I would invest in a lightning detector that can wake you up with lightning is within 20 miles of your location. That will get you some time arouse your scouts (no easy task) and into shelter. Having a NOAA weather radio that will awake you when a severe thunderstorm or tornado warning is issued is a good idea also. 

  • Upvote 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...