Jump to content

Nighttime Thunderstorm During Campout - Shelter in Place or Evacuate?


Recommended Posts

11 hours ago, Eagle1993 said:

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.  

I agree that evacuation is the best course of action if an organized storm system is forecasted, but this scenario relates to the unpredictable pop-up storms common in spring and summer. 

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.

10 hours ago, elitts said:

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. 

This was my rationale too. Our tents/hammocks were widely spread throughout the campsite and gathering everyone together to move to the distant bathhouse seemed more risky. 

Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Owls_are_cool said:

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. 

All good points. However, in your mind, how far would be too far to move to a sturdy structure? I've certainly encountered situations at scout camps and state parks where it might take 15 minutes to reach a vehicle or enclosed building. Just trying to gauge folks tipping point between hunkering down and evacuating, because it's not always cut and dried.

Edited by Rock Doc
Link to post
Share on other sites
14 minutes ago, Rock Doc said:

how far would be too far to move to sturdy structure?

If you are caught in a storm, it is a judgement call on whether to shelter in place in tents or head to a real shelter. If that happened to me, then I have failed my troop for not being prepared for the weather. If thunderstorms are mentioned in the forecast (even a 20% chance), I would be tenting closer to shelter or ensure vehicles are close to camp. Last week in the south, there was a high risk for severe weather and tornados, I would not camp on that day/night. 

It is not fun being part of an event where someone dies because of a lightning strike (personal experience).

Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Rock Doc said:

All good points. However, in your mind, how far would be too far to move to a sturdy structure? I've certainly encountered situations at scout camps and state parks where it might take 15 minutes to reach a vehicle or enclosed building. Just trying to gauge folks tipping point between hunkering down and evacuating, because it's not always cut and dried.

Most troops in Oklahoma been there and done that a few times. It's not always cut and dried and the risk of moving 100 scouts and scouters can certainly be more dangerous than leaving in the tents.

I will say that lightning was my greatest fear as a SM, and a member of high adventure crews. Of course Tornados are a risk here in Oklahoma. We had one patrol on a patrol campout that abandoned their camp in the  middle of the night so they could drive out of harms way. There was no damage to the camp when they got back, but it was close. We had a huge storm during a Camporee with lightning hits all around, but the only unit that moved was the one on the hill. They stayed in cars all night. The leader (cook) who slept in the camp shelter said that lightning was hitting all around and he hoped nobody was heading there to get away from the lightning. Actually the real risk was the flash flooding in the creek. So, getting low campsites can have it's own risks.

I don't think there is an easy answer short of cancelling due to forecast. But, storms are so common in Oklahoma, troops would rarely get out. 

The most damage our group has incurred over the years was broken tent poles during 50mph winds at Philmont. The hail was eye opening as well. 

By coincidence, Oklahoma is getting fire danger warning and 50 mph winds as I write this post. What is a troop supposed to do?

Barry

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
20 minutes ago, Owls_are_cool said:

If that happened to me, then I have failed my troop for not being prepared for the weather. If thunderstorms are mentioned in the forecast (even a 20% chance), I would be tenting closer to shelter or ensure vehicles are close to camp. Last week in the south, there was a high risk for severe weather and tornados, I would not camp on that day/night. 

It is not fun being part of an event where someone dies because of a lightning strike (personal experience).

How exactly does that work?  Do you just not allow your troop to do any sort of backwoods camping?  Or you just switch the camp-out from a backpacking/canoe trip to a plop-n-drop camp-out any time there is a risk of a storm?   

I'm not trying to be an ass, but if that's truly how you operate your troop, I can't help think you are doing them a disservice.  Sometimes tragedies happen; and while reasonable precautions are worthwhile, there is such a thing as over-reacting.  Basing your camping decisions on the 0.000015% risk of dying from a lightning strike seems like a good example of such an over-reaction.

I mean, you are running a significantly greater risk of death for your scouts just by allowing them to prepare their own food and running the .00055% (36 times greater) risk of food poisoning.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

We always have lightning in the forecast so we pick our campsites accordingly. If I've ever had a sudden surprise lightning storm at 2am I slept through it. I don't doubt they happen but it would be unusual. In the summer, where I camp, storms are normally over by the time we go to bed. As for shower houses, wow, most I've seen are leaky with lots of grounded pipes and wires sticking out of them. Furthermore, putting 40 or so people in one is not likely in the ones I've seen. Given there's a shower house there are also cars. They would be safer, assuming they're not too far away.

All in all, I'd say stay in the tent. People are spread out and should be in a reasonably safe location, if they picked a safe spot.

We had a storm in South Dakota that was unusual. It sounded like one continuous thunder clap for about a half hour, amongst a big hail storm. We were much more worried about the hail. Given that we were backpacking the best option was to get under the sleeping pad. Surprisingly, no torn tents but a number of bent poles.

BTW, who camps within cell service? Maybe I'm just lucky but it's rare to have service.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
30 minutes ago, elitts said:

How exactly does that work?

Weather in Montana is always perfect for camping ;)

If I expect lightning, I have vehicles 20-30 ft away from camp. Last Nov, we had to change our campout location from the mountains, because of expected poor travel conditions, but we still camped in snow and icy conditions closer to town. 

You are right that backpacking in the wilderness increases risks due to weather. No cell service, so no way to get updated forecasts. I think that is an acceptable risk and a worthy challenge as long as you are equipped. Lightning striking the highest objects in an area is typical. In a more developed campground, you do not know if pipes or wires are running under your campsite, so the highest object rule can be broken. 

If I was running a day camp, summer camp, or camporee, I would bring in enough buses for lightning protection. Might be good to have in event an evacuation is needed. 

Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, elitts said:

How exactly does that work?  Do you just not allow your troop to do any sort of backwoods camping?  Or you just switch the camp-out from a backpacking/canoe trip to a plop-n-drop camp-out any time there is a risk of a storm?   

I'm not trying to be an ass, but if that's truly how you operate your troop, I can't help think you are doing them a disservice.  Sometimes tragedies happen; and while reasonable precautions are worthwhile, there is such a thing as over-reacting.  Basing your camping decisions on the 0.000015% risk of dying from a lightning strike seems like a good example of such an over-reaction.

I mean, you are running a significantly greater risk of death for your scouts just by allowing them to prepare their own food and running the .00055% (36 times greater) risk of food poisoning.

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 of mass casualties. Death or injury by dog or bike generally involves one person; a lightning strike under the wrong conditions can kill or injure multiple people.  BSA is not alone in having guidelines. They are pretty standard throughout most outdoors related organizations and activities. 

It is a good point about not trying to run somewhere once the storm is near. By then it's too late.  Kids are killed trying to run to safety. One thing I would suggest per CDC is to not leave kids sleeping on the ground in tents. Get them to sit up to minimize their point of contact. Put on any footwear with rubber soles and crouch low on something minimally conductive. 

I think this post is great. I rarely hear of units running tabletop drills on topics like these. I have come close enough to getting struck by lightning to take it very seriously. When your hair starts floating up in the air you know it's not good. 

  • Like 1
  • Upvote 2
Link to post
Share on other sites
18 minutes ago, yknot said:

Death or injury by dog or bike generally involves one person; a lightning strike under the wrong conditions can kill or injure multiple people.  BSA is not alone in having guidelines.

https://www.scouter.com/topic/25272-camp-bell-nh-lightning-strikes-injure-23-scout-3-adults/?tab=comments#comment-379018

 

Link to post
Share on other sites
18 hours ago, RememberSchiff said:

Seems like a good example of why crowding a bunch of people under a "shelter" isn't always a great option.

 

18 hours ago, yknot said:

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 of mass casualties. Death or injury by dog or bike generally involves one person; a lightning strike under the wrong conditions can kill or injure multiple people.  BSA is not alone in having guidelines. They are pretty standard throughout most outdoors related organizations and activities. 

It is a good point about not trying to run somewhere once the storm is near. By then it's too late.  Kids are killed trying to run to safety. One thing I would suggest per CDC is to not leave kids sleeping on the ground in tents. Get them to sit up to minimize their point of contact. Put on any footwear with rubber soles and crouch low on something minimally conductive. 

I think this post is great. I rarely hear of units running tabletop drills on topics like these. I have come close enough to getting struck by lightning to take it very seriously. When your hair starts floating up in the air you know it's not good. 

I agree with the idea of hunkering down and not being out "doing stuff" during a lightning storm.  Certainly I'm not going to be the guy standing there holding a baseball bat in an open baseball diamond with one going on or sailing across a lake in a Sunfish.  But you don't see many places actually cancelling events because there is a forecast chance of a storm, they just deal with it when it happens, then move along.

And I'm not even saying scouts shouldn't go hop into cars if they are adjacent to the campsite.  My only argument is that moving people any kind of distance because of a storm isn't a good choice given the risk of injuries from that vs the extremely low risk of a lightning strike.  For example, Camp Gerber's storm plan is to have everyone gather in the dining hall.  Which on it's face seems like a reasonable idea.  Except what it actually means is that the people in outlying campsites are hiking almost 3/4 of a mile through the woods, in the rain, at night, in order to get to the dining hall, because it's "safer".

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Interestingly hail is becoming the common concern the last few years in Oklahoma. A result of climate change? I don't know. But damage cost from hail far out weighs cost from other weather events. I'm not sure how well a tent will hold up to hail that breaks windshields. 

Barry

Link to post
Share on other sites

Maybe since I am a meteorologist, I take weather way too seriously, however, weather is a big part of PAUSE. Do we as leaders teach scouts by example to react to weather as it happens or do we think about the risks beforehand, ensure we have a weather monitoring and action plans?

Link to post
Share on other sites
15 minutes ago, Owls_are_cool said:

Maybe since I am a meteorologist, I take weather way too seriously, however, weather is a big part of PAUSE. Do we as leaders teach scouts by example to react to weather as it happens or do we think about the risks beforehand, ensure we have a weather monitoring and action plans?

Of course we think about the risks before hand, but it's important to keep in mind that the BSA program isn't about maintaining a "risk-free" environment.  In Scouts, risk-mitigation and safety are considered, but they aren't the driving focus of the program because many of the things we are doing have a certain amount of danger inherent in the activity.   So the question becomes, what level of risk is acceptable for scouts.  Clearly, the BSA thinks being in a tent during a storm is generally an acceptable risk, even if it's not the "safest possible" way to weather a storm; otherwise Philmont and Northern Tier wouldn't still be operating. 

So, now that we've established that staying in tents as an acceptable risk under normal circumstances, the only time we need to be making modifications to our camp-outs to mitigate risk are when the circumstances surrounding a trip aren't normal. 

And when it comes to weather monitoring and action plans, the only time I'd be concerned about those is when there is a significant risk of an acceptable risk scenario turning unacceptable.  For example, if I'm camping in Louisiana and there is a hurricane over the water but it's headed towards Florida, I'd keep weather monitoring on to make sure I know if the storm has shifted and is heading at us now instead of Florida.

I suspect you are correct that your being a meteorologist colors your thinking on this.  Most people tend to be hyper-aware about areas where their experience has focused their attention, particularly on issues of danger or risk.  I know that to this day, I still don't enjoy going swimming with the scouts because after spending 9 years as a lifeguard when I was younger, I can't relax enough to enjoy myself because I'm busy noticing all the dangerous things everyone is doing.

  • Like 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...