As we draw closer to spring and summer months, the days of snow and fear of icy roads will soon slip from our minds and thoughts of April showers bringing May flowers will soon be abundant. Unfortunately with those April showers comes the threat of thunderstorms.
Storms bring on a whole new set of dangers to would-be outdoor enthusiasts. High winds, torrential rains and lightning are just a few of the things we have to look forward to as we get closer to spring and summer.
If you find yourself in a vehicle on your way to a hike or campsite when a storm hits, it’s best to adjust your driving habits accordingly. Slow down to a safe speed, make sure to increase the distance between you and the vehicle in front of you and if your windshield wipers are on, make sure your headlights are too. In addition, watch for standing and moving high water. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), just 18-24 inches of moving water is enough to carry most vehicles downstream and standing pools of water can cause hydroplaning when they are hit with speed.
If you successfully make it to your campsite without incident, picking a storm safe location to set up camp should be your next order of business. When looking for a safe place to set up camp, avoid locations such as dry washes and creek beds. These areas can quickly become filled with fast-moving water even if the storm is many miles away. Also avoid areas where you are the tallest object or where you are surrounded by trees. Being the tallest object will make you a prime target for lightning and being surrounded by trees is dangerous during windy conditions as they can lose large branches and even be pushed over.
If you’re hiking when storm clouds gather overhead, there are a few things you can do to stay safe until the weather passes. If you are walking in a creek bed, for instance, the ever popular Narrows in Zion, get out and get to higher ground as quickly as possible. As mentioned above, creeks like these can swell very fast. If you find yourself in an open space, seek appropriate shelter such as a car or a grounded building (not trees) to avoid running the risk of being hit by lighting. NOAA reports that over the past 30 years, there have been an average of 47 lightning-related fatalities in the United States every year. If you can’t seek shelter, AccuWeater.com recommends crouching down and staying on the balls of your feet, do not lie down, but cover as little ground as possible.
If you are unfortunate enough to find yourself on the water, get to shore and seek shelter as quickly and safely as possible.
The best way to avoid being caught off guard by a spring or summer storm is to begin checking the weather several days before your planned trip and continue to watch it closely up until you leave for your tip. If it looks like the weather is going to be bad, stay home, it’s not worth the risk.