Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Paddling in Lightning?

Here is a great article that was published today on Paddling.net by Tamia Nelson: Lessons Learned. Thunder? I Wonder… More Thoughts on Seeking Shelter From the Storm

The article discusses the danger of lightning storms in a very practical way.  It considers the actions of some paddlers who reacted to the storm in a way that is familiar to many of us that have been in a similar situation, and provides thoughtful analysis.  It also provides some sound advice which should be heeded by paddlers. Here's a brief excerpt as an example.
If you're paddling on inland waters, however, you should begin casting about for a refuge ASAP. Since buildings and vehicles are likely to be in short supply, you'll have to make the most of whatever the country affords. Give tall, solitary trees a wide berth. Avoid clearings, hilltops, and ridgelines, too. You don't want a room with a view, after all. You'll get the best odds when you hunker down among a uniform stand of not‑too‑tall trees. Are there no such trees to be seen? Then look for a sheltering valley.
In the excerpt above they mention finding shelter amongst trees that are not among the taller trees.  At a SCC talk I once attended, the Environment Canada fellow that was talking to us mentioned that willows might be a good bet for waiting out a storm.  They are low so as not to attract lightning, have many branches to protect you from being blown away, are well rooted, are not large enough to blow down and hurt you in a wind, and have no large branches to fall off.  However, the willows aren't going to do much to improve your comfort level.

I would add a piece of my own advice to the article that was not mentioned.  That would be to prepare for the storm before you ever head out for a paddle and bring with you day tripping gear. Day tripping gear should include a tarp and a number of other amenities that will make pulling to shore away from camp and waiting out a storm much more comfortable.  By having a bit of gear with you (for example a day pack, tarp, rain gear, survival kit, food, small stove, fire kit) it releases you of the pressure to push to get back to camp.  If you have left other people behind at a camp, they should know that you are going to seek refuge under the threat of a storm and they'll know you are OK and that they not need to worry while you are out in it and have not returned right away. With a few supplies with you, you can even spend a safe (but perhaps uncomfortable) night away from camp while you await safe conditions.

Here is a video from NOLS about lighting for those active in the outdoors.