For some people camping during lightning and thunderstorms is terrifying for others it may make the trip more of an adventure. Regardless of how you feel about camping in such conditions the one thing that is important is everybody knows what to do to keep safe.
No matter how much we plan or when in the year we choose to go camping, things may not always go as planned.
The one thing that we can not plan for is the weather and with this month’s recent thunderstorms and lightning across the UK, I thought this post may help you to safely camp in this type of weather.
It is easier if you know there is a risk of this type of weather beforehand, but it can also take us by surprise, especially if you are having a tech-free time away and limiting the use of phones and or internet. In this case, you may not be aware of any weather warnings unless you have a nice campsite owner who will give you some warning, or you are told by other campers on the site.
If you are wild camping this will not be the case as most people wild camping are out of the way and only in direct contact with those they are with. Not only that you will probably be a distance from your car if you have travelled that way and parked up somewhere a few miles away.
In this case, the best thing you can do is to try and stand on something that is an electrical insulator such as dry wood or rubber and adopt the brace position which is discussed and shown below.
Your Camping Environment
A good practice, whenever you are camping, is to familiarise yourself with your environment. Things you should take into consideration are:
Where you are pitched. Are there large trees nearby? These are great to use to help shade your pitch when the weather is good, and the sun is strong but can be dangerous in adverse weather. Take into consideration the height of trees in the area as you do not need to be pitched directly under them to be within a fall zone. As long as you are aware that they are there it can help you plan quickly and precisely if the weather turns.
Risk of flooding. Are there rivers nearby or are you pitched in a low laying area? Thunderstorms often bring flash floods especially after a dry spell where the water is not absorbed into the ground as quickly. Low lying areas and glens can also be at risk as the water runs down the land and gathers at the lowest points. Although these are the safest points when lightning strikes.
Distance to a safe building or car. If a major storm were to hit how close are you to a safe building or car that you can take shelter in till the storm passes. Most site campers have their cars next to their pitch so you can quickly get into your car if lightning starts but be aware if it is matched with a thunderous rainstorm that you are not going to end up in a flooded area.
This is a camping nightmare, and if like us you are on Social Media and are part of any of the camping groups you are bound to have seen some of the pictures that have been posted. The thing is you can rarely predict flooding when it is caused by such storms unless the campsite has been flooded on a regular basis during previous storms. In this case, most site owners will give you a warning where they can.
An area can flood really quickly after dry spells and flash flooding brought on by these storms can be dangerous and costly. The water can also drain within a few hours in some places.
We feel it is best to take precautions and ask site owners if storms are on the way and to pack away what you can just in case. I know it would be a pain, but sometimes it is better to be safe than sorry.
Items such as clothes, sleeping bags, quilts, tent carpets are best packed away if you can get the chance when a storm is imminent.
If you have EHU, unhook it and store it away somewhere dry and safe.
Pack away any electricals or cookers too.
Thunder itself is not dangerous unless you are terrified of it, but the weather it brings can be. If you are terrified of thunder for any reason it can make you panic and make making decisions more difficult and they can often be the wrong decisions as they are made rashly.
Many people who are scared will often just want to hide under a duvet until it goes away. When camping this is not the best place to be.
If you can hear thunder you are within 10 miles of the storm and also within striking distance if there is lightning. Yes, lightning can travel that far, and the most dangerous lightning is that which is positively charged, and it will strike away from the rain, meaning away from where the storm actually is.
So, if you hear thunder, get yourself to a safe place just to be sure. It is also important to wait for at least 30 minutes after the last lightning strike before going back out as lightning can still strike even when the sun comes back out and the rain has stopped.
Before leaving the tent and if you have just heard thunder but have not had any lightning it is best to unhook any electrics and store them away safely as above.
It may also be worth bundling electrics, clothing and bedding into your car too. Although if you are using your car to take refuge from the storm ensure you allow enough room for yourselves to get in too.
I could have been so easily caught out with that this week when I decided I would just go out and feed the rabbits only 15 minutes after a thunderstorm. I thought it was safe, it had been 15 minutes since the last strike, the rain had stopped, and the heavy clouds had moved.
I was just putting the rabbit feed back in the hut, a metal shed at that when out of the blue there was another lightning strike followed by a clap of thunder. I just froze as I realized where I was stood, the shed was quickly closed, and I got myself back inside.
Now I love thunderstorms, but I also like to keep myself safe and do not take risks as I’ve had encounters before with thunderstorms.
The weather that most commonly accompanies thunder is heavy or even torrential rain, hail, lightning and even the odd tornado. Yes, even here in the UK, tornados and/or wind funnels are becoming common. Wind funnels are funnels that you see coming down from the clouds, in order for it to be called a tornado it has to touch the ground, and this is when it becomes dangerous.
This can often be the most dangerous part of thunderstorms as lightning is unpredictable. You never know when or where it is going to strike.
Lightning comes in 3 forms, inner cloud strikes, cloud to cloud strikes and cloud to ground strikes. Cloud to the ground being the one that can strike you.
• Lightning is a giant discharge of electricity and can contain 1 hundred million electric volts.
• Lightning always comes before thunder, that is because light can travel faster than sound.
• Lightning is not just confined to thunderstorms but also can come with forest fires, snowstorms, volcano eruptions and hurricanes.
• Lightning can kill you and is one of the biggest weather-related killers in most countries. 10% of people struck by lightning die.
• Lightning does not have to directly strike you directly to cause injury or death. Lightning can be conducted and electrocute you through other means.
• Do not shelter under trees or use an umbrella during a thunderstorm.
• Do not go in the water, if you are swimming or out on a boat, kayak, paddleboard or dinghy, get out the water as fast as you can. Water DOES conduct electricity, especially when it is dirty or salty.
• Your tent will not protect you from lightning, only a solid, brick or concrete building is best suited here. But stay away from walls and don’t lay on concrete floors. Some structures have metal structures within walls and floors.
• A metal-roofed car will offer you some protection but keep body parts away from the metal parts including the main body of the car which is covered by a very thin material.
• Avoid being the tallest thing in the area. If caught outside, please adopt the brace position.
• Do not take baths or showers as water pipes are metal and water can also be a conductor of electricity.
• Do not use landline phones. We know most people use mobiles and these are a lot safer so if you do need to make an emergency call please do so via a mobile phone.
The Brace Position
The brace position is adopted by standing firmly on the ground, feet shoulder-width apart, then drop to a crouched position and place your head between your knees. you can also rest your hands on your knees.
The idea is to make yourself as small as possible to reduce the chances of being struck.
It is best to remove any other objects that you can such as rucksacks, backpacks and also lay down walking poles and place them away from you. Any metal should be placed about 20 meters if possible.
We hope this blog will help dispel any myths about camping during lightning and thunderstorms and helps to keep you safe if you are ever caught in a storm while camping. It can be pretty scary out there, especially if you are camping with your children.
We hope by knowing what to do you will remain calmer and stay safer.
It may also be a good idea to get insurance for camping and your camping gear and if this is something you would like to do check out our blog on it – https://campmehappy.com/tent-and-camping-insurance