Camping Survival: Lightning Storm Safety

Okay, so you have planned your camping vacation for weeks and you are all packed and ready to go. Excited and eager, the kids are setting up camp in the backyard for practice. You check the weather, expecting it to be in the mid-nineties, but instead the weather-man has bad news, predicting thunderstorms and rain for the next three days.

Not wanting to put your family in a dangerous situation should you…

A) Cancel the camping trip and start making plans for a sunnier weekend?

B) Go anyhow and ignore the storm warning? They taught you to swim by throwing you in the lake as an infant.

C) Prepare yourself by knowing the risks and what to do to stay safe?

This is a familiar scenario to most campers at some time. Obviously ignoring the situation will not keep you safe. Many campers actually love to camp out in a storm. If you are one of them, then it is important to know the risks and know how to stay safe. If not, it might be best to reschedule to a weekend when the sun is shining.

Staying safe during a lightning storm

Lightning safety is good to know whether you are a seasoned full-time rver, a newbie out in a tent or won’t even come close to camping. You should know how to stay safe in a lighting storm no matter where you are. There are many things in life that you do not want to attract to you. A bolt of lighting from the heavens often qualifies.


When thunder roars, Go indoors!

The first thing that you want to do at the first hint of distant thunder is find suitable shelter. Do not wait too long to find shelter and stay sheltered for at least thirty minutes after the last strike of lightning Suitable shelter is considered a building or a vehicle that has a protective structure, the larger the better. A protective structure is one that is fully enclosed with a roof, walls, a floor and wiring or plumbing. Baseball dugouts, sheds, greenhouses and golf shelters are not suitable.

Your vehicle is a great choice when out in the wilderness. A safe vehicle is fully enclosed and metal-topped. Avoid touching anything metal. Do not use any electronic devices such as the radio. Convertibles, boats without cabins and riding movers are not suitable.

Your tent is not suitable shelter, however if this is your only shelter try to locate low ground, avoiding any tall trees. Ideally surround yourself with bushes and trees that are the same height or smaller than you if using your tent is unavoidable. A tent offers no protection from lightning.

Safety outdoors

You are not nearly as safe outside as you are in shelter. If you are stranded outside and suitable shelter is not within distance there are somethings you can do to lessen the odds of being struck by Thor’s Bolt. Your best choice is to find suitable shelter, however at times this option is not available.

If outside avoid anything that can conduct electricity. This includes water towers, radio antennas and all other elevated objects that act as lightning rods. Standing alone in a large open field is a definite safety concern because this will cause you to become a lightning rod.

Avoid open fields and the top of a hills Seek low ground. Set up camp in a valley, ravine or any other low area.

Out of the blue

Don’t let a blue sky and sunshine fool you. Very rarely a lightning bolt strikes out of the clear blue sky, giving “out of the blue” a deeper understanding. It may have traveled several miles to do so. Storms can be miles away and lightning can strike as far as ten miles.

Stay away from water

If your boat has no cabin, get ashore as soon as there is a chance of a storm. Stay out of the water and away from water. Stay away from wet items such as rope.

Closing Notes & Helpful Tips

When a storm is in the area, thunder trails behind the lightning by an estimated five seconds each mile. This is because sound travels about one mile in five seconds. Count the seconds from when you see the flash of lighting. Divide this by five to get an estimate of the distance of the storm.

It is best to stay indoors one half hour after the storm appears to be over.

Although it is great to know how to predict the upcoming weather, it helps tremendously when you have a professional on the job. Having a weather radio is a good idea to keep you up to date on local weather activity as soon as it is announced.

Getting struck by lightning is extremely rare. If it does occur get medical attention immediately.