What To Do When Stuck in a Tent During a Thunderstorm


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Spend enough time outdoors, and you’ll encounter a thunderstorm at some point in your camping ventures. Even the best-prepared of us can get caught off guard by a storm and find ourselves stuck in a tent during a gnarly one.

What To Do When Stuck in a Tent During a Thunderstorm

If you’re stuck in a tent during a thunderstorm, immediately move your tent out of the open and away from tall, lone objects to prevent lightning strikes. Additionally, avoid flood-prone areas in case of flash floods, stay warm to prevent hypothermia, and set up away from dead trees and branches.

This article will detail the risks of staying in your tent and how to minimize them. At the end, we will also list some advice that can help you prepare or prevent these circumstances.


Flash Floods, Lightning, Hail, Oh My! Risks of Storms While Camping

To keep yourself safe, it’s necessary to understand what exactly is most likely to cause you harm when you’re outside during a thunderstorm. Knowing the risks allows you to tailor your preparation toward minimizing these particular dangers and maximizing your safety.

Hypothermia: The Most Common Cause of Death

The most common cause of death related to the weather is hypothermia. Hypothermia occurs when your body shuts down due to excessive heat loss. Unfortunately, it’s deceptively easy to become hypothermic, making prevention crucial.

Lightning Can Strike—Directly or Indirectly

It’s not direct strikes that harm most victims. Rather, side flashes and ground strikes account for the majority of lightning injuries and deaths.

Luckily, 90% of the time, lightning doesn’t kill. But it can leave lingering neurological, cardiac, and other damage behind that can impair your quality of life. It’s also terrifying to be hit by a hot bolt of ultra-concentrated electricity. Either way, it’s probably not your idea of a relaxing time.

Related Articles:
Are Rooftop Tents Safe in Thunderstorms?
How To Keep Your Tent From Blowing Away (5 Ways)

Flash Floods Occur Without Warning

Consider this: 6 inches (15 cm) of fast-moving water can knock your feet out from under you. Two feet (60.96 cm) of the stuff can move your car. Now imagine several feet of quick-moving water that rises over only minutes and can remove entire houses from their foundation. These are flash floods.

Because lightning typically goes for the highest objects around, it’s tempting to cram ourselves into narrow, low-lying areas that feel safer. However, thunderstorms that carry significant rainfall can induce flash floods. By nature, flash floods occur rapidly and without warning, meaning you’ll have little to no time to respond to a flash flood when it occurs.

Falling Objects and Large Hail Can Injure You

Rain, lightning, floods—thunderstorms really go all out, don’t they? They’ve got one more gift to offer us, though: falling objects that can crush our skulls and bodies.

Ever seen those home insurance commercials where a tree crushes a family home? Fierce gusts can detach dead tree limbs or even knock entire trees over. This is perilous enough in a house where you have a hard roof, wood beams, and many other layers of protection. But in a tent where it’s just some polyester between you and the outdoors, even a smaller fallen branch can mean grave injury or death.

Hail isn’t always going to be an issue, but it depends on the diameter. Hail that’s only a centimeter (.03 in) in diameter won’t likely hurt you if it taps you on the head. But hail that’s a few inches in diameter plummeting from the sky at high speeds will undoubtedly cause some harm. There’s a reason storm chasers often replace their windshields, and it’s not tornado debris.


How To Protect Yourself in a Thunderstorm

Humans have managed to survive thunderstorms for as long as we’ve existed. So it’s not necessarily the end of the world to be caught outside during one. It’s about playing it safe and knowing when to call it quits. Here’s how you can keep yourself safe from the above dangers:

Hypothermia: Bundle Up and Stay Dry

Getting wet from the rain, exposure to wind, and a lack of insulation will all increase your risk of hypothermia. 

To decrease your risk, try the following:

  • Insulate the ground: Since the ground can be pretty cold and take away heat, add some extra foam padding or blankets to insulate. This will also add a little more protection from ground lightning strikes.
  • Keep the moisture out: Utilize your rain fly and an extra plastic tarp to keep your tent from soaking through. Set up guy lines to keep the water on the rain fly from touching your tent.
  • Stay out of the wind: The wind makes you colder faster.
  • Bundle up in warm clothing: Jackets, pants, shirts, gloves, socks, and hats will be great companions here.

Lightning: Don’t Be the Tallest Thing Around (& More)

Contrary to common thought, it’s not metal or water that attract lightning—it’s height:

  • Stay low: Lightning seeks the easiest way to alleviate the dissonance in electric charge between the ground and the sky, often striking the tallest object around. Don’t camp in open fields, high mountains, and bare cliff sides.
  • Stay away from isolated, tall objects: Similarly, you’ll want to stay away from those tall, lone trees or other things likely to be struck. Lightning can indirectly strike you from as far as 90 feet (27 meters) away.
  • Blend into the terrain: That is, consider setting up in a forest near a set of trees that are short but of similar height (so that none of them are more likely to be struck than any other).
  • Stay small: Get into the lightning position (crouched, with your arms wrapped around your legs and the balls of both feet touching the ground). Minimize your contact with the ground.
  • Spread out: Groups should spread out so that one strike doesn’t cause mass injuries.

Flash Floods: Always Have an Escape Route

When it comes to flooding, keep an eye and an ear out for the rainfall.

  • Avoid flood-prone areas: Flooding will occur wherever the water flows, such as low-lying areas like valleys and narrow canyons where water can gain height quicker.
  • Have an escape plan: If water starts rising where you are, know exactly where you’ll seek protection from the flood in advance.

Falling Objects and Strong Winds: It’s All About Location

Be aware of your direct surrounding when you choose a location to station your tent in:

  • Canopies are great for hail: They’ll act as a roof and offer protection from the onslaught.
  • But avoid dead trees and branches: Setting up beneath a dead branch or next to a withering tree is a recipe for getting crushed.
  • Stake your tent: Keep your tent safely in place by anchoring it to the ground.

How To Prevent Getting Stuck in a Storm

We can’t predict everything, but we can prepare! Consider the following advice to keep you safe on your next camping trip once you’ve gotten out of this storm:

  • Always check the weather forecast before a trip.
  • Pay attention to the weather during your trip, especially during the late afternoon to evening (prime time for thunderstorms).
  • Take weather watches and warnings seriously.
  • Invest in an NOAA weather radio.

Conclusion

The best place to be during a thunderstorm is inside of a sturdy building. But if you’re stuck in a tent, this article’s advice will help minimize your risk of hypothermia, lightning strikes, crush injuries, and drowning. And if you find yourself in an urgent situation, be sure to contact emergency services as soon as possible.


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As an independent traveler, I try to share my positive and negative observations about van life as well as tips and tricks to make your life on the road easier. I travel and work in my old RV and would greatly appreciate a coffee from you if you find my content useful.

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