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Tents and Thunderstorms

4:25 p.m. on June 24, 2008 (EDT)
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Are there any safety concerns with aluminum tent poles in thunderstorms? Just concerned about what to do if I wake up to a thunderstorm in the middle of the night and I am sleeping under an aluminum arch.

7:31 p.m. on June 24, 2008 (EDT)
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Short answer - no.

Longer answer - Good news is that a tent is no more risky than being outside the tent. Bad news is that it makes no difference whether you are inside or outside the tent.

It depends on where you set the tent up. A tent offers no protection, so your risk is the same inside or outside the tent, aluminum poles or not. As long as you set your tent up in an area of low strike probability, you are less likely to suffer a strike (go to your local area's NOAA web site and follow the links on lightning safety - http://www.noaa.gov/ and click on "your state"). Obvious high probability of strike areas are on peaks or ridge lines, close to the tallest tree around, middle of a big open meadow (LNT guidelines say you shouldn't be camping in the middle of a meadow, anyway), anyplace your tent (or you) are the highest object around, ... Safer places include in a forested area with lots of trees of uniform height, in a valley, ... These are gross generalizations, since you could be on a slope with a slight depression, forming the shortest path for ground current or "splatter".

Reason that golfers are the highest strike rate of any sport is not so much the golf clubs, but being the highest thing for some distance and/or sheltering under lone trees.

This happens to be "Lightning Awareness Week", so the safety tips pages are pretty prominent on the various NOAA home pages.

Some statistics on lightning deaths in the US -

* 98% were outside
* 89% were male
* 30% were males between the ages of 20-25
* 25% were standing under a tree
* 25% occurred on or near the water

8:54 p.m. on June 24, 2008 (EDT)
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In many years of work on remote fire lookouts here in BC and Alberta, I dealt with a LOT of lightning. My home region is noted for severe summer lightning storms and northern BC has some dandies, as well.

I have been struck and/or had static buildups cause problems inside the prefab lookout hut three times and friends/colleagues of mine were struck as well. It is an exhilarating experience and one you don't forget, my last time was June 26, 1993, my final year in working forestry.

I never worry about lightning when camping, Bill gives his usual excellent advice on this and I simply watch where I camp. I am careful but not frightened about lightning, Grizzlies and avalanches and after 52 years of active outdoor life, I seem to still be here!

Don't sweat it, if you DO get hit, well, beats rotting in a hospital bed from osteosarcoma or some other vile disease, eh?

12:41 a.m. on June 26, 2008 (EDT)
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Great topic! Lightning is so beautiful yet so scary! What about trekking poles? I guess they would be similar to gulf clubs. They just seam like lightning rods, especially when I use them to set up my tarp.

12:39 p.m. on June 26, 2008 (EDT)
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Trekking poles, metal frame packs, etc. are all the same thing. If you are in a high risk area (e.g., you are the tallest object on a peak, in a meadow, wading in a lake, under or near a tall tree, ...), you are highly likely to get hit, whether carrying metal trekking poles (mine are carbon fiber ski poles), wearing a metal frame pack, in a tent with aluminum poles (on the lake {8=>O), ... If you are in a relatively low probability area (note I said "relatively low probability", not "zero risk"), you are less likely to suffer a strike. If you do get hit, the entry and exit points of the current are usually at contact points of your body with metal objects (including that Leatherman, Swiss Army Knife, or even keys and coins).

The usual advice of the experts, though, is to put your metal stuff some distance away from you in any of the situations - trekking poles, golf clubs, ice ax, pitons/chocks/Friends, metal pack frames, pots and pans, ... Read the NOAA website and Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills about how to position yourself if caught out (squat, all points of your body that touch the ground as close together as possible, stay out of caves and out from under rock overhangs, stay well away from isolated trees, etc etc etc). Keep in mind ground currents and "splatter". And, yes, there is such a thing as a "bolt from the blue" - a number of people have died from this in the area of the Front Range in Colorado, most notably a few years ago a group of golfers who had blue skies above - the originating cloud apparently was about 5-6 miles away somewhat out of view behind the first range of hills.

7:39 p.m. on June 26, 2008 (EDT)
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One thing I have learned to do is keep an eye on the sky.
More importantly, my barometer. Falling barometric pressure indicates foul weather approaching.
The rate at which pressure drops will tell you how fast a storm is approaching.
Drops of .02 to .03 inches per hour indicates slower moving weather systems, while drops of .05 to .06 inches per hour indicates faster systems.
Low readings under 29.50 inches suggests a strong thunderstorm.
Having some advance warning makes me feel a lot better, some of the areas I go to have deep river gorges and my view of the sky can be fairly obscured at times.
Pressure drops with altitude gains, but it is the two or three hour trend that is most important. There is a formula for converting readings taken at different altitudes to compensate for the difference.

Unfortunately I can't remember what it is, HA-HA!

8:39 p.m. on June 26, 2008 (EDT)
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Barometric pressure decreases by 1 inHg per 1000ft. I have a pretty good understanding of weather as my ob deals with it every day. I fly planes when I am not defying the A/C to be outside.

8:42 p.m. on June 26, 2008 (EDT)
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trouthunter, you just read the number on the contour line you are standing on for the altitude, then plug it into your electronic barometer.

Oh, wait, they stopped painting the contour lines on the ground because of funding cutbacks.

Actually, that's what the map is for (or GPSR). Assuming you know, as you should, where you are on the map, read off the altitude of the lake, trail junction, or peak where you are standing, enter that in your pocket or wrist altimeter, then read the barometric pressure (and write it in your notebook, next to when you got to the location - you do keep track of where you are, don't you? No, not you, trouthunter, I know you do. I mean the generic "you").

The rule of thumb is that the pressure drops at 1 inch of mercury for every 1000 ft of altitude gain. That is a fairly rough rule, though, since it would tell you that the half-pressure point in the atmosphere is at roughly 15,000 ft, where it is actually around 18,000 ft. So keep track on the map of where you are, get your altitude from that, and set your barometer. Or use the GPS-derived altitude. (Watch out, though - a number of the Garmin GPSRs display only the barometric altitude, which you have to recalibrate frequently. It is possible to see the GPS-derived altitude, but it requires lots of extra steps.)

9:34 p.m. on June 26, 2008 (EDT)
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Thanks Bill S.
Those are some of the skills that I need to work on. It is one thing to read it in a book and understand what you read, but prove difficult to perform if it is not second hand nature. Especially when you are tired or do not have someone else to double check you.
I was taught a mathematical formula for that, but realized I had forgotten it, while I was posting. The way you described seems more practical for what we do.
I have a very basic Garmin E-Trex, and really have used nothing else with which to compare it to.
I do have a Suunto Vector and A Suunto sighting compass.
I'm pretty sure I don't use any of it to it's full potential.

Funding cut backs here are so bad they give you your own can of paint to mark the trail with. That way you are never lost!

April 18, 2014
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