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#96913 - 05/26/08 09:47 AM Canoeing in a thunderstorm
billstephenson Offline
Moderator

Registered: 02/07/07
Posts: 3890
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
Yesterday one of my daughters and her boyfriend were floating a creek here in the Ozarks (Swan Creek) when a very nasty thunderstorm ripped through the area.

They got out of the water and went over the bank and down into a dry bed of the creek, away from trees, where they waited it out. Trees were blown down, and a deluge of rain and hail kept them in the dry bed for about 20-30 minutes. They were only about five minutes from their take-out when the storm hit.

Three young men that were with their group of friends were standing in the water (about knee deep) when a bolt of lightning hit the creek. They were all instantly knocked down and dazed when they recovered some of their senses. They all said they felt like they got hit in the knees with a huge baseball bat. (People were yelling at them to get out of the water before and when the bolt hit.)

This time of year there is almost always a 30% chance of that kind of storm front tearing through everyday and this year the storms have been particularly nasty.

I think my young`ens did pretty good, but what's the recommended procedure for canoeers in a thunderstorm? Could they have done better?

Bill

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#96914 - 05/26/08 10:18 AM Re: Canoeing in a thunderstorm [Re: billstephenson]
Trailrunner Offline
member

Registered: 01/05/02
Posts: 1835
Loc: Los Angeles
Don't know about the Ozarks but creek beds are places to avoid during storms in the desert. Flash flood danger. But I can understand their need to seek a low point.
_________________________
If you only travel on sunny days you will never reach your destination.*

* May not apply at certain latitudes in Canada and elsewhere.

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#96915 - 05/26/08 02:11 PM Re: Canoeing in a thunderstorm [Re: Trailrunner]
billstephenson Offline
Moderator

Registered: 02/07/07
Posts: 3890
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
Yeah, that was a judgment call. I think in this case they did the right thing because the lightning or a tornado was more of a threat than a flash flood. They thought they were experiencing a tornado and told me so when they got home.

I told them that it wasn't a twister but it was a very severe thunderstorm. They never saw a funnel cloud or heard the "Train" come and pass by but they probably did experience 60+ mph winds.

I've heard that rumbling train coming only once in my life. I heard it coming for at least a minute before it passed overhead. I was alone at home and I ran to the basement and crouched down in a corner and covered up. After it passed I went to a basement window and looked to see it but couldn't catch a glimpse. It must have just been forming because no one close by suffered any damage, but about 10 miles north of us some farmers lost homes, barns and silos and they did see the twister. I lived in northern Illinois at the time.

Very few places here in the Ozarks have basements. There are a lot of mobile homes, pre-fabs, and slab or crawl space foundations. We have a basement, but we live on a ridge top, so I still cross my fingers a lot this time of year.

Bill

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#96916 - 05/27/08 07:55 AM Re: Canoeing in a thunderstorm [Re: billstephenson]
gmagnes Offline
Moderator

Registered: 01/04/02
Posts: 562
Loc: Upstate New York
A few years ago I was paddling on a windy brook in the Adirondacks (Shingle Shanty Brook), when we were hit by a deluge of water and thunder and lightening. We were with a few other paddlers and although my first instinct was to get off of the water, one of the other paddlers insisted that we were safe where we were. The banks of the river are pretty high on that brook, higher than our heads when sitting in the boat and there are trees lining the bank, a short distance back from the water. His logic was that we weren't the high point there, even on the water, and that the boats (all them happened to be kevlar--don't know if that mattered or not), provided insulation from anything that hit the water itself. After about 30-45 minutes of paddling "inside of a carwash", the rain let up, the thunder and lightening had stopped, and we made it out to the Lake and paddled across it to our campsite. We all agreed that it would not have been a good idea to have paddled across the lake during the storm, when we would have been high points on the water. I've always wondered about the decision to stay on the water on the brook. Anyone care to add their thoguhts on this as well as Bill's original question about proper behavior in a lightening storm on the water.
thanks,
Gerry Magnes

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#96917 - 05/27/08 08:57 AM Re: Canoeing in a thunderstorm [Re: gmagnes]
alanwenker Offline
member

Registered: 02/04/03
Posts: 812
Personally I'd get the hell off the water if I could and take my chances on shore. If a landing isn't possible - banks too steep or the like, I'd hug the shore and pray like mad.

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#96918 - 05/28/08 04:06 PM Re: Canoeing in a thunderstorm [Re: billstephenson]
HumanBN Offline
member

Registered: 05/15/08
Posts: 58
Loc: West Virginia
Lightning, being an electrostatic discharge, is going to find the easiest possible path to ground that it can. I have heard people talk my entire life about zippers in their sleeping bags attracting lightning and and this other substance insulates you from it. For the most part this is all a bunch of bologna. If lightning is able to travel through the air, one of the strongest natural insulators on the planet, it's not going to make much difference what kind of zippers you have, what kind of boat you're in or whether you are 10 feet higher than you could be. Yes, mathematically speaking everything does make a difference but we are talking about fractions of a fraction of a difference. If I'm out on the water when a storm hits I do what I can to stay dry and warm and that's about it. The difference in conductivity between your position on the water and the spot on the shore 10 feet higher is almost 0. It's only chance that lightning hits a spot 5 feet away from you or 20. There's not much you can do. I would certainly stay away from the trees though, these can make a difference. Trees provide a tall point for the positively charged earth to send a streamer up to meet the negatively charged leader coming from the clouds. But trees are typically taller than a person.

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#96919 - 05/28/08 04:11 PM Re: Canoeing in a thunderstorm [Re: HumanBN]
HumanBN Offline
member

Registered: 05/15/08
Posts: 58
Loc: West Virginia
Sorry, I went on a rant and forgot to answer whether or not I felt your kids had done the correct thing. I would say yes. Getting off the water is certainly not a bad idea. You said they knew to stay out of the trees. But the ones that were in the water. Lightning hitting the water would have gone strait to ground. The force that hit them was the energy dissipating from the bolt through the air. My Uncle had the same thing happen to him, except he was standing on the ground about 30 feet from where the lightning hit.

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#96920 - 05/29/08 08:49 AM Re: Canoeing in a thunderstorm [Re: HumanBN]
billstephenson Offline
Moderator

Registered: 02/07/07
Posts: 3890
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
I completely agree with all you said.

We live on the top of a ridge that tends to get smacked with lightning quite a bit. Last year a bolt hit an oak tree and blew off a piece of timber that was the size of a 2"x6"x16'. It landed at least 60 feet from the tree. A smaller piece about 3ft long was stuck like a spear deep in the ground about 40ft from the tree. There wasn't a bit of bark left on the pieces that were blown off and it felt like kiln dried wood when I picked it up the next morning.

This tree is about 300ft from the top of the ridge and 30ft below it, and something like 60-70 ft below the tallest tree on the top of the ridge and there are several trees much closer to it that stand higher.

I was driving North up towards Rockford IL once and watched lightning stream up from the ground and branch off thousands of feet up into the storm clouds about 40 miles ahead of me. Absolutely amazing!

Bill

A Story About Lightning

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#96921 - 05/29/08 09:57 AM Re: Canoeing in a thunderstorm [Re: billstephenson]
Dryer Offline
Moderator

Registered: 12/05/02
Posts: 3571
Loc: Texas
What you are calling a 'creek', here would be a river! All our creeks are below grade by 20 feet or so. Flash floods are our problem and can happen faster than a person can react.

Anyway, lightening can strike any place at any time. I attend a NWS spotter weather school every two years and they make the point over and over. Floods, lightening, then wind are killers in that order. All that said, I've been a boater all my life and have become an avid paddler. I can't count the times I've been out on the lake when a freak thunder head boiled over, with lightening striking within 100ft of me. There's just not much you can do about it other than get low (like that's going to help <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" />) and wait it out. If swimming, get in the boat or out of the water. They've learned that lightening can be "negative charge", "positive charge", cloud to cloud, ground to cloud, cloud to ground, all depending on the potentials that develop and what is protruding into the "lines of flux". Lightening is looking for the "lowest impedance path to ground" which might have nothing to do with striking a tree, but that water pipe that runs under it. Sounds like your daughter did the right thing as far as options available. She (or anyone) certainly won't out run it!
_________________________
paul, texas KD5IVP

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#96922 - 05/31/08 11:37 AM Re: Canoeing in a thunderstorm [Re: billstephenson]
300winmag Offline
member

Registered: 02/28/06
Posts: 1342
Loc: Nevada, USA
When paddling lakes the "rule of thumb" for dealing with approaching thunderstorms is to:

1. go ashore quickly - closest shoreline if you don't have much time
2. try to chose a shore that has trees nearby.
2. stay on shore WITHIN a 45 degree area between the water and the treetops
i.e. stay away from the trees but within the 45 degree zone
3. GET OUT OF YOUR CANOE and squat on your lifejacket for greater insulation
4. pray for safety from lightning

Eric
_________________________
"There are no comfortable backpacks. Some are just less uncomfortable than others."

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#118048 - 07/05/09 09:28 PM Oh yeah... [Re: billstephenson]
300winmag Offline
member

Registered: 02/28/06
Posts: 1342
Loc: Nevada, USA
Try to get ashore long before you think the storm will hit. Lightening can hit MILES away from the storm clouds. Better to lose time than your life or limb. (By "limb" I mean lightening can blow off a limb - or two.)

Eric
_________________________
"There are no comfortable backpacks. Some are just less uncomfortable than others."

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#154700 - 09/15/11 08:15 PM Re: Canoeing in a thunderstorm [Re: billstephenson]
Outcasthiker Offline
member

Registered: 12/13/10
Posts: 60
Loc: Tennessee
Your kids did the right thing. Out on open water is just bad. We got caught out on a lake this last weekend. We were eating by a bluff cliff when we heard the thunder. We paddled like crazy to get to a good shoreline, but didn't beat the storm. It was scary, but we made shore and sat under a tarp. Afterwards the storm cleared out and we dumped the canoe and headed back out.

Got some pics on our blog http://craigshikes.blogspot.com/
_________________________
Never Pass Up a hike!

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