Re: Backpacking and Tornadoes
Norman MacLeod (gaelwolf@MAGPAGE.COM)
Fri, 5 Jun 1998 13:27:49 -0400
Let's not pose an easy question or anything, eh?
When hiking in the outdoors in the summertime, you should always keep a
"weather eye" and "weather ear" out. Most thunderstorms move west to east
in the Northern Hemisphere. There are, however, exceptions, so look around
all 360 degrees at least once in awhile.
You need your ears even more on hazy days, where you might not see a storm
forming until it's too late. Stop your hike line every once in awhile an
maintain absolute silence for a couple of minutes to try to hear any cell
muttering in the distance.
Remember that 30+ mile an hour movement is not uncommon, and a front can
move even more rapidly if the conditions are right. You CANNOT outrun most
thunderstorms on foot or horseback!
When you see thunderheads forming, watch more carefully. Keep an eye out
for possible bail-out routes as you go.
When you begin to hear thunder from the nearest cell, it's time to do a
temporary bail-out to a safer location.
The bottom of an east-facing slope is generally the safest place to be,
especially when you have a steep hill available. If you are approaching an
alternate trail that does this for you, and still gets you to your
destination, take that trail, if possible, moving onto it before you would
have to consider bailing out for safety.
STAY OUT OF SURFACE CAVES, ESPECIALLY THOSE FORMED BY BEDROCK SPLITTING!
Tornadoes come from thunderstorms. Thunderstorms have lightning. Lighting
striking at bedrock has a nasty tendency to expend its energy via bedrock
fracture lines. You often find a lot of these in caves near the surface.
If you are beneath a fracture line, lightning can arc through the cave and
Same goes for depressions in bedrock...
However, if you can be close to one of these natural features, or next to a
cliff, stick close by. If you get caught in a tornado, you'll need them.
Avoid tall trees.
Put on raingear.
Crouch on the ground with your arms around your knees. This will help
minimize your chances of being affected by nearby lightning strikes. It's
possible to do your crouching on top of a backpack laid horizontal on the
ground, to increase your degree of insulation.
If hail begins to fall, place your hands on top of your head and KEEP THEM
THERE. Better yet, put on a climbing helmet (if you have one) or a cooking
pot (if you have one large enough to protect your head. A folded sleeping
mat will also provide a high degree of body protection if you hold it to
Listen. Tornadoes make one heck of a racket. They make a much different
sound than other types of wind. If you've never heard it, remember that
people say they sound like a loud train. Not quite true, but close enough
until you experience the real thing. (There's a howling and moaning quality
to the sound that doesn't match up to the noise of a train...)
If you hear or see a tornado, forget what I said about the danger of caves
and hollows in the bedrock. The risk of being hit by lightning inside one
of these structures becomes FAR more acceptable than the risk posed by a
funnel cloud on or near the ground.
How can a funnel cloud in the air hurt you?
Tornadoes can carry debris a LONG way. The funnel may have been on the
ground on the other side of the hill. That stuff has to come back to the
ground some time...
Remember, too, that just because a tornado has come and gone doesn't
necessarily mean that there isn't another one in the area. Once it goes by,
you still need to keep an eye and ear out. There were three distinct,
separate lines of very severe thunderstorms associated with the weather
front that produced the tornadoes in eastern Pennsylvania and western
Maryland the other day.
There are times when tornadoes DO happen in hilly terrain, contrary to what
you may have learned in the past. The Maryland tornadoes happened in hilly
terrain. Generally, a tornado that can survive hills is a VERY strong one,
with potential to do a LOT of squirrelly thinks, including doubling back on
itself and moving back the way it came for a little way, not far, but
perhaps enough to get you if you aren't minding your Ps and Qs after it goes
by the first time.
Some people don't associate waterspouts with danger. A waterspout in
conjunction with a thunderstorm is different from a tornado only because
it's over water instead of land...as you will perhaps learn when you see one
Enough general info for one day?
GAELIC WOLF CONSULTING
Internet Presence Strategy and Design
Home of the Gaelic Wolf Scouting Pages
as a community involvement courtesy
From: Bill Lawrence <bill.lawrence@ANSYS.COM>
To: Multiple recipients of list SCOUTS-L <SCOUTS-L@TCUBVM.IS.TCU.EDU>
Date: Friday, June 05, 1998 12:16 PM
Subject: Backpacking and Tornadoes
>To all our backcountry experts,
>We recently had thunder storms which generated tornadoes in western
>Pennsylvania, and that got me to thinking about what to do if one is
>backpacking and something like this happens. Clearly, it's best not to
>go at all if you know that severe weather is coming. But for the sake
>of argument, let's just say that you're deep in the forest when
>something like this occurs. There's hail, 60+ mph winds, driving rain,
>etc. and you're surrounded by trees (any of which might decide to
>topple). And then there's the possibility of the funnel cloud itself
>coming along, which you can't see because of the forest canopy.
>Does anyone have any suggestions (aside from praying fervently)?
>Advisor, High-Adventure Post 150
Terry Howerton Sakima Group, Inc. SCOUTER Magazine Kansas City