Most sensible people go camping in the summer months when it is warm and dry. In the main this is a great experience and, if you get the weather can be very enjoyable.
However, warm weather presents the risk of heavy showers and thunderstorms, which, although normally over very quickly can present some problems for anyone camping in a tent.
Thunderstorms often occur towards the end of a summers day and if the weather has been hot and humid, you can experience a wild and violent storm.
So, the question is, is it safe to be in a tent during a thunderstorm?
A tent will provide very little protection during a wild thunderstorm and, to minimise the risk of damage to your tent, you should always look for a good, sheltered place when setting up camp. Not only should you look for a spot that offers protection from the wind you should think about the ground and whether water will gather in pools if it rains heavily.
Camping in a thunderstorm
If you are a frequent camper then, at some point you will experience a thunderstorm while using your tent.
Most people think about the risk of being struck by lightening during a thunderstorm but there are other risks to tents that you need to consider.
Probably the biggest risk to your tent during a storm is damage from wind, rain or hailstones, as opposed to lightening and you need to think about how you can minimise this risk when you choose your pitch.
Avoid wide open spaces that are in natural channels that create wind tunnels, these can easily whip up during a storm and tear your tent to pieces.
Be careful to avoid camping in low areas of fields or woods where water could pool and collect during heavy rain.
Watch out for potential run off areas where water could flow, as a stream when there is a downpour.
Try to avoid camping beneath a lone tree. Lightening is often attracted to the highest point which could be a tree. If your tent is beneath this tree then you could be in trouble.
Be careful near streams, rivers and any areas that may experience flash flooding. Water levels can rise quickly and, in flash flood areas they literally can ‘flash’ to high levels.
Can you be struck by lightening in a tent?
Yes. A tent provides little protection against lightening strikes and you could be at risk of being hit by a bolt of electricity of your tent is to the struck.
The bolt of lightening will travel unequally through the tent and can spark across the air in it’s quest to get to the earth by the shortest route.
This means that the lightening could travel from the tent, into body and into the ground. There is also the risk that the ground itself can become charged with electricity which would be dangerous for you and the other tent occupants.
What should you do if you are in a tent during a thunderstorm?
if you are caught inside your tent when the storm is nearby then your best option is to stay in the tent rather than making a run for shelter.
Get to the middle of the tent and squat as low as you can without lying down. Stand on a mat, sleeping bag or anything else that can provide some insulation between you and the ground. Keep your boots or shoes on.
Don’t touch the tent or the cover or anything else that is touching the tent.
If the floor of the tent is wet then it is doubly important to get some protection between you and the ground. Water will conduct the high voltages of a lightening strike into your tent if it hits nearby. Having something between you and the ground could make all the difference.
If there are any wires coming into the tent, remove them as quickly as possible and put them outside.
Work out how far away the storm is
Being able to calculate the distance from a storm could give you valuable minutes or seconds to get out of the tent and take refuge in a building or car.
This is an easy calculation to make and is based on the 30/30 rule.
It is quite simple – if it takes less than 30 seconds to hear thunder after seeing the flash, then the storm is close enough to be a threat to you.
To get a better idea of the distance of the storm from you count the number of seconds from seeing the flash to hearing the thunder and then divide by 5.
So, 5 seconds = 1 mile. 10 seconds = 2 miles. 15 seconds = 3 miles. 0 seconds = very, very close.
Make your tent as stormproof as possible
Do a proper job when you select and set your camp up:
Set up your tent properly. Make sure that all tent pegs are secure and that guy lines are tightened properly.
Find a sheltered spot – the wind is a tent’s biggest enemy.
Get and use some extra guide ropes and tethers and some reinforced tent pegs.
Make sure that any awnings are fastened shut securely.
If you have a tarp that is large enough, pull it over your tent and peg it down to provide extra protection.
Digging a trench around your tent can provide protection from flooding, a bit like your own moat.
A tent is not the best place to be in a thunderstorm. Thankfully with most storms you will get some warning of it’s approach which may give you the chance to take shelter elsewhere, such as in a car.
By setting up your camp carefully you can reduce the risk of damage to your tent and belongings with a few simple steps as outlined above.
Always be aware of changing weather conditions when camping so that you can prepare your escape should you need to do so and don’t forget that most mobile phones can provide weather forecasts for the area where you are camping.