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Is it safe to camp in a thunderstorm?

Is it safe to camp in a thunderstorm?

On the whole, yes, but if a big lighting filled storm is right overhead, know what to do till it passes. A bit of knowledge makes a risk great fun!

There’s no question thunderstorms are going to become more common in the UK, as global warming makes our climate more Mediterranean and our summers hotter. So knowing the ins and outs of thundery weather is valuable knowledge.

Yes, it’s more risky to camp in a storm than to camp on a clear night.. But, and this is a very big but, if it’s feeling a bit muggy and close, with a whiff of a storm in the air, it doesn’t mean you should immediately cancel your camping trip. Sleeping in a tent in the rain is one of the great joys in life! You can even listen to rain on tents as a white noise on YouTube... a friend with a 5 moth old swears by it!

A BBC blog published in the wake of the electric storms that hit the UK, gave some useful tips. But it also included a fair few hyperbolic warnings – for example,  by suggesting it might be a bad idea to take a bath during a thunderstorm. Really? In the spirit of More or Less, we thought we'd look at the statistics.

It’s true, a lightning striking on a house could electrocute you, if you have copper plumbing and you’re lying in water. However, let’s be realistic about the chances of such an event happening – so miniscule to be meaningless.

Even the likelihood of being struck by lightning when you are outside in a thunderstorm is incredibly low.

According to the British Medical Journal you’re far more likely to win the lottery than be struck by lightning in the UK! In 2010, the Office of National Statistics recorded a single victim of a lightning strike. In the same year, 29 people accidentally drowned while taking a bath. Do we think that taking a bath is a highly risky activity? I know I don't, not even when its a thunderstorm!

By voicing baseless fears, especially of extremely unlikely but scary possibilities, there’s a far greater danger - people amplify risk and become nervous about going outdoors, even when it is absolutely safe to do so. So just avoid that!

Making sure we’re taking sensible risks for worthwhile rewards is one of Outdoor People’s guiding principles. So if there’s a small chance of a thunderstorm... just take a bit more time to review your plans. Most weather apps will give you a good idea about where and when a storm will strike, and to what intensity – so you can plan your route and take shelter until the storm passes. We find Dark Skies particularly great, and it is uncannily accurate.

So what about if you really get caught in a storm? A massive, right over your head, lighting crackling and you've never felt so alive one? Read on...

Harry’s Camping Hacks… what to do if you get caught in a big storm

For the most part when you’re camping and you can hear the thunderstorm some way off, you won’t be in any danger worse than realising you left your boots outside... Don't do that. Also if is going to be harsh rain, do check you aren't camped where it could flood.... 

But how to tell if its a serious, right we need to think about this kind of storm?

Light travels quicker than sound – so if there’s a few seconds between a lightning flash and the sound of thunder the storm isn’t directly overhead and you can just enjoy it. As a rough guide, the number of seconds you count before you hear the thunder tells you the number of miles between you and the storm (but this is only a very rough guide). Counting the seconds between lightning and thunderclap will, however, give you an idea if the storm is approaching or receding. If it’s approaching fast, and its a really loud and scary one, thats when you start thinking about what is  a safe shelter until it passes.

If you’re camping in open ground and directly under a storm, then it is a good idea to get out of the tent – they provide no protection and metal poles may attract lightning. Hammocks too are tied to large trees so not the best place if lightning is genuinely likely to hit nearby. If you re in a Bell tent definitely leae whilst the storm is on. It might sound a little bit counter to our 'take risks' philosophy, but sleeping around a large metal pole is no longer in the 'risks' column, its moved to 'hazards'. so get into full water proofs, go outside and enjoy the storm. you'll have a great story to tell later.

Possibly counter-intuitively your car is a good spot, don’t touch the handles (as they may conduct electricity) and just play a game of cards whilst you wait it out. Campsite toilet blocks too. If you are camping wild the advice is to seek out lower ground, a gulley or a ravine, but not one likely to flood. Avoid standing under trees or other tall objects that may attract lightning strikes, and if you’re camping in a large group spread out. 

This is just whilst the lightning is overhead. As we said before, you are three times more likely to win the lottery than get hit by lightning here in the UK. But better safe than sorry...

These little tips are simple to remember and should make you feel a bit more prepared next time you hear the thunder in the distance as you’re snuggled down in your tent. Just be super glad you remembered your waterproofs!


1 comment

  • Kitty Sheppard

    Hmm – so lying in a bell tent, feet resting on the central pole poss not the most sensible place??

    what about carbon fibre poles or hammocks?

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