First Alert Weather: What to do when skies turn stormy during outdoor activities

Published: Mar. 16, 2023 at 4:28 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - In the Ozarks, there are great places to spend time outdoors, but it’s also a place where storms are possible in all four seasons.

Checking the forecast before a trip is a great idea, but as we know, the weather is constantly changing.

If you don’t have a phone or a way to check the radar, paying attention to changing conditions can take you at least a few minutes to prepare.

“Just keeping their eye on the sky will give them a clue that things are turning darker or cloudier. Sometimes just an increase in wind slightly before a storm would give you the idea that we might have some thundershowers lightning moving into the area. Because a lot of times, people are out floating, and even the forecast they started the day with can change rapidly. So it’s a great idea to watch for when changes, changes in cloud cover, that sort of thing,” Dina Matteson with the National Park Service in Missouri advised.

Matteson added that telling a friend or family member your itinerary helps rescue teams know where to start looking.

Your travel planning should include an in-depth search of nearby shelters and docking sites in case of an emergency.

“Do your best shot at research before you leave, knowing that things can change rapidly. Be familiar with the area that you’re going to be traveling. It’s often advisable to talk to some of the local canoe outfitters or folks in the tourism industry here who might be familiar with your hiking trails or your river corridors,” Matteson stated.

According to the National Weather Service, 20 people die from lightning strikes, and hundreds are injured annually on average.

62% of those fatalities occur during outdoor recreational activities, like camping, boating, and golfing.

Lightning is especially dangerous on water, which is a great conductor of electricity.

“With lightning, you don’t want to be very near the water. You also don’t want to be very near any isolated tall features like individual trees, or even bluffs or anything like that,” Matteson said.

Remember, heat lightning is a myth. If you see lightning, it is storming nearby, and you should pay attention if thunder starts to rumble near you. At the first sign of a storm, get off the water immediately.

If you’re camping, Matteson recommends moving away from the tent and seeking shelter in a vehicle if possible.

“If you don’t have a vehicle, but you’re still set up with your tent, then you would use the same guidelines as if you had been floating and needed to pull off, move away from your tent, any metal pieces, and try to find yourself a cluster of trees or bushes or something like that, that you could stand under and wait,” Matteson explained.

Remember to wait until lightning and thunder are gone for at least 30 minutes before resuming your day in the great outdoors.

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