Unexpected Weather Circumstances While Camping

Prepare yourself for possible unexpected weather circumstances when you set off to go camping.

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by Flickr/Corey Chestnut
Weather phenomena can cause more severe and dangerous conditions.

A Woman’s Guide to the Wild (Sasquatch Books, 2016) by Ruby McConnell covers everything a woman needs to know before heading off into the wild. From handling “lady matters” to a full gear list, McConnell makes sure no woman walks into the woods without having everything she needs. The following excerpt is her advice on handling unexpected special weather circumstances.

 Most of the time if you bother to check the weather and plan accordingly, a storm or some unexpected snow means little more than hanging extra tarps, getting a little soggy, or being slightly colder than you might wish. Some weather phenomena, though, especially in combination with the right terrain, can make for dangerous conditions.


Choosing to go out in winter cold or in the summer heat is a decision you make, but lightning is something that comes upon you. Lightning occurs in many kinds of terrains and weather conditions but is most likely to happen in the afternoon as air temperatures increase. I am never more terrified outside than in big electrical storms, and with good reason. Lightning travels through anything that conducts, especially water-based things, like ponds, puddles, and people. When near lightning, you want to keep a nonconducting layer (like your backpack) between yourself and anything on the ground that could attract and direct a current toward you (like a metal camp chair, tree roots, or even the ground itself). If you do get caught in lightning, take the following precautions:

• Stay low. Lightning often strikes the highest points, so decrease your elevation, move away from ridges and hilltops, and crouch or curl on your back.
• Stay buffered. Keep your pack or some other nonconducting material between yourself and the ground.
• Ditch your metal. Metal attracts lightning, so drop metal stakes and poles before taking shelter; you can retrieve them when the storm has passed.

Thunder and lightning originate from the same location but travel at different speeds. The farther away they are from you, the more pronounced the gap between them is. Counting the seconds between a lightning strike and its associated thunder clap allows you to make a rough estimate of how far the storm is from you (about one mile per second) and if it is moving toward or away from you (decreasing numbers indicate the storm is moving closer to you).


Snow avalanches are the rapid downslope movement of large volumes of accumulated snow and ice. And by rapid, I mean between twenty and eighty miles per hour. Most avalanches occur between December and April when snow loads are high and wet, or warming weather increases the weight and mobility of the snow pack. Most of the avalanches that injure people are, in fact, triggered by people. Skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing in steep alpine areas with large, bare snowfields can cause large slabs of compacted snow to crack under you just like lake ice, but over a much larger area. Tree stands help prevent this shattering, making forested areas a safer winter choice.  Always find out if there are snow or avalanche warnings in effect before heading out for backcountry snow activities. If you know that you are going into a possible avalanche area, bring an avalanche transceiver, collapsible avalanche probes, and a shovel–and check in with the ranger.

Flash Floods

Flash floods are exactly what they sound like–floods, fast. Flash floods are most common in arid canyon lands where heavy sporadic rains fall on low-permeability soils. The rain is unable to filter into the ground fast enough to absorb it all, so the water collects into channels and rushes toward the nearest low-lying basin, lake, or riverbed. The rapid onset of flooding, and the ability of distant rains to generate significant flooding a great distance away from the storm as the  waters collect and channelize, make flash floods particularly dangerous. Rules of thumb regarding flash floods:

• Never take shelter from rains in narrow canyons.
• In the desert, be wary of heavy rains in the distance and move to higher ground.
• Leave canyons if you hear a deep or rapidly approaching rumbling.
• Do not enter floodwaters, even in a vehicle; it is extremely difficult to estimate depth and current.
• If you do end up in floodwaters, hold on to anything that is stable or floats and point your feet downstream.

There is no changing the weather no matter how much fist-shaking you do at the sky. Every season has its challenges, and every one has a sweet spot: the conditions in which they are the most comfortable. Count yourself lucky when your special time arrives. The rest of the time, pack well, assume that things might change, and try to have a good time regardless.

More from: A Woman’s Guide to the Wild

Outdoor Camping Phone Apps
Camping Considerations for Older Adults

©2016 By Ruby McConnell. All rights reserved. Excerpted from A Woman’s Guide to the Wild: Your Complete Outdoor Handbook by permission of Sasquatch Books.

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