Thunderstorm, lightning and purple clouds

Being prepared is always one of the number one rules when it comes to any kind of outdoor activity like hiking. Plan ahead for what may happen, do not ever assume that Mother Nature will always play fair as she can be very unpredictable and sometimes not so kind.

So, What Can We Do?

  • Research – get to know the weather conditions, habits of the area you are heading into. Keep in mind, some regions have micro climates.
  • Check the forecast – start looking at the weather forecast on a regular basis and see what is expected for when you are out there, also get regular updates while out.
  • Have a contingency plan – Have the back up plan for when things get too dangerous and you need to get out. Set this up in place before leaving. Know the States Emergency Services contact numbers.
  • Carry emergency equipment – Always carry some form of PLB,
    E-Pirb or device that you can call for help even when there is no reception. Important to note that reception may be fine in that area when weather is good but not there when weather turns bad.
  • Learn basic survival skills – How to find water, use a map and compass.
  • Learn basic first aid skills and carry a first aid kit.
  • Tell people where you are going, when you are expected to return and contact them when you do return.
  • Wear and carry appropriate clothing for where you are going – thermals, gloves, waterproof clothing etc.
  • Carry appropriate gear – emergency blanket, correct temperate sleeping bag, tent etc.
  • Have plenty of supplies – food, water etc.
  • Train – Be physically fit for what you are doing.
  • Be responsible for YOUR own safety.
  • Use COMMON SENSE.

Some of the following weather conditions may not apply to your area though I always think it is good to know as one day you may be faced with that situation.

  • Severe rain and hailstorms
  • Severe thunder/lightning storms
  • Bushfires
  • Flash floods
  • Earthquakes
  • Snowstorms/blizzards
  • Rockslides or avalanches
  • Cyclones
Inclement weather

Wear Appropriate Clothing

You want to have a wind/rain proof jacket, pants and waterproof gloves – these can be a life saver! The most important thing to remember is your well-being so try to avoid getting wet through as this can cause your body to get very cold and lead to hypothermia. Layering your clothes and with good wicking material (merino) is a great way to keep the core of your body warm while drawing away sweat which can also make you cold. Never wear fabrics like cotton as they hold moisture and are hard to dry. Stay dry and as warm as possible and when the weather calms down get your wet gear off. When you get to the end of the day try to get any wet gear dry before venturing out the next day.

Here are some of the more common weather hazards and what you can do to protect yourself.

Severe Rain and Hailstorms

Being caught in the rain can really dampen a trip (no pun intended) being caught in severe rain and even hailstorms is just not fun. When that wind picks up, the rain turns icy cold and comes in sideways it is really not fun.

  • Be prepared that this can happen so take and wear appropriate wet weather gear for this type of situation.
  • Always keep an eye on the sky and what is happening.
  • Seek protection and wait it out if possible though sometimes this can prove impossible. Do not hide under or near anything that could get blown over on you. Protect your head if anything as it hurts.
  • Stay as warm and dry as possible and when the weather calms down get your wet gear off.
Thunder storm

Severe Thunder Storms

A severe thunderstorm can be one of the scariest things to be confronted with when out in the elements. This often is a common occurrence when hiking through mountain areas and it is not the thunder to be scared of it is the lightning!

Hint to whether a storm is approaching – If your altimeter on your watch (this can gauge the barometric pressure) is still climbing higher even when you have stopped moving the chances are the barometric pressure is changing and a storm may be approaching.

  • Be prepared that this can happen so take and wear appropriate wet weather gear for this type of situation. Keep warm and dry to avoid the risk of hypothermia.
  • Always keep an eye on the sky, watch the clouds and what they are doing, which way they are going.
  • Your senses are heightened – if a storm is approaching you may experience sensations like a sudden drop in temperature, your hair stands on end, or even electric zaps between your fingers and the rocks.
  • If a storm hits seek cover – especially if in a risk area like on top of a mountain, in an open field or a heavily wooded area. If on a mountain head for lower ground.
  • Do not use your power devices.
  • Avoid tall standing objects like trees, powerlines and rocky outcrops etc.
  • Nowhere to go then get down low – if the storm comes over you get on the ground and curl up into a ball. Use some type of insulator to protect you from any currents  that may run through the ground for example – sit on your backpack or sleep mat and pull over you your tent or any type of waterproofing you have to try to stay as dry as possible and wait it out.

Bushfires

Knowing what to do in a bushfire is especially important when you live in a country like Australia where the risk is high.  They can occur at any time for many different reasons. There may have been lightning strikes, unattended campfires, Stupidity and deliberately lit.

  • Always be aware of any signs of fire like the smell of smoke or a plume of cloud in the distance and do stay up to date with emergency alerts within the area you are travelling.
  • If caught in a fire – stay calm and call for emergency services (use your PLB if necessary)
  • Head to safety – find a clearing of land or head to a river, streams. DO NOT try to hide in a water tank it is safer in flowing water. Move to burnt ground and if necessary run through low burning flame to get to it. Deep breath cover the face with a wet cloth if possible and run.
  • You cannot out run a fire! Go to low ground not high as fire travels faster uphill than down.
  • Drink plenty of water and remove all synthetic clothing, natural fibres are better to wear.
  • Know your first aid – know how to treat burns before heading out.

Flash floods

This can happen and does happen without warning so be aware if you are travelling into a high risk area. Sometimes it may not have been raining where you are but high up in the hills or the mountains many kilometres away it could have and excess water has to go somewhere. You might be near a coastline that has risk of tidal surges especially after a severe storm. Low lying wetlands can flood when excessive rain has occurred.

  • Do NOT camp on dry riverbeds, they may be a nice flat spot to pitch the tent but high risk of flash flooding if raining even far away. Pitch at least 50 metres away or more and on higher ground.
  • Do NOT camp right next to the shoreline. Incase of a tidal serge camp at least 50 metres or more away on higher ground.
  • If caught in a flash flood head straight to higher ground. Do Not enter a gorge or river system where the water is more likely to flow like a tunnel leaving you no where to go. If caught in this type of area, climb as quickly as possible as you cannot outrun a flash flood.
  • Call for help – if no mobile services use your PLB.
  • Do NOT try to enter or cross fast moving water. If you have to cross or enter water then undo the straps of your pack so if you fall you are not weighted down by the pack and you can detach from it quickly. Also cross the water way diagonally.

Earthquakes

If the earth moves while you are hiking it could be a possible earthquake! What do you do when you are out in the wilderness?

  • Try and move away from anything that may potentially fall on you like trees, large rocks etc and stay clear of cliff edges in case they collapse. Large earthquakes can cause landslides and cliff falls.
  • If you are at a campground look for a table and climb under it. Do not hide in the shelters as they can be unstable.
  • If inside your tent, get out as you could get tangled and trapped resulting in suffocation.
  • If near a campfire then move away quickly so not to fall into the fire.
  • If near coastal areas be aware of the risk of Tsunamis, this can also happen after the shaking stops try to head for higher ground.

Most of these natural disasters are highly unlikely but they are possible. Being prepared is always one of the number one rules when it comes to hiking! If you plan ahead, and are prepared, chances are you’ll get through what ever Mother Nature throws your way and have a fantastic hiking experience out on those trails!

Written by Michelle Ryan from WalkingtwoBytwo