I was just recently visiting friends in San Diego and we were hit by Hurricane Hillary, California’s first-tropical storm in 84 years. As we battled the weather, it got me thinking, “what would you do if you were caught in a storm similar to this while out on the trail?”
Here are a few things that came to mind if you’re ever caught in a severe storm while out on the trail.
Disclaimer, I’m not a trained expert, but I have been caught out on the trail in many storms in my day!
Stay Calm! Panicking never got anybody anywhere. So the first step is to remain calm and composed. Panic can cloud your judgment and hinder your ability to make rational decisions.
Assess your surroundings, find shelter and secure your gear. Evaluate your surroundings and look for potential hazards. Seek shelter from strong winds, lightning, and falling debris. Avoid areas prone to flooding or landslides. If possible, seek shelter in a sturdy structure, such as a cabin or shelter. If there is no shelter, try to find natural features like caves, overhangs, or dense vegetation that can offer some protection. Make sure your gear, especially your backpack, is properly secured to prevent it from blowing away or getting wet. This may involve using rocks or other items to anchor your gear.
Stay put! Stay dry and stay warm. Once you’ve found shelter and taken safety precautions, it’s generally safer to stay in place until the storm passes. Attempting to hike through severe weather increases your risk of exposure and injury. If you’re equipped with rain gear, put it on to stay as dry as possible. Wet clothing can lead to hypothermia, especially if the temperatures drop. If temperatures are dropping, make sure to keep warm by adding layers or using emergency blankets if necessary.
Stay away from tall objects, isolated trees, and metal structures, as they are more likely to attract lightning. Find a low-lying area if lightning is a concern. Avoid open bodies of water, including rivers, streams, and lakes, as well as steep terrain that might be prone to flash floods or landslides.
Continue to monitor weather updates. If you have a way to receive weather updates, such as a weather radio or a cell phone with reception, listen for updates and information about the storm’s progress.
Lastly, and very importantly, signal for help however you can. If you’re in a dangerous situation and need assistance, use signaling devices such as a whistle, flashlight, or emergency beacon to alert rescuers to your location.
These are just a few thoughts that came to mind to stay safe in the backcountry. Remember, it’s always best to look at the weather before hitting the trail.
Stay safe and have fun out there!