Winter storms can vary from moderate rain showers to severe blizzards with windblown, blinding snow, but regardless of the severity it’s important to know how to be prepared should a winter storm strike.
If you spend a significant amount of time of your life outdoors, at some point you will end up getting caught in a few storms. There have been a number of times that I have had to dig my heels in, keep my head down to get through face-stinging torrential downpours, spent the night spread-eagled to keep my tent down so it didn’t blow away, and witnessed more than a few thunderstorms.
Whether you’re camping, hiking or hunting, a winter storm can arrive quickly and without much notice. Keep in mind winter storms don’t always mean snow; depending on where you are, it could mean downpours, hail or high winds.
Of course, in order to prepare yourself for a winter storm you need to pay close attention to the weather. Before heading off to your destination, you should already be checking the weather a few days beforehand. This will give you an oversight into what you can expect particularly if you are unable to receive weather updates once you are away from civilization.
If receiving weather updates is not an option, you should be able to assess a storm as it develops by paying close attention to the skies.
It starts before the first raindrop or snowflake
There will be times, though, that regardless of the amount of planning you put into it, you will inevitably get caught in a storm and the next best thing you can do is to be prepared.
If you find yourself on high ground during a storm, you should descend in the safest and quickest way possible. This will remove you from being exposed to the full fury, and it will stop you from being the tallest object around in case lightning does decide to strike. Try to descend in a gully or enter a forest if one is around you, but stay away from the tallest tree, water and trees that are standing alone.
On the other hand you may find that you can’t simply pack up your stuff and descend to safer ground. This could be because the storm has already hit, the terrain you are on is too exposed or you feel that it wouldn’t be safe to get down to safety because of what you have to travel over. If you are inside a tent during a storm, though, it is best to get out as the poles could attract lightning, but if you are unable to find any suitable shelter spot, crouch down in the next best place you can find with your feet together. You want to make yourself as small as possible, so avoid lying down as this provides a greater area for lightning to strike.
Move or wait it out?
Whether or not you make the choice to move or stay put will depend on the circumstances you find yourself in. There are several factors, though, that should narrow the field down for you: How long are you willing to wait? What is the terrain like? How quickly can you get to safety? If you find yourself in a location that would see you struggling to get to a safe place because of the terrain and the distance, it may be better for you to wait it out.
However, you also have to bear in mind that a storm during the winter can last a lot longer than a storm in the summer, which brings us back to the initial question of how long you would be willing to wait a storm out? After all, you don’t want to be stuck in the same spot for more than a week with limited food supplies.
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Other factors to consider would be to remove any metal objects you have on you such as ice axes, tent poles or walking poles as these have the potential to attract lightning and, while it may seem counterintuitive, hiking partners should be at least 15 feet away from each other, once again to reduce the chances of lightning strikes.
Unless you’re incredibly lucky, getting caught in a storm is a factor you have to take into consideration when you’re outdoors. While these may only be slight points in how to make things easier for you before a storm hits, true knowledge comes differently to each person through years of experience by watching the weather and knowing when to remove yourself from harm.
After all, the best way to remain safe in a storm is to avoid getting caught in one in the first place.