Outdoor Thunderstorm Safety
Date: Winter 2012-2013
Our class is going on a flat water canoe trip next spring down the lower Colorado river. We will have 100 students going down a 22 mile stretch over the course of 3 days in aluminum canoes. We are expecting good hot dry weather but I was curious what the best procedures would be in the event of a thunderstorm/ lightning storm. I know the best option would be to get to shore but several miles of the river bank is covered in thick impenetrable reeds making that impossible. Thunderstorms pass through without warning in the desert. Is being in an aluminum canoe on an open river any more dangerous than being on land in this desert environment (flat, no trees)? Do you have any additional information?
Hmmm. I can see how you would feel like a target. One would hope there are some better, higher targets nearby.
I cannot speak directly to aluminum canoes, but as a former sailing instructor I can give you a couple of ideas. Luckily you will not have a 15 - 30 foot lightning rods attached to the canoes the way sail boats have masts, but you are still in danger if there is a water strike nearby.
If you cannot get to shore, endeavor to isolate yourselves from the metal of the canoe and especially the surrounding water. Sitting on a dry towel, equipment bag, flotation cushion or life jacket would be a good idea. I suppose sitting on your paddles might even do in a pinch. Make sure you are not in contact with the canoe in any way such as touching or leaning on the canoe sides. Lift your feet off the canoe bottom as it is usually wet, and try to stay as low as possible in the boat, too.
Hope you will not have to put this advice to use.
Thanks for the question. For weather updates, I would recommend checking the National Weather Service or calling a local airport. The local airport will have access to weather reports regarding thunderstorms as air traffic (usually) avoids thunderstorms.
There is risk in being in an aluminum canoe since lightning could strike a person instead of the canoe. If lightning strikes the canoe, there will be a lesser chance of a fatality than if a person is struck by lightning. However, the risk of being struck by lightning is quite remote. Frankly, I would be much more concerned with water safety and the prevention of drowning and hypothermia.
I hope this helps answer your questions. Please let me know if you have any additional questions.
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Update: November 2011