stormy beachfront

What to do when a thunderstorm rolls in

A lot of planning and preparation goes into a camping trip, but sometimes things don’t go according to plan.

Thunderstorms are common in all parts of Ontario from late April to early October. No one plans for a storm to hit during their camping trip, but it’s important to know what to do if a storm rolls in.

Here’s what you need to know to stay safe, no matter the weather:

Check the forecast

The first thing to do is to make sure you check the weather forecast before you leave home.

Remember: it’s important to check the forecast for the area local to the park, not your hometown forecast.

rainy boardwalk in forest

Not all storms are unpredicted, and if the forecast calls for inclement weather, you may want to rethink your plans.

If you’re heading into the backcountry, stay home if you see weather warnings like strong winds, floods, or thunderstorms.

When in a campground

There are a few ways good safety steps to follow if a storm hits your campground.

When you arrive, make sure you have a lightning safety plan in place for your group. Be aware of your surroundings, and look for shelter. You will need a safe place to wait out the storm.

As the saying goes, “When thunder roars, go indoors.”

If you’re staying in a tent or tent-trailer, your safest option is your hard-topped vehicle. If sheltering in a vehicle during a storm, avoid touching anything metal inside and keep the windows rolled up.

Do not take shelter in a picnic shelter or vault privy, as these structures do not have a method to ground lightning strikes. You should also avoid sheltering near the tallest object in your area or objects that conduct an electrical charge. Tall objects, such as tall trees, posts, fences, or other equipment, may attract lightning.

When in the backcountry

If you’re staying in the backcountry, you may not have shelter options immediately available.

Instead, wait out the storm deep in a thick group of trees. If no trees or only solitary trees are nearby, find the lowest-lying area. Crouch down and cover your head.

Avoid trees with large trunks if lightning is striking close by. You should also avoid open areas that are more than 100 m wide.

If you’re on the water

A storm is not the time for water activities. Water can be unpredictable, and is a conductor, so you’re safest on land until the storm passes.

If you’re swimming, get out of the water immediately after seeing lightning or hearing a rumble of thunder.

kayak on stormy beach

If you’re paddling or boating, make your way to shore should severe weather hit.

Water levels may be higher after a storm. Be careful around creeks and rivers that may be subject to flash flooding during a severe storm. If flash flooding occurs, get to higher ground. Never cross flooded streams or rivers, as there may be strong undercurrents.

When thunder roars…

Take cover immediately if you hear thunder.

storm rolling in over beach

Once in a safe location, you can calculate the distance of the lightning strike. Count the seconds between the flash of lightning and rumble of thunder. Divide the seconds by three to determine the distance in kilometers.

Even if you feel the storm has passed, you should maintain lightning safety precautions for 30 minutes after the last flash of lightning or rumble of thunder.

In an emergency

In an emergency, always call 911 or the local emergency services.

Remember that cell service may be limited in some areas. It’s never a bad idea to have a satellite phone or SPOT unit available.

Always remember that your safety is the most important part of any outdoor adventure. Don’t be afraid to turn back or head home if you don’t feel prepared for the weather.

Visit the Canadian Red Cross or Environment and Climate Change Canada to learn more about storm safety.