Date: Fri, 5 Jun 1998 12:30:56 -0500
From: Bob Amick 
To: Multiple recipients of list SCOUTS-L 
Subject: Re: Backpacking and Tornadoes

Bill, et al

You may want to look at the American Red Cross disaster web page
for some good references on tornadoes.  They have links to the
National Weather Service/NOAA, FEMA, and the Weather Channel as well.

Tornadoes in the wilderness are a less commonly addressed topic,
so there is probably not as much information on response and preparedness
than their would be for an urban setting.

However, the synopisis of advice for a wilderness response to
a tornado threat would be to find an open area and lie down flat,
in a depression or ditch if possible, away from trees and other
potential hazards;  cover your head with clothing or a backpack
for protection from flying debris. A cave or rock overhang might be a better
 option if you could find one, but chances are they wouldn't be
readily available when you needed them. In more urban settings,
seeking shelter under a highway bridge or overpass, or even a
large culvert would be advisable. Folks in cars should stop them, get out
and run immediately to a sheltered area or as noted above, lie down
flat in an open area.

If buildings can be found, going to the basement is best, otherwise inner
walls/hallways  of the main floor
and away from doors and windows to avoid flying glass and debris
is preferable.  Contrary to popular opinion, opening or closing
windows/doors has no effect on safety and only wastes time that should
be spent finding immediate shelter.  The worst thing that most folks
do is stand out in harm's way and "gawk" at the approaching funnel
cloud when they should be finding shelter as quickly as possible.
Many have died due to this behavior.  This is due to a "denial"
perception that such storms and weather phenomenon "cannot possibly
be a threat to me.."  Often when folks realize that they are imminently
in harms way, they are too late to do anything about it.

 Note the precaution that lying flat in a ditch or depression during
a tornado can  also subject you  to flash flood hazards related to the storm,
as well as to risk of  lightning strike, so it is advisable to get to
a safer location once the tornado has dissipated or left the area.

Probably the most important skill is recognition of the potential
for a tornado forming.  Checking weather forecasts before you go,
and watching for the formation of "wall or anvil clouds" and clouds with
a dark greenish tinge, as well as those which form "nipples" which
often are the precursor of funnel clouds may give you enough time
to alter your route and get to a safe area. Another imminent warning
is of course the "roaring sound" caused by the winds which some
compare to a "railroad train engine noise." NOAA weather radio
constantly broadcasts weather warnings, and small, battery operated
weather warning radios are available inexpensively at local electronics
stores such as Radio Shack. Early tornado watches are often given when
there is a potential for a storm which can form tornadoes so you may
have plenty of time to take precautions and move to another more
safe area.

The good news is that tornadoes in mountainous country are seldom as severe
as those on open or plains area since mountains tend to inhibit the formation
of large powerful funnel clouds.  However, even an F1 tornado can certainly
due substantial property damage and cause personal injury.
Most mountainous tornadoes are seldom
larger than F1 or F2, whereas plains tornadoes can reach up to F5 which is
devastatingly dangerous to life and property.

An associated hazard which is equally dangerous is of course lightning.
The preferred response for imminent lightning strikes in open or
 exposed areas such as ridges on mountains is now to
crouch into a "squatting" position with your feet together and your
arms around your knees or alternatively, your hands covering your
ears to protect from the sound impact of lightning.)  Only your
feet should be touching the ground to avoid transfer of electrical
energy from the "ground wave" of a lightning strike that may stop
the heart or cause ventricular fibrillation.  Being inside buildings
or in cars is the safest option since the structures or vehicles made
of metal act as "faraday cages" and conduct energy around the occupants to
The tires on the vehicle have no "insulating value" as is commonly thought.
Lightning strikes can occur on seemingly "clear days" where a cloud formation
is several miles away, however a bolt can travel many miles and contains
hundreds of millions of volts of electrical energy and very high amperage.
The average lightning bolt is only about 1 inch in diameter, but appears
much larger due to the brilliant light emitted.  It has a temperature which
is about five times hotter than the surface of the sun. Many tragic strikes on
golf courses, parks, and open playing fields have happened during seemingly
sunny clear days, so when storms threaten, take precautions even if the storm
is miles away; get folks inside buildings, into cars, and off the water,

Remember that most lightning strike victims survive, but may need
immediate CPR and advanced life support from paramedics (defibrillation
and cardiac drugs).  Only those who are directly hit by a strike such
as might occur by being close to
a tree or out on a body of water are more likely to be fatally injured.

Bob Amick, EMT-B, Explorer Advisor, High Adventure Explorer Post 72/SES 72,
Boulder, CO
Longs Peak Council Exploring Training Chair; American Red Cross Community
Education Instructor/Advisor, Emergency Management Explorer Post 493

At 02:07 PM 6/4/98 -0400, you wrote:
>To all our backcountry experts,
 let's just say that you're deep in the forest when
>something like this occurs.  There's hail, 60+ mph winds, driving rain,
>etc. and you're surrounded by trees (any of which might decide to
>topple).  And then there's the possibility of the funnel cloud itself
>coming along, which you can't see because of the forest canopy.

Date: Fri, 5 Jun 1998 13:27:49 -0400
From: Norman MacLeod 
To: Multiple recipients of list SCOUTS-L 
Subject: Re: Backpacking and Tornadoes

Let's not pose an easy question or anything, eh?

When hiking in the outdoors in the summertime, you should always keep a
"weather eye" and "weather ear" out.  Most thunderstorms move west to east
in the Northern Hemisphere.  There are, however, exceptions, so look around
all 360 degrees at least once in awhile.

You need your ears even more on hazy days, where you might not see a storm
forming until it's too late.  Stop your hike line every once in awhile an
maintain absolute silence for a couple of minutes to try to hear any cell
muttering in the distance.

Remember that 30+ mile an hour movement is not uncommon, and a front can
move even more rapidly if the conditions are right.  You CANNOT outrun most
thunderstorms on foot or horseback!

When you see thunderheads forming, watch more carefully.  Keep an eye out
for possible bail-out routes as you go.

When you begin to hear thunder from the nearest cell, it's time to do a
temporary bail-out to  a safer location.

The bottom of an east-facing slope is generally the safest place to be,
especially when you have a steep hill available.  If you are approaching an
alternate trail that does this for you, and still gets you to your
destination, take that trail, if possible, moving onto it before you would
have to consider bailing out for safety.

Tornadoes come from thunderstorms.  Thunderstorms have lightning.  Lighting
striking at bedrock has a nasty tendency to expend its energy via bedrock
fracture lines.  You often find a lot of these in caves near the surface.
If you are beneath a fracture line, lightning can arc through the cave and
hit you.

Same goes for depressions in bedrock...

However, if you can be close to one of these natural features, or next to a
cliff, stick close by.  If you get caught in a tornado, you'll need them.

Avoid tall trees.

Put on raingear.

Crouch on the ground with your arms around your knees.  This will help
minimize your chances of being affected by nearby lightning strikes.  It's
possible to do your crouching on top of a backpack laid horizontal on the
ground, to increase your degree of insulation.

If hail begins to fall, place your hands on top of your head and KEEP THEM
THERE.  Better yet, put on a climbing helmet (if you have one) or a cooking
pot (if you have one large enough to protect your head.  A folded sleeping
mat will also provide a high degree of body protection if you hold it to
your head.

Listen.  Tornadoes make one heck of a racket.  They make a much different
sound than other types of wind.  If you've never heard it, remember that
people say they sound like a loud train.  Not quite true, but close enough
until you experience the real thing.  (There's a howling and moaning quality
to the sound that doesn't match up to the noise of a train...)

If you hear or see a tornado, forget what I said about the danger of caves
and hollows in the bedrock.  The risk of being hit by lightning inside one
of these structures becomes FAR more acceptable than the risk posed by a
funnel cloud on or near the ground.

How can a funnel cloud in the air hurt you?

Tornadoes can carry debris a LONG way.  The funnel may have been on the
ground on the other side of the hill.  That stuff has to come back to the
ground some time...

Remember, too, that just because a tornado has come and gone doesn't
necessarily mean that there isn't another one in the area.  Once it goes by,
you still need to keep an eye and ear out.  There were three distinct,
separate lines of very severe thunderstorms associated with the weather
front that produced the tornadoes in eastern Pennsylvania and western
Maryland the other day.

There are times when tornadoes DO happen in hilly terrain, contrary to what
you may have learned in the past.  The Maryland tornadoes happened in hilly
terrain.  Generally, a tornado that can survive hills is a VERY strong one,
with potential to do a LOT of squirrelly thinks, including doubling back on
itself and moving back the way it came for a little way, not far, but
perhaps enough to get you if you aren't minding your Ps and Qs after it goes
by the first time.

Some people don't associate waterspouts with danger.  A waterspout in
conjunction with a thunderstorm is different from a tornado only because
it's over water instead of you will perhaps learn when you see one
come ashore...

Enough general info for one day?


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-----Original Message-----
From: Bill Lawrence 
To: Multiple recipients of list SCOUTS-L 
Date: Friday, June 05, 1998 12:16 PM
Subject: Backpacking and Tornadoes

>To all our backcountry experts,
>We recently had thunder storms which generated tornadoes in western
>Pennsylvania, and that got me to thinking about what to do if one is
>backpacking and something like this happens.  Clearly, it's best not to
>go at all if you know that severe weather is coming.  But for the sake
>of argument, let's just say that you're deep in the forest when
>something like this occurs.  There's hail, 60+ mph winds, driving rain,
>etc. and you're surrounded by trees (any of which might decide to
>topple).  And then there's the possibility of the funnel cloud itself
>coming along, which you can't see because of the forest canopy.
>Does anyone have any suggestions (aside from praying fervently)?
>Bill Lawrence
>Advisor, High-Adventure Post 150


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