Friday, June 24, 2011

Natural Hazards of Camping by Judy Kiepke

Environmental Studies
PHS 100A
Judy Kiepke
Professor David Terrell Ph. D.
Warner Pacific College
June 22, 2011

There are natural hazards in life we have no control over. What control we do have is how we react to them. Being prepared is a good part of survival but ultimately survival may come as a gift from a power stronger than any natural hazards. As a family we love to go camping up in the wilderness. Every Fourth of July we travel to East Lake and set up camp trying to prepare for any extreme types of weather. Not surprising we have encountered everything from sunshine and 90 degrees to rain, hail, wind, and the most frightening of all thunderstorms.
As a family group we prepare for the hazards of being in the wilderness, closer to the sun we bring our sun screens. The ones that don’t like sun screen wear long sleeves and hats. In this day and age we need to guard our skin from the UV rays and cumulative damage done by the sun. We never know if we are the one that will get skin cancer. As a parent we apply sunscreen to our children and hope that the ones that escaped don’t get burned to bad. As parents we worry even about the chemicals within the sunscreen. My husband and teenage grandsons challenge me when it comes to applying this form or sun protection.
Another thing we do when setting up camp is check out the conditions of the trees around our camp. You never know when a tree may fall on someone in the camp. I know this is not a common problem but we have seen storms that build up over the horizon that drop right down over us. The large white and dark clouds that role over the hills can surprise us with most any type of weather. It is both awesome and scary at the same time. You know you have no power when it comes to a spring time storm. The wind runs through the trees, the rain pours down as we quickly cover all the things we have out. Preparing ourselves for this gives us a satisfying feeling. We look for the dead limbs and the trees that are sick so if the wind blows they will not harm anyone. Some things you have no control over!
We have enjoyed snow and hail storms also. Standing under the tarps we have watched the ground be covered with snowball hail. Some were as large as a pea causing excitement that runs through the camp. So refreshing to see and hear. So clean and peaceful compared to a downfall of rain. It comes as quickly as it goes, and pictures are taken to remind us of the power of the weather. It goes from warm to cold quickly. We add wood to our fire and Thank God for the variety of weather that this day brings. We have no control over the weather patterns. Being caught out on the river in a boat may bring a little concern as you hear the booms and see the flashes of a fast approaching thunderstorm.
Springtime thunderstorms are one of the most frightening hazards here in Oregon. Those dark clouds, the cold winds, over a warm afternoon, the flashes of lightning followed by very loud thunder claps. We count the seconds between the boom and the flash. I will tell you I have a great respect for the power of a thunderstorm. I know the probability of being hit by lightning is small but being in the wrong place brings those odds to 100 percent. I do not want to temp the lighting Gods! Being educated about lightning and being prepared for the possibility is the least we can do.
Thunderstorms bring wind and preparing the area beforehand is a good start. Removing dead limbs and branches can help prevent that accident from happening when the wind blows. I was reading the 30/30 lightning rule. It says go indoors if you see lightning and cannot count to 30 before hearing thunder. Stay indoors thirty minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder (FEMA, 2011). This is not possible when camping outdoors. There are things you can do to make yourself less of a lightning rod. You can get inside of your car. The rubber-soled shoes and tires do not provide protection. However, the steel frame of a hard topped vehicle provides protection as long as you don’t touch metal (FEMA, 2011).
Avoid standing under the tallest tree, or hilltops, open fields or a boat in the water. Do not stand on or hold anything metal. Like a bicycle or on top of a car. Anything that conducts electricity should be avoided. Being prepared will help us to identify where and what we do in case of a thunderstorm that blows in. In a forest seek shelter in a low area under a thick growth of small trees. As I read information one thing that sticks out is if you feel your hair stand on end that means lightning is about to strike. Make yourself low to the ground on the balls of your feet minimizing the contact to the ground. Place your hands over your ears with your head between your knees. Make yourself the smallest target possible. Never lie flat on the ground.
So does anyone ever get hit by lightning and are my fears real? On the average, 60 people die after being struck by lightning. That is 10 percent of the nearly 600 hit each year in the U.S. alone. As explained in the article from the KATU news that 3,600 lightning strikes hit Oregon on one storm system alone moving across the Cascades (Stuart Tomlinson, 2009). Lighting up the sky for all to see and contrary to popular belief central and eastern Oregon see its fair share of thunderstorms.
In fact we had a 14 year old boy hit by lightning in La Pine, Oregon in June of 2009 which is a not far from where we camp. He was extremely lucky to survive the 50,000-degree bolt of lightning. He was warned by a friend not to go outside to watch the thunderstorm rumbling overhead. About 1 in 7000,000, according to the National Weather Service is your chances of being hit by lightning (Stuart Tomlinson, 2009). Odds were not in his favor. He made the odds 100 percent by being outside in its path.
Being out in the wilderness around a campfire adds to the awesome experience of seeing the power of a thunderstorm. Knowledge helps to keep us safe, but ultimately safety comes from doing what we know to do and being protected by the one that has the power to protect! The things we learn while camping and being in the outdoors brings about some hazards that we can avoid and in a small form some that we cannot avoid. Nature has power and hazards but by knowing what the hazards are we can enjoy and avoid them most of the time. The benefits of camping outdoors with our families outweigh the hazards that we have no control over. The control we do have is being prepared.

FEMA. (2011, June 22). Thunderstorms and Lightning. Retrieved June 22, 2011, from Natural Hazards:
Stuart Tomlinson, T. O. (2009, June 04). Oregon teen expected to recover from lightgning strike. Retrieved June 22, 2011, from Orgin la pine teen hospitalized afte.html

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