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Old 07-09-2012   #1
yesimapirate's Avatar
Denver-ish, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1999
Join Date: Oct 2010
Posts: 739

Over the weekend we journeyed down to the Rio Chama in NM. On both days we ran into fairly monstrous storms. One of which that had lots of lightening and hail. It was one of the crazier weather systems I've ever boated in. We kept on boating right thru the storms which probably raises some eyebrows, but hear me out before you throw your stones.

Growing up on lakes I was always told to get your ass to shore and seek shelter if your out on the water when thunderstorms roll in, but the main point there was always that you're probably the only object the lightening has to conduct with other that the water. We debated pretty intensely about pulling over to get off the water, but kept going because we could see the storm's end and thought that continuing on would possibly get us there quicker. Did that make our time in the mess any shorter... I don't know. We talked about it more after the storm and with other groups we passed(both still on the river and on shore), and the consensus was still that we thought we were doing the right thing. Our justification was that there tons of trees in these canyons that our boats may not be the most conductive things for lightening to seek out.

With as many opinions as there are in the buzzard world, I would love to hear what people think is the right thing to do. Take my example or just in general, how do you handle adverse weather that includes the threat of lightening?

For your viewing pleasure, here's the hail.
Rio Chama HAIL - YouTube
Side note - NRS Revolution is mine. Only problem I've had with it is I haven't got to use it enough.

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Old 07-09-2012   #2
KSC's Avatar
Boulder, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2003
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 2,032
The topic has come up before and most conclude what you did. It is a bit unnerving though.

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Old 07-09-2012   #3
Decatur, Georgia
Paddling Since: 1973
Join Date: Sep 2009
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The real danger with lightning is that it will spook people into doing something in haste that results in injury or death from wind, waves, falling trees, stumbling onto shore, etc. Back in the 70s, two women died in the Three Sisters Wilderness in Oregon because lightning strikes all around caused them to abandon the tents they had just set up and go stumbling through a rare summer thunder-snowstorm to reach base camp. They were drenched and died of hypothermia. If they had just huddled in their tents, they would have stayed dry and warm.

I've heard of just one person lightly zapped while in a kayak, out on the Hiwassee, in the southeast. If you count up incidents you've heard of, whether limited to kayaks, or including other boats, cars pedestrians, etc., I think you'll see that lightning deaths are much less common than falling tree deaths, drowning while driving through rising water, etc. The NOAA has a "thing" about lightning risk that numbers don't back up.

By the way, some people believe that carbon shaft paddles will act like lightning rods. Recently I took my multimeter and pointy probes and tried to measure the conductivity of my carbon shaft paddles. I couldn't measure any conductivity. Zilch.

So, when caught in a thunderstorm, evaluate your total situation, wind, rain, hail, waves blowing up, ability to manage rapids in high wind, distance to shore, availability of areas on shore not subject to tree blowdown, sand blown in the eyes, etc. Don't take the NOAA recommendation to focus on escaping lightning only.
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Old 07-09-2012   #4
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BZN, Montana
Paddling Since: 2008
Join Date: May 2009
Posts: 1,489
The reality is you are exposed in the river and on the shore. A bolt of lightning through air over a massive distance. Sitting on a rubber raft or in a plastic kayak is laughable in terms of insulation. On shore there are trees. During a recent thunderstorm I was a in driving up a canyon and assumed that lightning was unlikely to strike near the bottom of the canyon but saw a least one tree which was recently struck at river level with several hundred feet of canyon walls and trees above it.
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Old 07-09-2012   #5
Highlands Ranch, CO Paddling Since: 1993
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 482
I'd rather be the lowest point on the river then underneath a huge tree that can get zapped.

Maybe someone here with a better memory can back me up but I think a bunch of years ago a group pulled over in a storm and was struck on land, possibly twice.
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Old 07-09-2012   #6
albuquerque, New Mexico
Join Date: Jan 2011
Posts: 134
i love nm.
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Old 07-09-2012   #7
Salida, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2003
Join Date: May 2012
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I read once in a friend's NOLS river guide training manual that there has yet to be a documented lightning strike to a person when within a river canyon..
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Old 07-10-2012   #8
Denver, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1995
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 2,239
Don 't know what the right thing to do is.But pulling over to be exposed on shore or standing under a tree are not very appealing options.If no shelter just keep going I guess.Once we were on the Idaho Springs run at 1100 and it poured big time got up to maybe 1500 with lightening everywhere and high winds blowing rain horizontally and the caps of waves off. It was like half tsunami ranger half river running in feel...have done better runs on Clear Creek lots of times but that day stands out in my mind.
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Old 07-10-2012   #9
yesimapirate's Avatar
Denver-ish, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1999
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Posts: 739
Originally Posted by cayo 2 View Post
...have done better runs on Clear Creek lots of times but that day stands out in my mind.
Yes, this wasn't the best or most exciting, but will definitely be a memorable trip for us as well.
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Old 07-10-2012   #10
Abron Cabron
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Santa Fe, Nuevo Mexico
Paddling Since: 1999
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 594
Originally Posted by bigscottone View Post
i love nm.

Originally Posted by yesimapirate View Post
Yes, this wasn't the best or most exciting, but will definitely be a memorable trip for us as well.
I was out there too....worked a trip on saturday on the Rio grande and It rained Freaking HARD...! we got pummeled. it hailed. it rained, apparently boulders fell from the mountainside onto the road upstream of where we were...there was lightning with about a milisecond before the earth shatteringly loud thunder. we kept floating through it as well. we did stop under glen woody bridge for a couple minutes, which is a bit of a barrier, but it has new 25' tall metal posts as supports, so it is a pretty sketchy place to hide imo. (i did my best to keep my boat away from them without losing the shelter...) and then it stopped. all in half an hour. had to bust out my hypo kit for a rookie's boatfull of seriously shivering kids, and carried on.
too bad my camera was out of commission. the water loooked so cool....

I dont know what the right thing is, I just thought i'd share a story. one of the the other most memorable lightening & thunder storms i rowed through was on the wilderness section of the Rio Chama. and once again just kept going through it. I guess it seems to be the lesser evil to stay low and in your boat.
And the weather always changes in twenty minutes in NM anyhow. so if you dont ride the lightning, you'll dry out pretty quick usually


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