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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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The topic has come up before and most conclude what you did. It is a bit unnerving though.
 

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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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GoBro
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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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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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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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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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Abron Cabron
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i love nm.
word.

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:rolleyes:

:mrgreen:
 

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Don't know what the right thing to do is.
Just keep paddling or rowing and repeating to yourself, "I ain't skeered of nothin'."
 

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abron, do you know if the rio actually bumped up to 500 yesterday, or if it was just the monsoons playing with the gauge? its back under 300 now, but i am hoping for some sloppy weather to gamble with for a drive up next week...
 

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Abron Cabron
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Just keep paddling or rowing and repeating to yourself, "I ain't skeered of nothin'."
On commercial trips if i have kids in the boat I'll ask right at the top of a rapid "you skeered? Cause I'M SKEERED...!!!"
I think i might of said that once or twice during that thunderstorm....:rolleyes: in the flatwater....lol

abron, do you know if the rio actually bumped up to 500 yesterday, or if it was just the monsoons playing with the gauge? its back under 300 now, but i am hoping for some sloppy weather to gamble with for a drive up next week...
I bet it flashed, It does spike if theres enough rain any where north of pilar. Some times the river will be yellow from the Moly mines tailings if it dumps hard up in red river...

Hey btw scott if you're interested in yakking -meeting some folks 1:30 friday at souse hole to float the RC....gonna splat some rocks and try to learn some flatwater crap. low water or no, it ll be nice to get wet. i need to learn how to handroll. thats sure to be amusing....
 

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Water Vs Rubber

Insulation of a rubber boat is not much when dealing with that kind of voltage, agreed, but whether in a yak or raft, water offers a much better ground. After being ordered out of pools when storms approach, I think we naturally associate water with added danger for lightening strikes, but being in a boat on a river is totally different situation. I say keep paddling.

One of my most intense whitewater memories ever goes back to a high-water early season run down the Middle Fork in 2009. A storm came up on us as we were entering Impassable Canyon. The skies opened and it rained as hard as I've ever experienced, and violent lightening and thunder added to the drama. The river was ~6.5' and it was such a raw exposure to these powerful natural elements, but I did't feel threatened. In fact, the exhilaration and awe had me grinning from ear to ear.
 

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One of the things I try to tell people when I teach Wilderess First Aid classes and such is "Lightning is Lazy" it will usually strike a canyon rim before hitting the river below (or any other tall things like trees) instead of a little raft.

It works pretty good at convincing custys to keep paddling when it's cracking overhead too. :)
 

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I don't know of a single documented case of a lightning strike in the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I have been down there in a lot of lightning storms. We were camped in the middle of furnace flats at Tanner one night, the most open place in the canyon and even then, all the strikes were hitting the rims.
 

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Last summer two miners where dredging in Idaho for gold. Lighting hit the creek and the guy underwater in a wetsuit running the hose was completely unharmed. The guy standing chin deep was badly burned on both legs. They were only few yards apart.

I just heard that if lightining comes in, that you are NOT to sit on your butt. You should squat like your on a grover. I guess you want to ground through your feet not your spine. They say it cause less damage to your internal organs.
 
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