As a child thunderstorms terrified me. At the first rumble of thunder I’d throw myself under the duvet and screw my eyes shut, terrified as loud bangs vibrated through my body. Then at some point as I got older I realised I really enjoyed a good thunderstorm – perhaps they are something you grow into – like olives, coffee and gin.
There are few things that can equal the power and energy of a big storm, and the cleansing effect on the normally preceding hot muggy weather is normally a most welcome relief afterwards. Some psychologists have put forward a theory, that because our brains crave sensory input the sound of rain or thunder can appease the brain’s demands, offering a calming effect. And of course there is the drama – nature’s own light show streaking across the sky.
Given that I actually like being out in a storm when I saw the forecast this week I wondered would it really be that dangerous to go out in my kayak should a storm hit during daylight hours? I did a bit of research and can safely say I won’t be venturing onto the water while the sky rumbles. It turns out that it’s actually pretty dangerous.
One alarming example of the danger being out on the water can bring, is that a lightening strike 100 metres away can be enough to throw you out your boat (and the energy could render you unconscious). In the water there is more danger at greater distances on land, while the transition from sea to shore also attracts lightning increasing the risk.
Lightning normally hits the highest objects and on smooth water, you the paddler will generally be the highest object around. Carbon paddles in particular are excellent conductors. It’s not just the lightning; the winds that precede the arrival of the rain are a risk themselves and can create a dangerous and unpredictable swell on large bodies of water.
Storms move incredibly quickly and lightning can streak over 10 miles before finding a strike point. Given that we can usually only hear thunder from 10 miles out, if you can hear it then potentially you are in danger (source).
So given the forecast for the rest of the week what can you do to keep yourself safe?
First of all check the forecast and look at the conditions. Lightning Maps is an interesting site that shows real time lightning strikes so you can see how close a storm may be – if there are strikes showing in the Channel, probably not the best time to go for a paddle round the pier. If you are on the water and hear distant rumbles, get off the water. Don’t waste time trying to work out how close the storm is, just head to the shore/slipway as fast as you can. Once off the water get to a a safer place – a building or car is best. If you are too far away from shelter find the lowest point and create insulation between your body and the ground. Sit on your BA or a drybag to reduce the risk of injury from a nearby lightning strike.
Some interesting advice I read was should you be in a group and too far from shore to get off the water, spread the group over a large area with 30 metres between each person; the theory being if one of the group is hit by a strike the others will be close enough to help but won’t all be affected. Paddles should not be connected to the water and flat against the kayak. It is a rare occasion where rafting up into a big connected group could be far more dangerous.
Given what I’ve read, despite loving the drama of a storm I think I’ll be content to watch it from dry land, and preferably in a shelter of some sort. Enjoy the rumbles forecast this week!
P.S. The main picture is probably distinguishable as my sea kayak heading towards Beachy Head Lighthouse, and there may have been a rumble of thunder or two in the distance… I was already cold from an accidental capsize and the sea started to get choppy as the wind whipped up. I was in an experienced group and the storm was travelling away from us but it was enough of a taster to let me know that I wouldn’t really want to risk being on the sea in a kayak any form of storm!