Do you paddle if thunderstorms ...

… Are forecasted? I’m talking “chance of”, like 30 or 40%, not a sure thing. And I’m not talking about the kind of conditions that would result high winds, small craft warnings, etc. Just your average overcast, chance of showers, maybe a T storm kind of day.

I’m finding that parking can be tough on nice summer days, but when it’s cloudy with a little drizzle forecasted, maybe some T storms in the area, it’s easy to get access to the water. I don’t mind showers, and the waves kicked up can be fun. Recently picked up a Paclite Knapster so I’m water proof above the skirt.

Why not?
The guide most roofers use is go ahead if the forecast is 30%, be cautious if over 40%. I use forecasts for my zip code or that of the one in which I wish to paddle. Tomorrow, I’m going out on the local lake, forecast is for 50%. Skin is waterproof and I’ll stay fairly close to cover if a big storm comes up.

If I stayed in every time a chance of thunderstorms was forecast I would never leave the house.

I check local radar and can tell the severity and if they might be a problem.

Just keep an eye on the sky when you are out there and keep your weather radio on for what ever good that does.

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I did that July 1 here in Tennessee. NOAA forecast 20% chance of thunderstorms. Got the boat assembled, rigged, and heard thunder. No way I was going to disassemble, pack up, and go home. I paddle about 11-12 miles in rain, wind, saw some distant lightning; prayed, but less fervently than Martin Luther. God spared me. Dunno why.

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Here in SW Ohio, if I didn’t go out when T-storms are forecast, I’d leave my boat in the basement for 6 months straight.

You didn’t mention what type of paddling you do (river, lake, ocean), but obviously the larger the body of water, the riskier getting caught in a storm is.

It’s important to remember what those percentages actually mean. I don’t remember the exact numbers off the top of my head, but 30% chance roughly means there is a 30% probability that the specified weather event will happen within a certain number of miles (25 or 50 I think…can’t remember) from any point within the forecast area for the entire time the forecast period is valid. This is why you’ll see 20-30% chance of T-Storms in the midwest almost every summer day; a storm is bound to pop up somewhere.

A few tips that may help you out:

Pay attention to the weather maps. If there aren’t any fronts forecast to roll through, you’ve removed one of potential methods storms are created. If a front is moving through, maybe it’s not until 8 P.M.

Paddle in the morning. Ignoring frontal systems, most summertime storms are of the “pop-up” variety. They rely on daytime heating (the sun) to add enough energy to the atmosphere to spark up. For this reason, in my neck of the woods, most storms don’t seem to pop up until after 3 or 4. There are of course exceptions that break this rule. A strong temperature inversion that’s holding a great deal of unstable air below it in the morning hours could erode as the day wears on allowing storms to form with explosive speed. However, the weather folk are pretty good at reading the signs and will rarely post an innocuous 30% on such a day.

Also, it’s worth noting that it’s not uncommon for overcast to restrict surface heating enough to retard otherwise forecast general storms.

Finally, no humidity, no storms.

Take a look at . If your area is below slight risk, don’t worry. If it’s slight, check the weather before leaving. If it’s moderate risk, gather information and consider your options. If you see severe risk, drag your boat into the basement, flip it over and climb underneath.


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Some suggestions
1. Check radar and forecast just before leaving the house. Things do change overnight.

2. Try to determine which direction the storms would be coming from and if possible pick a place to paddle with an unobstructed view in that direction. Remember to stop and look behind you fairly often so nothing sneaks up on you.

3. Do a half and half paddle where you go in one direction and back in about 1/2 of your planned paddling time. Then finish the other half of your time in the other direction. Idea is to stay closer to a protected take out spot (your car).

4. Turn around (or head for known protective spot) immediately if you hear thunder. If you get back to the take out and everything looks clear just keep on paddling. You do not have to quit just becasue you got back to the takeout, but you could be glad to be back early if the weather has turned bad.

Your chances of being struck by
lightning while out on a lake or river are rather small, comparable to the risk of walking around on land in a lightning storm. The real focus of concern should be wind and waves caused by a thunderstorm, and the risk of hypothermia if you aren’t dressed properly or flip over.

Back in the early 70s, three women in an Outward Bound program went out from the main group, assigned to each camp overnight by themselves on the high saddle of the Oregon Three Sisters Wilderness.

Just as the women got camp set up, a summer thunderstorm rolled in, and they had lightning striking all around them. None of them realized that they had to stay in the tent to stay dry. Each attempted to break camp in the middle of the lightning and rain, which then changed to snow. Only one made it back to Outward Bound base camp, and she was very wet and hypothermic. The other two died of hypothermia on the way. Needless to say, no one was struck by lightning, even though there were many ground strikes.

This incident shows that fear of lightning is more of a risk than lightning itself.

Yes…I’m a paddler
come hell or high water. I paddle rivers here in the southeast and I could care less if it rains or shines. I have “never” checked the weather forecast before paddling. I have paddled through lightning storms that made the hair on my arm stand up. I even paddled in a hale storm and have pictures to prove it.

I don’t know of any kayaker who was killed by lightning, but it they need a first I’m giving it my best shot.

…but what I do has nothing to do with you. Make your own decision…after all you will be the only one who suffers the consequences.

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On my little corner of Earth
the T-storms usually come in the afternoons. Mornings are beautiful. I hightail it when the storms come because they frequently are accompanied with very gusty wind, hail, lots of cloud to ground lightning, and make impressive whitecaps on our inland waters. Our microburst winds are notorious for knocking aircraft, big and small, to the ground.

Just paddled in a cloudburst this
weekend complete with lightning cracking all around. Wouldn’t really recommend it but can’t stay home just because it might rain. You stand a better chance of being hurt at home or in the car than of getting struck by lightning, just use a little common sense and enjoy what comes your way…

I head for the trees

– Last Updated: Jul-19-07 8:41 AM EST –

In the middle of a lake you make a good target. The old saying is if you can hear the thunder, it's close enough to strike. I've seen lightning hit the water while out at sea and it's really scary. It bounces off the water and travels on top of it looking for a candidate. If you ever see that, all the unlikely statistics won't mean a thing and you'll play it safe. They pass. I just get off a lake if I'm out there. I will paddle over to the woods line and get under the trees. If I hear it while out in Long Island Sound, I head in to shore. I would think if you're a white water paddler you are not as much a target on a creek or thin river??

But to answer your question. More days than not, thunder and possible lightning is predicted in the summer and if you worry too much you'll never paddle. I just won't go far off shore if I hear anything.

Yes and no
-20 to 30 percent we go.

-40 we might go and stay near the shore

  • 50 and above we probably would not go.

    I would not head much more than a mile off shore if it was a 40% chance, and then I would keep a eye on the sky and watch the wind direction

    On the 20 to 30 I also would keep an eye on the sky and watch the wind direction.



As a beginner you gotta sometmes ask “is there anything wrong with this?” so the experienced folks can say “well, have you thought of this?”. Sounds like many paddlers do, and I appreciate the safty tips. I’m usually in the ocean … er, bay … and no more than a mile off shore. Most places I go I could head for shore and get out if need be.

T-storms on ocean
Hey NE Beginner,

T-Storms on ocean can be quite different than on a lake.

Wind can go from 0 to 30 knot gusts in minutes. When paddling when the danger of t-storms is present, it is best to keep close to shore so that you can get off the water if need be.

Just recently paddled out of Ipswich and on the inside of Plum Island Sound and we knew the storm was coming and paddled until the lightning strikes were pretty close. The water went from flat to 2’ wind driven chop and wind up to 30knots pretty quick. Plenty of moored boats to get blown into if you aren’t skilled enough to control your boat in that situation.


Generally no, here
Thunderstorms in this area often include lightning and squally winds or hail. Sometimes very little rain itself, which is the least troublesome part anyway.

I’ve found that 30% chance too often translates to 60% chance along the foothills (one of my paddling locations).

10% chance, yes.

20% chance, only if the other days have higher probabilities than that.

30% and up, usually not.

lightning is attracted to water!! "Nuff said.

Sudden winds
They happen on lakes, too.

“Minutes” for 0 to 30 mph? Try SECONDS. It’s like someone flips a switch on the blender. Doesn’t even have to be a large lake.

JackL’s Percentages

– Last Updated: Jul-19-07 3:24 PM EST –

All bets are off if you can hear thunder of course. Don't go or get out fast. But I rather like the percentages and decision points listed by JackL above - I hadn't thought about it but they are probably close to what we actually do when on the ocean in Maine. With all the points and irregular shorelines, storms will often swerve morth or south.

Also, if you don't have a weather radio or VHF/weather radio that you can have outside the hatch and set on alert get one. Unless you are an ace weather forecaster, the alert will let you know of really bad ones coming at you. It likely won't be enough time to get back to you launch point, but enough to get you close to hard land somewhere. And stop to listen to it often - before launch, a couple of hours later, that kind of frequency at least. That'll tell you if fronts are coming thru earlier than had been predicted.

Good luck - you have a nice boat and a great area to paddle in. It seems like you are spending your time well starting out - in the end time in the saddle tells.

not enough answers yet
I have been avoiding going out due to predicted storms for a variety of reasons. The main one being that if the group decides to turn back and they all paddle fast, I have problems keeping up. So twice I’ve elected to stay home when I could have been paddling.

Last year I found myself an hour from the put in in the middle of a windy nasty storm on a large enough inland lake. I stayed near shore - under the trees as much as possible and the lightening seemed to stay in the distance. It was rough out on the water but in the end I was proud of my having kept my wits about me and making it back to the launch site in record time. I wasn’t trying to keep up with others but I wasn’t taking it easy. It was stressful but not as stressful for me as it would be if I was holding up a group.

The next time I went paddling in the rain, there was hardly any lightening and this lake is a bit smaller. I stayed near the launch site and paddled around and around a nearby island.

Still though, I am not sure what one should do if they are an hour or more away from their put in and the storm comes charging in? Most always I paddle near the shorelines.

I do sort of figure that the more severe the summer storm the quicker it will pass by.

couldnt agree more with Mr. Georgia
almost exclusively I paddle rivers. Lakes and bigger water bodies just dont do it for me.

I actually try to paddle on days where rain/storms are forecasted. There are a few reasons… alot cooler (air temp) and usually a nice cool breeze, rain seems to wash out all but the most devoted souls so Ive usually got the whole river to myself (even on more crowded spots), the sound of the rain on the water and the surrounding forrest is amazingly relaxing, a good thunderstorm is always a good show (id prolly be sitting under the grage eve watching if i werent paddling.

I could go on and on, but if i were given a choice of

trip a- perfectly sunny beautiful day


trip a- wicked bad torrential downpour

i would take the latter no questions asked.

Im not worried about lightning, I figure the man up there will get me when he wants me, regarless of where im at and what im doing. (also like Georigia ive never once heard of a paddler being hit)

Theres just something about a rainy/stormy trip that relaxes me/lets me unwind 10x more than the same trip in fair weather.

CAnt describe it, but ive done my best. I would reccomend it. As they say dont knock it till you try it.

Ive got the el cheapo $40 Frog Togs rainsuit, and I stay reasonably dry (only use it if i get cold or the weather is below 70degrees) and I have an excellent trip every time I go out in the rain.

Take this post for what its worth- Just one paddlers opinion :wink: