Tents & Thunderstorms: Are Tents Safe in a Thunderstorm?

Are Tents Safe in a Thunderstorm?

I know this may seem like simple commonsense to some… however, we learned the hard way that tents in a thunderstorm do not make for a pleasant night’s sleep!

Can and tent stand in a thunderstorm?

Let me just start by saying that tents in a thunderstorm are a really bad idea!  Don’t believe me, this is what the National Weather Service has to say about the matter:

You are cooking dinner on the camp stove when you hear distant rumbles of thunder. Your tent and a large open sided picnic shelter are nearby. Your vehicle is about quarter of a mile away parked at the trail head. What should you do? Go to your vehicle! The tent and picnic shelter are NOT a safe places.

Other research conducted said a tent is no different than standing outside completely unprotected when lightening is involved!

Why did I do this research?  Well, because we decided to hold off on purchasing an RV until after the summer is over!  Crazy as it may seem, we have opted to use a really big tent for now!  This is wonderful when the weather is good, however, after sitting through a thunderstorm that included a brief stent of hail… we started to second guess ourselves a little.

Sunshine Key Resort

We prided ourselves on being “prepared” earlier in the day.  We picked up all of our outdoor items and tucked them safely away.  We put all electronic devices on a table inside of the tent.  Everything was up and away – “we’re ready for this” we thought.

At about 1:15 am I was awoken by very loud thunder and bright lightening.  I asked my husband if we were safe and he responded with a manly response of “I think so…”

“I think so” didn’t do it for me.  Within two minutes I demanded we retreat to the 6×12 enclosed trailer.  By the time we all made it inside, the rain was coming down very hard and the lightening wasn’t letting up.   Within an hour after that- it was hailing!

A few hours later the rain let up enough for us to venture to the tent to remove any valuables, electronics, and put up anything we foolishly thought was safe on the floor.   When we stepped out of the trailer, we walked into a river of water… it was past my ankles!  “Oh my goodness, we escaped a flash flood!”

We rounded the end of the trailer expecting the worse and discovered our tent was still standing “Halleluiah!”… however, it was a little like being on a boat, or waterbed.  I think if it wasn’t for boulders behind our tent, it would have floated away!

Thunderstorm in Florida Keys

We did what we could and quickly made it back inside the trailer before the next round of storms arrived.

I monitored the radar all night until I was certain of the time we needed to be awake.  According to the radar, we would have a three hour window from 6:30 am until 10 am…. at this point it was after 4 o’clock so I forced myself to get a few hours of sleep on the cold damp floor – cuddled with seven other people and a dog!  (Did I mention we had converted this trailer into a kitchen so we had to curl around cabinets and storage shelves? – not very cozy!)

The next morning I awoke in panic thinking I had overslept.  I knew we had five short hours to clean what we could and brace ourselves for a full day of more rain! It was a frantic mess trying to decide what to do, what would be a waste of time, what was important – we’ve never done this before, we had no plan of action.

I decided that my husband and mother could continue to be reactive and try to combat the water (that I knew would only happen again anyway) and I was going to be proactive and clean/reorganize the trailer to allow us ample room to move throughout the day instead.  This plan worked out pretty good because I wasn’t in their way and they weren’t in mine.

Grandma/Mom:  She took over removing anything wet and laying them out to dry.

Hubby:  Took our wet/dry vac and vacuumed out as much water as possible.

*Tip:  If everyone is busy and you don’t know what to do  A) ask what you can do B) find something useful to do on your own.

At 10 o’clock the next round of rain arrived and we were prepared…. truly this time!

Morning Thunderstorm in the Florida Keys

 So, you may be wondering, “Who’s Coleman tent was that?”…. that was our camp neighbor’s tent!  The poles split, shredded apart, and the entire tent collapsed.  They were fortunate enough to have a Class A as a backup plan.

Our neighbors to the other side of us were also in tents and were completely flooded out.  They packed up and went home a day early since their only backup was to sleep in their car.

Moral of the story, if you are going to camp in a tent – always have a backup!  You never know the type of situation you may find yourself in. We have now assigned everyone to a specific task for future weather situations/emergencies.

Additional moral of the story… when thunderstorms are approaching… move camp!

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