Don't Get Caught in the Storm: Learn to Read Inclement Weather Patterns

Fall can be
unpredictable for weather, no matter where you live. And in places like the Midwest and East Coast, an afternoon thunder shower becomes a regular occurrence. While everyone participating in outdoor activities needs to pay close attention to inclement weather, paddlers and other open-water goers should take extra precautions since situations have the potential to become dire much more quickly when we're out of our element, away from dry land.

Sometimes an approaching storm gives plenty of advance warning and we can track it on radar or see its approach from miles away, giving you plenty of time to make a decision on your course of action. In other instances however, a decision on what to do is far less clear cut. While those who operate motor boats can quickly reach shore, when you're in a kayak, canoe, sailboat or on a stand-up paddle board, you may find yourself caught on the water during a storm.

If you're kayak camping, the decision to stay and ride out the storm or pack up and paddle out can be a tough one to make. With the ever increasing presence of technology, we can track storms and stay in contact with emergency and rescue services, should things get really dicey. But just how accurate are these devices? And are they, to a degree, robbing us of our ability to reason and make decisions under pressure?

Hypothetically, let's say you were kayak camping with a group on a primitive barrier island not far from the mainland. At nightfall, a call comes in from a concerned relative. A storm system bringing heavy thunder, rain, and wind is headed in your general direction. The concerned family member believes you should pack it up and head for the mainland...I was faced with this exact dilemma while providing a field experience for a group of college students. I opted to remain at camp and ride the storm out. While a couple of tents blew down and a few people got wet, we made it through the storm unscathed. It could've turned out otherwise, and the concerned parent believed I endangered the group by remaining on the island. I can certainly see her point, but I stand by my decision.

Still, before you can make those decisions, you need to become confident in your ability to read weather patterns, which usually comes with experience and lots of knowledge about a particular area. Venturing out into open water provides unique opportunities to explore aquatic environments and get fit, close to nature. But since Mother Nature isn't always kind, your favorite open-water sport also comes with its own set of risks. You should consider the possibility of inclement weather and how you might respond to it--before you head out. Packing a phone and a GPS is certainly a wise idea but informed and well-reasoned decision making will ultimately save the day...and perhaps a life.


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