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Safety: Quickly Changing Weather

Safety: Quickly Changing Weather

Spring brings showers, flowers and quickly changing weather that can turn a trickling stream into a raging river.

Lightening, Grand Canyon Lightning can be very beautiful and fascinating to watch or photograph, but you must consider your own safety first and foremost. (Travis Roe/Share the Experience)

As temperatures rise and snow recedes from our favorite outdoor places, the landscape springs to life with active wildlife, fields of flowers and severe weather. Heavy rains, high winds, lightning and extreme temperature variations are common weather conditions during spring. The key to staying safe and enjoying these early-season adventures is to “know before you go.” Here are a few safety tips for some common spring-time weather events.

Thunderstorms and Lightning

Thunderstorms can develop quickly and are always associated with lightning. If you hear thunder, lightning is close enough to strike and you should seek shelter immediately. Here are some important safety tips if you are outdoors during a thunderstorm.

  • Avoid open fields, the top of a hill or a ridge top.
  • Stay away from tall, isolated trees or other tall objects. If you are in a forest, stay near a lower stand of trees.
  • If you are in an open area, go to a low place such as a ravine or valley. Be alert for flash floods.
  • If you are on open water, go to land and find shelter immediately.
  • Stay away from water and metal objects, which are both excellent conductors of electricity.
  • If you are anywhere you feel your hair stand on end (which indicates that lightning is about to strike), squat low to the ground on the balls of your feet. Place your hands over your ears and your head between your knees. Make yourself the smallest target possible and minimize your contact to the ground. DO NOT lie flat on the ground.

Visit Ready.gov for more details and techniques for staying safe. Also take a look at “When Lightning Strikes” on the NOAA.gov YouTube channel for a dramatic and informative video illustrating what to do in the event of lightning.


North American summers are hot; most summers see heat waves in one or more parts of the United States. East of the Rockies, they tend to combine both high temperature and humidity although some of the worst heat waves have been catastrophically dry. Follow these safety tips to avoid heat-related injuries.

  • Slow down. Reduce, eliminate or reschedule strenuous activities until the coolest time of the day.
  • Dress for summer. Wear a hat and lightweight, light-colored clothing to reflect heat and sunlight.
  • Put less fuel on your inner fires. Foods, like meat and other proteins that increase metabolic heat production also increase water loss.
  • Drink plenty of water, non-alcoholic and decaffeinated fluids. Your body needs water to keep cool. Drink plenty of fluids even if you don't feel thirsty.
  • During excessive heat periods, spend more time in air-conditioned places if possible.
  • Don't get too much sun. Sunburn reduces your body's ability to dissipate heat.

Visit the NOAA National Weather Service for more information on NOAA's Watch, Warning, and Advisory Products for Extreme Heat.

Flash Floods

Flash floods are rapidly developing floods that can happen with little or no warning and can occur in mountainous to desert areas on small streams, rivers and even in towns. Flash flooding is responsible for more fatalities—more than 140 annually—than any other thunderstorm-associated hazard. The National Weather Service issues flash flood watches and warnings which are transmitted on NOAA weather radios and through local media. A flash flood watch means threatening weather is possible in the area. A flash flood warning means you may have only seconds to escape. Review this checklist for flash flood safety tips.

  • Know your area's flood risks. Monitor the NOAA weather radio all hazards bulletins, or your local news stations for vital weather information.
  • Stay alert for signs of heavy rain (thunder and lightning), both where you are and upstream. Watch for rising water levels.
  • Get to higher ground if flooding occurs. Leave low-lying areas immediately.
  • Don't try to outrun a flash flood in your car. Climb to safety immediately.
  • Avoid areas already flooded, especially if the water is flowing fast. Do not attempt to cross flowing streams. Remember: turn around; don’t drown.
  • Don't try to swim to safety; wait for rescuers to come to you.
  • Be especially cautious at night, when it is harder to recognize and respond to danger. During threatening conditions, do not camp or park your vehicle along streams and rivers.

Hail, heat, high winds, and other weather events can turn a pleasant outdoor experience into an exercise in survival. NOAA Weather Radio is a around-the-clock source that provides weather reports and hazard alerts. Being prepared with appropriate clothes and equipment, checking weather conditions prior to a visit and letting people know where you are going and when you will return will help ensure your outdoor adventure is filled with fond memories. Here are more outdoor weather safety tips from the U.S. Forest Service.