National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Editor’s Note: NWS Celebrates the important work of our WRN Ambassadors in helping communities address the impacts of extreme weather. Adiona Alert, a WRN Ambassador, is helping to educate the public about the importance of planning for weather when enjoying the great outdoors. NWS is not affiliated with and does not endorse specific products and services provided by Adiona Alert.

Every year, severe weather kills. In the U.S., last year (2023), 14 people were killed by lightning, 79 from flash flooding and 93 in wildfires. In contrast, only four people were killed in bear attacks in the U.S. and Canada. Much is made of the risk of bears in wilderness or backcountry areas. Many of us carry bear spray, travel in groups, use food caches, or even avoid areas where the risk from bears is perceived as too great. Yet, so many of us do far too little to manage the risk presented by severe weather. 

As we all start preparing for our summer adventures, you should consider how to be Weather-Ready, staying informed of weather warnings when enjoying the great outdoors.  

Planning to be Weather-Ready 

Most of us would consider it foolish to plan a climbing trip without the proper harness, a paddling trip without a lifejacket, or even head out in our vehicle knowing our brakes weren’t working well. The first step to being Weather-Ready for the great outdoors is to plan for various types of hazardous weather. 

As you plan your adventure, take the time to understand the area you will be visiting. Research or ask folks local to the area what the typical weather is, the potential for extremes or quickly changing conditions. And don’t forget that the weather can be significantly different depending on the topography or elevations you will visit. That must be part of your planning. Then, prepare to have the correct gear. Depending on the area you’re visiting and your adventure, clothing layers, including wind or rain-proof layers, are essential. Even in the heart of summer some areas can experience winter weather.

Hope for the best, but plan for the worst! What will you do if the weather is less than ideal for the hike you initially planned? How can you change your plans and enjoy your trip if the weather is not going to cooperate? Having a plan and discussing that plan with your companions is essential. Have clear expectations before you leave. Having those conversations on the trail as a storm approaches will lead you to make hurried, poor decisions. 

In the few days before your adventure, monitor the local weather forecast and continue reviewing it as long as possible. Short-term weather forecasts have become incredibly accurate. Take the time to carefully review any weather watches or warnings issued before your arrival, and understand how weather watches and warnings are prepared and their different purposes. Weather watches often provide you with information you need to consider well before a severe storm impacts you. You shouldn’t wait until a more serious weather warning is issued to review your plans and consider your plan B. 

As you get into the area, reliable cellular service or an internet connection may no longer be available for most of us. A best practice is to bring along a NOAA Weather Radio, which has coverage beyond cellular reach. But even NOAA Weather Radio has its geographic limitations. Once in an “off-grid” area, know where to get updated forecasts. Many ranger stations, campground hosts, and outfitters make forecasts available to visitors.  

Protecting yourself from hazardous weather 

Once you begin that paddling trip, all your preparation will pay off. But severe weather can still impact you. An unexpected afternoon thunderstorm or flash flooding in a slot canyon from a distant storm can still affect your adventure. 

The best way to be Weather-Ready is to avoid hazardous weather – change plans, leave early, pack it in! You made and discussed severe-weather plans with your party, and now is the time to execute them. 

Away from cellular phone service, a reliable internet connection or a ranger station’s forecast, you need a way to stay aware of severe weather. A radio that receives weather forecasts and warnings over the NWS Weather Radio network is a good choice. Many of you already have a NOAA Weather Radio since this is often included with many marine radios, handheld GMRS or FRS radios. You may even have a dedicated battery-powered weather radio that will warn you when a new severe weather alert is issued in your area. But they have their limits - mountains or canyons are just 

some of the challenges to line-of-sight radio communications. And then, it’s another piece of gear, another set of batteries. 

Better yet, if you already carry a satellite communicator like a Garmin inReach or Zoleo, in addition to being able to call for help in an emergency, you can receive any severe weather or other safety alerts based on your current location directly from your satellite communicator. Regardless of the availability or reliability of cell phone service, weather radio, etc., satellite alerts will be delivered so you can remain informed and take action, no matter how remote you are. Talk about simplicity and peace of mind. 

If a weather watch or warning is issued, consider changing your plans. Consider how you would seek shelter. You may need to start earlier or not complete the distance you were planning for the day to avoid an area where you would be vulnerable. Avoid any area where you will not have shelter from severe weather. Whether it’s making sure there is a sturdy outhouse to offer you shelter from a severe thunderstorm (there’s nothing like being in an outhouse with a dozen of your closest friends to create lifelong bonds...) or an area where you know you can find higher ground on the shore of a river, avoid being swept away by a sudden flash flood surge by planning for shelter! 

Even with the best of planning, things can go sideways! 

Despite your best efforts, it’s possible that you won’t be able to avoid severe weather, so you must protect yourself from severe weather when it happens. Lightning strikes kill people. Flash flooding sweeps people away every year, sometimes to their deaths. 

If severe weather strikes, don’t wait; take action! Seek shelter now. 

If you become injured or swept away in flood waters, don’t wait—call for help! If you carry a Garmin inReach, Zoleo, or other satellite communicator, trigger an SOS. Remember, your rescuers are likely hours away, so the earlier you call for help, the better your chance of a good outcome. 

J.S. Bergeron is the founder of Adiona Alert. Adiona Alert is a proud partner of NOAA’s Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador™ program.