Thunderstorm Possibility- when to turn around?

Posted by: Whitney Zone

Thunderstorm Possibility- when to turn around? - 07/20/06 07:44 AM

Posted by Bob K, 07-20-06
Between Trail Crest and Summit, what would the sky have to look like in order to cause you to turn around because of concern for possible thunderstorms? Thanks.


Posted by JeffH, 07-20-06
It's a personal decision, but I can tell you about last year in July for me. I had gone to the area a day before my hike, and was treated to the sight of some thunderstorms near the summit at about 3-4 pm. I figured I'd have to get up there early the next day in order to miss them, but the clouds rolled in while I was high on the switchbacks. When the visibility got to a couple hundred feet, I made the decision to turn around - I didn't want to get caught in a storm. Got a few drops of rain on the way down, and just before Outpost Camp, I had to stop and wait out about 10 minutes of hail.
You never know how things will change up there, my preference was to be safe first. The mountain will be there again next year, and the 15 bucks certainly didn't break the bank here.


Posted by Whitney Mike, 07-20-06
Bob - Jeff is right, it is a personal decision about when to turn back if there is the possibility of a thunderstorm. What I tell the people in my group every year is if you are past Trail Camp, and it is beginning to cloud up, especially if it is after 12:00pm, turn around and head down. Those storms develop quickly, and it is just not worth the risk.

The day I summited last year, it began to cloud up at noon, and by 12:10, I was on my way down to Trail Crest, moving as quickly as safely possible. I felt a few drops around the windows, but that was all. The next day was when the storms really hit, and it rained at the portal campsites.

Remember, be safe, and the mountain will be there next year for another attempt.

Michael T.


Posted by 67brickie, 07-20-06
JeffH - just curious, what date(s) in July last year (2005) did you catch that weather on your hike? on July 21 lightning caused a fire in the valley notch leading up to the MR which was clearly visible from the Main Trail, Outpost, and also the next day on the drive down away from the Portal. I'd be interested to know when you experienced your weather... thanks
Brickie


Posted by greybeard, 07-20-06
I summited on the 18th with grey cloudy skies and some light rain but no thunder or lightning. Its best to get up as early as possible on days with higher rain possibilities. In general you can hear and see the weather coming and make the appropriate decision. Just remember there are not many places to shelter above trailcamp.


Posted by JeffH, 07-20-06
Brickie-

I was there on July 23-24. At the time there was a large fire visible from Lone Pine, on whatever mountain is just North of Whitney. The night view was terrible and spectacular at the same time.


Posted by Bob K, 07-21-06
Thanks for your responses. Since electrocutions up there are rare (actually well done) I'll probably be OK. My wife's prudent good sense will probably have us turning around at the right time in any case if that is needed. Who knows, there may not be a single cloud in the sky. A good time to be had in any case. I'm going up next week.


Posted by Doug Sr, 07-21-06
Hi Rain and hail last few days some lighting, most folks not ready for the weather and hanging around waiting for the magic forecast, the best day is the day you are here and can see what it is doing, the worst day is the day the clouds hang over the summit and you can't see the thunderheads building or the direction of the storm. Expect storms any time day or night and the third week of Aug. snow will return. Thanks Doug


Posted by Candace, 07-22-06
Bob, always err on the side of caution. Weather changes incredibly fast on the backside of Whitney. I've seen it be perfectly clear/sunny at Trail Camp and then hailing as you approach the summit.

What amazes me is that rarely have I see other hikers turn around, even in clearly dangerous conditions. Two years ago I turned around about a half mile from the summit because it started to pour and you see lightning strikes around the summit. The thunder was booming. I literally ran back to Trail Crest and contiued jogging about halfway down the switchbacks until the rain subsided. Maybe that's being a wussy, but I can't believe that people continue to hike when lightning is all around the area.

The most extreme example of being oblivious to lightning danger was on Half Dome about 6 years ago. Two men in their early 20's insisted on using the cables in the middle of thunder and lightning. All of us gathered on the shoulder urged them to turn around, but they just laughed us off and up they went!

Serious accidents happen to prudent hikers who simply have accidents on the trail. But to court disaster like that is foolhardy.


Posted by VersatileFred, 07-22-06
Ah yes! I remember the discussion last year on the subject: Hikers Walking Into Lightning Storm. SomeoneTell Me Why!.
_________________________
Orientation Notes for Whitney First Timers


Posted by Walt Whitney, 07-22-06
Bob K, by no means do I mean to downplay the danger of being on or near a summit during a lightning storm. But when you consider the number of people who are above Trail Crest daily, many after the 2:00pm preferred turn around time to avoid the almost daily thunderstorms, some oblivious to the dangers, others taking a calculated risk, the actual number of people injured by a lightning strike hiking Whitney are miniscule.

It's a very scary atmospheric condition to be in, but more accidents can occur by turning around and running down the switchbacks until the rain ends, than would and have occured by using good sense and keeping a level head.

I have a feeling your wife has a really good built in radar for when the clouds look like a thunderstorm might be near. And between your judgement and her built in radar, you will be able to make a prudent decision.


Posted by Steve G, 07-22-06
Bob, We reached Trail Crest around 9.00 A.M. on June 27th with beautifuly clear sky's. Around 10:15 and a half mile away from the summit clouds started forming behind us, at 10:30 the tempature dropped 35 degrees and we were in the middle of a very intense SNOW Storm. We had dropped our 30 pound packs to try and make the summit. Not a good choice. Right about where the long ridge that rises to the summit starts it dumped snow that covered everything. Lightning Blast, so we dump the poles, get low during BLASTS. There is nothing like being stuck in a position of squating on a cold rock with sleet covering you in a matter of minutes, at 14,000 feet and no place to go. Talk about being vulnerable!!. This continued for about twenty minutes, as the storm lightened and I came out from under my jacket (If you have one) some did not..15 Minutes of wondering if this is the time of your calling. A lot of people were saying their prayers.Everything is white and now very slippery. No time to run, The first thing to do is not panic !! Running through a lightning storm just makes you a moving target. We saw several people with nasty cuts from falling as they ran off the top of the summit. Poles arcing together, rings arcing to the poles, hair standing up, strange odors. All in All we had a fantastic hike, didn't make the top by a quarter of a mile on our day hike. So we will be coming back soon to try again. Enjoy your trip, it is an amazing hike...Thanks to a higher power we will have another opportunity


Posted by Doug Sr, 07-22-06
Hi Today was one of those days, Perfect clear sky, warm in the AM, the the storm moved in from the southeast and dumped. This is a large storm that covered the mountains and the valley and will most likely do it again tonight or over the next few days. Thanks Doug


Posted by Bob K, 07-29-06
My wife and I summited yesterday, Friday 7-28-06. We left Trail Crest for the summit at 8AM. The sky was clear. After we covered most of the way, a couple of cumulus clouds appeared and seemed to be fairly constant in size and shape as we continued our hike. We summited at 10:45AM and noticed that one of the cumulus clouds had grown taller. We immediately left the summit. We were at the summit for only a few minutes. Going down the switchbacks, the lightning and thunder started and there was a little rain and hail. We got to our tent at Trail Camp at 3PM. About five minutes later, the deluge started. It was an extremely heavy downpour of rain and hail. Hitting the tent it was so loud that we had to shout to hear each other. It even drowned out most of the sound of the thunder.

So after that experience, for us the decision to turn around would be prompted by a cumulus cloud growing taller.


Posted by markjwpcp, 07-30-06
hey bob my daughter and I had lunch at LBSL
Friday the 28th when I could see the clouds coming in at Whitney and all of a sudden heavy down pour than hail,from other hikers coming down the MR this was the second storm that day...any way we got down to the portal at 4pm that next morning we found out that my daughters diabetic meter got moisture in it and it was not working so we canceled the summit attempt for Sunday, said goodbye to Doug and his wife Saturday morning and came back to LA...
what amazed me was at the trailhead at 4pm Friday of how many people are waiting for friends who were getting a late summit attempt in the afternoon saying they were going to make it no matter what. I heard of one guy got flatten by lightning, was ok but the next morning (Friday) his hands were still tingling...anyway my daughter 13 and I had a good 3 days up there hiking to lone pine lake, LBSL and all day horseback ride at Rock Creek lake...She will be back at the mountain next year with a water proof case for her meter.....mark


Posted by Bob K, 07-30-06
Mark, I'm glad your daughter didn't have any serious consequences from the faulty meter and that you guys had a good time. The scene that you described about the people waiting at the trailhead reminds me a little of a scene from "How Green Was My Valley" after a coal mine cave in, except there was no tragedy in this case. I spoke with a man at Trail Camp Thursday evening who had tingling hands from a lightning strike that day who was probably the same one you heard about. Bob


Posted by Jim R, 07-31-06
Bob K - I think we spoke to the same guy at Trail Camp on Thursday afternoon - he said his poles started humming, and he dropped them - but still got a shock that, according to him, approximated the shock one gets from house current. We also heard a report Friday at Trail Camp that two young women were knocked flat (but were otherwise OK). We certainly spent some time in the hail too - from the cables all the way down to Trail Camp, when it really got heavy for a while.

I did not make the summit Friday due to the storms. Hope to have a trip report posted soon with more details and pics.


Posted by Bob K, 07-31-06
Jim, The fella you spoke to was apparently another person. The man I spoke to had no warning and was knocked off his feet. It sounds like the lightning got to both of them by coming up from the ground through their poles. Bob


Posted by Norma R, 07-31-06
As i hiked to Trail Camp on Fri 7/28 i too talked to hikers that were thrown off their feet when lighting struck the summit as they were up there. They told us they ran in fear all the way to Trail Crest. Our hiked that day started in sunshine, that turned to clouds, then rain/hail/thunder/lightning. We sought shelter from an overhang rock for at least 20 mins and felt very vulnerable even at our elevation.
On Sat 7/29 we reached the summit at 10:30 am to blue skies with no cloud in sight. We left at 11:40 as small clouds started forming in the distance. By the time we reached Trail Crest those small clouds were now thunderheads from Trail Crest north. I was amazed how fast this happened. I compared it to an avalanche that goes faster as it heads downhill. I spoke with a ranger Saturday and he said this is one of the wettest seasons on record.
My advice: Be smart, be safe and if possible, summit early.

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