|Lightning strikes on the north shore of Pipestone. Click on this photo for panorama. Jane Bechtel photo|
You should never be caught by surprise by thunderstorms. You can hear them coming probably for half an hour or more. At the first sound, you should check out where exactly the storm is. If it is west or south than there is a good chance you are going to be caught in it. If it is to the north, like this one in the photo, it might miss you. However, even if the storm, with its unpredictable winds and heavy rain, stays away, you are still in danger of being struck by lightning. Lightning can strike many miles away from the main part of the storm. It can even appear out of the blue sky.
So the best advice is head to camp at the first sound of thunder.
Sometimes, however, the first sign of the impending storm isn't thunder but increasing wind speed. That should also be a warning. If it has been calm (calm before the storm) and then the breeze starts to pick up, you can bet your bottom dollar there is a storm around. That would be a great time to get off the big water, before the waves build. Head to the secluded areas near camp, like the narrows or nearby bays, where you can make a quick run to camp if the building wind is followed by thunder.
But let's say you don't do that. Maybe you are tucked back in some place like Green Bay, a long narrow bay off the side of Pipestone which is protected by high ridges and where the wind is barely noticeable. Your first warning is the thunder and when you move to the bay's mouth you can see lightning striking to the west, and the waves are already more than you wished. Now what?
The best thing to do is just go back into the shelter of the bay, put on your rain gear which you should always carry in the boat, no matter what the weather. Go to the lee shore -- the one least affected by the wind -- and tie up to a small tree. Pick a spot where there aren't any exceptionally large trees that might attract lightning.
Make sure you tie the boat securely. It's your choice to either sit in the boat or get out but something to keep in mind is that thunderstorms are often accompanied by hail. If that happens you better get under some trees. If you have seat cushions, hold them over your head. You could use your PFDs too.
The actual storm is probably going to last about 30 minutes. There is no predicting how bad it is going to be so always be prepared for extremely high winds, hail, rain and lightning.
The very worst thing to do is to head back to camp right in the middle of the storm. Just wait it out. The old saying is, "A sudden storm is soon over."
Once it goes by, move to where you can see to the south and west again. There might be another storm on the horizon. If so, head back to camp before it gets any closer.
Sometimes, though, there is nothing but blue sky to be seen and you can just return to fishing right where you are.
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