The news Thursday of more severe storms across northern Minnesota that led to death and injury overnight in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness bears a question worth revisiting: Are there ways to stay safe if caught in the wild in extreme weather? The answer is yes, but being in the woods changes the dynamic.
A mainstay in Ely, Minn., since 1979, outfitter and guide Steve Piragis spoke Thursday to the unpredictability of nature in the wild -- and what that means for exposed campers.
"Last night, it was 2:30 in the morning when we got hit with this storm, so it's pretty hard to prepare for something like that," he said. Nevertheless, he offered some basic tips:
-- Look around for "widow-makers," said Piragis, meaning the dead trees that are likely to be the first to go if bad weather hits your campsite. "The (U.S. Forest Service) does a pretty good job of visiting all the campsites and cleaning these up, but you never know."
-- Get out of your tent if needed. Scout out ahead of time a spot where you might have more safety between a couple of big rocks or along the shoreline if the wind is coming off the lake. "There are no guarantees, of course," Piragis said. "When these things hit at night, that's the most-dangerous."
-- Lightning is just unpredictable. "Up here in the woods, it's almost totally random. ... I wouldn't be near any of the big trees," Piragis said. Find smaller stands and just get down on the ground, he added, away from water and elevated areas. See some related tips from the National Weather Service here.
-- Satellite communicators taken out in the field are increasingly popular, Piragis said. “In the last three or four years, there has been a huge increase in renting satellite phones. DeLorme, satellite-connected emergency devices, they are very useful, I think, and relatively inexpensive to buy or to rent.” Many allow the user to send text messages or use as an emergency beacon.
The storms that struck early Thursday killed a 13-year-old boy and a female volunteer, 39, on a Boy Scouts outing near Basswood Lake on the Canadian border. A seaplane was dispatched to rescue nine campers, with injuries reported, in the BWCA who phoned in a distress call around 5:15 a.m. The injured were taken to a hospital in Ely.
In late June, Craig Walz, 43, of Rochester was with his son and another man and his son when he was killed by a falling tree while the four were camping near Duncan Lake, north of Grand Marais. Walz is the brother of U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn. His son was hit by the tree as well and suffered serious injuries.