GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) – Camping in the mountains can be a wonderful experience, especially if the weather is nice, but being prepared for quick changes in wind and heavy rain will keep you safe.
“That river can rise rapidly, even if we are not experiencing rain at lower elevations,” said Great Smoky Mountains National Park spokesperson Dana Soehn. “We are about 2,000 ft. elevation. When we start to see that water rise above three, we get concerned and monitor by the hour. When we get above the three and a half to four marker, that is when we implement a personal evacuation or a full evacuation when we ask all campers to leave.”
As you plan your camping trip, the main thing to do besides reservations is to check the weather forecast. Be prepared. You might see blue skies, light wind and low humidity, but things can change, You can have showers and thunderstorms. If you hear thunder, you know it was created by lightning. Heavy rain can cause flooding. Strong wind can knock down trees.
“When people come into a campsite we remind them to look overhead before they set up their tent. Before they set up camp and to look and see if they have any rotting branches or hazardous trees around their campsite. If they see anything that concerns them to let us know,” said Soehn.
Janeen Gregory visited the Smokies from Nashville. Her family has been coming to Elkmont for generations.
“We start checking the weather two weeks out. We keep an eye on the weather. Rain we can handle, but you need to look out for thunderstorms and be weather aware. We know where to go and keep an eye on the weather,” Gregory said.
Familiar phrases like “turn around, don’t drown” and “when thunder roars, go indoors” will remind you to get in your RV, boathouse or your car. Those are all safer places than a tent.
Ed McAlister with River Sports in Knoxville suggests you practice setting up your gear in the backyard before you go.
“I’ve seen so many families open up the trunk of the car and pull out the tent. They got two kids who are so excited, like Christmas Eve 4 a.m., and I’m still up putting stuff together. It’s midnight and everyone is irritable because the tent is not up. So play with it outside,” McAlister said.
In addition to food and water, remember to pick up waterproof jackets, maps, a compass and a headlamp.
(The WATE Storm Team is doing summer weather awareness stories all this week.)