Eva

Checking current and recent conditions

Identifying current and recent weather conditions

“You pray for rain, you gotta deal with the mud too. That's a part of it.”
Denzel Washington

While forecasts help with planning a bushwalk, the actual recent weather data helps to decide if you go or stay, or if the route plan needs to be changed or modified. For instance, a pleasant dry day may have been forecasted in the area you have planned to go, but recent heavy rainfall caused landslides on a section of your intended walking track. In this case, it’s clear that at the very least, a route modification is required, but more likely, you’d want to get some local advice from land managers about the condition of the rest of the track, and what they recommend as an alternative route.

Think about where your intended walk goes, and what terrain it crosses as this will help to fine tune what weather forecasts are useful.

For example, if your intended tracks involve steep, rough, slippery terrain, rainfall data of the last few days in the area would help you decide if you should change your route. You can get this from the Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology. The bureau keeps statistics of daily and monthly historical weather observations, rainfall, temperature and solar tables, graphs and data up to the previous 24 hours. Katoomba, for example, has all the daily rainfall data for 2017 published here.

More generally, avoid catchment areas, canyons and slippery terrain if there has been heavy rainfalls in those areas. Remember also that it may be useful to contact local rangers to obtain a better idea of any safety issues, such as fallen trees or broken bridges, in the areas you intend to visit.

River crossings vary with rainfall and temperature conditions and require bushwalkers to think and act carefully to ensure safe crossing. Check out river conditions on Bureau of Meteorology if your track involves river crossing or river activities such as kayaking. Never attempt to cross flooded rivers.

Using BOM forecasts Making use of the Bureau of Meteorology weather forecasts

Traditionally, weather forecasting was done through observations of cloud patterns, temperature changes, wind/rain and so on. In many ways, when we go bushwalking and step away from weather forecasts on our smartphones, we become a lot more aware of these subtle weather changes and what they mean for bushwalking.

Modern-day forecasting is what we’re familiar with from television forecasts, radio reports and forecasts on our phone. These forecasts are based on computer-generated maps that model likely weather outcomes based on learnt patterns. This is called Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP), which is based on mathematical models of the atmosphere. Sophistocated computer programs, also known as forecast models, run on supercomputers and provide predictions on many atmospheric variables such as temperature, pressure, wind, and rainfall.

Many different mathematical forecast models are available for weather prediction. For greater accuracy, the Bureau of Meteorology uses the Combining Models method. However, no weather forecast system is perfect, so it pays to be prepared for unexpected changes in weather when bushwalking.

The Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) is the main weather forecasting site used by Australians and lots of other weather forecasters draw their data from BOMSMH & Lifehacker

Other weather websites include:
Weatherzone.com.au
Weather.com
WeatherSpark
AccuWeather
Weather Underground

All of them pride themselves on various features such as attractive graphs, maps and charts. You may want to explore different websites to discover which one appeals to you more.

State warnings
Before departing, check any weather warnings in your state. The Bureau of Meteorology provides a summary of weather warnings issued in each State, and it is regularly updated throughout the day at the hour indicated at the bottom of the page. Warnings include marine wind warning, flood watch and road weather alert.

How far in advance to trust
Despite the advent of modern technology and improved techniques, weather forecasts still have their limitations. For example, weather forecasts for today or tomorrow are likely to be more reliable than weather predictions 14 days from now. Some sources (e.g. The Weekend Australian, 26 March 2013) state that weather forecast accuracy falls significantly beyond about 10 days.

Forecast accuracy is also affected by the fact that the weather in many parts of the world has become more unpredictable and changeable.

Therefore, it is good practice to check forecasts regularly, as they become more accurate as the date approaches.

Apart from the weather forecast and warnings, there are other types of warnings bushwalkers must pay attention to, such as:

Checking Fire Danger Ratings and TOBANs How to check fire danger ratings and TOBANs before a bushwalk

Bushfire risk changes every day. It is predicted through temperature, wind and humidity conditions, as well as how dry the landscape is. The hotter, drier and windier the conditions, the more likely a fire is to start and spread, and the harder it is to control.

Bushfire danger ratings are a tool used by authorities to quickly convey bushfire risk by describing the possible consequences of a fire, if one were to start. The higher the rating, the more dangerous the conditions are, and the more severe the recommendations become. Instructions on ‘what to do’ in each category of bushfire risk are primarily targeted at homeowners, and behaviours around if and when to stay and defend a property, versus when to leave.

For instance, for a low-moderate bushfire danger rating, the NSW Rural Fire Service recommend “Review your bush fire survival plan with your family. Keep yourself informed and monitor conditions. Be ready to act if necessary”, whereas for a Catastrophic rating, “For your survival, leaving early is the only option”.

For bushwalkers, NSW Rural Fire Service has some simple Fire Safety Brochures for Bushwalkers and Travellers, where they advise “If the conditions aren’t good, don’t go!”. The tricky thing here, however, is that it’s not clear what are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ bushwalking conditions. How do you decide what’s safe or not?

We recommend the following course of action for deciding whether to go on your bushwalk or not:

  • NSW is divided into 21 fire areas based. Determine which areas your walk goes through, and use the NSW Rurual Fire Service Fire Danger Rating service to view relevant fire danger ratings. Cancel the walk if high, very high, severe, extreme or catastrophic Fire Danger rating is in place.
  • Also check out the BOM weather forecast before departure, particularly for multi-day bushwalks, and cancel the walk if hot wind and extremely high temperature are predicted.

On high to extreme fire days, such as hot, dry and windy days, when fires are more likely to spread and cause damage, the NSW RFS Commissioner may declare a Total Fire Ban (TOBAN) to reduce the risk of fires damaging or destroying life, property and the environment.

In a Total Fire Ban, no fire may be lit in the open and all fire permits are suspended. This includes incinerators and barbecues (BBQ) which burn solid fuel, e.g. wood, charcoal or heat beads. NSW national parks are also closed during a Total Fire Ban.

We strongly recommend canceling your walk if a TOBAN is in place. On multi-day activities, if a Total Fire Ban is unexpectedly declared (or suspected) leave the park early.

Most important, If you are unsure about the conditions, don’t go bushwalking!

Understanding Weather Images

How to read and interpret weather images

A weather map depicts meteorological features such as wind, pressure and temperature in a particular place at a particular time. They can be used to show past and present data as well as predictions for future weather patterns. Some weather maps show a combination of various meteorological features to present a complete story.

Similar to map reading, weather maps convey detailed information through symbols and lines, as well as real-life satellite imagery. For Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology is a reliable starting point for finding weather maps.

While there are many ways to convey weather information on a weather map, we’ll run through a few of the most common below.

  1. Station model maps
    Across Australia, we have thousands of weather stations that collect detailed local data including everything from cloud type and cover right through to rainfall, pressure and wind also. When combined, local data from across the country can provide powerful insights into likely weather patterns in the future. To present the large amount of data in a meaningful way, meteorologists have developed a key to denote the weather at a particular location in shorthand.

    Plotting multiple weather stations over a larger scale can be a helpful way to observe current weather patterns and predict future ones:

    On generalised maps, barometric pressures recorded at individual weather stations are summarized into a contour map, where points of equal pressure are joined up with a line. These lines are known as isobars, and create a map with labelled contours so readers can view trends (see next map).

  2. Pressure maps

    Internet Archive Book Images via Foter.com

    Pressure maps depict areas of high and low air pressure, which in turn, indicate likely weather conditions. They are generated from local weather station data reporting pressure readings.

    In general, high-pressure systems mean stable air and good weather conditions. Conversely, low-pressure systems mean less stable air: clouds can form with subsequent rainy and stormy conditions.

    Low or high air pressure systems are caused by the cooling and heating of air, and are dynamic, with continual 3-dimensional flow of air between the systems. That’s why air pressure and weather patterns can vary dramatically from day to day and between different areas.

  3. Temperature maps
    These are the sort of weather maps you are probably most familiar with as they are most commonly used in media to give readers a quick overview of weather conditions. Often combined with rainfall and cloud cover data, these temperature maps are great at conveying a basic forecast information to the general public.

    Icons source: http://www.jschreiber.com/archives/2004/08/free_weather_ic.html

    Temperature maps may also use isotherms. These are lines that connect points of the same temperature, a bit like a topographic map {link to map reading post} where connected lines indicate points of the same elevation. Colour is also often used to show temperature – orange/red being hotter, purple/blue being cooler. These maps are helpful to view past trends and predict future weather patterns at large scale.

    For instance, the image below is the maximum temperature across Australia on 7th January 2013 (pretty hot!).

  4. Streamline maps
    Streamline maps indicate wind patterns and are particularly helpful in tropical areas where pressure gradients are weak and are bad predictors of wind condition. They are based on pressure readings but transform the data into more useful images that show actual wind patterns. Streamlines are shown in brown below.
  5. Front maps
    When we talk about ‘fronts’ in the context of weather, we mean a boundary separating two masses of air of different densities . These air masses are dynamic, moving, and are depicted on weather maps with the following symbols.

    Weather map symbols: 1. Cold front (triangles point in the direction of travel); 2. Warm front (semi-circles point in the direction of travel); 3. Occluded front; 4. Stationary front.

    1. Cold front
      A cold front is at the leading edge of a temperature drop off, that is, a change from warmer weather to cooler weather. These cold fronts often bring rain, hail and heavy thunderstorms. They tend to produce much swifter changes in weather because they move up to twice as quickly as warm fronts. Cold fronts are associated with low-pressure areas. Once a cold front has passed, the air is cooler and drier than before.
    2. Warm front
      A warm front is at the leading edge of a warm air mass, and moves slower than a cold front. Fog often precedes a warm front, followed by clearing and warming afterwards. The air is warming and more humid in the wake of a warm front.
    3. Occluded front
      An occluded front occurs when a cold front overtakes a warm front. The two fronts curve around, resulting in a variety of weather patterns, thunderstorms possible, but usually just associated with drying of air.
    4. Stationary front
      A stationary front is a boundary between two air masses that is non-moving. In this case, neither air masses are strong enough to replace the other. A wide variety of weather patterns can occur, but most commonly, long periods of cloud and rain but restricted to a narrow band.

Radar Finding, reading and interpreting radar images

Weather Radars (also called weather surveillance radar and Doppler weather radar) can detect precipitation (i.e. rainfall) in real time.

RADAR stands for RAdio Detecting And Ranging. It uses radio waves to detect location and quantity of precipitation in the atmosphere. The basic principle is similar to an echo that you experience if you shout out aloud in a cave and hear your voice bounce back off the wall and call again. Likewise, a RADAR unit sends out radio waves that are reflected and scattered back and based on how much of the echoed waves are received, the RADAR unit can detect where and how much precipitation exists.

This reflectivity of radio waves was discovered by German Heinrich Hertz in 1887, and has been used extensively ever since to understand more about the atmospheric makeup of the earth.

Forty years earlier, in 1842, the Austrian physicist Christian Doppler discovered what we now know as the Doppler Effect. The Doppler effect is the phenomenon that objects moving towards us have a higher frequency than objects moving away from us. Think of when an ambulance with its siren going drives past: it sounds high when it’s approaching (it has a high frequency) and drops to a lower pitch (a lower frequency) when it’s driving away. The same principle can be translated to Radio waves, and in this way, Weather Radars can detect position and intensity as well as the speed of precipitation. Moreover, since rainfall generally moves with the wind, Radar technology can also detect wind velocity.

The Bureau of Meteorology collects and publishes Radar information every 10 minutes, and also uses Radar information to generate localised weather warnings (e.g. severe thunderstorms in Sydney CBD). The image below is a typical RADAR image from the Bureau of Meteorology, where precipitation is superimposed over a geographical map. The colour code of 15 colours indicates how intense the rainfall is, from very light in white, right through to extremely heavy or hailstones in red and black.

Supplied by BOM

Satellite images Finding, reading and interpreting satellite images

Satellite images show real-time images of weather formations, including clouds and lightning. Images of cloud formations are another tool that meteorologists can use to predict rainfall patterns, storms and major weather formations like cyclones.

The Bureau of Meteorology now has High definition Satellite images from the Himawari-8 satellite, a geostationary weather satellite operated by the Japan Meteorological Agency.

http://satview.bom.gov.au/

Weather forecasts in the field

Forecasting weather on a bushwalk

Back in the city, we’re used to getting weather forecasts and information via television, radio and smartphones, but out in the bush, out of reception, we may also need to rely on other means to keep an eye on the weather in the field so as not to get caught out.

The key thing to recognise is that no weather forecast is 100% reliable. Weather patterns can change quickly, and dramatically, especially in high alpine areas. That’s why it pays to continually check weather conditions, and always come prepared with a rain jacket and warm clothes, even on day walks.

mobile phone Using a mobile phone to get a weather forecast on a bushwalk

In areas with reception, mobile phones are great to pick up weather forecasts and check for park closures, weather warning etc.

There are quite a few weather apps to choose from, but those that tap into data from Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology tend to be more localised and accurate than those that use foreign weather services.

Examples of some popular apps include:

Radio Using a radio to get a weather forecast on a bushwalk

A small pocket radio is a great way to stay in touch with what’s going on in the world, particularly on multi-day walks in areas with infrequent or no mobile phone reception.

AM and longwave frequencies are the most likely stations to broadcast in these areas. Once you find the local radio station, you can tune in for weather warnings and road alerts specific to that area, such as flash flooding locations to avoid, road closures and evacuation.

On a multi-day activity use a mobile phone and/or a portable AM/FM radio to monitor news bulletins for information on fire activity, fire danger ratings, total fire bans and park closures.

In-field observations Weather forecasting using field observations on a bushwalk

It’s also possible to use field observations to predict weather patterns, although it’s something that takes tremendous skill, knowledge and experience to do well. Some of the factors that go into weather assessments include cloud reading, temperature, humidity as well as animal and bird behaviours. For instance, fast cloud movements across the sky indicate high wind speeds, so you may decide to avoid exposed ridge walking.

One of the most important things to be able to spot are the warning signs of a storm approaching. This gives you time to reassess the situation and make a decision about whether to press on or walk out early. Storms can mean heavy rainfall, exposure to lightning, as well as flooding, conditions that can be hazardous for bushwalkers if they are caught unawares.

While long high curls (cirrus) clouds indicate good weather, here are some things that indicate a storm is approaching:

  • Appearance and rapid vertical growth of cumulonimbus clouds
  • Puffy cotton pile clouds (cumulus clouds), often flat based and rounded tower tops, indicate heavy rain.
  • When cumulus clouds develop into giant cumulonimbus clouds with dark bases, there is an increased risk of lightning and thunderstorm.
  • When you notice animals seeking shelter and birds flying to tree branches for cover, it is a sign of storms approaching.

Long-term Planning

How to plan a trip in the distant future (several months away)

Often we’ll plan our longer bushwalking trips around school and public holidays. This could mean planning something as much as 6-12 months in advance. In these cases, how do you use weather predictions to figure out if the weather is likely to be good?

This involves long-term planning and using weather averages (climate data) for the area that you are planning to go bushwalking in.

The Bureau of Meteorology stores climate averages for NSW {http://www.bom.gov.au/nsw/?ref=hdr}. For example, you may be interested in the number of rainy days per month so you can choose the month with the least rainy days to go walking in (this is typically what people seek to do when walking in Tasmania!). Similarly, you can use typical minimum and maximum temperatures to work out what season sleeping bag to carry with you (lightweight summer sleeping bag versus heavy winter sleeping bag).

The Bureau also has rainfall and temperature outlook charts, where the user can examine likely outcomes for rainfall and temperature patterns.

Walking in different weather conditions

Enjoying and thriving in mud, rain and shine!

Rain, mud and shine is all part of bushwalking and are some of joys of going bush. There are, of course, some conditions that are simply too extreme to walk in, and we’ll run through some of them here along with ‘go’ or ‘no go’ decision making. As well as how to enjoy walking in mud, rain, cold/hot conditions and so on.

Of course, no weather forecast is 100% reliable. Weather patterns can change quickly, and dramatically, especially in high alpine areas. It not always possible to avoid these conditions, or to walk out before the storm hits. That’s why it pays to have some strategies for handling unexpected weather patterns.

We’ll run through a few key scenarios below, including how to forecast these conditions, how to decide whether to ‘go bushwalking’ or not, and what to do if you get caught out in these conditions.

Wind Walking in windy conditions

Definition
Wind is the movement of air between regions of different pressure. These pressure gradients arise out of temperature differences caused by uneven heating of the earth by the sun (for example, water heats up slower than soil). Wind direction is also affected by the rotation of the earth, whereby the movement of air follows a curved path. In the northern hemisphere, air curves to the right, whereas in the southern hemisphere, it’s the opposite.

Changes in latitude and composition of the earth’s landforms and water give rise to local wind patterns. Also, there are global winds patterns that come from larger-scale heating patterns. For instance, the Hadley Cell is the outcome of consistent the consistent heat differential between the equator and the poles. The wind patterns that we feel on a bushwalk are the combination of both local and global influences.

Enjoying walking in windy conditions
Walking in moderately windy can be refreshing and enjoyable as long as you have appropriate gear and keep an eye on the conditions.

Here are some of the issues to be aware of, why they are important, and how to reduce risks.

IssueWhyHow to cope
Wind-chill, cooler conditions than expectedRisk of overexposure and hypothermia.Wear additional layers and rain jacket for wind protection.
DehydrationIt’s easy to forget to drink in cool or windy conditions.Take regular breaks; consider using a water bladder with hose for easy access to water.
Windburn, eye drynessCool temperatures and humidity dry out skin and eyes and cause irritation.Cover your skin (gloves, scarf, hat, neck warmer, use moisturizing sunscreen, as well as SPF lip moisturiser (apply regularly).
Gear flying awayWind can carry away anything that is not secured.Secure your gear. Use carabiners to attach any gear stored outside your pack. Make sure jackets, gloves etc are all attached.
Losing your footingSlips and falls more likely in conditions where wind can throw you off balance.Take your time on sections of the track that are tricky. Avoid exposed tracks with rough surfaces in windy conditions.
Loose water/sand blowing onto youUncomfortable, potentially can through your off balance, irritate eyes.Protect eyes with sunglasses and hat. Avoid walking directly towards moving sand/water. You may have to walk sideways.
Communications, keeping group togetherTalking in windy conditions is hard because it can be difficult to hear.Don’t spread out, and regularly check that everyone is accounted for.
FatigueWind exposure can be tiring.Take regular breaks, consider shortening the trip.
Wearing gloves, headgearChanges how you hear, use your hands etc.Relax, take your time and be patient with everyone in the group!
Selecting suitable lunch spotIdeally want somewhere sheltered, but not somewhere that tree branches can fall.Consider wind-lee areas, bothy shelters or other natural sheltered spaces (caves, overhang etc.). Be aware of falling tree branches.
Choosing a campsiteIdeally want somewhere sheltered, but not anywhere that tree branches can fall.Consider wind-lee areas, bothy shelters or other natural sheltered spaces (caves, overhang etc.). Be aware of falling tree branches.

‘Go’ or ‘No go’ decisions
The Beaufort Scale is a categorisation system that describes wind conditions, from a gentle breeze right through to a hurricane.

go-or-not-decisions
Adapted from http://www.outdoors.org/articles/amc-outdoors/how-to-estimate-wind-speed/

Conditions less than 40 km/h are generally ok to walk in, and while small trees will move around, the risks are relatively low. Walking in these conditions are refreshing and generally quite enjoyable. Conditions less than 40km/h occur for the majority of days throughout the year in Sydney.

Winds higher than 60 km/h are serious: you should seriously consider postponing the walk if these conditions are forecast.

If wind conditions between 40-60 km/h are forecast, consider the terrain and conditions you are entering. For instance, if the bushwalk is through a gorge or canyon area, it’s likely to be relatively sheltered, and therefore less impacted by wind conditions. But if the walk is exposed, close to high cliff edges, you may wish to reconsider.

Before heading out on a bushwalk, check the following to make a decision on whether to ‘go’ or not:

  • Check weather reports for predicted conditions including high wind and storm predictions and weather warnings.
  • Also, check in with another bushwalker that is familiar with that region. It pays to understand the typical weather patterns in that area from someone who has walked there before. For instance, in some regions, high winds are more likely in the afternoon, and bushwalkers select early morning starts and finishes in these regions.
  • Plan ahead and know the logical exit points along the track in case the group needs to exit early.
  • If there are winds higher than 40km/h, consider changing bushwalking route to somewhere that avoids areas impacted by the wind such as open ridgelines and cliff-edges. If winds are forecast for higher than 60km/h, seriously consider postponing the walk.

How to minimise the risks if caught out unexpectedly in high winds:
Weather systems can change quickly, and it is possible to get caught out in windy conditions on a bushwalk. Depending on the force of the wind, it may be critical to seek shelter.

When bushwalking, tree movements are a great indicator of wind speed and direction (see Beaufort table above). When walking among trees, watching how the trees move is a great way of determining how windy the conditions are, and monitor conditions change over the course of the day. If conditions change, and you start to notice an increase in wind conditions, monitor nearby trees carefully to get an idea of how fast the wind speed is and determine if you need to change route or seek shelter. You can see from this table that a tipping point from safer to riskier conditions occurs around 40 km/h wind. This is where walking conditions become increasingly challenging, and the risks of falling objects (e.g trees, twigs, branches), slips, trips and falls, and over-exposure to cold, gusty conditions, causing fatigue and/or loss of body temperature increase.

Bear in mind that even if the overall wind conditions are less than 40 km/h, you could experience short, fast gusts of wind, which can be dangerous and uncomfortable, especially if people lose footing, or slip on uneven or wet surfaces. Monitor gusts as well as overall wind conditions with regular observations of tree movements.

Only attempt to go into an area without trees (e.g. above the treeline or onto an exposed open ridge) if wind conditions are less than 40 km/h. And while it’s tempting to stay at a summit above the treeline to enjoy the views, be mindful that conditions can change rapidly. Stay perceptive of wind conditions, and start your descent well before conditions change for the worse.

If you get caught out and need to seek shelter, follow these basic principles:

  • Higher elevations are more exposed than low elevations. Often dropping down in elevation can dramatically reduce exposure to windy conditions. Sometimes, this may mean not making it to the summit of the walk (but that’s ok, you can come back another day!)
  • Open ridgelines are more exposed than forests. While it’s dangerous to be beneath trees in high winds because of the risk of falling trees and branches, often you’ll find that trees provide a great wind-break and pleasant walking conditions. In windier conditions, avoid open ridgelines and cliff edges in favour of low-elevation forest walks.

Lightning Avoiding lightning storms

Definition
During a thunderstorm, a lightning strike is a sudden electrostatic discharge that occurs when there is an overaccumulation of charged particles within a cloud. The discharge process is a lightning flash, and a single lightning strike discharges an incredible amount of energy: about 1-10 billion joules of energy, producing a current of 30,000 – 50,000 amps.

Getting caught in a lightning storm is extremely dangerous because of the risk of being struck with potentially fatal consequences.

‘Go’ or ‘No go’ decisions
Before heading out on a bushwalk, check weather reports for predicted conditions including storm predictions and weather warnings to help decide if conditions are safe to walk in.

The likelihood of a thunderstorm is different throughout the year in NSW. Long-term thunderstorm data from the Bureau of Meteorology shows that the number of severe thunderstorms quickly rise in NSW during November and stay high through summer, also that the severe thunderstorms are much more likely in the afternoon and early evening. These patterns can be helpful in assessing the likelihood of getting caught out in a thunderstorm, and you may choose to start and finish early to avoid late-afternoon storms.


It is also useful to check in with another bushwalker that is familiar with that region. It pays to understand the typical weather patterns in that area from someone who has walked there before. For instance, in some regions, storms are more likely in the afternoon, and bushwalkers select early morning starts and finishes in these regions. Plan ahead and know the logical exit points along the track in case the group needs to exit early.

If there is a reasonable chance of thunderstorms or lightning forecast, the safest option is to avoid bushwalking. Thunderstorms usually very localised but can be very fast moving so can move across a large area. Even if there are no storms or lightning forecast, remain vigilant and check for signs of storms brewing.

When you’re out on the track, follow these guidelines to keep an eye on conditions and how they are changing:

  • Look at the horizon regularly (every 15 minutes) for large cumulous cloud formations and lightning flashes.
  • Listen for thunder (if you can hear thunder you should already be on your way to shelter as the lightning could already be dangerously close and approaching fast).
  • Calculate the distance that the lightning is away by counting the seconds between seeing the lightning strike and hearing thunder. Since sound travels at 340 m/s, simply multiply the number of seconds you counted by 340, and you’ll get the distance of how far the lightning is away in metres. For example, if you count 4 seconds between seeing the lightning and hearing thunder, then the lightning is 1360m or 1.36km away.

How to minimise the risks if caught out unexpectedly in lightning
A lightning strike follows a buildup of electrostatic current in thunderstorm clouds, and when discharged, the flow of electricity is via the easiest path to ‘ground’. The easiest path is the most ‘conductive’ path, which may be via trees, buildings, metal objects and even people. That’s why it’s really dangerous to be caught out in a lightning storm.

Reducing the risk of being struck by lightning is about reducing the chance of you being part of that ‘conductive’ pathway. In an urban context, the rule is When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors.

But on a bushwalk, there’s not always that option. So if you are caught out on a bushwalk, it’s a matter of reducing the risk of being struck. Here are some tips:

  • Follow the 30/30 rule: count the seconds between lightning flash and thunder being heard. If it is less than 30 seconds, you should already have taken shelter as lightning can strike up to 10km away from the source. Take immediate action if it’s less than 30 seconds and you have not yet taken shelter. Wait for 30 minutes after the last thunder roll you heard.
  • The best shelter is a building with plumbing and/or electric outlets as these will dissipate any lightning strikes through the circuits instead of you. If possible, retreat to a nearby building. Open picnic shelters are not appropriate shelter. If you are near your car, get in, wind up the windows and do not touch anything metal. If none of these are options, select a place to shelter based on the least risky option relative to where you are located:

https://www.climbing.com/skills/learn-this-laws-of-lightning/

According to Climbing.com, in general:
The spots most likely to be struck are based on three factors (in order of importance):
relative height (summit vs. valley) – you are more likely to be hit at higher, exposed altitude peaks than troughs or valleys;
isolation (think tall tree in an open field) – an isolated tall tree in an open field is more likely to be hit than a clump of trees. Beware that sheltering next to a tree has dangers: if struck, the lightning can move down the trunk of the tree, but jump across to your body, which is more conductive than the tree.
a streamlined, skinnier shape (tree vs. a boulder) – a streamlined shape is more likely to be hit as this is more likely to provide an apex to attract a lightning strike.
Rock shelters and cave entrances are also dangerous because lightning will travel along any surface to reach electrical ground. If any part of your body touches any part of these surfaces, the lightning will travel through your body. If you must shelter, sit on any kind of object that is electrically insulated like dry sleeping mats, sleeping bag, and packs.

Follow this table of things to do and not to do:

ItemDoDo not
TerrainAvoid open fields, the top of a hill or a ridge top. Seek the lowest elevation you can. If you are still above the treeline, shelter behind low lying boulders. If you are camping in an open area, set up camp in a valley, ravine or other low area. Stay at high elevation.
ShelterStay away from tall, isolated trees or other tall objects. If you are in a forest, stay near a lower stand of trees. This will help keep you dry and not attract lightning.Seek shelter under a picnic shelter, lone tree, or other objects that could attract lightning. Remember, a tent offers NO protection from lighting.
EquipmentStay away from water, wet items, such as ropes, and metal objects, such as fences and poles. Water and metal do not attract lightning but they are excellent conductors of electricity. The current from a lightning flash will easily travel for long distances.Use metal equipment such as walking poles.
Group managementSpread out to avoid the current travelling between group members.Huddle as a group.
PersonalClose eyes and cover ears to protect from intense noise and light from nearby strikes.Panic.

IMPORTANT
If you cannot find shelter, minimise the chance of being struck by lighting by making yourself as small and round as possible: Crouch down on balls of your feet with head tucked in to reduce exposure and encourage lightning strike to travel down your back rather than through vital organs.

If you get struck: Lightning First Aid
The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the USA, recommends the following actions to be taken if someone is struck by lighting (note: we could not find guidelines from Australian government).

People struck by lightning are likely to suffer cardiac arrest and burn injuries, and giving first aid treatment while waiting for professional medical attention can significantly improve the chance of survival. People struck by lightning DO NOT carry a charge: you can’t get electrocuted touching someone after they have been struck.

  1. Follow DRSABCD: Safety is the first priority. You must be aware of continuing lightning danger to both victim/s and others in the group. You may have to move the victim/s to a safer location. As soon as you are out of immediate danger (‘D’ in DRSABCD), check for a response from the victim/s (‘R’ in DRSABCD), and call for help (‘S’ in DRSABCD). It is safe to use a mobile phone during a storm. If you have reception, call 000 or 112, or trigger a PLB. Be aware that in the case of multiple victims you must triage and prioritise care.
  2. Work through ‘ABCD’ in DRSABCD. People struck by lightning may suffer cardiac arrest, so immediate and aggressive resuscitation greatly improves survival.
  3. Lightning may also result in other injuries including trauma, burns and shock, which should be treated with first aid until professional medical help arrives. Check for burns around jewellery, buckles, fingers and toes.

Rain Enjoying walking in rain

Definition
Rain is precipitation that forms out of condensed atmospheric water vapour, and falls to the ground when it gets too heavy.

Enjoying walking in the rain
Rain is not a showstopper when it comes to bushwalking. In fact, it can be quite fun to experience different walking conditions and see the bush differently, as long as you are prepared with good rain gear and warm layers.

Ideally, layer up with wet-weather clothing before the rain sets in. It’s much easier to put on gear before it’s really raining! Stay positive, keeping up group moral can make all the difference in rainy conditions.

Here are some of the issues that come up when walking in the rain, why they are important, and how to reduce associated risks.

IssueWhyHow to cope
Cold, exposureRisk of overexposure and hypothermia.Wear additional layers and rain jacket for wind protection.
DehydrationIronically, it’s easy to forget to drink in rainy conditions.Take regular breaks; consider using a water bladder with hose for easy access to water.
Losing your footingSlips and falls more likely in rainy conditions where the ground is slippery.Take your time on sections of the track that are tricky. Avoid smooth sections of track with surface water.
FatigueWind exposure can be tiring.Take regular breaks, consider shortening the trip.
Glasses fogging up or losing vision with dropletsLoss of vision, hard to see track, risk of losing footing or way.Protect glasses with broad brimmed hat. Avoid walking directly towards driving rain. Consider other visual aids (e.g. wearing contact lens on rainy days).
Communications, keeping group togetherTalking in rainy conditions is hard because it can be difficult to hear.Don’t spread too far out, and regularly check that everyone is accounted for.
Wearing gloves, headgearChanges how you hear, use your hands etc.Relax, take your time and be patient with everyone in the group!
Selecting suitable lunch spot Ideally want somewhere that is sheltered: caves, dense tree-cover etc.Consider wind-lee areas, bothy shelters or other natural sheltered spaces (caves, overhang etc.). Be aware of falling tree branches (in heavy rain, branches could come loose).
Choosing a campsiteIdeally want somewhere sheltered, but not somewhere that tree branches can fall.Consider wind-lee areas, bothy shelters or other natural sheltered spaces (caves, overhang etc.). Be aware of falling tree branches.
River crossingsRising water, strong currents, unable to backtrack. Seriously consider the risks involved with a river crossing under rainy conditions: rising waters and fast currents create risky conditions. If river levels rise quickly, it may be impossible to cross back over.
Wet feetDiscomfort, blisters.Keep up good footcare on and off the track.

‘Go’ or ‘No go’ decisions
Bushwalking in heavy rain carries additional risks of slip and fall injuries, as well as additional concerns of flash flooding and rising water levels that can make some tracks impassable and dangerous. If heavy rain is forecast (>10mm/hour), seriously consider postponing the walk.

Rainfall intensity is classified according to precipitationGlossary of Meteorology (June 2000). “Rain”. American Meteorological Society; Met Office (August 2007). “Fact Sheet No. 3: Water in the Atmosphere” (PDF). Crown Copyright.

Before heading out, check weather forecasts including rainfall and storm predictions and weather warnings. Also, check in with another bushwalker that is familiar with that region. It pays to understand the typical weather patterns in that area from someone who has walked there before. For instance, in some regions, storms are more likely in the afternoon, and bushwalkers select early morning starts and finishes in these regions. Plan ahead and know the logical exit points along the track in case the group needs to exit early.

How to minimise the risks of getting caught out in heavy rain
Weather systems can change quickly, and it is possible to get caught out in heavy rain. Although weather forecasts are getting far more reliable, they still can be wrong. Local weather patterns can come into play, as well as unexpected changes. That’s why it’s always a good idea to carry wet-weather gear on a bushwalk and have a plan in place for an early exit.

The outcome of heavy rain is quite different depending on catchment size. Heavy rainfall sees dramatic increase water flow in watercourses, and the rate of change relates to the river catchment size and is exaggerated in narrow valleys and canyon systems. Watercourses with large catchments, those that are fed by many water sources or have high runoff from land contours, expand rapidly with rainfall. Narrow valleys fill up even with a small amount of rain as there is a limit to where the water can go and how quickly it can move through the system. Depending on the size of the river catchment area, a watercourse can collect rainfall from a wide area and change in volume dramatically over a relatively short time period.

Heavy rain can cause rapid changes in river levels and flash flooding in canyons and gorges. When walking in these areas, plan your bushwalk route with alternate exists in mind in case water levels rise and rivers are not safe to cross. If you are in a canyon or gorge system in heavy rain conditions, exit immediately.

In general, if you are caught out in heavy rain, seek shelter. Heavy rainfall is often short, and you can avoid getting really soaked by finding a cave or thick stand of trees to shelter under to wait out the worst of it.

On the track, keep an eye out for conditions that suggest the onset of severe weather patterns. Look at the horizon regularly (every 15 minutes) for cumulus clouds (clouds that typically indicate stormy weather) and rain lines: streaky cloud formations indicating rain.

35622495492_9767fa4ae1_c
Example of what rain looks like in the distance: grey streaks below clouds

https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4262/35622495492_9767fa4ae1_c.jpg

Hot Weather Enjoying walking in hot weather

Definition
Exactly how hot it feels on a bushwalk is the combined measure of temperature, humidity, cloud cover (solar radiation), sun angle and wind speed. The WetBulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) takes this into account and gives a sense of the ‘feels like’ temperature and is the best way to gauge exactly how hot the conditions will feel.

Enjoying walking in hot weather
Hot weather can be great fun to go walking in, particularly if there is a nice shady swim spot to stop at along the way. Choosing an appropriate walk is key here: avoid open exposed ridgelines, and select walks that follow shady waterways or valleys. Remain vigilant of the increased risk of bushfires in hot conditions.

Here are some of the issues that come up when walking in the hot conditions, why they are important, and how to reduce associated risks.

IssueWhyHow to cop
Sun exposureSunburn; overheating; risk of.Wear loose light-coloured clothing, use sun protection, take regular breaks, avoid walking during the heat of the day.
DehydrationWater requirements increase dramatically as temperature and workload goes up.Carry enough water, take regular breaks, consider using a water bladder with hose for easy access to water.
SweatLoss of electrolytes, clothing discomfort.Balance water and salt intake {http://bushwalking101.org}, wear loose clothing.
FatigueHeat exposure and lots of sunlight can be tiring.Take regular breaks, slow the walking pace to suit the conditions. Consider shortening the trip. Select a route that tackles steep, exposed sections first or last in the day. During the heat of the day, find a shady lunch spot to rest and relax.
Rest spotsGreat to escape the heat and rejuvenate.Ideally want somewhere that is shaded: caves, dense tree-cover etc. or a valley near a waterway.
Fire dangerIncreased risk of bushfires in hot conditions.Check that conditions are ok before heading out bushwalking, and remain vigilant out on the track.
CampingOverheating inside tent, sleeping on hot nights.Set up camp out of direct sunlight; open all air vents on tent or consider using an open design (e.g. fly, hammock, inner of tent only) with fly-screen only.
FoodFood tends to go bad much quicker in hot conditions. Many people find it hard to eat a hot-cooked meal in hot weather.Consider carrying foods that don’t need to be chilled. Avoid hot cooked meal options.

Water requirements increase dramatically as temperature and workload goes up. So selecting to walk in cooler conditions means less water loss via sweat and makes for a more enjoyable trip.

Wear light and loose clothing, nothing that sticks or irritates the skin. Select quick dry materials that still insulate when wet. Use sun protection and stop to reapply sunscreen during the walk.

Last, and most importantly, slow down! Going as fast as possible not only exhausts the group, but it means they have less energy and incentive to enjoy their beautiful natural surroundings. People go to natural places for different reasons, but often it’s for many more reasons that getting from A to B: the journey is every bit as enjoyable as the endpoint, and slowing down allows more time to get to know the people in the group and relax.

‘Go’ or ‘No go’ decisions
Bushwalkers can cope with a surprisingly broad range of temperatures through specific gear (e.g. warm clothing) and behaviours (e.g. avoid walking at the hottest time of the day). But there’s a limit to what the human body can cope with.

As temperatures increase, the amount of water that we need to consume goes up exponentially.

If the Wet-bulb-globe-temperature (the feels like temperature) is greater than 32℃, physical activity should be kept to a minimum. That means, choosing an alternate route (one that goes through less exposed country e.g. gullies, forests) or going back another day. With hot temperatures comes the risk of bushfires, and the potential for TOBANs.

If high temperatures are forecast, do not set out – your body simply cannot cope with these conditions. Furthermore, consider cancelling is TOBAN or when Severe. Always cancel if Extreme or Catastrophic.

Before heading out, check weather reports for predicted conditions including temperature predictions and weather warnings. Also, check in with another bushwalker that is familiar with that region. It pays to understand the typical weather patterns in that area from someone who has walked there before. For instance, some ridges are particularly exposed and heat up quickly.

How to minimise the risks if caught out in hot conditions
Sometimes, the conditions are hotter than expected out on the track, which can make for really tough walking. If the temperature starts rising too high for the group’s comfort, consider changing the route or exiting early.

In hot weather, stop regularly and rest in a sheltered and shady area. Regularly check in with your group to see how everyone is feeling. Take a slow pace, and avoid walking during the heat of the day.

Cold Weather Enjoying walking in cold weather

Definition
Just as with hot weather, how cold it feels is not just a function of temperature, but also wind chill and how fast water evaporates from your skin. Cold weather also increases the chance of snow and ice.

When the atmospheric temperature is at, or below, zero degrees, ice crystals form. When these then aggregate together, they create snowflakes and fall to the ground because they are too heavy. If the ground temperature is cold enough, snow accumulates on the ground.

The main risks associated with heavy snowfall are exposure to cold and wet conditions, intended routes impassable, as well as increased risks of falls and injuries due to slippery conditions.

Enjoying walking in cold weather
Cold weather can be great to walk in, especially to keep yourself warm! Carrying appropriate gear is key here: warm layers, rain jacket, gloves, hat and so on.

Here are some of the issues that come up when walking in the cold conditions, why they are important, and how to reduce associated risks.

IssueWhyHow to cope
Cold, exposure, wetRisk of overexposure and hypothermia (frostbite in extreme conditions for prolonged period).Wear additional layers and a rain jacket for wind protection. Seek medical attention immediately if symptoms of hypothermia observed.
DehydrationIronically, it’s easy to forget to drink in rainy conditions.Take regular breaks. Consider using a water bladder with hose for easy access to water.
Losing your footingSlips and falls more likely in cold conditions where the ground may be icy or have snow.Take your time on sections of the track that are tricky.
Wearing gloves, head gearChanges how you hear, use your hands etc.Relax, take your time and be patient with everyone in the group!
Selecting suitable rest stopsIdeally want somewhere that is sheltered: caves, dense tree-cover etc.Consider wind-lee areas, bothy shelters or other natural sheltered spaces (caves, overhang etc.).
Wet, cold, feetDiscomfort, blisters.Keep up good footcare on and off the track. Wear appropriate socks and shoes for conditions.
FoodEnergy and moral.Cook something hot for lunch. Take a shorter lunch stop, more frequent short breaks so that people don’t cool down too much. Pack easy foods to get to quickly for short snacks (muesli bars, choc).

‘Go’ or ‘No go’ decisions
In NSW, the Snowy Mountains are the most common place for bushwalkers to experience cold conditions. Snow and ice can change the landscape dramatically, and conditions can change extremely quickly at high elevation. At high elevation, wind is another factor that cools the air temperature down.

Wind Chill is not the actual temperature, but rather how wind and cold actually feel on exposed skin. As the wind increases, heat is carried away from the body at an accelerated rate, driving down the body temperature. The graph below shows how wind lowers temperature. For instance, at 40℉ and a wind speed of 20mph, the temperature feels like 30℉.

Windchill_chart
Wind chill chart

If cold temperatures are forecast and there’s an increased risk of snow and ice, bushwalkers need to have appropriate gear to cope with these conditions. If you do not have appropriate gear, or experience do not attempt to bushwalk in cold conditions. It is best to not set out if heavy snow and blizzards are forecast.

Before heading out, check weather reports for predicted conditions including cold predictions and weather warnings. Also, check in with another bushwalker that is familiar with that region. It pays to understand the typical weather patterns in that area from someone who has walked there before. For instance, in some alpine regions, snow can block certain tracks.

How to minimise the risks if caught out in cold conditions
Weather systems can change quickly, and it is possible to get caught out in cooler conditions than expected, and also ice and snow. In extremely cold conditions, bushwalkers need to carry extra gear – warm clothes, good wet weather gear – and use additional skill sets (e.g. navigation in the presence of snow and ice).

Frostbite is damage to body tissue caused by extreme cold (see table above). A wind chill of -20° Fahrenheit (F) with light winds will cause frostbite in just 30 minutes. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in extremities, such as fingers, toes, ear lobes or the tip of the nose. If symptoms are detected, get medical help immediately! If you must wait for help, slowly re-warm affected areas. However, if the person is also showing signs of hypothermia, warm the body core before the extremities.

When out on the track, keep an eye out for changes in weather conditions by looking at the horizon regularly (every 15 minutes) for darker grey cumulus clouds (indicating storm clouds).

If you are caught out in colder conditions than expected, consider change route, shortening the trip. Monitor group for signs of hyperthermia, and frostbite in extreme cold. If you are caught out in heavy snow: seek shelter. Use huts if available or pitch a tent if carrying one. Find rocks, caves or trees to shelter under to wait out the worst. Keep as warm and dry as possible. If caught out by a blizzard in high alpine regions, seek shelter until the heavy snow has passed and visibility and conditions are easy to continue through.

Hailstone What to do if you get caught out in a hailstone storm on a bushwalk

Hailstones are balls or lumps of ice that are a type of solid precipitation and form in strong thunderstorm clouds. Hailstones tend to occur when the majority of the cloud layer is below freezing and has high liquid water content as well as and there being intense updrafts.

Hailstone showers are generally short but can cause substantial damage due to the size of the hailstones. In 1999, hailstones measuring up to 13cm were reported in Sydney’s eastern suburbs!

The main risks associated with hailstones are injuries associated with the falling hail, particularly large hailstones. Although rare, hailstones have been known to cause fatalities. The key thing in a hailstorm is to seek shelter.

‘Go’ or ‘no go’ decisions:

Accurate forecasting of hail storms is challenging because there are several elements required:

  • Adequate updraft to keep the hailstone aloft for an appropriate amount of time,
  • Sufficient supercooled water near the hailstone to enable growth as it travels through an updraft, and
  • A piece of ice, snow or dust for it to grow upon.

There is no clear distinction between storms that do and do not produce hailstones. Nearly all severe thunderstorms probably produce hail aloft, though it may melt before reaching the ground.When the thunderstorm’s updraft can no longer support the weight of the ice, hail falls. The stronger the updraft the larger the hailstone can grow.

Currently, radar techniques are used to estimate the likelihood of hailstorms and these can predict the near future. Longer term forecasts are much harder: the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) in the USA is developing techniques to use dual-polarised radar data in short-term computer forecast models to improve forecasts of hail and large hail.

Before heading out on a bushwalk, check weather reports for predicted conditions including weather warnings. Plan ahead and know the logical shelter points along the track. Think carefully about exposed ridges above the treeline with little available options for shelter.

If hail is forecast as likely, it is best to postpone your walk.

How to minimise the risks if caught out unexpectedly in hail
The key risks to be aware of in hailstorms are Injury, especially head injuries and slippery/icy conditions

On the track, look at the horizon regularly (every 15 minutes) for cumulus cloud formations indicating storms and possible hail storms.

In general, if you are caught out in a hail storm, seek shelter. Hailstorms are often short, and you can seek shelter in a cave or thick stand of trees for protection.

Definitions

Venoms, poisons, infections & allergies

‘Arty’. To me the word's got as much venom associated with it as 'wacky'. Alex Kapranos

Venoms, poisons, infections and allergies all have unique meanings, but are often confused in everyday language. Let’s break them down to understand what they actually mean.

VENOMS and POISONS

According to the Oxford English dictionary:

A venom is a poisonous substance secreted by animals such as snakes, spiders, and scorpions and typically injected into prey or aggressors by biting or stinging.

A poison is a substance that is capable of causing the illness or death of a living organism when introduced or absorbed.

So basically, if you bite it and die, it is poisonous; if it bites you and you die, it is venomous. Venomous creatures actively inject chemical toxins via fangs, spines, stingers, or similar, into their victim. Venom is used by animals either as a defence mechanism, to counter an attack by an often larger animal, or as a way of catching prey. In some cases, the lethality of the venom is absurd: for instance, just a single drop of the inland taipan’s venom can kill about 100 adult humans. Venom is typically stored in specialised glands inside the venomous animal’s body, and in some cases is used to aid digestion of prey.

By comparison, poisonous animals secrete harmful chemicals, but are only transmitted to their victim if the victim eats or touches the poisonous plant or animal. Similar to venomous animals, even extremely small poisonous critters can have an enormous impact. For instance, the posion dart frog only measures 2 inches but has enough skin toxins to kill about 10 adult humans.

Poisonous substances and venom generally work by disrupting some kind of biological function of their prey or victim. Three of the most common types are neurotoxins, hemotoxins and cytotoxins.

  • Neurotoxins affect the nervous system with the main aim of killing by paralysing the heart and/or lungs. Signs and symptoms include suppressed heart function and breathing, as well as vomiting, paralysis, convulsions and muscle cramps. Critters that use neurotoxins include scorpions, paralysis ticks and cobra snakes.
  • Haemotoxin/hemotoxins affect the blood and tissues of the body and has the ability to break down blood cells and body tissues. Signs and symptoms include severe internal bleeding, major organ failure and the seeping of blood from body orifices such as the ears, nose and eyes. Critters that use hemotoxins include vipers and pit vipers.
  • Cytotoxins cause spontaneous death of the body cells and severe damage to body organs. Signs and symptoms include excruciating pain and major swelling of body tissues. Some jellyfish use cytotoxins.

INFECTIONS

Our skin is an extremely effective barrier to infectious agents such as bacteria. However, if the skin is pierced through an injury, scratch or bite, the wound is susceptible to infection. Ordinarily, germs like bacteria and viruses live on our skin without causing trouble but if the skin becomes broken, these germs move into the more sensitive tissues underneath and can start to multiply and spread, leading to an infection. Infected wounds left untreated can spread and quickly become a serious medical condition.

Any animal attack like a bite or a sting where the skin has been broken has the potential to become infected, and must be treated with this in mind. Having said that, if there is any risk at all that the bite is venomous (e.g. an unidentified snake or spider), then treating the patient for venom is the priority, and any infection risks are considered secondary.

Bites from some mammalian species carry the risk of transfer of infectious diseases like tetanus, Hep B from human bites and Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV) from bats, and appropriate medical follow up must be taken.

ALLERGIES

With any type of bite or sting there is the potential for an allergic reaction. An allergic reaction is the body’s response to an invading substance. Our immune system gets activated when it detects foreign objects, and mobilises resources (including white blood cells) to the area to cope. In some cases, our bodies get this wrong, and overreacts. It can be from something that does not normally upset other people, but often people with allergic reactions don’t know they are allergic until they are affected.

There are two stages to developing an allergy. The first stage is sensitisation, where the allergen is recognised by the immune system and antibodies are made to fight it (even though the allergen is harmless).

The second stage is when the allergic reaction kicks in. Since the immune system retains the memory of the allergen, whenever it has contact with that allergen again even in the tiniest quantity, the body responds. That’s why people with hay fever have coughs, runny nose and flu-like symptoms at pollen season, or the tiniest amount of peanuts in food can affect someone with a peanut allergy.

Allergic reactions can occur after a bite or sting, where the body overreacts to any new substances that have been detected, be that a poisonous substance from a venomous creature or an infectious germ after the skin has been broken.

The main difference between an irritation like small swelling from a mosquito bite and an allergic reaction like hayfever is that an irritation is localised to the affected area. By comparison, an allergic reaction spreads to other parts of the body.

Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction where the patient experiences extreme allergic responses including itching, swelling and shortness of breath. Anaphylaxis must be treated immediately, as it can cause death if untreated.

FUN FACT: Did you know that our cute and cuddly Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) is armed with venomous spurs?
shutterstock_109281905_1500
Male platypus have a sharp barb located above its rear webbed feet. Used mainly during the mating season, males inject painful venom into their rivals during a fight.

Reports of humans being stung by platypus are rare, but do exist. While not fatal, stings are reported to be extremely painful with the potential to cause permanent disability around the affected area. Interestingly, individuals held in captivity do not produce venom, making it challenging for scientists to collect and reliably test the properties of platypus venom reliability.

So don’t be fooled by it’s cute and cuddly appearance, male platypus are venomous! As with all animals you see on a bushwalk, respect them from a distance and leave no trace.

Who dunnit?

Managing venomous bites

I don't use a pen. I write with a goose quill dipped in venom. Jay Dratler

Venomous bites have the potential to be life threatening and must be taken seriously until proven otherwise, either through a positive ID of the animal being non-venomous, or confirming that the attack was a ‘dry bite’.

Dry bites are bites by venomous animals where no venom was released (i.e. a bite without envenomation). It’s actually quite common in some species. For example, 80% of the time, Australian eastern brown snakes (Pseudonaja textilis) inflict dry bites 1. By comparison taipans inflict dry bites only 5% of the time 2

In practice, determining whether or not the bite was a dry-bite is extremely challenging. That’s why we always treat bites as venomous in the bush just in case.

Read through the following posts for more specific information on venomous critter bites and how to manage them.

Snakes

Dealing with venomous snake bites

Australia has both venomous and non-venomous species of snakes, both of which can lash out and bite, the venomous one injecting venom, the non-venomous potentially puncturing the skin and causing infection. After an Australian snake bite, it common for signs of local damage like bruising or tissue discolouring to be missing, potentially giving the patient and first-aiders a false sense of security. Don’t be fooled! Every snake bite must be considered a medical emergency until resolved, even if the patient presents well.

Getting a positive identification of the snake used to be extremely important in order to administer the correct antivenom, however, the reality is that it is extremely hard to positively identify a snake species in the heat of the moment, and under challenging light conditions. With the advent of polyvalent antivenoms (i.e. antivenoms that work against several species) a positive identification isn’t essential, however, being able to administer a specific antivenom is less likely to cause complications. Having said this, don’t chase after a snake or try to catch or kill it to get a positive identification. Always treat the bite as if the snake was unidentified if the identification is uncertain.

Here, we cover snake species found in the Greater Sydney Region. For other areas of Australia, see this website .

Identification Snakes in the Greater Sydney Region

Generally speaking, we can separate venomous snakes into two groups: those with the fangs at the front of the mouth, and those with fangs at the rear. Pythons are a different kind of snake that does not kill its prey with venom but instead squeezes its prey to death.

FRONT FANGED SNAKES

Highly venomous snakes have hollow fangs that are long, thin and hollow. These fangs act like syringes where they are able to quickly deliver venom in one swift bite. Highly venomous species tend to have front fangs.

The following front fanged species are found in the greater Sydney region:

Common Death Adder (Acanthophis antarcticus)
Family: Front Fanged Venomous
Venom: Extremely venomous

Photo credit: Wolfgang Wuster for http://www.whatsnakeisthat.com.au/category/region/nsw-act/greater-sydney/

Photo credit: Wolfgang Wuster for http://www.whatsnakeisthat.com.au/category/region/nsw-act/greater-sydney/

Golden-Crowned Snake (Cacophis squamulosus)
Family: Front Fanged Venomous
Venom: Mildly venomous

Photo credit: teejaybee via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: teejaybee via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Eastern Small-Eyed Snake (Cryptophis nigriscens)
Family: Front Fanged Venomous
Venom: Highly venomous

Photo credit: John Wombey for http://www.whatsnakeisthat.com.au/category/region/nsw-act/greater-sydney/

Photo credit: John Wombey for http://www.whatsnakeisthat.com.au/category/region/nsw-act/greater-sydney/

Yellow-Faced Whipsnake (Demansia psammophis)
Family: Front Fanged Venomous
Venom: Mildly venomous

Photo credit: Mark_Green_13 via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: Mark_Green_13 via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

White-Lipped Snake (Drysdalia coronoides)
Family: Front Fanged Venomous
Venom: Mildly venomous

Photo credit: Rémi Bigonneau via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: Rémi Bigonneau via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Mustard-Bellied Snake (Drysdalia rhodogaster)
Family: Front Fanged Venomous
Venom: Mildly venomous

Photo credit: ASasch via Foter.com / CC BY

Photo credit: ASasch via Foter.com / CC BY

Red-Naped Snake (Furina diadema)
Family Front Fanged Venomous
Venom: Mildly venomous

Photo credit: AlexandreRoux01 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Photo credit: AlexandreRoux01 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Marsh Snake (Hemiaspis signata)
Family Front Fanged Venomous
Venom: Mildly venomous

Photo credit: Doug Beckers via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: Doug Beckers via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Broad Headed Snake (Hoplocephalus bungaroides)
Family: Front Fanged Venomous
Venom: Highly venomous

Photo credit: dnatheist via Foter.com / CC BY

Photo credit: dnatheist via Foter.com / CC BY

Tiger Snake (Notechis scutatus)
Family: Front Fanged Venomous
Venom: Extremely venomous

Photo credit: David Nixon for http://www.whatsnakeisthat.com.au/category/region/nsw-act/greater-sydney/

Photo credit: David Nixon for http://www.whatsnakeisthat.com.au/category/region/nsw-act/greater-sydney/

Spectacled Hooded Snake (Parasuta spectabilis)
Family Front Fanged Venomous
Venom: Mildly venomous

Photo credit: Brian Bush for http://www.whatsnakeisthat.com.au/category/region/nsw-act/greater-sydney/

Brian Bush

Red Belly Black Snake (Pseudechis porphyriacus)
Family Front Fanged Venomous
Venom: Highly venomous

Photo credit: Tony Rodd via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Photo credit: Tony Rodd via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Eastern Brown Snake (Pseudonaja textilis)
Family Front Fanged Venomous
Venom: Extremely venomous

Photo credit: AlexandreRoux01 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Photo credit: AlexandreRoux01 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Eastern Bandy Bandy (Vermicella annulata)
Family Front Fanged Venomous
Venom: Mildly venomous

Photo credit: AlexandreRoux01 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Photo credit: AlexandreRoux01 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

REAR FANGED SNAKES

Rear-fanged snakes are less efficient at injecting venom than front fanged snakes as so must bite and hold their prey in order to envenomate them. This group of snakes has a mix of venomous and non-venomous species. In the greater Sydney region there is one mildly venomous and one non-venomous.

Brown Tree Snake (Boiga irregularis)
Family: Solid Toothed & Rear Fanged
Venom: Mildly Venomous

Photo credit: AlexandreRoux01 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Photo credit: AlexandreRoux01 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Green Tree Snake (Dendrelaphis punctulatus)
Family: Solid Toothed & Rear Fanged
Venom: Non-venomous

Photo credit: petrichor via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: petrichor via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

PYTHONS

Pythons fall into a separate snake family again and are all non-venomous. Pythons do not have fangs, but instead have sharp, backward-curving teeth for grabbing prey.

The two pythons found in the Greater Sydney region are the closely related Carpet and Diamond Python (Morelia spilota).

Carpet Python and Diamond Python (Morelia spilota)
Family: Pythons
Venom: Non-venomous

Photo credit: Doug Beckers via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: Doug Beckers via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

SNAKE LOOK-A-LIKES

Some lizards with very small or no legs look deceptively like snakes. At a distance, these species can be easily confused with snakes, although close up there are clear differences. Unlike snakes, rest assured legless lizards are non-venomous.

According to the ‘What snake is that’ identification website, the key differences to keep an eye out for are:

  • Tongue: Snakes have forked tongues which they use to ‘taste’ the air for scent particles. All species of legless lizards have a fleshy tongue.
  • Eyes: Most species of lizards have moveable eyelids. Snakes have fixed transparent scales that cover their eyes which are known as the brille or spectacle.
  • External ear openings: All species of legless lizards have external ear openings. Snakes do not have ears, and as a result are unable to hear airborne sound using an ear. Snakes are very sensitive to vibrations and actually have some remnant bones of the ear attached to the lower jawbone.

Photo credit: Misenus1 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Photo credit: Misenus1 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Prevention Preventing snake bites

Here are some great tips to avoid getting surprised by snakes on the track:

  • Snakes do not hear in the same way we do, instead they detect vibrations. By walking heavily, you can warn any concealed snakes of your presence, making them more likely to flee on their own accord. By comparison, if a snake is caught unaware and only detects your presence at the last minute, it’s far more likely to get startled, and lash out aggressively.
  • If you see a snake on the path, do not disturb it. Tell other people in the group that the snake is there, and give it a wide berth. If you can’t get around the snake, back away slowly and change your route plan.
  • Never attempt to touch or move a snake, especially to ascertain if it’s venomous or not. It can be challenging to identify the species of a snake in the heat of the moment, so the best approach is to assume that all snakes are venomous and act accordingly.
  • Keep your actions smooth and calm. Avoid waving arms around or making sudden movements that the snake could interpret as hostile.
  • Avoid walking through long grass where snakes are easily concealed. It’s easy to accidentally startle or step on a snake.
  • If a snake’s head is raised, this could indicate that the animal feels threatened, and it is winding up ready to strike. Take action to reduce the threat to the animal, which most likely means backing away and finding an alternative route.
  • Snakes often bask alongside a log. To avoid startling a snake, step onto rather than over logs.
  • Snakes are ectotherms, that is, they are dependent on external sources of body heat to function. Hence, it’s common to see snakes out sunning themselves first thing in the morning and may be slow to move away from you.

Signs & Symptoms Signs & symptoms of snake bites

The bite site may be puncture marks, bleeding or scratches.

Signs and symptoms of a snake bite include:

  • Headache
  • Impaired vision
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Drowsiness
  • Faintness
  • Problems speaking or swallowing.

Management How to manage snake bites

St John Ambulance makes the following management recommendations.

THINGS TO DO:

  1. Follow DRSABCD .
  2. Reassure the patient and ask them not to move.
  3. Apply a broad crepe bandage over the bite site as soon as possible.
  4. Apply a pressure bandage (heavy crepe or elasticised roller bandage) starting just above the fingers or toes of the bitten limb, and move upwards on the limb as far as can be reached (include the snake bite). Apply firmly without stopping blood supply to the limb.
  5. Immobilise the bandaged limb with splints.
  6. Ensure the patient does not move.
  7. Write down the time of the bite and when the bandage was applied. Stay with the patient.
  8. Regularly check circulation in fingers or toes.
  9. Manage for shock.
  10. Ensure an ambulance has been called.

THINGS NOT TO DO:

  • DO NOT wash venom off the skin.
  • DO NOT cut the bitten area.
  • DO NOT try to suck venom out of wound.
  • DO NOT use a tourniquet.
  • DO NOT try to catch the snake.

Spiders

Dealing with venomous spiders

Australia has both venomous and non-venomous species of spiders to humans. As with snakes, treat all spider bites as venomous unless proven otherwise.

Identification Spiders in the Greater Sydney Region

DEADLY AND DANGEROUS

Funnel webs have extremely venomous bites. They are among the most deadly spiders in the world, however, fatalities are extremely low since the development of effective and readily available antivenoms.

Mouse spiders are also up there. According to the Australian Museum: “Some mouse spiders have a very toxic venom which is potentially as dangerous as that of the Sydney Funnel-web Spider… Because of their potential toxicity to humans, first aid treatment should be provided as recommended for funnel-web spider envenomation. Fortunately, funnel-web spider antivenom has proven effective in cases of mouse spider bite”.

Redbacks are common across Australian and readily found in urban areas. Although only the female bite is dangerous to humans, more than 250 antivenoms are administered a year over the summer months.

Funnel web spiders (Atracinae)

Male funnel web spider. Photo credit: Sputniktilt  via commons.wikimedia.org / CC BY-SA 3.0

Male funnel web spider. Photo credit: Sputniktilt via commons.wikimedia.org / CC BY-SA 3.0


Female funnel web spider. Photo credit: Sputniktilt  via commons.wikimedia.org / CC BY-SA 3.0

Female funnel web spider. Photo credit: Sputniktilt via commons.wikimedia.org / CC BY-SA 3.0

Mouse spiders (Missulena)

Male mouse spider. Photo credit: Friends of Chiltern Mt Pilot National Park via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Male mouse spider. Photo credit: Friends of Chiltern Mt Pilot National Park via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA


Female mouse spider. Photo credit: ron_n_beths pics via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Female mouse spider. Photo credit: ron_n_beths pics via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Redback spider (Latrodectus hasselti)

Redback spider. Photo credit: Bill & Mark Bell via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Redback spider. Photo credit: Bill & Mark Bell via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

VENOMOUS – PAINFUL BITE

Black house spider (Badumna insignis)

Black House spider. Photo credit: Bill & Mark Bell via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Black House spider. Photo credit: Bill & Mark Bell via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

LOW RISK SPIDERS

Wolf spiders (Lycosidae)
Wolf spiders rarely bite, especially if left unhandled. They are common around houses, but low risk to humans.

Wolf spider. Photo credit: Tone Killick via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Wolf spider. Photo credit: Tone Killick via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Trap door spiders (Ctenizidae)

Trap door spider. Photo credit: GregGilbert1 via Foter.com / CC BY

Trap door spider. Photo credit: GregGilbert1 via Foter.com / CC BY

Garden orb weaving spider (Eriophora transmarina)

Garden orb weaving spider. Photo credit: Misenus1 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Garden orb weaving spider. Photo credit: Misenus1 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

St Andrew’s Cross spiders (Argiope)

St Andrew's Cross female spider. Photo credit: James Niland via Foter.com / CC BY

St Andrew’s Cross female spider. Photo credit: James Niland via Foter.com / CC BY

Golden orb weaver (Nephila)

Photo credit: BRJ INC. via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: BRJ INC. via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Huntsman spiders (Sparassidae)

Huntsman spider. Photo credit: eliotc via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Huntsman spider. Photo credit: eliotc via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

White-tail spiders (Lampona)
A common misconception is that white tailed spiders have a deadly bite and cause skin necrosis. Yet, their venom is non-lethal. In some cases, bacterial infection is the biggest source of danger to people that have been bitten.

White tail spider. Photo credit: No Middle Name via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

White tail spider. Photo credit: No Middle Name via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Prevention Preventing spider bites

The NSW government has this advice for avoiding funnel web and redback spider bites:

  • Keep your garden free of rubble and rubbish where spiders can hide.
  • Wear shoes, gloves and long sleeved shirt when working in the garden.
  • Check shoes and households items for spiders.

For bushwalkers, we recommend:

  • Take care if moving rocks or logs.
  • Wear shoes around campsite, especially at dusk and dawn when it’s harder to see.
  • Check shoes and anything else left out for spiders and insects before use.

Signs and Symptoms Signs and symptoms of spider bites

In general, we split Australian spiders into three medically relevant groups and treat accordingly: big black spiders (funnel webs, mouse spiders), redback spiders and all other spiders.

General signs and symptoms of spider bites include:

  • Sharp pain at bite site
  • Profuse sweating
  • Nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

Additional signs and symptoms of a Funnel web spider bite:

  • Copious secretion of saliva
  • Muscular twitching and breathing difficulty
  • Small hairs stand on end
  • Numbness around mouth
  • Copious tears
  • Disorientation
  • Fast pulse
  • Markedly increased blood pressure
  • Confusion leading to unconsciousness.

Additional signs and symptoms of a red-back spider bite:

  • Intense local pain which increases and spreads
  • Small hairs stand on end
  • Patchy sweating
  • Headache
  • Muscle weakness or spasms.

Possible signs and symptoms of other spider bites:

  • Burning sensation
  • Swelling
  • Blistering.

Management Management of spider bites

St John Ambulance makes the following management recommendations:

  1. Follow DRSABCD .
  2. Lie the patient down.
  3. Calm and reassure the patient.
  4. Apply management for:
  • Funnel-web / Mouse spider
    • If on a limb, apply a broad crepe bandage over the bite site as soon as possible.
    • Apply a heavy crepe or elasticised roller bandage starting just above the fingers or toes of the bitten limb, and move upwards on the limb as far as can be reached (include the bite). Apply firmly without stopping blood supply to the limb.
    • Immobilise the injured limb with splints and ensure the patient does not move.
    • Ensure an ambulance (000) has been called or emergency beacon activated.
  • Red-back spider
    • Apply an icepack (cold compress) to the bitten area to lessen pain.
    • Seek medical attention if patient develops severe symptoms.
  • Other spider bites
    • Wash with soap and water .
    • Apply ice pack (cold compress) to relieve the pain.
    • Seek medical attention if patient develops severe symptoms.

Special thanks to Fran Van Den Berg for reviewing and contributing to this article:
FRAN VAN DEN BERG

Citizen Science Officer
National Parks Association of NSW