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Clan of the Cave Turtle: Warm Weather Shelters
© 2006

I waited and I called your house, but you didn't answer. The kids said you were in the back yard trying to set up your tent. YEAH!!!!

The tent, the lean-to, and the teepee, are only a few of the shelters available to you in an emergency. Your car or truck is also an option. However, if you've ever tried to actually sleep in a car, you know how uncomfortable they can be. Wherever you are, you will probably be more comfortable sleeping on the ground where you can stretch out and relax. The weather is going to dictate the type shelter you construct. Depending on your geographical location, your weather could be hot, warm, or freezing. So, I'm going to present some information on shelters that you need to consider...based on weather.

Hot Climate Shelters

Hot climates demand care because there are unique dangers in the heat. The first and foremost is dehydration due to the heat. Dehydration means you have to drink water, and lots of it. If at all possible, you should try to set your shelter up around a watering hole. You may not be able to drink the water right out of the pond, but it can be boiled - cooled - and be safe to drink.

The next most hazardous problem is heat prostration followed by heat stroke.


Heat exhaustion (also known as heat prostration) is a temporary condition caused by to much exposure to high temperatures or to the sun. Heat exhaustion results from excessive loss of fluids. Its symptoms are nausea, unusually profuse sweating, a sense of anxiety, and weakness or dizziness--i.e., a feeling of "faintness," caused by a drop in blood pressure and a slowing of the pulse. In fact, actual fainting is not uncommon in cases of heat exhaustion. The skin becomes clammy, pale and grayish, and the body temperature drops below normal.

Heat exhaustion must not be confused with heatstroke, which is a life-threatening condition. The symptoms of heatstroke (also less accurately known as sunstroke) are different from those of heat exhaustion.

Heatstroke is caused by a failure of the body's temperature to regulate itself. Like heat exhaustion, it is caused by exposure to high temperatures, and it is more common in the elderly and weak, and also in athletes who work out in the heat of the day.

I'll go into the treatment and first aid for both heat exhaustion and heatstroke in a later publication. But the first step for both of them is to cool the victims off. You can't do that with them exposed to the direct rays of the sun. You need to get them into the shade - and quickly.

While I'm not much of a fan of the "space blanket" for getting warm, its reflectivity makes it an ideal roof for a heat-related shelter. The more of the suns rays you can reflect away, the cooler it will be. Dark colored roofs will absorb heat, and the heat will be re-radiated into the shelter.

My buddy the poncho is also a good choice - particularly when coupled with the Mylar Space Blanket. I have always been told, and have found from personal experience, that you can make an almost perfectly insulated shelter by having a double roof. The air space in-between insulates the shelter making it MUCH cooler. Use "twiggy" brush to keep the gap open between the two roofs.


A gentleman named Bill Qualls runs the above web site and has tested my theory about the double-thick roof. He tested the theory with a large thermometer. While his test results may be slightly inconclusive, there is NO DOUBT that this shelter theory works, and works well.

The photo to the bottom left show Mr. Qualls' Mylar shelter set in the desolate terrain of Squaw Peak, near Phoenix, Arizona. Since the space blanket doesn't have any grommets to tie rope to, he used a system where a rock is tucked into a corner, and the line tied around the blanket and the rock. It works.

To make this system even better, use a poncho or any type of material to make an inner roof, about a foot below the shiny Mylar roof. That means the Mylar roof needs to be about a foot higher than shown in the photo. Set up the poncho roof first...then the Mylar roof on top of it. Looking at the upper photo, you can see lots of bushy plants that can be used to keep the gap between the upper and lower roof spaced apart. The air flowing through the two roofs helps keep the heat from building up, thus lowering the temperature under the shelter.

Note: The space blankets I've seen are only 5' x 7' in size. This means that to get the most shade possible, you should probably make the shelter a lean-to type, rather than a "pup tent" type. The roofs, however, should NOT touch the ground since you want air to flow under the victim to promote cooling. Experiment with what you have, and make your decision on the spot based on YOUR conditions...not my article.

My old Air Force survival instructors said that in order to be cool in the desert, never lay on the ground that is (or was) exposed to the sun. Either go UP about 1 foot, or dig DOWN about 1 foot. The terrain in this part of Arizona is hard packed soil and very hard to dig in. So, up you go. If at all possible, raise the victim up onto either a hammock, or a stick-built frame with an opening under it. The air passing below the hammock or bed is cooler than the sun-baked soil. If you have a sleeping bag, you can use it as a hammock by tying rope or cord to the top and bottom, and use the rock technique above to hold it up off the ground. If your supports are not strong enough, then let the victim rest on the sleeping bag stuffed with the same brush you collected for the roof. Leave the zipper open. Any gap is better than none at all.

In softer terrain (sand, for example), dig down a foot or so until you reach cooler sand to lay on. If you keep it in the shade of your shelter, it won't heat back up too much. Digging is sometimes easier than constructing a hammock or raised bed, particularly when building materials are short at hand.

If at all possible, use natural shade in addition to the double-roof system. If you don't have a Mylar space blanket, improvise. Use what you have...extra shirts, blankets, plastic, whatever. The important thing is the GAP. This is your heat protection. Two Mylar space blankets would be ideal, and be very light weight to carry. With a lean-to type shelter, you can also get out of the sun before you too become a victim...with nobody to care for you.

NOTE: These double-roofed shelters will not survive strong winds. If it rains, so much the better. Use rainwater coming off the roof to cool down your victim. Catch it in spare clothing or sox, and wipe the skin constantly until some of the symptoms go away. Catch additional rainwater to wet the area under the hammock or bed, to keep the ground from radiating too much heat. Don't sleep on the ground.

Hot Weather - Hurricane

Hot weather in Africa spawns hurricanes as the heated African deserts send the weather systems off the coast into the Atlantic. It doesn't matter what the temperature is here in the United States, the storm almost always starts off the coast of Africa...then meanders slowly across the Atlantic, picking up speed and meanness.

If you've been living in your local area for over 6 months in the summertime, you already know that hurricanes don't just destroy coastal communities. They don't just stop because they reached the shoreline. They continue to proceed inland, sometimes with devastating results. High winds and tornadoes spawned by the hot, damp air make local conditions very dangerous.

The National Weather Service always gives us advanced information on the track of a hurricane as it leaves the coast of Africa and proceeds across the Atlantic. Once it gets close to the United States, advisories are posted to warn residents of the "predicted" path of the hurricane. Unfortunately, the hurricanes don't pay any attention at all to the predicted path, and go wherever they want to. With experience, some forecasters are better than others at predicting where and when the hurricanes will hit.

Once over land, the violence of the hurricane will slowly deteriorate from a hurricane to a tropical storm, and then to a storm system of some sort. Since over land the storm's path is easier to follow, the weather forecasts are much more accurate. You need to pay attention to the TV or radio to follow the progress of the storms as they approach (or move away from) your direction of travel.

Tornadoes spawned during these storms, as well as flash flooding, are usually the most common high risk factors after the storms beat the living heck out of the coastline. Over land, the extremely high winds die off quickly...but wind gusts can still be very high.

I'll cover tornadoes some more in the Hot & Warm Weather section, below.


If we're going to have a national emergency, let's hope it's in May...or October, with warm days and cool nights. In Florida, in March, would be a perfect time for a national calamity. Oh well…

Warm days have no special threats beyond thunderstorms. Whatever shelter you decide to choose, it must be able to withstand very strong and gusty winds, rain, and maybe hail. If a thunderstorm passes by with a tornado or two under its low-hanging belly, then you have a problem that a piece of canvas or a thatched roof can't handle. Get low...stay low...preferably underground or in a reinforced masonry building.

Being fresh out of concrete in my backpack, I'll have to look elsewhere. This particular section also pertains to hot weather, so pay attention if you see a thunderstorm wagging its tail.


Know the signs of a tornado: Weather forecasting science is not perfect and some tornadoes do occur without a tornado warning. There is no substitute for staying alert to the sky. Besides an obviously visible tornado, here are some things to look and listen for:

  • Strong, persistent rotation in the cloud base.
  • Whirling dust or debris on the ground under a cloud base -- tornadoes sometimes have no funnel!
  • Hail or heavy rain followed by either dead calm or a fast, intense wind shift. Many tornadoes are wrapped in heavy precipitation and can't be seen.
  • Day or night - Loud, continuous roar or rumble, which doesn't fade in a few seconds like thunder.
  • Night - Small, bright, blue-green to white flashes at ground level near a thunderstorm (as opposed to silvery lightning up in the clouds). These mean power lines are being snapped by very strong wind, maybe a tornado.
  • Night - Persistent lowering from the cloud base, illuminated or silhouetted by lightning -- especially if it is on the ground or there is a blue-green-white power flash underneath.

In a car or truck: Vehicles are extremely dangerous in a tornado. If the tornado is visible, far away, and the traffic is light, you may be able to drive out of its path by moving at right angles to the tornado. Otherwise, park the car as quickly and safely as possible -- out of the traffic lanes. [It is safer to get the car out of mud later if necessary than to cause a crash.] Get out and seek shelter in a sturdy building. If in the open country, run to low ground away from any cars (which may roll over on you). Lie flat and face-down, protecting the back of your head with your arms. Avoid seeking shelter under bridges, which can create deadly traffic hazards while offering little protection against flying debris.

In the open outdoors: If possible, seek shelter in a sturdy building. If not, lie flat and face-down on low ground, protecting the back of your head with your arms. Get as far away from trees and cars as you can; they may be blown onto you in a tornado.


The first option for people in vehicles should be to GET OUT OF THE TORNADO PATH!

If this is not possible, people should abandon vehicles and seek shelter elsewhere...away from the vehicle.

Giant Hail

If this hailstone on the left doesn't scare you, it sure does me. An ice ball this size will fell a cow instantly. You don't stand a chance. This is not a fake photo - it is real. It came from a super-cell in the Midwest in the summertime. It was warm outside. Only a shelter with a good strong roof will protect you from this type of hail. A car's windows will be smashed out in seconds, leaving you exposed to the full fury of this huge-sized hail.

Visualize a baseball dropped from a 747 flying at 30,000 feet; it's speed reaches 120 MPH, visualize you going 70 MPH under this big ugly cloud......bam! And then it hits you again, and again, and again.

Smaller hail hurts just as bad. It's just smaller. I've seen many a hail storm in Oklahoma. In July, I've seen my front yard that looks like its under 3" of show. It melts right away. But at the time, I had an Airstream Travel insurance company had to replace all but 4 panels of the rounded aluminum body. I didn't even get billed for my deductible. The insurance adjuster said the entire trailer looked like somebody had hit it a million times with a ballpeen hammer.

If you are caught out in the open when one of these supercells swing through, you need to find some strong shelter and fast. Even a large tree may slow down some of the hail, lessening injuries to you and your party. Find a roadside culvert and crawl in. But pay attention to my next subject.


Floods are the most common and widespread of all weather-related natural disasters. Most communities in the United States have experienced flooding after spring rains, heavy thunderstorms, or winter snow thaws. Floods have enough power to change the course of rivers and bury houses in mud. And flash floods are the most dangerous kind of floods, because they combine the destructive power of a flood with incredible speed and unpredictability.

A flash flood is the fastest-moving type of flood. It happens when heavy rain collects in a stream or gully, turning the normally calm area into an instant rushing current.

The quick change from calm to raging river is what catches people off guard, making flash floods very dangerous.

Many things can cause a flash flood. Generally they are the result of heavy rainfall concentrated over one area. Most flash flooding is caused by slow-moving thunderstorms, thunderstorms that repeatedly move over the same area, or heavy rains from hurricanes and tropical storms.

Flash flood waters move at very fast speeds. They have the power to move boulders, tear out trees, destroy buildings, and obliterate bridges. Walls of water can reach heights of 10 to 20 feet and generally carry a huge amount of debris with them.

The best response to any signs of flash flooding is to move immediately and quickly to higher ground.

FLASH FLOODS: The #1 weather-related killer in the United States! Source:
Flash flooding can occur everywhere; Nobody is exempt.


Even 3 inches of fast-moving flood water can knock you off your feet, and a depth of 6 inches may float your car! Two feet of water WILL float your car. NEVER try to walk, swim, or drive through such swift water. If you come upon flood waters, STOP! TURN AROUND AND GO ANOTHER WAY.

From 1994 through 2003 floods killed an average of 84 people a year in the USA. Somewhere around 60% of those killed in floods were doing what the photo above shows: A driver playing the (flooded-road version) of Russian roulette - "can I make it without drowning?"

The big fear of most drivers who plunge into water on the road is probably that the water will drown the engine - not them. But, only about six inches of water can float a small car. More often than many people realize, fast-moving water carries the car downstream. Know what to look for:

  • Keep alert for signs of heavy rain (thunder and lightning), both where you are and upstream. Watch for rising water levels.

  • Know where high ground is and get there quickly if you see or hear rapidly rising water.

  • Be especially cautious at night. It's harder to recognize the danger then.

  • Do not attempt to cross flowing water which may be more than knee deep. If you have doubts, don't cross.

  • Don't try to drive through flooded areas.

  • If your vehicle stalls, abandon it and seek higher ground immediately.

  • During threatening weather listen to commercial radio or TV, or NOAA Weather Radio for Watch and Warning Bulletins.

Flash Flood Watch means it is possible that rains will cause flash flooding in the specified area. Be alert and prepared for a flood emergency.

Flash Flood Warning means flash flooding is occurring or is imminent in the specified area. Move to safe ground immediately.

The most important reason to worry about flash the sense of a survival to know that the potential exists, and to watch for it. Never place your shelter (no matter what kind) into areas that appear to have severe erosion, when everything else looks normal. This erosion is the path that flood waters take when the flash flooding happens.

Any type shelter can be used in the warm or hot days of summer, but you have to be aware of your surroundings. Not just the immediate area around your shelter, but the whole landscape that can creep up on you in the night and float you and your family away to almost certain death.

This photo taken in Zion National Park shows the result of a severe thunderstorm's rainfall. What was moments before a dry and peaceful shear rock cliff, now has torrents of water thundering over its' top, and grinding up everything located below it. Had your tent or shelter been under, or below (downstream) this torrent, you would be in serious trouble. When this photo was taken, 2 people had already died due to flash flooding.

Coming Next Week...Cold Weather Shelters!