As I lay back snuggled in my sleeping bag, the constant pitter patter of rain hits and splashes noisily away on my tent. We've just canoed all day on Lake Yarrunga with our Year 9 boys. Half of this was in the rain, the other half on calm glassy water.
Dinner and our debrief tonight switched between sitting around the campfire and huddling under the tarp as the rain swept in and out! The boys were all in bed by 8pm, so no complaints on my part.
I'd known about the rain for days, so this was neither a surprise, nor a concern. I've gone out in far better conditions and far, far worse! But where do you draw the line? For many excursions, weather isn't the most important factor, as you could be visiting a museum, gallery or other indoor venue and not need worry too much about what's happening outside. However, it's well worth developing the habit of checking weather conditions before any and every trip away to ensure you have the whole operational picture in your mind and be able to adapt or react if unfavourable conditions are forecast. It’s far better to change plans in anticipation of problems, rather than actually having to deal with the problems that result from a bad decision.
So back to my iPhone illuminated tent and the now silent campsite. I'd known since last week the forecast was for rain and it would be a factor in our decision making process. We'd discussed the issue with the team and had devised a clear contingency plan depending on severity. Lots of rain and operating on rivers and lakes with huge catchment areas is always a concern at the back of my mind. I never want to be caught by a rising river nor have to execute a late night evac from a campsite (super dangerous). I’m more the relaxing by a warm fire reading a book type of guy, rather than the Oh Crap! We made a bad decision by staying type of guy! I’d rather err on the side of caution, than be stuck with the consequences and being proactive about the weather is one way of doing this.
Studying the forecasts as they were updated each day, the concern remained that we were going to get wet, but it wasn't going to be that wet, so we decided that we were still heading out. Now I'll just pause to reflect here for a sec. I've also been in the situation where the weather was checked, discussed and I thought it wasn't safe to proceed, yet I was told by my then boss I had to go out! The result was pretty bad, like really bad... but that's a whole other story in itself and one I will come back to another time.
It might seem simple enough and should go without saying, but often it’s overlooked and being able to make an informed decision through checking what the weather is doing is an important part of any school's risk management strategy on all excursions. It can help you better prepare contingencies for adverse conditions or help you pack the right clothing and equipment. The last thing you want when organising your excursion is to be surprised by a sudden storm, a heat wave or strong winds that could put you and your students at risk. It literally takes two minutes to check the weather and can save you hours or months of trauma by doing so. This is not to say that you should only be a fair weather field tripper. That’s not the point at all! Having kids feel uncomfortable in the elements can be a great learning experience. Some of my best trips have been in bad weather, but the difference was that it was never dangerous weather that put them at risk of harm. If we only ever went out when it was clear blue sky, then we'd never do half the activities and the kids would be poorer for the lack of experience. I’ll address different approaches I’ve taken in more detail in some later posts and examine the consequences of some poor decision making on other school trips, when a check of the weather could have prevented injuries and serious consequences.
Anyway, despite being uncomfortable today, it proved to be a great learning experience for the boys, canoeing, setting up and cooking in the rain. For some looking after their personal equipment has never been more important. For me, my feet are still drying at the base of my sleeping bag and I know my tent will be soaked in the morning, but I’m snug and warm, all the kids are sleeping soundly and I’m about to drift off myself… It’s been a good day!