Severe Storms Safety

The National Weather Service describes a severe thunderstorm as a thunderstorm that has winds of at least 58mph, and/or hail of at least 1/4 inch in diameter. Structural wind damage may imply the occurrence of a severe thunderstorm.

Some thunderstorms can be seen approaching, while others can hit without warning. It is important to learn and recognize the danger signs and to plan ahead.

Know Your Terms

  • Severe Thunderstorm Watch: Conditions are favorable for the development of storms in and close to the watch area.
  • Severe Thunderstorm Warning: A severe thunderstorm is indicated by radar or trained spotter.

Before the Storm

  • Learn the thunderstorm danger signs:
    • Dark, towering, or threatening clouds;
    • Distant lightning and/or thunder. If you see lightning, count the number of seconds until you hear thunder. Divide the number of seconds by five to get the distance the lightning is away from you;
  • Have a disaster kit ready;
  • Check your yard for hazards:
    • Remove dead or rotting trees and branches from your yard as these can fall and cause injury and/or damage;
    • Secure outdoor objects such as lawn furniture that could blow away or cause damage or injury; take light objects inside;
  • Make sure that all family members know how to respond after a thunderstorm:
    • Teach your family members how and when to turn off gas, electricity, and water;
    • Teach children how and when to call 911, police, fire department, and which radio station to tune to for emergency information.

During the Storm

  • If indoors:
    • Shutter windows securely and brace outside doors;
    • Listen to a battery operated radio or TV stations for the latest storm information;
    • Do not handle any electrical equipment or telephones as lightning could follow the wire;
    • Avoid bathtubs, water faucets, and sinks as metal pipes can transmit electricity;
  • If outdoors:
    • Attempt to get into a building or car;
    • If no structure is available, get to an open space and squat low to the ground as quickly as possible (if in the woods, find an area protected by a low clump of trees - never stand underneath a single large tree in the open);
    • Be aware of the potential for flooding in low-lying areas;
    • Crouch with hands and knees;
    • Avoid tall structures such as towers, tall trees, fences, telephone lines or power poles;
    • Stay away from natural lightning rods such as golf clubs, tractors, fishing rods, bicycles or camping equipment;
    • Stay away from rivers, lakes or other bodies of water;
    • If you are isolated in a level field or prairie and you feel your hair stand on-end (indicating lightning is about to strike), crouch down, putting your hands on your knees. A position with feet together and crouching while removing all metal objects is recommended. Do not lie flat on the ground.
  • If in a car:
    • Pull safely to the shoulder of the road away from any trees that could fall onto the vehicle;
    • Stay in the car and turn on the emergency flashers until the heavy rains subside;
    • Avoid flooded roadways.

After the Storm

  • Continue listening to local radio or TV stations or a weather radio for updated information and instructions;
  • Help neighbors who may need special assistance: those with infants, the elderly, people with disabilities;
  • Stay away from storm-damaged areas - you may be putting yourself at further risk from the lingering effects of severe weather;
  • Watch out for downed power lines and report them immediately;
  • Drive only if necessary. Debris and washed-out roads make driving dangerous.