We are all familiar with thunderstorms, which we usually take in stride. Sometimes the energy of a storm can be felt before it even begins, and many of us enjoy listening to a storm rolling through. Thunderstorms require three things to form: moisture, unstable air, and lift from fronts. They occur most commonly during the spring and summer months. The National Weather Service is responsible for monitoring their conditions. At any given moment, there are over 1,700 thunderstorms occurring around the world. A severe thunderstorm warrants caution. Depending on the time of year and severity of the storm, some storms can cause hail, damaging winds, and dangerous flooding. Thunderstorms are considered severe if the following conditions occur:
Wind gusts or straight-line winds exceed 58 miles per hour. Wind gusts can cause loss of steering control on the highway or in the air. They can down power lines and utility poles, blow shingles off roofs and even cause destruction similar to a tornado.
Hail exceeds one inch in diameter. Although hail can be larger than a softball, just inch-round hail can cause major damage to homes, cars, crops and other property. Over $1 billion in property damage occurs each year by hail of the smaller variety.
Lightning Exists. Lightning causes hundreds of injuries annually and kills more people than hurricanes and tornadoes combined. And, lightning beats hail when it comes to dollars lost to property damage.
Floods or flash floods are a threat. Floods cause more fatalities than lightning. Imagine filling up a bathtub full of water but forgetting to turn off the tap. Where does the water go? Everywhere, and quickly! That’s why during a thunderstorm, floods usually catch drivers unaware. Flash floods come out of nowhere.
Understand Weather Alerts
- Watch – A watch is simply awareness that something – a severe thunderstorm, tornado, flood, or the like—has the potential of hitting your area. During a watch be alert to changing weather conditions.
- Warning – Warnings are just that: they warn you that danger is imminent. It’s time to take action to protect property and life. Spotters (either people or radar) have verified severe weather in your area.
Steps you can take before a thunderstorm:
- Know your community’s local emergency system. Identify a reliable radio station for the weather. Know what severe thunderstorm alerts sound like.
- Install an app on your phone to alert you to severe weather watches and warnings.
- Talk with your family about thunderstorm safety.
- Consider registering yourself and your family on the American Red Cross Safe and Well website. Discuss using this tool, or another, to inform the extended family that you’re safe after a major storm event.
- Identify your home’s safety zone where family members should gather if strong winds or hail become a threat. Similar to tornadoes, choose an area free from glass and windows, on the lowest level. o Mobile homes and cars provide the same degree of safety—that is, not much— from a severe thunderstorm. Don’t shelter in a mobile home during high winds: find an alternative location.
- List items to bring inside before a storm hits.
- If your property includes animals that live outside of your home, make sure their homes are also protected and secure from the elements.
- List people outside of your household who might need extra help – the elderly, disabled, or those living in mobile homes, for example. If you’re willing and able, think about how you can assist them during a storm and discuss emergency planning with them.
- If installing lightning rods, consult your fire department first to ensure proper installation.
- Buy and use surge protectors. If surge protectors are not in use, unplug TVs, computers, chargers and other electronics before lightning starts, to
- prevent them from being damaged by an electric volt.
- Buy or assemble an emergency preparedness kit to cover each member of your family for a minimum of three to seven days.
Steps you can take during a thunderstorm:
- Take shelter indoors early. Continue listening to emergency updates. Remember, “If thunder roars, go indoors.”
- When outdoors and away from shelter, find a low-lying area. It is not safe to stay under isolated trees, on high ground, near water, or near metal objects like dugouts, fences, or bleachers.
- At home, go to your safety zone if necessary. Remember pets and keep them under your control.
- No showers or electronics; avoid using plumbing and electrical equipment as much as possible during severe weather.
- Shut windows and doors to the outside, and then keep away. Know that those who get struck by lightning or who are otherwise electrocuted are most often not in the rain.
- Report downed power lines immediately. Do not approach. Report them immediately by calling the electric company and local authorities.
- Do not drive in severe weather.
- If someone is struck by lightning, the victim does not retain the electric charge. It’s okay to help. Follow these steps:
- Call 9-1-1. This is always the first step, regardless of perceived injury level. o Approach the person and look for injuries. Wait with injured person for emergency responders.
- If not breathing, begin CPR immediately.
- If the electrocution occurred due to downed power lines, do not approach. Wait for emergency responders.
- Avoid driving in a severe thunderstorm. If caught unaware, follow these steps:
- Exit the road during heavy rain.
- Keep the car on, in park, and leave your seatbelt on if you’re still on the side of the road. o Turn on emergency flashers.
- You may want to try finding a weather update on the radio but try to avoid touching metal in your car.
- Never drive through standing water on the road – it’s hard to guess how deep the water runs or if there is a current. Even a few inches can sweep a large truck off the road.