Severe weather safety tips

Lightning bolt

All thunderstorms are dangerous and every thunderstorm produces lightning. While lightning fatalities have decreased over the past 30 years, lightning continues to be one of the top three storm-related killers in the United States. On average in the U.S., lightning kills 51 people and injures hundreds more annually. Although most lightning victims survive, people struck by lightning often report a variety of long-term, debilitating symptoms.

Thunderstorm safety tips:

  • Don’t underestimate the power of thunderstorm winds known as straight-line winds, they can reach speeds of 100 to 150 mph. Hurricane-force winds start at 74 mph. Seek shelter immediately as you would for a tornado.
  • Stay away from windows and go to the basement or interior room/hallway. Do not use electrical appliances during a thunderstorm.
  • Be aware of tall trees near a building that can be uprooted by straight-line winds and can crash through roofs crushing people to death.
  • Powerful straight-line winds can overturn a vehicle or even make a person air-borne when they exceed 100 mph. One type of a straight-line wind event is a downburst, which is a small area of rapidly descending rain and cooled air beneath a thunderstorm. A downburst can cause damage equivalent to a strong tornado.

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Lightning safety tips:

  • Postpone outdoor activities if thunderstorms are imminent. Lightning can travel 5-10 miles away from the thunderstorm and strike the ground even with blue sky overhead.
  • Move to a sturdy shelter or vehicle. Do not take shelter in a small shed, under isolated trees, or in a convertible-top vehicle. Stay away from tall objects such as: trees, towers or poles.
  • If in your vehicle when lightning strikes don’t touch any metal surface. You are safer in a vehicle than being outdoors.
  • Remember that utility lines or pipes can carry electrical current underground or through a building. Avoid electrical appliances, and use telephones or computers only in an emergency.
  • If you feel your hair standing on end, get down into a baseball catcher’s position and plug your ears with your fingertips so if lightning does hit it will not blow your ear drums out. Do not lie flat.
  • 30/30 rule, if the time between lighting and thunder is 30 seconds or less, go to a safe shelter. Stay there until 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder.

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Tornadoes are nature’s most violent storms. Spawned from powerful thunderstorms, tornadoes can cause fatalities and devastate a neighborhood in seconds. A tornado appears as a rotating, funnel-shaped cloud that extends from a thunderstorm to the ground with whirling winds that can reach 300 miles per hour. Damage paths can be in excess of one mile wide and 50 miles long. Every state is at some risk from tornadoes and no place is totally safe from tornadoes.

Tornado safety tips:

  • Seek cover in a sturdy, pre-designated shelter or go to the lowest level of a building, and take cover or sit next to a wall with your arms/hands protecting your head. Your best protection is to have a safe room in a basement. Do not take shelter in a manufactured home even if it’s tied down.
  • If an underground shelter is not available, move to an interior room/hallway. Put as many walls between you and the outside of the building, and stay away from windows. If possible, get into a bathtub or under a bed, desk or table.
  • Get out of your vehicle as they can be tossed around, and do not try to outrun a tornado. Keep in mind that highway overpasses offer little protection due to the wind-tunnel effect.
  • If caught outside, lie flat on the ground and cover your head with your hands. Remember, when there is a tornado, debris will settle in roadside ditches or other low spots. If heavy rains are falling in the area, ditches and low spots may quickly flood.
  • Be aware of flying objects, most deaths and injuries are caused by flying debris.
  • Don’t try to equalize air pressure by opening windows and doors. Buildings are more likely to explode after the wind gets inside.
  • Tornadoes can occur before there is a visible funnel cloud. You may not see the tornado until debris and dirt gets swept into the vortex, and/or the visible funnel cloud develops all the way to the ground.

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Floods and flash floods

Floods are among the most frequent and costly natural disasters in terms of human hardship and economic loss. As much as 90 percent of the damage related to all natural disasters (excluding drought) is caused by floods and associated debris flows. Flooding occurs in known floodplains when there is prolonged rainfall over several days, intense rainfall over a short period of time, or when ice or a debris jam causes a river or stream to overflow. These disasters may also occur during the winter and early spring when melting snow is combined with rain; in the spring and summer when there are thunderstorms with heavy rain; and in the summer and fall when there is intense rainfall from tropical cyclones in coastal and inland states. Flash floods can occur within six hours of a rain event, after a dam or levee failure or by a sudden release of water held by an ice or debris jam.

You will not always have a warning that these deadly, sudden floods are coming. So if you live in areas prone to flash floods, plan now.

Flash flood/flood safety tips:

  • Nearly half of all fatalities in a flash flood involve a person driving a vehicle. Do not drive into a flooded area, turn around don’t drown! It takes only 2 feet of water to float away most cars, and only 6 inches of fast-moving water to sweep a person off their feet, don’t walk through a flooded area!
  • If you find yourself in a river valley, move to higher ground if thunderstorms with heavy rains are in the area.
  • Don't operate electrical tools in wet or flooded areas.
  • Most flash flood deaths occur in the middle of the night when it is more difficult to see rising water levels; especially if water is covering road surfaces.

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Lightning bolt
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