Do you live in a storm prone area and you are concerned about your safety? If YES, here are 50 best thunderstorm safety tips to apply before, during and after the storm.
What is a Thunderstorm?
A thunderstorm, also known as an electrical storm, lightning storm, or thundershower, is a storm characterized by the presence of lightning and its acoustic effect on the Earth’s atmosphere, known as thunder. Thunderstorms occur in a type of cloud known as a cumulonimbus.
They are usually accompanied by strong winds, heavy rain, and in some cases snow, sleet, hail, or, even no form of precipitation at all. Thunderstorms may line up in a series or become a rainband. Strong or severe thunderstorms include some of the most dangerous weather phenomena, including large hail, strong winds, and tornadoes.
Some of the most persistent severe thunderstorms, known as super cells, rotate as do cyclones. While most thunderstorms move with the mean wind flow through the layer of the troposphere that they occupy, vertical wind shear sometimes causes a deviation in their course at a right angle to the wind shear direction.
Thunder and lightning usually occur during the warmer months of the year when the atmosphere is unstable and cumulonimbus clouds are formed. They take place when a pocket of warm air at ground level rises and collides with the colder air above it. Lightning is a huge electrical discharge that flows between clouds, from a cloud to air, or from a cloud to the ground, while thunder is produced by the rapid heating of air by a lightning bolt.
Usually, a thunderstorm will last for about 30 minutes. However, the most severe damage occurs when a single storm affects one location for an extended period of time. Downburst winds, large hailstones and flash flooding commonly cause the damage resulting from a thunderstorm.
All thunderstorms can be dangerous and it is important to have a plan in place for thunderstorm safety. Flash flooding is responsible for more fatalities than any other thunderstorm hazard, and is one of the major causes of weather-related deaths in the United States. Dry thunderstorms do not produce rain that reaches the ground, but the lightning can still reach the ground and can start wildfires.
Thunderstorms are one of the most dangerous weather events in the United States of America. All thunderstorms produce lightning. Most of the U.S. will experience thunderstorms from time to time, but some states are more prone to thunderstorms than others. The 2012 Farmer’s Almanac included eight cities in Florida in their list of the top 10 most thunderstorm-prone cities in the U.S. The fact that Florida tops the list comes as very little surprise because it is the perfect region for thunderstorms, due to the fact that its warm and humid conditions are highly favorable for storm development.
A lightning bolt carries around 20,000 – 30,000 amps of electrical current when it makes contact with the ground. That’s about 2,300 times more electricity than that used to power a washing machine. As a matter of fact, lightning kills not less than 50 people in the United States alone.
Most at risk are people who spend a lot of time outdoors in unsheltered locations such as farm workers, hill walkers and golfers. Lightening doesn’t need to strike you directly in order to be catastrophic. Any strike close to you can be dangerous as it leads to a huge amount of electricity in the surrounding area. Lightning can also strike an object near you and jump sideways.
The undesirable effects of thunderstorms are not just related to lightning. Thunderstorms can also produce hail, tornadoes and floods. Unlike hurricanes, which typically only impact coastal areas, thunderstorms can happen anywhere in the world.
In some cases, hail can be the size of baseballs and travel at speeds of 100 mph. In order to keep yourself, your family members and property safe from thunderstorms you should know what to do before, during and after thunderstorms.
50 Best Thunderstorm Safety Tips You Can Apply to Stay Safe
Before the storm
1. Know the warning signs: in order to be effectively prepared for a thunderstorm, you should know the telltale signs of a thunderstorm. Some of the them include;
- Large, puffy cumulus clouds
- Darkening sky and clouds
- Abrupt changes in wind direction
- Sudden drop in temperature
- Drop in atmospheric pressure
2. Know that every second counts. React immediately when you perceive a threat. Don’t try to wait it out.
3. Prepare your environment for a thunderstorm: most thunderstorms will not create a tornado, but still they can produce some gusts that can reach a speed of over 58 mph! Strong winds can easily knock down trees and tree branches.
As such, it is advisable to remove tall trees and branches that could fall and destroy your property in the event of a strong wind. Remove dead or rotting trees and branches that could fall and cause injury or damage during a severe thunderstorm.
4. Protect your roof from hail: Roofs made of ceramic, slate or shakes can easily be ruined in a hail barrage. If your house or business is in an area that experiences hailstorms, consider using stainless steel or asphalt shingles. Shingles made of metal will help prevent hail damage to your house, but can easily be dented. They can last up to 40 years, but may not look so good by that point.
5. Install a lightning rod on your roof: having a lightning rod installed in your roof can help to protect your family and property from the damaging effects of lightening. Make sure that the lightening rod is installed by a professional, because, an incorrectly installed rod can increase the chance of a lightning strike.
6. Unplug as many corded appliances as you can to prevent them from being damaged or causing electrocution.
7. Move outdoor vehicles and outdoor furniture inside so it won’t be damaged. If it can’t be moved, try to secure it so it can’t blow away.
8. Secure outdoor objects that could blow away or cause damage
9. Shutter windows to protect them from hail. If you can’t shutter them, close curtains or drapes to prevent broken glass from blowing into your house or business.
10. Move away from window and glass doors as they can shatter and injure you.
11. Teach your family what to do in severe weather.
12. Keep up with weather reports: The best way to avoid injury from a lightning storm is to avoid it completely. Make your plans with dangerous weather in mind. If you stay in an area that is prone to thunderstorms, it is important to stay current with weather reports because a storm does not have to be considered severe for a person to be struck by lightning.
Get a portable NOAA weather radio or know what radio stations/Websites that carry local watches and warnings. Some places on the earth are more prone to thunderstorms than others and in some areas you can almost guarantee a thunderstorm on summer afternoons. Schedule your activities to avoid many high-risk situations.
Those hot, muggy days are just the thing that a thunderstorm needs to get going. Remember that the sound of thunder indicates nearby lightning and there are no safe areas outdoors. Standing under trees in a yard or under an open carport will not make a person safer. Gazebos and other similar structures should also be avoided.
13. Be on the lookout for a thunderstorm: when you are away from your house, you should watch the sky from time to time for telltale signs of approaching thunderstorms, such as rain, darkening skies, or towering cumulonimbus clouds.
If you can anticipate lightning before the first strike, you can avoid being caught in a bad situation. You should however bear in mind that watching the sky is not a definite method of predicting lightening, because lightening has been known to strike without the presence of the normal indicators that you would associate with lightening.
14. Have disaster supplies at hand such as:
- Flashlight and extra batteries.
- Battery operated radio and extra batteries.
- First aid kit and manual.
- Emergency food and water.
- Non-electric can opener.
- Essential medicines.
- Checkbook, cash, credit cards, ATM cards et al.
15. Find a shelter: it is very important to find a good shelter during a thunderstorm. While most people seek shelter if lightning appears to be near, people commonly wait too long to seek shelter. If you can detect lightning, it may be close enough to strike you.
Don’t wait for it to strike right next to you (or on top of you) to get to safety. Your first choice of shelter during a thunderstorm should be inside a house or a building but if you cannot find any of those (that is, you are caught outside) then, there are several options you should know about.
16. Cars are better than nothing: even though your first choice for shelter during a thunderstorm should be a sturdy building, a vehicle is still better than staying out in the open or under a tree. There is a popular belief that the rubber from the tire or the gasket around the windshield can keep you safe, but that’s not necessarily true.
The real reason cars are a safe option is that the metal shell of your car disperses the lightning around you and to the ground. While you aren’t completely safe, you are safer in your car compared to outside. If you are driving, try to safely exit the roadway and park. Stay in the vehicle and turn on the emergency flashers until the heavy rain ends. Avoid touching metal or other surfaces that conduct electricity in and outside the vehicle.
17. In a Wooded Area: Take shelter under a cluster of small trees. Never stand under a single tall or short tree, and avoid being close to power lines as they’re both excellent conductors of electricity and could potentially cause death, if not serious injury.
18. In a Field: Get to the lowest area you can. Stay away from single trees that are not clustered together or other tall structures.
19. If you are in water: If you are fishing or swimming, get out of the water immediately, and move away from the body of water. Being near water is extremely dangerous during a lightning storm. Get to land immediately and take the best shelter from there. Stay out of the bathtub or shower, and avoid indoor swimming pools.
20. Remove your backpack: if a thunderstorm starts when you are out hiking with a back pack that has a metal frame, you should remove it immediately. Make sure that you leave it at 100 feet (30.5 m) from wherever you are taking shelter.
21. Plan your response: if you stay in an area that is prone to thunderstorms, then you should know where safe shelters are. You should also make sure that you communicate your plans to your family members so that everyone knows what to do in an emergency.
22. Have an emergency kit: Be ready with first aid and other disaster essentials. You may lose power during a thunderstorm, so have alternative light sources available.
23. Avoid metal: Stay away from clotheslines, fences, and drop your bags because they often have metal on them.
24. Bring in your pets: Doghouses and other pet shelters are not suitable protection against lightning strikes. A pet leashed to a fence has a much higher risk of getting struck by lightning.
Thunderstorm Safety Tips – During a Storm
i. In a Car: if the car is a convertible, you should raise the roof of the vehicle. Stay put in the car and do not leave unless you find a better shelter (a house or a building). Safely pull over and stop if the hailstorm becomes so intense that it is damaging your car and you are near no other shelter. If possible, position your car so that the front windshield is facing the direction the hail is coming from. The front windshield of your car is more resilient than the side windows. It will be able to withstand more damage. Also, consider ducking down in your car and covering yourself with your arms or a blanket if the hailstorm is damaging your windows. Do not touch any metal such as doors, steering wheel, stick shift, and any corded radios or devices in the car as this can conduct electricity and cause electrocution, just sit still with your hands in your lap, or covered up.
Don’t park under an overpass or in any low-lying area that could flood. Turn off the engine; keep windows and doors closed. You should also turn on your emergency flashers.
You’re not safe in a convertible, golf cart, open-cab construction vehicle, or other vehicle that isn’t fully enclosed, doesn’t have a metal top, or is mostly fiberglass or plastic.
ii. Stay away from potential hazards: The electrical wiring and appliances in your house or business can be quite dangerous during a thunderstorm and as such, you should not make use of any form of corded appliances or phones. Do not use computers if they are plugged into a hard-wired connection source or electrical outlet. Wireless phones are okay to use, however.
Lightning can travel through concrete so avoiding standing on it or leaning against concrete walls. Most concrete have a wire mesh which can conduct electricity. Also, be sure to avoid going near plumbing fixtures and using running water in your house or business as this too conducts electricity. Don’t touch anything metal or electrical. Using a landline phone is the main cause of lightning-related injuries in the US.
Lightning can travel into the home from through any material that conducts electricity. This includes landlines, electrical wiring, and plumbing. Do not touch any electrical outlets after thunderstorm starts. In addition, you should not unplug any devices during a lightning storm, as the strike could be transferred to you.
iii. It may not always be possible to find shelter immediately when thunder rumbles. If there is no form of shelter nearby, take the following steps to reduce risks:
- Stay away from elevated areas such as hills or platforms because Lightning is much more likely to strike objects at higher elevations.
- Do not lie flat on the ground since the current from a strike travels through the ground up to 100 feet from the strike point. Crouching with your heels touching may help with this aspect of the strike but is still not ideal.
- Do not stand under a rocky overhang for shelter.
- Do not use an isolated tree for shelter.
- Stay away from barbed wire, power fences and other conductors of electricity.
- Do not go near lakes, ponds or other bodies of water.
iv. While driving, look for power lines that have fallen down. Do not drive near them or over them whether there is water present or not.
v. Avoid sheds, carports, covered patios or porches, dugouts, bus shelters, greenhouses, bleachers, tents, and other unenclosed, ungrounded shelters. They won’t protect you, and may endanger you.
vi. Avoid large open spaces where you are taller than anything else around you, like a golf course or soccer field.
vii. Spread out: if you are in a large group and a thunderstorm starts, you should maintain a minimum distance of at least 50–100 feet (15.2–30.5 m) between each person. This is will help to reduce the possibility of lightning strike traveling from one person to another. Take a headcount after every close strike. This will ensure that anyone struck will get emergency attention quickly.
viii. If outside, Assume the “lightning crouch”: this position involves squatting down with your feet together, your head tucked to your chest or between your knees, and your hands covering your ears or flat against your knees. Granted, this position can be uncomfortable and it doesn’t even guarantee that you will not be struck by lightning.
However, by making it easier for a lightning strike to flow over your body rather than through vital organs, you may be able to sustain a smaller injury from it. Cover your ears and close your eyes to protect against nearby thunder and bright lightning flashes.
ix. Know the signs of an imminent lightning strike: If lightning is about to strike you or strike near you, you may experience some sensation such as your hair may stand on end, or you may feel a tingling in your skin. Light metal objects may vibrate, and you may hear a crackling sound or “kee kee” sound. If you detect any of these signals, assume the lightning crouch immediately.
x. Flash flood: if a flash flood or flooding is imminent, get to higher ground. Do not attempt to drive to safety. Most flash flooding deaths occur in automobiles.
xi. Don’t stand in or near cave entrances: You may be safer deep inside a cave if you avoid water, metal, and general caving hazards. But you’re safer outside at a distance than you are at the cave entrance. (Being within 50 yards of a tall cliff face may help you.
xii. Unconventional insulation: If you are caught outside during a thunderstorm and you have insulation like a foam pad, metal-free bag of clothes, you can put it underneath you.
xiii. Do not lie down: even though it has been previously stated here that the best thing to do when caught outside during a thunderstorm is to make yourself the lowest possible target by doing the lightening crouch, you should never lie down because even though this will make you a lower target, but a much wider one. Crouching is safer.
Thunderstorm Safety Tips – After a Storm
a. Don’t leave your shelter until you are sure that the thunderstorm has abated: Check with the weather channel to make sure that the storm has cleared in your area. Don’t assume that the storm has passed because you can no longer hear thunder.
Storms move in bunches and you may be experiencing a minor break in the pattern. Stay put in your place of shelter for 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder. In several instances, people had been struck by lightning because they wrongly assumed that the storm had passed.
b. In addition to waiting 30 minutes as a precaution, you can also make a rough estimate of how far away the storm is. This can be done by counting the seconds between a flash of lightning and the clap of thunder. Roughly speaking every three seconds gives you about a kilometer. So if you counted nine seconds then the storm is about 3km away. Alternatively every five seconds can be equated to every mile.
c. Be safe: You may be dealing with downed power lines, damaged property, flooded roads and power outages after a thunderstorm. Here are a few tips to help you stay safe after the storm has passed:
- Never drive on roads with flooded water. The road may have washed away under the water.
- Keep your eyes open for any damage to power lines and stay away from them.
- Never go into a house with standing flood water.
- Report power outages and downed power lines to your electrical company.
d. Assess Damage: when you are sure that the storm must have passed. You should then safely access what damages has been done to your property. Be sure to check the roof for damage. If you’re uncomfortable getting on a ladder to check, you can move to a higher location (a neighbor’s second floor).
From there, use a pair of binoculars to inspect the roof. Check to see if the shingles or chimney have been damaged. You will also want to take a look at any outdoor furniture and vehicles that were left out. Check for broken or cracked glass and dented metal. Photograph any damage and contact your insurance company immediately.
e. Call emergency services: Because lightning strikes can cause cardiac arrest, aggressive resuscitation may be necessary. If you cannot dial 9-1-1, designate someone else to.
f. Make sure it is safe to help: getting struck by lightning in a bid to help others does no one any good. Before you try to offer help to a victim of lightning strike, you should make sure that the immediate danger has passed or move the victim to a safer location before you take any other action. Despite the common myth, lightning can strike the same place twice.
g. Start CPR: People struck by lightning do not retain an electrical charge, so you can immediately touch them and begin treatment. First, call 911. Then, if possible, move the victim to a safe area. If the person is not conscious and does not appear to be breathing normally, use an automated external defibrillator if one is at hand or start CPR.
Do not remove the burned clothes unless absolutely necessary. Perform Child CPR if the victim is a child. Perform Adult CPR on adult victims.
Treat the victim for shock. Lay the victim down on his or her back with the head resting slightly lower than the torso. Elevate and support the legs. If the victim is conscious, treat them for shock. Lay the victim down with their head slightly lower than their torso and legs until help arrives.
h. Check on neighbors who may require special assistance: infants, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
In conclusion, even though lightning strikes and some other elements that come along with thunderstorms may be rare, they still happen and the risk of serious injury or death is severe. So take thunderstorms seriously. Learn and follow these safety rules to keep you and your property safe.