Getting Ready for Severe Storms & Tornadoes

January 22, 2012 - 12:00 AM EST
FEMA
www.ready.gov
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Getting Ready for Severe Storms & Tornadoes

Severe storms can bring heavy rain, lightning, damaging winds, hail, flash flooding and, in extreme conditions, one of nature’s most violent and dangerous storms – tornadoes.  

Tornadoes can appear suddenly without warning and can be invisible until dust and debris are picked up or a funnel cloud appears. Planning and practicing specifically how and where you take shelter is a matter of survival. Be prepared to act quickly. Keep in mind that while tornadoes are more common in the Midwest, Southeast and Southwest, they can occur in any state and at any time of the year, making advance preparation vitally important.

Lightning is another serious danger during severe weather.  In the United States, lightning kills 300 people and injures 80 on average, each year. All thunderstorms produce lightning and all have the potential for danger. Lightning's risk to individuals and property is increased because of its unpredictability, which emphasizes the importance of preparedness. It often strikes outside of heavy rain and may occur as far as 10 miles away from any rainfall. Most lightning deaths and injuries occur when people are caught outdoors in the summer months during the afternoon and evening.

STEP 1: GET A DISASTER PREPAREDNESS KIT

  • Be sure to have a NOAA Weather Radio (or a battery-powered or hand-cranked commercial radio) for the latest weather information. NOAA Weather Radios are tuned to receive official Weather Service warnings, watches, forecasts and other hazard information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and can be set to alarm automatically – much like an alarm clock – whenever severe weather threatens.
  • Get an Emergency Supply Kit, which includes items like non-perishable food, water, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, extra flashlights and batteries.

STEP 2: MAKE A PLAN

Prepare Your Family

  • Make a Family Emergency Plan. Your family may not be together when disaster strikes, so it is important to know how you will contact one another, how you will get back together and what you will do in case of an emergency.
  • Determine in advance where you will take shelter in case of severe storms or a tornado warning:
    • Storm cellars or basements provide the best protection.
    • If underground shelter is not available, go into an interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible.
    • In a high-rise building, go to a small interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible.
    • Stay away from windows, doors and outside walls. Go to the center of the room. Stay away from corners because they attract debris.
    • A vehicle, trailer or mobile home does not provide good protection. Plan to go quickly to a building with a strong foundation, if possible.
    • If shelter is not available, lie flat in a ditch or other low-lying area. Do not get under an overpass or bridge. You are safer in a low, flat location.
    • Plan to stay in the shelter location until the danger has passed.
  • In addition to identifying an emergency shelter location for your home, you should also inquire about emergency sheltering plans at other places where your family spends time: work, daycare and school. If no plans exist, consider volunteering to help create one.
  • If a thunderstorm is likely in your area:
    • Postpone outdoor activities.
    • Get inside a home, building, or hard top automobile (not a convertible). Although you may be injured if lightning strikes your car, you are much safer inside a vehicle than outside.
    • Remember, rubber-soled shoes and rubber tires provide NO protection from lightning. However, the steel frame of a hard-topped vehicle provides increased protection if you are not touching metal.
    • Secure outdoor objects that could blow away or cause damage.
    • Shutter windows and secure outside doors. If shutters are not available, close window blinds, shades, or curtains.
    • Avoid showering or bathing. Plumbing and bathroom fixtures can conduct electricity.
    • Use a corded telephone only for emergencies. Cordless and cellular telephones are safe to use.
    • Stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches.
    • Unplug appliances and other electrical items such as computers and turn off air conditioners. Power surges from lightning can cause serious damage. If you do plan to unplug any electronic equipment, do so well before the storm arrives.  During a storm, avoid contact with electrical equipment or cords.
  • Practice lightning safety.  During a storm, avoid the following:
    • Natural lightning rods such as a tall, isolated tree in an open area.
    • Hilltops, open fields, the beach, or a boat on the water.
    • Isolated sheds or other small structures in open areas.
    • Anything metal—tractors, farm equipment, motorcycles, golf carts, golf clubs, and bicycles.
  • Remember the 30/30 Lightning Safety Rule: Go indoors if, after seeing lightning, you cannot count to 30 before hearing thunder. Stay indoors for 30 minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder.
  • Be alert to storm warnings from your NOAA weather radio, mass media sources or local government.  Some communities may have installed outdoor warning sirens which will also sound during a tornado warning or as an alert to other hazardous conditions.  If you see approaching storms or any of the sign of danger, be prepared to take shelter immediately.

STEP 3: BE INFORMED

Familiarize yourself with the terms that are used to identify severe storms and tornado hazards:

  • A thunderstorm watch means there is a possibility of a thunderstorm in your area.
  • A thunderstorm warning means a thunderstorm is occurring or will likely occur soon. If you are advised to take shelter, do so immediately.
  • A tornado watch means a tornado is possible in your area.
  • A tornado warning is when a tornado is actually occurring, take shelter immediately.

Listen to Local Officials

  • Learn about the emergency plans that have been established in your area by your state and local government.
  • In any emergency, always listen to the instructions given by local emergency management officials.

Information courtesy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  Photo by victor zastol`skiy and courtesy of istockphoto.com

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