Preparing for Severe Thunderstorms and Derecho Windstorm

With the start of a Northeastern Derecho storm front I thought it would be a good time to discuss how to prepare for a severe thunderstorm and derecho windstorms. Knowing what to do and where to going in a severe thunderstorm can greatly reduce your chances of injury or death.

Why Prepare For Severe Thunderstorms?

Preparing for Severe Thunderstorms or DerechoDespite their small size, all thunderstorms are dangerous. Every thunderstorm produces lightning, which kills more people each year than tornadoes.Heavy rain from thunderstorms can lead to flash flooding. Strong winds, hail, and tornadoes are also dangers associated with some thunderstorms.

Thunderstorms affect relatively small areas when compared with hurricanes and winter storms, but can have an expansive area if it forms a Derecho windstorm. The typical thunderstorm is 15 miles in diameter and lasts an average of 20 to 30 minutes. Of the estimated 100,000 thunderstorms that occur each year in the United States, only about 10 percent are classified as severe.

What To Tell Children

The sound of thunder can be especially frightening for young children. Take the “scariness” away by teaching them what to expect during a thunderstorm and how to be safe.

Plan For A Thunderstorm

  • Learn about your area’s severe thunderstorm risk. Severe thunderstorms can occur year-round and at any hour. Contact your local emergency management office, local National Weather Service office, or American Red Cross chapter for more information regarding your area’s risk.
  • Discuss how you would know if a thunderstorm may produce a tornado. Tornadoes develop from severe thunderstorms along and ahead of cold fronts.
  • Pick a “safe place” in your home where the family members can gather during a thunderstorm and other severe weather. This should be a place where there are no windows, skylights or glass doors, which could be broken by strong winds or hail, causing damage or injury.
  • In preparation for possible tornado warnings, consider making your severe thunderstorm “safe room” on the lowest floor of the building, near your tornado safe space.
  • Learn how to squat low to the ground. Make yourself the smallest possible target for lightning and minimizing contact with the ground. Lightning current often enters a victim through the ground rather than by a direct overhead strike. Assume a crouched position on the ground with only the balls of your feet touching the ground, place your hands on your knees, and lower your head. This will minimize your body’s surface area, and minimize ground contact as well.
  • Discuss how you would be warned of an approaching thunderstorm. Different communities have different ways of providing warning. Many communities have sirens intended for outdoor warning  purposes. Use a NOAA Weather Radio with a tone-alert feature to keep you aware of watches and warnings while you are indoors.
  • Discuss severe thunderstorms and other severe storms with your family and store necessary provision in a family go bag, also known as a Bug Out Bag (BOB), in case you have to vacate your home.

Basic Tips to Prepare for a Severe Thunderstorm and Derecho Windstorm

  • If you see or hear a thunderstorm coming, go inside a sturdy building or car. Sturdy buildings are the safest place to be. If no building is nearby, a hard-top vehicle will offer some protection. Keep car windows closed and avoid convertibles. 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. Although you may be injured if lightning strikes your car, you are much safer inside a vehicle than outside.
  • If you can’t get inside, or if you feel your hair stand on end, which means lightning is about to strike, hurry to a low, open space immediately. Crouch down on the balls of your feet, place your hands on your knees and lower your head. Make yourself the smallest target possible and minimize contact with the ground.
  • Practice the “crouch down” position. Show children how to practice squatting low to the ground to be the smallest target possible for lightning in case they get caught outside in a thunderstorm. Show them how to place their hands on their knees and lower their head, crouching on the balls of their feet.
  • Stay away from tall things like trees, towers, fences, telephone lines, or power lines. They attract lightning. Never stand underneath a single large tree out in the open, because lightning usually strikes the highest point in an area.
  • Stay away from metal things that lightning may strike, such as umbrellas, baseball bats, fishing rods, camping equipment, and bicycles. Lightning is attracted to metal and poles or rods.
  • If you are boating or swimming, get to land immediately. Stay away from rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water and get off the beach. The saturated sand conducts electricity very well. Water is an excellent conductor of electricity. When lightning strikes nearby, the electrical charge can travel through the water. Each year people are killed by nearby lightning strikes while in or on the water or on the beach.
  • Turn off the air conditioner and television, and stay off the phone until the storm is over. Lightning can cause electric appliances, including televisions and telephones, to become dangerous during a thunderstorm.
  • Stay away from running water inside the house; avoid washing your hands or taking a bath or shower. Electricity from lightning has been known to come inside through plumbing.
  • Battery powered lighting devices should be used so check your supply of batteries and light bulbs now, don’t wait for the next storm.I personally have a Fenix flashlight always handy in case the power does go out during a severe storm. They use standard AA or AAA batteries which can easily be found within your home or office.
  • The use of candles should be kept to a minimum and only be lit in rooms that are occupied by an adult.  Do not light candles in bedrooms or in areas exposed to high traffic or left unattended.
  • Use your battery-operated NOAA Weather Radio for updates from local officials.


1 Comment

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