Storm Safety Rules!

Tornado Safety Rules

The threat of tornadoes increases rapidly during the late spring months across the southern and central plains of the United States. The tornado threat spreads across the entire USA during the rest of the summer. Although tornadoes have occurred at every hour of the day, almost 90% occur between 1:00 and 9:00 p.m.

Approximately 88% of all tornadoes are considered "weak" with a life of under 10 minutes, resulting in less than 5% of all tornado fatalities. Wind speeds associated with weak tornadoes are generally under 110 mph. Winds of this magnitude will damage a wood frame construction home, but may completely destroy a mobile home.

About 11% of tornadoes are considered "strong". These tornadoes may last over 20 minutes and travel up to 25 miles. They are responsible for nearly 30% of all tornado deaths. Wind speeds of strong tornadoes are in the 110 to 200 mph range and will cause considerable damage. Strong tornadoes are responsible for 30% of all tornado-related deaths.

"Violent" tornadoes account for only 1% of all tornado events, but result in nearly 70% of all tornado fatalities. They can destroy much of what lies in their path. Violent tornadoes can remain on the ground for over an hour and travel up to and over 50 miles before dissipating. Their wind speeds can reach upwards of 300 mph.

It is best to have a plan of action in mind before severe weather occurs. This holds true whether you are at home, work, school or outdoors. Here are some safety items to consider if a tornado threatens:

The safest place is in the basement of a well-built structure, inside a safe room with no windows or in an underground storm shelter. If none of these options are available, move to a hallway or small interior room on the lowest floor of the structure. Usually a closet or bathroom is best. Remember, the greatest risk of injury in a tornado is from flying debris. Cover yourself with blankets or get under a heavy piece of furniture.

Mobile homes, even those which are tied down, offer little protection from tornadoes. If a tornado approaches, you should leave a mobile home and seek safety in a nearby building or storm shelter.

If you are driving in open country and see a tornado, the best thing to do is simply drive away from the tornado path. Do not take shelter beneath a highway overpass. Wind speeds may actually be higher in these areas and are often collection points for debris.

If you are in an automobile and a tornado is approaching fast, abandon the vehicle and lie face-down in a dry ditch or culvert away from the vehicle. Cover your head.

The best advice is to always take responsibility for your own safety. During the spring and summer months, you should stay informed on weather conditions in your area and be ready to follow your safety plan if severe weather approaches.

Lightning Safety Rules

Lightning is the most prevalent danger from thunderstorms. Thunderstorms are most likely to occur in the afternoon and evening hours. Thunderstorms produce some of the most powerful weather on Earth, including tornadoes, large hail and destructive straight-line winds. However, the most dangerous aspect of thunderstorms is usually lightning. Over the past 10 years, lightning has killed more people than any other thunderstorm hazard. Lightning is also responsible for a great number of forest and rangeland fires, especially in the drier climate of the western USA. Each lightning stroke contains millions of volts of electricity; enough to supply power for several homes for about a month. Lightning also heats the surrounding air to temperatures of 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit. This rapid expansion of air due to heating generates an audible shock wave that we call thunder.

Lightning is unpredictable and occasionally behaves in strange ways. It can destroy one object without touching another one nearby. Lightning can also strike something such as a tree, then travel across the ground shocking anything and anyone in its path. Lightning normally strikes the tallest object in the area. Stay away from metal objects and water as they are good conductors of electricity from lightning.

Most lightning fatalities occur outdoors, and most often under or near tall trees, in or near water or on hilltops. Lightning can strike the ground up to 20 miles away from the parent thunderstorm. Based on this information, it is obvious why you need to take shelter from thunderstorms while outside. One reliable way to estimate your distance from a thunderstorm is the "Flash To Bang" technique. Count the number of seconds between the lightning strike and the thunder. Divide the number of seconds you count by five. Every five seconds equals about one mile. It is recommended that you should begin to seek shelter if the time between the lightning flash and the thunder is 30 seconds or less. You should not resume outdoor activities until 30 minutes after the last audible thunder. This is known as the "30/30 Rule".

Stay off corded telephones when lightning is in your area, since the electrical discharge from lightning can travel along the telephone lines and produce fatal results. It is also recommended that you unplug sensitive electronics such as computers when lightning is expected in your area. Stay away from electrical devices and stay out of shower stalls and bathtubs, swimming pools and lakes when thunderstorms threaten.

The best defense in protecting yourself from lightning is to plan ahead and avoid being caught in a vulnerable position. Check the weather forecasts prior to venturing outside, especially if you are traveling into mountainous or open terrain where there is little or no shelter. Plan outdoor activities for early in the day before thunderstorms develop.

If thunderstorms threaten, seek shelter in a building or in an enclosed metal roof vehicle, making sure all windows are closed. Never seek shelter under an isolated tree or small group of trees. If you are in a heavily forested area, take shelter in a low spot and away from the taller trees. However, avoid areas which could be prone to flash flooding. If you are caught in the open, do not lie flat on the ground. Instead, squat low to the ground, clasp your hands around your knees and put your chin to your chest. Make yourself the smallest target possible and minimize contact with the ground. Do not become a "human lightning rod".

Damaging Straight-Line Winds Safety Rules

Tornadoes may make the front page headlines in newspapers or be the top story on radio or TV. However, damaging straight-line thunderstorm winds of tornado or hurricane strength can injure and kill animals and humans. These winds are called "downbursts" and usually result when an area of air within the storm is cooled by rain or hail passing through it, or by the evaporation of raindrops. This cool air pocket becomes heavier than the surrounding air and accelerates downward to the ground. As this cool air slams into the ground, it spreads out from the area of impact. In some extreme cases, this can result in winds of up to 100 mph, radiating in all directions from the center of the downburst.

These straight-line bursts of wind are called "microbursts" if they are less than 2.5 miles across. If they are greater than 2.5 miles across, they are referred to as "macrobursts".

Downbursts can be very hazardous and even life-threatening to people on the ground, and in aircraft flying through thunderstorms.

Try to get indoors during any thunderstorm activity. High winds can develop suddenly and cause things on the ground to become swift-moving airborne missiles which can injure or kill.

Hail Safety Rules

Hail is another major thunderstorm threat. Hail forms within thunderstorms as liquid water droplets freeze in the cold mid and upper levels of the atmosphere. The hailstones are kept aloft by strong updraft winds for a time, then fall to earth when they become to heavy to be supported by the updrafts. Hailstones vary in size from "pea" to "grapefruit" which is nearly 5 inches in diameter.

Hailstones can do tremendous damage to farm crops when they fall as large stones, or as a concentrated fall of smaller stones. Hail can accumulate to a depth of several inches in some cases. Large hail can easily damage vehicles and buildings, and can be life-threatening to animals and people.

Try to get indoors during hail-producing thunderstorms. A fall of small hail can suddenly change to a fall of very large ice missiles than can injure or kill you. Sturdy buildings or vehicles can offer you protection from hail. However, during large hail events, automobile windshields can break if golfball size or larger hail falls.

If you are planning outdoor activities, stay informed on changing weather conditions and take shelter if thunderstorms threaten.

Flash Flood Safety Rules

Flash floods are the most underrated severe weather threat. Flash flooding mainly occurs during the thunderstorm-prone summer months, but can occur during any time of year. A flash flood is a sudden rise in water along a creek, wash, river or over normally dry land. Flash floods result from heavy rainfall, river ice jams, snow melt and dam or levee failures. Flash floods can occur within a few minutes or hours and can move at surprisingly high speeds. They can strike with little warning. They can erode an entire mountainside, rolling boulders the size of trucks, tearing out trees and destroying buildings and washing away roads and bridges. Rain-weakened soils can also result in mudslides capable of closing roadways.

To stay informed about a flash flood threat, monitor weather forecasts for flash flood watches or warnings. A "Flash Flood Watch" means flash flooding is possible within the watch area. You should remain alert and be prepared to evacuate flood-prone areas quickly. A "Flash Flood Warning" means flash flooding has been reported or is imminent. When a flash flood warning is issued for your area, act quickly. Evacuate to higher ground or climb to safety before access is cut off by flood waters. You may not always have a warning that deadly sudden floods are coming, so follow these basic flash flood safety rules:

Do not camp or park your vehicle along creeks and washes, especially during threatening weather conditions.

If you are near a river, be aware of water levels and be prepared to take action and go to higher ground if river levels rise.

Do not enter areas that are already flooded.

Do not try to cross a flowing creek on foot when the water is at or above your knees.

If walking or fishing along a river, be aware that erosion from swift-flowing water can cause river banks to collapse.

Never allow children to play around high water, storm drains, viaducts or arroyos.

Be especially cautions at night when it is harder to see flood dangers.

Nearly half of all flash flood fatalities are vehicle-related. While driving your vehicle, look out for flooding at highway dips, bridges and low areas. Two feet of water will carry away most vehicles. Never attempt to drive through a flooded roadway. The road may be washed out and you could be stranded or trapped. If the vehicle stalls, leave it immediately and go to higher ground. Rising water may sweep you and the vehicle away.

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