How to Prepare for a Thunderstorm

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As we enter summer, and all of the fun outdoor activities we’ve waited for, we need to be aware of the potential severe weather that’s also associated with this season. Regardless of your geographical location, planning ahead for extreme weather will benefit you when a storm occurs. One of the single most important aspects of being prepared is awareness. You need to know what’s going on around you.

As always, preparedness is not about changing your lifestyle, it’s about staying informed, and being ready to use that information. One piece of gear that applies to every type of extreme weather situation is a base weather radio. These are affordable and invaluable for the advanced warning they can provide during an emergency. Every home should have something similar to the Midland WR-300 S.A.M.E. Weather/All Hazards Alert Monitor With AM/FM Radio.

Know the difference between these weather alerts:

Thunderstorm Watch: Conditions are right for possible thunderstorms in and near the watch area.
Thunderstorm Warning: A thunderstorm has been spotted in the immediate warning area, the danger is imminent.

Interesting factoids:

  • All thunderstorms generate lightning.
  • The sound of thunder is made by the rapid air expansion created by the electrical discharge of lightning.
  • There are an average 100,000 thunderstorms in the US each year and about 10% of those are rated severe.
  • A severe thunderstorm needs to have one or more of the following: 1" (or larger) hail, 58 mph (or faster) winds, a tornado.
  • Lightning can reach one billion volts (and well over 100,000 amps). It can be more than 54,000°F.
  • Thunderstorms usually produce hail, most never reaches the ground, but the hail that does can be more than 4" in diameter.
  • Severe thunderstorms can produce “straight-line” winds that can exceed 100 mph (not to be confused with tornados).
  • Lightning from a storm can commonly strike 10 miles from the cloud, and has been recorded over 25 miles from the cloud.
  • If you can hear the thunder, you’re close enough to be in danger.

"In fact, thunderstorms are the most common severe weather pattern on the planet..."

Thunderstorms are among the top dangerous-weather conditions; though many people commonly underestimate their danger. They typically occur during the spring and summer, and most often occur in the afternoon to evening. However, thunderstorms can occur at any time of the day or night, and at any time of year. Thunderstorms occur in every state. In fact, thunderstorms are the most common severe weather pattern on the planet, with more than three million lightning flashes worldwide per day.

In addition to lightning, thunderstorms are also known to produce damaging winds (not counting tornados) and flash floods. They also often leave damage in their wake, such as downed trees and utility lines, property damage, flooding, and power outages. These can range from very minor to significant depending on severity of the storm. This is where “preparedness” comes in. Planning ahead can help you cope much better with the aftermath of such an event.

Some safety tips:

  • If you see the flash and it’s less than 30 seconds before you hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by the lightning.
  • When you hear thunder, seek shelter immediately.
  • Don’t touch appliance cables during a storm.
  • Unplug appliances before a storm arrives.
  • Don't use anything connected to your plumbing system (sink, shower, etc.). Plumbing conducts electricity!
  • Don't lie on or lean against concrete surfaces.
  • Stay away from windows and doors.
  • If you must travel after a storm, avoid storm damaged areas. Don’t approach downed power lines, and never drive through moving flood water.

Basic items that you should consider having in an emergency kit:

  • A portable weather radio, such as the Eton FRX3.
  • Water (one gallon per day, per person).
  • Food (something easy to prepare and non-perishable).
  • A reliable flashlight, such as the Fenix LD22-G2.
  • Batteries, such as these Panasonic Eneloop AA's.
  • A first aid kit.
  • A mobile phone and a power source.
  • Copies of important personal documents on a USB Flash drive.
  • Extra cash (there may be no working ATMs or credit card processing).

I hope you found this information to be beneficial. Remember, the key is to plan ahead and stay safe.

Check out the second installment in this series: How to Prepare for and Be Aware of Tornadoes.

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