Severe weather safety: How you can prepare for severe thunderstorms, tornadoes

Knowing what to do during severe weather and having a plan ready can make a difference when every moment counts.

Lightning causes an average of 55 to 60 deaths and 400 injuries each year, according to the National Weather Service, and tornadoes account for an average of 60 to 65 deaths and 1,500 injuries a year.

The NWS suggests the following to prepare for severe weather before it hits:

  • Know the risk for the area you’re in.
  • Have a Public Alert certified National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio and battery back-up to receive warnings.
  • Discuss thunderstorm safety with all members of your household.
  • Remember that even if weather is calm at the time during a Tornado or Severe Thunderstorm Watch or Warning, conditions can deteriorate quickly and become life-threatening.
  • Tornadoes and severe thunderstorms can happen at any place, time of day and time of year given the right conditions.
  • Listen to the radio or television for weather information to get more details on severe weather advisories. The NWS also posts watches and warnings online. Select your local NWS office at
  • Check on those who are elderly, very young or mentally disabled.
  • Have a safe room in your home or business that provides “near absolute protection” from injury or death caused by extreme winds.

Sometimes severe weather develops quickly, giving people minutes or even seconds to respond. Here’s what you should do when dangerous weather is approaching, according to NWS:

When severe weather is approaching:

  • Have a lightning safety plan, including where to go for safety and how long it takes to get there. Make sure your plans gives you enough time to get to safety.
  • Before going outside, check the forecast for thunderstorms and consider postponing activities to avoid being caught in a dangerous situation.
  • Look for signs of a developing thunderstorm, such as darkening skies, flashes of lightning and increasing winds.
  • Get to a safe when you hear thunder, even if it’s a distant rumble. Fully enclosed buildings with wiring and plumbing are the best protection. Sheds, picnic shelters, tents and covered porches do not protect from lightning. If a sturdy building is not nearby, go into a hard-topped metal vehicle and close all the windows. Stay inside until 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder.
  • Stay away from electrical equipment, wiring and water pipes. Sensitive electronics should be unplugged ahead of storms. Don’t take a bath, shower or us other plumbing during a thunderstorm.
  • If you hear thunder, avoid using corded phones. Cell phones, cordless phones and other handheld devices are safer to use during storms.

When caught outside during a thunderstorm:

  • Avoid open areas and stay away from isolated tall trees, towers or utility poles. Lightning typically strikes the tallest objects, so avoid being the tallest thing in the area.
  • Stay away from metal conductors, including wires or fences. While metal doesn’t attract lighting, lightning can travel long distances through it.

During a tornado:

  • The safest place is an underground shelter, basement or safe room. If an underground shelter isn’t available, a small windowless interior room or hallway on the lowest level of sturdy structure is the safest alternative. Mobile homes are not safe during a tornado and people should leave them for the nearest sturdy building or shelter.
  • If you are caught outside, seek shelter in a sturdy basement, shelter or sturdy building. If you cannot quickly get to a shelter:
    • Get into a vehicle immediately, buckle your seat belt and drive to the closest sturdy structure.
    • If there if flying debris while you are driving, pull over and park. In a last resort you can:
      • Stay in your vehicle with your seat belt on and put your head down below the windows and cover your head with your hands and a blanket if possible.
      • If you can safely get to a noticeably lower level than the road, get out of your car and lie in that area, covering your head with your hands.

During a flash flood:

  • Avoid driving, walking or swimming in flood waters.
  • Stay away from high water, storm drains, ditches, ravines or culverts. Moving water as shallow as 6 inches can knock people off their feet. Get to higher ground.
  • Do not let children play near storm drains.
  • Never drive through a flooded roadway.

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