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  Welcome to our updated severe weather safety center! We revised and updated these pages with all new information, graphics, statistics, and much more. We firmly believe that knowledge is power, and the more a person knows about safety, the more prepared he is. That's truly what safety is all about - PREPARDNESS. In today's complex and ever changing society, their is still a fair amount of apathy and complacency among the general public when it comes to severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. We tend to "ignore" or down play the signs of their approach with ideas of "it won't strike us", or even "that storm will fade out before getting here". From a safety standpoint, these a very bad and even dangerous ideas a person can have. While it's true that the chances your location will ever be hit by a tornado for example, are very small, it is still just as important to be prepared, just in case. That's where knowing safety rules comes in, and why we have created these pages. One of our goals here at our office is to spread the word about safety, to educate everyone on what to expect, what to do, and how to do it. If we all do our part, we can become prepared and ready for the next severe storm or even tornado.
Do you know where the safest locations are within your home? Click here to take a kind of "quiz" to find out where safe areas are in not only your home, but in public places as well. While this is not really a quiz, it is designed to "point out" potential safe areas. We do have a short "quiz" which you can take so you can find out what you know about severe weather safety. To take the quiz, just head here.
NOTICE: We have released a short video (approx. 20 mins), which covers all facets of severe weather safety. This video is produced by our office to help spread the word about severe weather safety, supplimenting the information found on this page and elsewhere on this web site. Safety should be number one in severe weather situations. To view this video, just click this link.

  • SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS
  • A thunderstorm is considered "severe" when it goes from it's mature stage to severe before dissipating. At any given moment, some 1,000 thunderstorms are in progress somewhere around the globe. Of these, roughly a third of them will become severe. You see, not all thunderstorms which develop will ever become severe, but those that do become severe will be capable to produce elements which can destroy, injure, and even kill. The National Weather Service classifies a thunderstorm as "severe" if it contains any or all of these elements:

    TORNADOES HAIL >=1.00" WINDS >= 58 MPH

    Other elements, though not listed above, are also just as dangerous during severe thunderstorms. One such element is the lightening. Each year, lightening kills an average of 58 people in the United States. A single bolt of lightening can reach a temperature of 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and pack up to 100 million volts of electricity! A person who is hit by lightening recieves a severe electrical shock and may be burned. However, they carry no electrical charge and can be handled safely. If you witness someone struck by lightening, don't just stand there! Get medical attention at once. Another hazard not mentioned is flash floods. Flash floods commonly occur when too much rainfall occurs over the same locations which the ground is unable to absorb. The excessive rainwater thus drains into rivers, streams, and lakes causing them to rise. If enough water gets into these rivers and streams, they flood over resulting in flash floods.

    To learn more about flash flood safety, scroll down this page to that section.

    In order for a thunderstorm to develop, the atmosphere needs to be "unstable". Instability results when warm and moist air from the southern plains meets cool and dry air from the north. This meet usually occurs along boundries called "fronts". A unique kind of boundry, referred to as a "dry line" is often the focus for a more violent breed of severe thunderstorms called "supercells". Supercell thunderstorms often unleash very large diameter hail and the strong to violent tornadoes.
    Whenever severe weather is forecast for your area, you need to be fully alert and prepared for what is to come. The National Weather Service uses specific terminology when forecasting severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, and flash floods, so take the time now to review them. The table below lists the commonly used terms, what they mean, and what actions you should take in each situation.

    TERM WHAT IT MEANS WHAT YOU SHOULD DO
    SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WATCH Atmospheric conditions are favorable for severe thunderstorm development in and close to the watch area over the next several hours. Continue with regular activity, but keep an eye to the sky every so often. If you see clouds towering up into the atmosphere, this could indicate a developing storm. Be ready to respond if a warning is issued. Remember, severe thunderstorms can and generally do produce tornadoes, often with little or no advance warning!
    SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING Doppler radar has detected severe thunderstorms either within or about to enter your county or parish. If you are outdoors, cease all activities and move inside your house or a safe building at once. Indoors, stay away from all windows and doors. Don't use the telephone during the storm unless it's an emergency. Yhe lightning could strike the line outside. Make sure to unplug all electrical items during the storm. Remain alert and informed.
    TORNADO WATCH Atmospheric conditions are favorable for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes in and close to the watch area over the next several hours. Continue with regular activity, but keep your eye on the sky occasionally especially if you will be outdoors. If you observe clouds towering up into the atmosphere, this could indicate a developing storm. Be ready to respond if a warning is issued.
    TORNADO WARNING A possible tornado may be about to occur, or a tornado has been reported on the ground near your location. If you live in the direct downstream location from the reported tornado, take cover at once. In most homes and apartments, move quickly to the basement or underground cellar. If their is no basement or cellar, then move quickly to the lowest level, then seek cover in any interior small room or hallway. Closets and/or bathrooms make good choices. Protect yourself.
    FLASH FLOOD WATCH Conditions are favorable for significant flash flooding over the next several hours. If you live along or near to any river, creek, or small streams be alert and watch for signs of rising water levels. If you observe flooding starting to occur, evacuate the area at once. This also holds true for low lying areas which can flood easily.
    FLASH FLOOD WARNING Flash flooding is imminent, or already occuring near your location. Evacuate the area immediately, and move to higher ground. Don't waste time gathering clothes or food. Stay out of already flooded areas. Never attempt to cross a flooded section of roadway! The water depth may be too great to allow for safe passage.

    There are times when the environment will support the development of especially destructive thunderstorms which produce widespread significant swaths of wind damage. These systems can produce straight-line winds which can exceed 85 mph. These destructive events are known as "Derechos". Derecho is Spanish meaning straight forward. When such events are forecast to occur, the National Weather Service will issue a PDS watch to the public. This means that a potentially dangerous and life threatening situation could evolve, and you should be on full alert and ready to take swift action should the need arise. br>
    A common misconception amongst most people these days are that they actually feel "less threatened" during severe thunderstorm events as opposed to tornado events. This stems apparently from the ideas that the storms will weaken and die out before reaching them, or change direction, and miss them altogther. While it is possible these scenerios may happen, chances are good that if your area is put under a severe thunderstorm warning, such severe weather is likely to occur. You should never assume that a severe thunderstorm won't strike and therefore let down your gaurd. Always treat a severe thunderstorm warning as a serious thing.

    The issuance of a severe thunderstorm watch does not preclude the occurance of tornadoes! In the vast majority of cases, tornadoes don't occur in areas covered by a severe thunderstorm watch. However, in borderline cases, it becomes difficult for forecasters to fully determine whether or not tornadoes may happen. It is for this reason people need to be aware that tornadoes could also occur during a severe thunderstorm watch period as well.

    The following are some outdoor tips for people during a severe thunderstorm watch:

    A)...As with any planned outdoor event or activity, make sure you take along a battery powered NOAA weather radio all hazards with a tone alert feature. This will keep you fully informed of the very latest information. If warnings are issued, you can head for safe shelter at once. This perhaps is the most important item to have while outdoors during watch periods.
    B)...Try to keep a careful lookout on the sky every so often. Watch for signs of cumulus clouds which begin to tower up into the atmosphere. If you observe such towering clouds, this serves as a signal that a storm is developing, and you should turn on your weather radio to listen for more information. Be ready to respond quickly if a storm bears down on your location, or a warning is issued.
    C)...Always remember that severe thunderstorms can and occasionally do produce tornadoes with little or no advance warning. If severe storms move into your location, or a warning is issued, cease all activities at once, and head for a safe building. If a tornado is approaching, seek shelter quickly in a basement or storm cellar. Never run to your parked vehicle for protection!
    REMEMBER, the key to your survival during severe thunderstorms is advanced planning. Make sure that you review and familiarize yourself with severe weather safety tips and information, then create a plan for safe action before the next storms arrive. It could mean life or death.

  • TORNADOES
  • Second to lightening, the single most destructive element of severe thunderstorms are tornadoes. A tornado is a violent twisting wind storm which is comprised of a "funnel" shaped pendant extending to the ground from the base of a thunderstorm. It is not classified as a tornado unless the funnel cloud reaches the ground. Tornadoes come in a variety of sizes and shapes ranging from the weakest (F-0) to the most violent (F-5) maxi-tornadoes. The winds of a tornado vortex have never been accurately measured, but studies from tornado damage suggest they could well exceed 300 mph. The season of peak tornado occurence is from April to September, but tornadoes have occured in every month. A tornado can form as a single storm, or in groups. Sometimes, several smaller vortices will rotate around inside the main funnel. This kind of twister is known as a "multi-vortex" tornado. A tornado that moves over or forms over a body of water is known as a "waterspout". Tornadic development requires a unique set of parimeters within the atmosphere. When these parimeters are present, forecasters at the National Weather Service will highlight this information to the public in their hazardous weather outlooks. When conditions become favorable for tornadoes, people are urged to monitor local weather conditions, and be prepared for what may evolve later. The following is a breakdown of what you should know and do in each situation.

    In most homes and small buildings, move at once to the basement or storm cellar. Try to get under something sturdy, such as a heavy table or work bench in the center of the basement or cellar. If you have none of these items, then another safe alternative would be under a stairwell. In each case, take along a heavy blanket or matress to protect yourself from flying debris and glass. If your home does not have a basement or cellar, then move to any interior small room or hallway on the lowest level of the dwelling. Closets or bathrooms are wise choices. Again, take along a heavy blanket to protect yourself from flying debris and glass. Some people still open their windows before taking cover in a tornado, on the idea this will equalize the pressure on the walls and roof. However, studies have concluded that opening windows with an approaching tornado has "no effect" on the atmospheric pressure inside the home. In fact, if a tornado funnel actually got close enough to your home, the violent winds will probably have already done most of the damage. Therefore, do not waste time with opening the windows. If you reside in an apartment complex, the safest place to take cover is in the basement, or on the lowest level in any interior small room or hallway. Be sure you have along something to protect yourself from flying debris and glass.

    Among one of the least safest places to be during a tornado is a vehicle. A tornado can pick up a vehicle, and bounce it, flip it, and toss it around like a toy, and when it's over completely destroy it. If you are caught in your vehicle when a tornado is approaching, one of the first things you need to do is try to find a safe sturdy building to take cover in. If you live in well populated cities and towns, there are a number of such places where you can find suitable shelter. Otherwise, if you are not able to reach a safe place in time, simply pull over to roadside and stop. Get out of your vehicle and into a ditch or ravine, or even a culvert. Have something available to protect yourself with. Above all, never seek shelter under a highway overpass! These are not safe locations to be when a tornado threatens, and you place yourself at substaintial risk for injury or even death. Another common myth is that you can outrun an approaching tornado. While it is true that if you are familiar with the area, you can select routes which get you out of the path of the oncoming tornado, attempting to outrun it is quite risky and unwise. You don't know how fast the tornado may be approaching, and it could catch up with you. You are further ahead by choosing to locate available shelter.

    Whenever you are away from your home, you should still think about safety when a threat for severe thunderstorms or tornadoes occurs in the area. Most public places offer shelter areas for people to use during a tornado emergency. For example, in the following places you would seek shelter in pre-designated locations...
    • Shopping centers and/or malls, retail store chains, and resturants
    • Schools, colleges, and universities
    • Hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes
    • Factories, machine shops, law offices, court houses, and other public places
    When attending outdoor events such as meetings, picnics, sporting events, swimming at the beach, boating, camping, or other outdoor activity, pay close attention to the local weather conditions if a tornado watch has been posted for the area. Watch the sky every so often for signs of cumulus clouds that tower up into the atmosphere, just as you would at home. Most of all, be sure to have a portable NOAA weather radio along. This will alert you to any warnings for the area. If storms bear down where you are, head for a safe shelter area. Don't wait for a warning!

    Like vehicles, pre-fabricated(mobile homes) or similar dwellings are NOT safe places during high wind events which can be associated with or without thunderstorms, or especially when a tornado is approaching. Even if properly tied down and anchored in concret footings, these homes can be torn up, flipped and tossed around, and completely destroyed. Your best option is to evacuate them immediately if you see a tornado approaching, or receive word of a tornado warning. Many mobile home parks today have underground storm cellars available for the people to use. Check with your park manager to find out where shelter is located near you. If your park is among the few, who still have no shelter available, evacuate your mobile home, and seek cover in a nearby ditch or ravine. Take along something to protect yourself from flying debris and glass.

  • FLOODS/FLASH FLOODS
  • When thunderstorms develop and then produce heavy to torrential rainfall over various locations, the ground may be unable to absorb all the water so quickly. In most urban city areas, this excess water drains off into sewers and other drainage areas, while in rural locations, the excess water drains into nearby rivers, creeks, and streams causing them to rise. If too much rainfall occurs, the sewers and other drainage areas, along with the rivers, creeks, and streams begin to flood over, resulting in dangerous flash flood events. By definition though, a flash flood is a raging torrent of flood water which can sweep up nearly everything in their path, including but not limited to trees, power lines, vehicles, boulders, and even whole buildings like houses. Some people have driven their vehicles into flooded sections of roadway, and became stranded and trapped inside their vehicle. This is outright foolish because the flood water could sweep you and your vehicle away, and you could loose your life. Here are some key things to remember:

    1. If you live in low lying areas which are subject to sudden flooding, remain alert and watch for signs of flooding starting to occur. If you are camping near any river or stream watch for rising water levels.
    2. If you live near any rivers, creeks, or streams, keep a watch for signs of rising water levels. If you see flooding starting to occur, evacuate the area at once! Don't wait for a warning to get issued!
    3. If flooding is occuring, stay out of those locations. Select a route that will get you to safer grounds. Do not go back to your home for clothing, food or other supplies.
    4. Never drive your vehicle through a flooded section of roadway! The water depth may be too great to allow for safe passage. If you become stranded in your vehicle in a flooded section of roadway, don't panic! Try to get out and move to a dry area if possible. Remember, flash flood waters rise very quickly, and you could be engulfed in your vehicle.
    5. Be especially cautious at night when it's harder to recognize flood dangers.

    The long and short of safety is knowing what to do in each instance, and having a thorough and complete knowledge of safety rules and related information. This can go a long way toward your survival when such events occurs.

    The information provided on this page is intended for instructional purposes to help educate the public about the dangers of severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, and flash floods. It is not intended as a complete guide to severe weather safety. If you would like additional information, please contact our office through the contact page, or you can contact your local office of the National Weather Service.