Severe storms are underrated yet hazardous. To help put your mind at ease, we’ve answered some of the most common thunderstorm and lightning-related questions.
How dangerous is a thunderstorm?
Thunderstorms can be very dangerous. Thunderstorms produce lightning, which can be devastating enough to leave you with permanent injuries or cause death if you’re struck. Severe storms also produce excessive amounts of rainfall and sometimes hail, which may result in flash flooding and property damage. When combined with strong winds, tornadoes are likely to occur, causing further destruction.
How are thunderstorms forecasted?
Forecasting a storm is a bit complicated but the technology available today has made remarkable progress for meteorologists to determine approaching thunderstorms and determine their severity.
At the basic level, meteorologists analyze the air pressure, temperature, and wind speed of any given location. This data is then combined with other information provided by weather balloons, satellites, and radar technology ultimately determining cloud formations, moisture density, weather patterns, and wind observations.
What are the signs of a severe thunderstorm?
Ultimately our goal is to determine quickly whether or not our lives are in danger during the passing of a storm. Some of the following signs are great indicators that the storm will be severe and dangerous. Here’s what you should look out for:
- Feeling a rapid drop in temperature and air pressure. Severe storms form when the warm air from below combines itself with the cold air from above. Feeling the change in temperature means a storm may be approaching rapidly. You can check the air pressure with a barometer if you have one.
- Notice any dark cumulonimbus clouds. These types of clouds are generally low-lying and bring severe weather.
- Feel changes in wind speed. Some storms produce high wind speeds, while others may produce a brief moment of quiet and calm. Either way, be aware of any sudden and abnormal changes in the wind. If in doubt, get indoors right away.
- Do you hear the sound of thunder? In the best conditions, thunder can be heard from as far as 10 miles away. Lightning can also strike the same distance. Let the sound of thunder be your cue to find a safe place of shelter immediately. Keep reading to see which safe places I’m specifically talking about.
- Listen for a loud noise that resembles a freight train— yup, this would be the sound of a tornado approaching! Remember that tornadoes can precede thunderstorms if the circumstances allow for it. For tornado preparedness and shelter tips, check out this guide!
- Tune in to the NOAA weather radio or visit their website. NOAA provides the most up-to-date weather watches, advisories, and warnings. Misinterpreting any of the above signs can put your life in great danger. Obey the warnings and find a secure shelter. Your life is too precious- don’t risk it!
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Is it safe to drive in a thunderstorm?
Driving in a thunderstorm is not safe. Recently I read a story about a woman in Florida whose car got struck by lightning while she was driving. Immediately, her car came to a halt as the car’s electric system failed. The airbags were deployed and the impact she felt was similar to being in a car accident.
Although her situation was rather unique, it’s not at all unusual. Lightning bolts strike at random, so if you’re driving, it’s best to pull over and wait for the storm to pass. If you’re able to take shelter inside a building, do so. Your car may also be a safe shelter if it has a hard metal top and you’re not touching metal nor electronics.
While we’re on the topic of driving, it’s worth mentioning that it’s not safe to pump gas during a thunderstorm either. Learn why here.
What are some effects of thunderstorms?
Thunderstorms can wreak havoc in several different ways. Not all thunderstorms are equal, so the extent of damage really varies on the circumstances.
In some cases, they bring rainfall which can lead to floods or flash flooding and possible landslides. Other times, they can bring hailstones as large as golf balls, causing extensive physical injury and damage to property.
Oftentimes they are accompanied by high winds, which on occasion can result in tornadoes and cause major destruction to infrastructure.
Power outages are also common during thunderstorms, as well as fires— both wildfires and home fires are possible when lightning strikes.
Unfortunately, much like all natural disasters, the most devastating effect of thunderstorms can be the possibility of death. It’s important to be prepared well in advance of a storm, especially if you live in a high-risk area. Learn how to prepare for any natural disaster here.
Can you prevent lightning?
Lightning cannot be prevented but in some cases it can be diverted. Check out this article for a list of thunderstorm mitigation strategies.
How can I prevent getting struck by lightning?
Although your chances of getting struck by lightning are relatively low, it remains one of the leading causes of weather-related fatalities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
To prevent getting struck, there are several things you can do:
- When thunder roars, go indoors. Hang out in an interior room away from windows and doors. [Yes, lightning can strike you even if you’re indoors.]
- Remember the 30/30 rule. If you see lightning and can’t count to 30 before hearing thunder, FEMA recommends going indoors. Stay indoors for at least 30 minutes after the last thunder clap you hear.
- Do not touch metal, water, concrete, or anything else that conducts electricity.
- Do not be in contact with anything that is plugged into the wall. It’s best to unplug devices since electrical outlets can experience a power surge if lightning strikes the ground outdoors.
For more information on thunderstorms and lightning mitigation and safety, check out our guide here. We’ve provided a checklist for you to print and keep with your emergency supplies.
Do you have any questions about severe storms that weren’t answered? If so, leave them in the comments below!
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