Thunderstorms are categorized by heavy rain, high wind and lightning strikes. While lightning strikes put on a spectacular show, the storms can be very dangerous. Actually being struck by lightning is rare - on average lightening strikes kill about 51 people in the US every year. However the strong winds and potential for flash floods tend to be more deadly.
There are two levels of thunderstorm warnings issued – a thunderstorm ‘watch’ refers to severe thunderstorms being possible and you need to be ready to react. A thunderstorm ‘warning’ is that severe weather is imminent and damage to people or property is likely.
Here are some helpful tips about preparing for a thunderstorm:
- Organize an emergency kit for your family – preferably a minimum of three days of food and water as well as first aid supplies
- Remove dead or rotten trees surrounding your home as well as other debris that can cause injuries or damage during high winds
- Postpone all outdoor activities and make sure your family are home if possible
- Unplug all electronic devises
- If no substantial, sturdy shelter is nearby, get in your car to wait out the storm. This is to avoid being outside when lightening is striking as you do not want to risk being a target
To gauge how close lightning strikes are occurring, use the 30-30 rule. That is, after you see lightning, start counting to 30. If you hear thunder before you reach 30, seek indoor shelter as the lightning is striking within 5 miles of you.
During a thunderstorm you should:
- Listen to the local news for emergency updates
- Take shelter immediately
- Avoid corded electrical equipment and telephones. Use battery-powered TVs and radios instead. This is because the wires are connected to external systems, like power lines.
- Do not take a bath, shower or use plumbing. Water is a great conductor of electricity.
If you do happen to be caught outside in a thunderstorm, a car can be the next safest option. It’s often said that the rubber in the tires give protection from lightning strikes but this is not the case. The reason a car provides a haven is that the electrical charge of the strike conducts around the outside of the car from the cars metal before flowing into the ground.
What should you do if you are sheltering in a car during a thunderstorm?
If your vehicle is struck by lightning it is important to keep your hands folded in your lap and avoid touching anything in the car. This is because the electric flow can conduct through the foot pedals, steering column and wheel as well as radios, chargers and GPS units. If you are driving, pull over immediately and put on your hazard lights. Switch off the car and wait out the storm.
When is it safe to leave the vehicle?
As soon as the electrical current from the strike has passed, it is technically safe to leave the car but it is better to wait until 30 minutes after the last strike – at which point the storm has passed.