Thunderstorm Safety

Why worry about thunderstorms?

  • Lightning
  • Tornadoes
  • Straight-line Winds
  • Flash floods & floods
  • Hail

A thunderstorm affects a relatively small area when compared to a hurricane or a winter storm. The typical thunderstorm is 15 miles in diameter and lasts an average of 30 minutes. Despite their small size, ALL thunderstorms are dangerous! Of the estimated 100,000 thunderstorms that occur each year in the United States, about 10 percent are classified as severe.

Who's Most At-Risk from Thunderstorms?

From tornadoes, people who are in mobile homes our outdoors.

From lightning, people who are outdoors, or anyone who stays outdoors when thunderstorms are nearby.

From flash flooding, people who walk or drive through flood waters.

From large hail, people who are caught outdoors.

Be Prepared

Each year, many people are killed or seriously injured by tornadoes and severe thunderstorms despite advance warning. Some did not hear the warning; others heard the warning but did not believe it would happen to them. The following preparedness information, combined with timely severe weather watches and warnings, may save your life. If you hear a warning or observe threatening skies, only YOU can make the decision to seek safety. This could be the most important decision you will ever make.

Develop a plan for you and your family at home, work, school, and when outdoors. The American Red Cross offers tips at: www.redcross.org, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at: www.ready.gov.

Practice Your Plan

  • Know the risk for the area in which you live or visit. NWS warnings identify locations in the path of approaching severe weather.
  • Have a Public Alert™ certified NOAA Weather Radio and battery backup to receive warnings.
  • Discuss thunderstorm safety with all members of your household.
  • NWS watches and warnings are available on the Internet. Select and bookmark your local NWS office from www.weather.gov.
  • Keep in mind that even though the weather may be calm at the time a Tornado or Severe Thunderstorm Watch or Warning is issued for your area, conditions can rapidly deteriorate and become life threatening. Always heed warnings even if warnings issued for your area in the past did not result in severe weather. Don't gamble with your life.
  • Tornadoes and severe thunderstorms can and do occur at any location, anytime of day or night, and anytime of year given the right atmospheric conditions.
  • Tune into your favorite radio or television weather information source for severe weather watch and warning information.
  • If severe weather threatens, check on people who are elderly, very young, or physically or mentally disabled.
  • Having a safe room in your home or small business can help provide "near-absolute protection" for you and your family or your employees from injury or death caused by extreme winds. By near-absolute protection we mean that there is a very high probability the occupants of a safe room built according to current guidance will avoid injury or death. Information on how to build a Safe Room (shown in the photo at right) in your home or school is available from FEMA at: www.fema.gov/plan/prevent/saferoom/fema320.shtm

When Dangerous Weather Approaches

Avoid the Lightning Threat

  • Have a lightning safety plan. Know where you'll go for safety and how much time it will take to get there. Make sure your plan allows enough time to reach safety.
  • Postpone activities. Before going outdoors, check the forecast for thunderstorms. Consider postponing activities to avoid being caught in a dangerous situation.
  • Monitor the weather. Look for signs of a developing thunderstorm such as darkening skies, flashes of lightning, or increasing wind.
  • Get to a safe place. If you hear thunder, even a distant rumble, immediately move to a safe place. When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors! Fully enclosed buildings with wiring and plumbing provide the best protection. Sheds, picnic shelters, tents or covered porches do not protect you from lightning. If a sturdy building is not nearby, get into a hard-topped metal vehicle and close all the windows. Stay inside until 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder.
  • If you hear thunder, don't use a corded phone. Cordless phones, cell phones and other wireless handheld devices are safe to use.
  • Keep away from electrical equipment, wiring and water pipes. Sensitive electronics should be unplugged well in advance of thunderstorms. Don't take a bath, shower or use other plumbing during a thunderstorm.

When Caught Outside During Thunder

There is no safe place outside during a thunderstorm. Plan ahead to avoid this dangerous situation! If you're outside and hear thunder, the only way to significantly reduce your risk of becoming a lightning casualty is to get inside a substantial building or hard-topped metal vehicle as fast as you can. Remember, there is no substitute for getting to a safe place.

  • Avoid open areas and stay away from isolated tall trees, towers, or utility poles. Do not be the tallest object in the area. Lightning tends to strike the tallest objects in the area.
  • Stay away from metal conductors such as wires or fences. Metal does not attract lightning, but lightning can travel long distances through it.

This information is courtesy of the National Weather Service.

Last Updated: 12/21/15