WHAT IS A “SEVERE” THUNDERSTORM?
Thunderstorms are just a fact of life in east-central Ohio. They’re a common occurrence all through spring, summer and fall. We even sometimes have thunderstorms in the winter!
But, it takes a special kind of thunderstorm to earn the label “severe”. Knowing what a severe thunderstorm actually is is the first step in keeping your home and family members safe when one threatens our area.
First, it may surprise you to know that the amount of lightning has nothing to do with whether a storm is severe or not. That’s because ALL THUNDERSTORMS CONTAIN DANGEROUS LIGHTNING by definition.
Two important weather factors highlight the criteria for labeling a storm ‘severe’: Wind and hail.
In order for the National Weather Service to issue a ‘Severe Thunderstorm Watch’ or ‘Severe Thunderstorm Warning’ a thunderstorm must either be capable of producing or is producing winds of 58 mph or more AND/OR hail that is one inch in diameter or greater.
Hail this size can damage property such as plants, roofs and vehicles. Wind this strong is able to break off large branches, knock over trees or cause structural damage to trees. Some severe thunderstorms can produce hail larger than softballs or winds over 100 mph, so severe thunderstorm headlines are nothing to ignore.
WATCH vs WARNING
Many folks are confused by these two terms, but it’s actually pretty simple to understand the difference.
When a Severe Thunderstorm WATCH is issued by the National Weather Service, it means that weather conditions are such that severe thunderstorms are POSSIBLE. Simply put, a Watch means “watch out – severe thunderstorms might happen today”. A WATCH usually covers a large geographical area – several counties or even a whole section of the state.
Severe Thunderstorm WARNING is serious and demands immediate action on your part. When a WARNING is issued, it means that a severe thunderstorm is happening or is about to happen. You need to take immediate shelter if you’re outside or get to a safe place in your home or office away from windows and walls. Damaging winds and/or large hail is nothing to mess with.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO IF A WARNING IS ISSUED
At Your House: Go to your secure location if you hear a severe thunderstorm warning. Damaging wind or large hail may be approaching. Take your pets with you if time allows.
At Your Workplace or School: Stay away from windows if you are in a severe thunderstorm warning and damaging wind or large hail is approaching. Do not go to large open rooms such as cafeterias, gymnasiums or auditoriums.
Outside: Go inside a sturdy building immediately if severe thunderstorms are approaching. Sheds and storage facilities are not safe. Taking shelter under a tree can be deadly. The tree may fall on you. Standing under a tree also put you at a greater risk of getting struck by lightning.
In a Vehicle: Being in a vehicle during severe thunderstorms is safer than being outside; however, drive to closest secure shelter if there is sufficient time.
DON’T LET SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS TAKE YOU BY SURPRISE!
Your best defense against ANY severe weather is awareness and preparation. Know how to get weather information when severe weather is possible and have a RELIABLE WAY to receive any updates or warnings.
THE ABSOLUTE BEST WAY to keep informed is with an NOAA Weather Radio. These little radio receivers are programmable for our area and can be completely customized for specific alerts issued by the National Weather Service. They automatically sound an alert when those alerts are issued – DAY OR NIGHT. Many retail stores and online stores have these inexpensive radios starting at around $30.
I’ll discuss weather radios in detail in a later blog this week.
There are also several good weather warning apps available that will sound an alarm. The Red Cross and FEMA both offer free reliable weather warning apps. Just make sure you have the warning criteria set properly for your area and you keep the app active day AND NIGHT.
Local media – TV and Radio – also offer severe weather information. HOWEVER, expect delays in alerts as the headlines are pushed to the outlet. And, what about storms at night? Do you leave the TV or radio on all night? We’re the most vulnerable when we’re sleeping and alerts during nighttime severe weather is critical. While these methodes are great during the day, it would be best to use a weather radio or app for nighttime alerts. Think smoke alarm.
DO NOT RELY ON OUTDOOR TORNADO SIRENS AS YOUR WARNING METHOD!
Many folks mistakenly think outdoor tornado sirens are the best warning idea ever. Not really. Tornado sirens are meant as a warning system for folks who are OUTSIDE – they’re not meant to warn you in your home.
Outdoor sirens are an idea adapted from technology developed during World War II. We’ve come a long way in warning technology since the 1940s. No one – absolutely no one – recommends outdoor tornado sirens as a primary warning system.
Simply put – JUST DON’T RELY ON A TORNADO SIREN.
We’ll be discussing more severe weather safety all this week in the blog. It’s been a while since we’ve had to deal with spring and summertime severe weather so take some time this week to refresh your severe weather knowledge.
Knowledge and preparation are our only defense against severe weather. Chances are severe weather will affect you and your family at some point over the next 9 months. Be prepared, not scared.