Severe Weather 101: Severe thunderstorms can be just as deadly as a tornado

March 18 to the 24 is Spring Severe Weather Awareness Week in Ohio. Each day this week I’ll post tips and ideas to keep you prepared and safe during our most active severe weather period – springtime.

Take some time this week to refresh your severe thunderstorm and tornado plan. Know what you and your family will do when severe weather threatens.

Today’s Subject: Severe Thunderstorms

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 (thundersnow)!

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.

THREE CRITERIA DEFINE A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM
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…

  • Wind of 58 mph or more AND/OR
  • Hail that is one inch in diameter or greater
  • A tornado

It may surprise you to know that the intensity or the amount of lightning in a thunderstorm has nothing to do with whether a storm is severe or not. That’s because ALL THUNDERSTORMS CONTAIN DANGEROUS LIGHTNING by definition.

Hail can damage property such as plants, building roofs and vehicles. Strong winds is able to break off large branches, knock over trees and power lines as well as cause or cause structural damage to homes and buildings. 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
Thunderstorms need precise weather conditions to form and they develop over time. Forecasters and meteorologists can usually give us a pretty good lead when thunderstorms will be likely. When conditions warrant, severe thunderstorm watches and warnings are issued.

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.

At Your House: Go to your secure location if you hear a severe thunderstorm warning. Damaging wind or large hail may be approaching. Most homes in our area have a basement and the basement is the safest place to be during a severe storm. 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.