Severe storms come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s no surprise that people get confused about the safest course of action. What’s good for one severe storm situation isn’t always good for the next.
This article will explain the safest courses of action for the most common types of severe storms: floods, hail, lightening, high winds and tornadoes, and blizzards. You are often faced with several of these emergencies at once, but if you know what to do in each situation, you can keep your cool and find a safe place to ride it out.
5 Types of Severe Storms and How to Stay Safe
Flooding killed 126 people in 2016 alone. It is by far one of the most dangerous consequence of severe storms that a human can face, and also one of the most preventable causes of death. This is because most flooding deaths occur when a driver tries to move through shallow water and is swept away. The truth is that it only takes 18 inches of water to carry away a small car. Once you are in deeper water, you’re at great risk of drowning because flood water flows so fast it’s like trying to swim through a riptide.
If you are in this situation:
- Remain calm.
- Immediately unlock your doors.
- Remove your seat belt and roll down your windows.
- If you are wearing a heavy jacket, remove it because it will make it harder to swim.
- Climb out through the windows if you can and get to high ground.
If you can’t open your windows, you must wait for the car to fill with water to open the doors. Don’t waste your energy trying to open the doors before the water pressure equalizes. You will need that energy to swim. Instead, stay very calm, look for the nearest safe location to swim to. Take a very deep breath at the last minute and push hard on the doors, they will open when the water pressure has equalized.
Hail can reach near 100 mph by the time it hits the ground. That means that even small hail can kill if it hits your unprotected head. So, during severe storms, make sure you find shelter before the hail starts. If you are in a building, stay away from windows as sideways falling hail can shatter them and injure you severely.
If you are out in the open with no better shelter, get in your car. DO NOT try to shelter under a lone tree as it will draw lightening. A stand of several trees can be safer if there is no other option. If you are in an open field without even this possibility, get down on the ground in a crouching or fetal position and cover your head and the back of your neck to protect them. Shield your spine as well, even if you can only do so by lying on your side with your hands over your face and neck.
Believe it or not, you can survive a lightning strike, but the best bet is not to get hit in the first place. The obvious is to seek shelter immediately when the storm approaches and wait inside until 30 minutes after you year the last sound of thunder. Lightning can travel for miles.
If you are caught in the open, DON’T hide under a lone tree. If you can hide in an area that is lower than and near to but not too close to a dense growth of trees, this can help, but never hide near a tall isolated object. Also, don’t lie flat on the ground. It just increases surface area for damage.
- Move away from anything metal so you aren’t touching it.
- Crouch low as you can.
- Lift up your heels so only the balls of your feet are touching the ground to minimize contact.
- TOUCH YOUR HEELS TOGETHER (this helps the electricity to only arc from one foot to the other instead of entering your entire body).
- Cover your ears with your hands to protect them from hearing loss.
Should the hair on the back of your neck stand up, you need to assume the above position immediately.
High Winds or Tornadoes
First, if caught outside during these types of severe storms, do not try to seek shelter under a highway overpass. As the wind is pushed through an overpass, it actually increases in velocity, which increases your chances of being swept away.
If you are driving and you can still safely drive, don’t try to outrun a tornado because they can travel at 70mph, which is not a safe speed to drive in a severe storm. Instead, if you are still safely driving, angle away from it at 90 degrees.
If the storm is catching you, you need to exit the car and find shelter. If none is available, you should lie in a ditch as far away from trees, cars and large objects as possible. Protect your head and spine in the same way as you would during a hail storm.
The same advice goes for high winds, AKA straight line winds, which can be almost as dangerous as a tornado. Straight line winds knock over cars and people, so if you are facing these, you need to lie flat in a ditch till they pass.
Prevention and preparedness are key to surviving these types of severe storms. If you are caught in your car, turn off the engine to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning and break out your emergency kit which should include prepackaged snacks, water and lots of blankets, boots, gloves and coats. It should also have a well sealed container for melting snow in case you run out of water. You must stay hydrated to stay warm.
You can turn the engine on every few minutes to warm the car and keep it from locking up; just don’t run it continuously. If you are on the side of the road, keep your seat belt on and turn on your hazards. You can still be hit by someone else who is trying to drive through.
If you are not in a car, seek shelter out of the wind and keep moving to keep your body warm. Remember, hydration is the most important thing you will need in this situation. Your body can stay warm more easily if you are well hydrated.
A Word of Ending
These are only basic beginners tips for surviving severe weather. However, they cover the leading causes of death in each situation. All are a very good starting point that you should learn and memorize. The National Weather Service also has a great deal of information on this topic. Weather.gov is another great source. Ultimately, the way to survive severe storms is to stay calm, think clearly and take decisive action to protect yourself at the first sign.
Do you have any severe weather tips that you would like to share? Please comment below!