Q: What's the best thing to do if you're caught in a severe storm?
A: Some thunderstorm safety tips could save your life, says Brent McRoberts of Texas A&M University. The National Weather Service estimates there are about 100,000 thunderstorms a year in the U.S., but only about 10 percent of those are classified as severe. But the severe storms can cause amazing damage and even loss of life," he explains. A severe thunderstorm, he says, is one defined by winds of at least 58 miles per hour, hail at least three-fourths of an inch and the storm has produced a tornado. "If you're outdoors, find sturdy shelter, either in a building or a car preferably not a convertible," he notes. "If you can hear thunder, that means you're close enough to be struck by lightning. Generally speaking, enclosed vehicles provide good shelter from lightning. If outdoors, you should avoid high places, open fields, isolated trees, picnic shelters, gazebos, baseball dugouts and anything metal such as flagpoles, light poles and fences. If you cannot find a place of shelter and are caught out in an isolated area, squat down low so as to create the least surface area as possible. This will reduce the risk of being struck. Water is a great conductor of electricity, so avoid water if at all possible. Golfers can especially be at risk and they should leave the course immediately and if possible, avoid golf carts. Boaters and swimmers should get to land immediately."
Q: What if you're indoors?
A: If indoors, you should unplug appliances because they conduct electricity, McRoberts adds. "You should avoid using the telephone people have been struck by lightning while talking on the telephone. Also, it's a good idea to close the blinds or curtains because if a storm should break windows, the drawn curtains or shades will prevent the glass from shattering in your home. Stay away from water sources as well as lightning can travel through a house. If there is a power failure, some experts advise turning off all electrical appliances before the power comes back on to prevent a power surge that can ruin some equipment.
Weather Whys is a service of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M University.