Nature's hazard: Storms

  • Published
  • By Greg Chadwick
  • AFMC Health and Wellness Team
Summer has arrived and with it brings the threat of severe storms. Each year the United States averages around 10,000 thunderstorms, and each thunderstorm typically produces heavy rain for 30 minutes to an hour.  According to the National Weather Service, severe thunderstorms are officially defined as storms that are capable of producing hail that is an inch or larger or wind gusts over 58 mph. 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.


All thunderstorms are dangerous because every thunderstorm produces lightening. Each year in the United States, approximately 300 people are struck by lightning. Of those struck, about 30 people are killed and others suffer lifelong disabilities. Many lightning victims are caught outside during a storm because they did not act promptly to get to a safe place, or they go back outside too soon after a storm has passed. Lightning can also injure individuals who are inside their home during a thunderstorm. Lightning has the ability to send electricity through metal pipes used for plumbing, electrical wires such as the telephone, and metal reinforcements to concrete floors and walls.


Don’t let severe weather take you by surprise.  Preparation is the key to staying safe and minimizing impacts. 


How to Prepare for Thunderstorms:

  • Monitor the forecast regularly to stay updated of the risk of severe weather.

  • Make trees and shrubbery more wind resistant by keeping them trimmed and removing damaged branches.     

  • Keep gutters, downpipes and drains clear.

  • Secure outdoor objects that could blow away or cause damage.

  • Pick a safe place in your home for household members to gather during a thunderstorm that is away from windows, skylights and glass doors that could be broken by strong winds or hail.

  • Put together an emergency preparedness kit containing water, non-perishable food, flashlight, extra batteries, and first aid kit.


Responding Appropriately During a Thunderstorm:

  • Postpone outdoor activities if thunderstorms are likely to occur.

  • If a severe thunderstorm warning is issued, take shelter in a substantial building or in a vehicle with the windows closed.

  • If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be in danger from lightening and need to seek shelter immediately. The National Weather Service recommends staying inside for at least 30 minutes after the last thunder clap.

  • Avoid showering, bathing or use of plumbing.  Plumbing and bathroom fixtures can conduct electricity.

  • Unplug appliances and other electrical items such as computers and turn off air conditioners. Power surges from lightening can cause serious damage.

  • Cordless and cellular telephones are safe to use. Use a corded telephone only for emergencies. 

  • Watch your animals closely. Keep them under your direct control.

  • If you are outside and cannot reach a safe building, avoid high ground; tall isolated trees; and metal objects such as fences or bleachers. Picnic shelters, dugouts and sheds are not safe.

  • If you are driving, try to safely exit the roadway and park until the heavy rains end. Avoid touching metal or other surfaces that conduct electricity in and outside the vehicle.


Recovering After a Thunderstorm:

  • Never drive through a flooded roadway. You cannot predict how deep the water may be.

  • Avoid storm-damaged areas to keep from putting yourself at risk from the effects of severe thunderstorms.

  • Stay away from downed power lines and report them immediately.

  • Contact your family and let them know you are safe.


Did You Know?

  • Lightning is a giant spark of electricity in the atmosphere between clouds or between a cloud and the ground.

  • Approximately 85% of lightning fatalities are men.

  • Fishing is the outdoor activity with the highest number of lightning fatalities.

  • Many wildfires in the western United States are ignited by lightning.

  • Florida has more days with thunderstorms than any other state, and also has the highest number of lightning fatalities.

  • About one-third (32%) of lightning injuries occur indoors.


Civilian Health Promotion Services will be offering educational briefings on summertime safety during June and July. For more information, visit, or contact your local CHPS team. Comprehensive information on thunderstorms and lightning can be found on the National Weather Service website,