What Should You Do if Caught in Severe Storm Conditions?

By Meg Jernigan; Updated September 26, 2017

Staying safe in stormy weather

What Should You Do if Caught in Severe Storm Conditions?

Being prepared and knowing what to do are key to dealing with severe storms, especially when you're traveling through places where you've never been. It's important to know what sort of weather the area you're in is prone to. So, in addition to investing in a weather radio, learn all you can about an area's weather possibilities and be ready to react quickly if storms are in the forecast.

Riding out blizzards and winter weather

Blizzards occur when high winds blow snow, either falling or already on the ground, through the air, creating low visibility and potentially dangerous wind chills. Because they're usually predictable, you have time to check supplies and change travel plans. The best advice is to stay inside, but if there’s a chance of being caught outside, make sure your car is equipped with a winter survival kit. Warm clothes, a sleeping bag, water, food, a flashlight and candles will keep you safe until help arrives. It's important to remember to keep the exhaust pipe on your car clear of snow. Turn on your flashers if you’re stuck on the side of the road. Blizzards can happen anywhere in the U.S.

Ice storms occur when ice accumulates to more than a quarter inch on exposed surfaces. This much ice can cause branches and power lines to snap. Lake-effect storms and snow squalls, brief snowfalls with strong winds, occur most often around the Great Lakes. Sleet and freezing rain also cause winter disruptions. Stay inside if possible, and don’t drive or walk on icy streets and sidewalks.

Tornado survival

While a tornado can happen anywhere under the right conditions, they’re most common in the country’s midsection. Tornado season, when the concentration of storms is greater and the probability of a tornado forming is higher, stretches from spring through late summer. Forecasters can look at storm conditions and predict if one might occur, but they can’t determine exactly where one will form or what path it will take. If a watch is issued, it means conditions are right for a tornado to form. A warning means there’s a tornado in the area, and you should seek shelter immediately.

When in imminent danger of a tornado, go into a basement or a small, windowless room like a closet. If you have time, climb into the bathtub and cover yourself with a mattress. If you're outdoors, lie flat on the ground and cover your head. Cars can be tossed by tornadoes, so get out of the car and lie flat. Experts recommend wearing a helmet, even if you feel safe in your basement.

If you're in a hotel and unable to get to the basement or storm shelter, stay away from windows, close the curtains and don't open the door. If possible, shelter in the hallway. Familiarize yourself with the location of the exits in case the power goes out.

Thunderstorm and flood safety

Thunderstorms would simply be rainstorms without the lightning that creates thunder. A thunderstorm becomes severe when it has winds of more than 57 mph or hail measuring 1 inch or greater, or becomes a tornado. The storms can occur anywhere at any time of the year, but they're most common in the spring and summer in the afternoon and in the midsection of the country. Dangers from thunderstorms include flash flooding, fire, deadly hail and damage from falling trees and power lines. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says there’s no safe place outdoors in a thunderstorm, but there are a few things you can do if caught outside. Stay away from open fields, tall trees and higher elevations. If you’re in a group, spread out so lightning doesn’t travel from person to person.

“Turn around, don’t drown” is the mantra for what to do if you encounter high water while driving or on foot. Six inches of water can knock you off your feet, and a foot of moving water can sweep away your car. Know if a house or building you're in is likely to flood, and seek higher ground before the flooding starts. Have a survival kit packed in case you’re evacuated.

Hurricane hints

Hurricanes hit the coastal areas of the U.S., and the strongest storms move inland, leaving destruction in their wake. High winds, tornadoes and flooding caused by heavy rainfall and storm surges are a storm's greatest dangers. People along the coast almost always have hurricane warnings, though the storms can change course, shifting the risk from one community to another. If a hurricane is forecast, pack an evacuation kit that includes clothing, your medications and water and fill the car’s gas tank. When local authorities order an evacuation, you have no reason to stay.

If you’re trapped in a house or building, stay away from windows. Close all of the doors, inside and exterior, as well as the curtains and blinds. Go to the basement or shelter in a small, windowless interior room when the winds are high. Danger from high water typically comes after the highest winds have passed. If the water starts to rise, go to the highest level. Floodwater may be contaminated.

About the Author

Meg Jernigan