By Case Western Reserve University
Spring can bring unexpected weather, in the form of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes (or, as is the case two weeks ago, a snowstorm). Whether you’re an Ohioan who’s seasoned with these weather patterns, or from halfway across the country and unaccustomed to the climate in Northeast Ohio, it’s important to know what to do when these severe weather events occur.
“Spring weather is highly unpredictable and severe weather can develop quickly,” said Megan Koeth, Case Western Reserve University’s emergency manager. “Knowing what to do and where to go to is extremely important.”
Types of thunderstorms and tornadoes
First, here are some critical terms in order to understand the conditions associated with thunderstorms and tornadoes.
- Severe Thunderstorm Watch: Outlines an area where hail of 1 inch in diameter or larger and/or damaging thunderstorm winds are expected to occur. Tornadoes may be possible.
- Severe Thunderstorm Warning: This warning is issued when large hail (1 inch or larger) or damaging wind (58 miles per hour or greater) is occurring or imminent. Severe thunderstorms also can produce tornadoes with little or no advance warning. Severe thunderstorms also will produce frequent and dangerous lightning and occasionally torrential rainfall. In the event of a severe thunderstorm warning, you should seek safe shelter immediately.
- Tornado Watch: Outlines an area in which conditions are favorable for the development of tornadoes. During the watch, people should review tornado safety rules and be prepared to move a place of safety if more threatening weather approaches.
- Tornado Warning: This is issued when a tornado is imminent or occurring. The warning may be issued when a tornado is either indicated by Doppler radar or sighted by trained spotters. In the event of a tornado warning, seek shelter immediately, preferably below ground in a substantial building.
Tips and guidance for weather emergencies
Next, the State of Ohio Severe Weather Awareness Committee and the National Weather Service provide information to keep in mind when the weather takes a turn.
Thunder and lightning
- Immediately seek shelter if you hear thunder—nowhere outside is safe during a thunderstorm.
- To determine the distance of an approaching storm, count the seconds between the lightning and thunder and divide by five; the answer is the amount of miles between you and the storm. The sound of thunder travels about 1 mile every five seconds.
- Though this gives you the estimate of the distance, it’s important to get inside right away; if you can hear thunder, you are likely within striking distance.
- Once indoors, take certain precautions: Don’t use devices that need electricity, such as corded phones and computers, and avoid plumbing, including sinks, baths and faucets.
- Stay away from windows, doors and porches and do not lie on concrete floors or lean against concrete walls.
- Remain indoors for 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder.
- If you find yourself outside in a thunderstorm without shelter, keep the following tips in mind to reduce your risk of harm:
- Immediately get off elevated areas such as hills, mountain ridges or peaks.
- Never lie flat on the ground.
- Never shelter under an isolated tree.
- Never use a cliff or rocky overhang for shelter.
- Immediately get out and away from ponds, lakes, pools and other bodies of water.
- Stay away from objects that conduct electricity (barbed wire fences, power lines, windmills, etc.).
- When driving, never enter a flooded roadway or go around a barricade. Just 12 inches of water can carry away a small car.
Though tornadoes most often occur in Ohio from April to July, they can happen any time of year.
- During a tornado, go to the building’s basement if possible; it is the safest place to be. If you are in a building that does not have a basement, move to a small room—such as a bathroom or closet—on the lowest level and close to the center of the building. Get away from windows.
- If you are outside during a tornado, get to a safe room or sturdy building if possible.
- If you are unable to get to one of those areas, get in your car, buckle your seatbelt and drive to the closest safe area. You should never try to out-drive a storm in an urban area.
- While driving, if there is flying debris, stop your vehicle. Either remain in your car with the windows up and your head down and covered by your hands, or find a depression or ditch and lie face down, with your hands and arms covering your head.
- Do not shelter under an overpass or bridge.
For more tips on tornado safety, including what to do before, during and after a storm, visit weathersafety.ohio.gov/TornadoFacts.aspx.
To review your emergency notification information, visit getrave.com.