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Dangers Associated with Thunderstorms

Updated on June 30, 2015

Thunderstorms are generally rain showers that contain thunder and lightning. One simple way to identify a thunderstorm is by looking at its cumulonimbus clouds that are white and towering high into the sky. Hail, high winds or tornadoes may accompany in thunderstorms, especially those that are severe. In the United States alone, approximately 100,000 of thunderstorms occur annually, yet only ten percent reach severe limits. In order for the storms to be severe, there need to be a tornado, winds blowing at the rate of 58 mph or more (about 93 kph), or 3/4-inch (19 mm) hail.

While thunderstorms are indeed exciting to study, they are still dangerous. Thunderstorm-related deaths have been reported each year; causes of death are usually from lightning strikes and flash flooding. People spending time outdoors can hear the first rumbles of thunder before torrential rains and high winds arrive. Whenever a thunderstorm arrives, go inside.

Lightning

Sadly, hundreds of people are injured by lightning yearly. Avoid standing underneath trees or other tall objects that lightning may strike. Even the most intense lightning can slice a tree and let that fall onto cars. Sometimes it can mess up power lines, leaving a number of homes and businesses without power. Keep in mind that whenever you hear thunder, you could be close enough to be struck by lightning, so seek shelter promptly.

Lightning brightening the skies in Norman, Oklahoma.
Lightning brightening the skies in Norman, Oklahoma.

Hail

Severe hailstorms can also create problems. If a hailstone is about two inches (five centimeters) in diameter, that is big enough to cause injuries. Large hailstones can also cause cracks and dents onto vehicles. So people need to head to a sturdy shelter to avoid possible injuries during a hailstorm.

Sometimes during a thunderstorm, hail can form.  This is a hailstone measuring about five centimeters (two inches).
Sometimes during a thunderstorm, hail can form. This is a hailstone measuring about five centimeters (two inches).

Flash flooding

Thunderstorms moving slowly and dumping heavy rain create flooding instantly. If necessary, a weather service office will prompt a flash flood warning for an area vulnerable to rivers cresting or water-covered roads. Heavy rains can create ponds and flooding to streets and rivers, and they should be avoided by not driving through them. Instead, turn around.

After a heavy rain, flash flooding may cover roadways.  If you encounter something like this while driving, turn around.
After a heavy rain, flash flooding may cover roadways. If you encounter something like this while driving, turn around.

Wind

Increasing winds are normally associated with thunderstorms. These winds can be so strong, they may knock big trees onto roads. Utility poles can be knocked down as well, and debris such as signs are likely to be blown all over the place. Mobile homes are certainly not the best place for protection, since they can be damaged by those high winds quite easily. Find shelter at a sturdy building on the first floor.

Tornadoes

Thunderstorms can produce tornadoes with little or no warning. Tornadoes swirl, sometimes on land, and they have very high winds. Catastrophic damages such as a demolished school building can happen in rural and urban areas. Use a basement or the very first floor to keep safe from these twisters.

Tornado damage in Joplin, Missouri.
Tornado damage in Joplin, Missouri.

Thunderstorms occur year round in many parts of the world, and can be dangerous. Remember that when you're outdoors before a thunderstorm, you could be close enough for a lightning strike. So if you see or hear a thunderstorm coming, go inside.

Severe Weather Safety Tips

YouTube video credit: National Weather Service Atlanta, GA

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