During severe weather it's very important that your focus be on remaining safe. In order to protect yourself and ensure your safety throughout sever weather check out the information below. Be sure to study these important safety guidelines and look over the photographs provided.

Tornado Safety

If a tornado was approaching, would you know what to do? Tornadoes are the most violent atmospheric phenomenon on the planet. Winds of 200-300 mph can occur with the most violent tornadoes.

The following are instructions on what to do when a tornado warning has been issued for your area or whenever a tornado threatens:

  • IN HOMES OR SMALL BUILDINGS: Go to the basement (if available) or to an interior room on the lowest floor, such as a closet or bathroom. If you do not have an interior room, go to a room on the side of the structure farthest away from the approaching tornado, typically the east side. Wrap yourself in overcoats or blankets to protect yourself from flying debris.
  • IN SCHOOLS, HOSPITALS, FACTORIES, OR SHOPPING CENTERS: Go to interior rooms and halls on the lowest floor. Stay away from glass enclosed places or areas with wide-span roofs such as auditoriums and warehouses. Crouch down and cover your head.
  • IN HIGH-RISE BUILDINGS: Go to interior small rooms or halls. Stay away from exterior walls or glassy areas.
  • IN CARS OR MOBILE HOMES: ABANDON THEM IMMEDIATELY!! Most deaths occur in cars and mobile homes. If you are in either of those locations, leave them and go to a substantial structure or designated tornado shelter. The picture below illustrates clearly what a violent tornado can do to a car.
  • DO NOT HIDE UNDER AN OVERPASS!!! People in the May 3rd, 1999 Oklahoma City tornado were badly injured and killed doing this very thing.
  • DO NOT GO OUTSIDE TO LOOK FOR THE TORNADO! Spotters, storm chasers, law enforcement, etc. are trained to know how to stay out of the path, and when to take cover.
  • IF NO SUITABLE STRUCTURE IS NEARBY: Lie flat in the nearest ditch or depression and use your hands to cover your head.

Photo courtesy of Pecos News.

Flash Flood Safety

Do you know what to do if you see water crossing over a roadway? Flash floods and floods are the #1 weather - related killer with around 140 deaths recorded in the U.S. each year.

Flash flood safety rules:

  • WHEN INSIDE: If ordered to evacuate or if rising water is threatening, leave immediately and get to higher ground!
  • IF CAUGHT OUTDOORS: Go to higher ground immediately! Avoid small rivers or streams, low spots, canyons, dry riverbeds, etc.. Do not try to walk through flowing water more than ankle deep! Do not allow children to play around streams, drainage ditches or viaducts, storm drains, or other flooded areas!
  • IF IN A VEHICLE: DO NOT DRIVE THROUGH FLOODED AREAS! Even if it looks shallow enough to cross. The large majority of deaths due to flash flooding are due to people driving through flooded areas. Water only one foot deep can displace 1500 lbs! Two feet of water can EASILY carry most automobiles! Roadways concealed by floodwaters may not be intact, as the picture below shows the aftermath of a flood.

Lightning Safety

Do you know what to do if you are caught in the open during a thunderstorm or you feel tingling or your hair standing on end? Lightning causes around 100 deaths in the U.S. annually (more than hurricanes and tornadoes combined).

In this picture the young woman and her friends were severely injured by lightning just a few seconds after this picture was taken. Notice that no rain was falling, clearly illustrating that lightning can strike up to several miles away from the thunderstorm.

Photo courtesy of NOAA

General lightning safety rules:

  • Avoid using the telephone (except for emergencies) or other electrical appliances.
  • Do not take a bath or shower.


  • Go to a safe shelter immediately! such as inside a sturdy building.
  • A hard top automobile with the windows up can also offer fair protection.
  • If you are boating or swimming, get out of the water immediately and move to a safe shelter away from the water!
  • If you are in a wooded area, seek shelter under a thick growth of relatively small trees.
  • If you feel your hair standing on end, squat with your head between your knees. Do not lie flat!
  • Avoid: isolated trees or other tall objects, bodies of water, sheds, fences, convertible automobiles, tractors, and motorcycles.


Hydroplaning is probably the most single danger to storm spotter/chasers. When spotting mobile or chasing, you will often encounter wet roads, or water on the roadway. Let's examine hydroplaning a little more.

Hydroplaning can occur to your vehicle when water on the roadway accumulates in front of your tires faster that the weight of your vehicle can push it out of the way. Your vehicle will actually ride up on top of the water, much like a water skier on top of a lake. In this very dangerous situation, your tires no longer have any contact with the road surface and you will no longer have control of your vehicle. This usually happens at higher speeds, over 40 miles per hour, while going through water standing on, or running across the roadway. The top photo shows an SUV driving fast through a large pond on the road. The danger of hydroplaning in this situation can be very high.
Let's examine the second photograph showing an SUV tire coming straight at you to understand a little more about what's going on with hydroplaning. Notice the water running across the road. The surface of tires (yellow line) must move that water out of the way in order for the tire to stay in contact with the pavement. The tire will squish the water out the sides (red arrows) and backwards within the tire treads. If you are moving slowly, this is not a problem. If you are moving fast, and if the water is deep enough, the water will not be moved out of the way fast enough and it will build up in front of the tire. At this point your entire SUV will float on top of the water (third photograph).
It is often hard to tell when you are hydroplaning. The rear end of your vehicle may feel a little squirrelly (loose, giving you the sensation that it has moved to one side or the other), especially in a high crosswind. The steering may also suddenly feel loose or little too easy. If you sense that your vehicle is hydroplaning, DO NOT HIT THE BRAKES - YOU WILL SKID OUT OF CONTROL. Take your foot off the gas and steer straight ahead until the vehicle slows to the point where the tires come back into contact with the pavement. The best defense against this problem is to reduce your speed significantly anytime there is standing water on, or water running across, the roadway. If it is raining very hard, you need to drive even slower to give your tires the time they need to move the large volumes of water out from in front of them. Note: even if you may driving in a 4 wheel drive vehicle, that won't help one bit once your vehicle tires lose contact with the roadway. Control of your vehicle depends entirely upon the action of your tires on the pavement. Try to imagine yourself in midair turning right or left, or hitting the brakes or gas pedal. It should be obvious that nothing is going to happen! Same results when in a hydroplaning situation.
Watch the road ahead for standing or running water. You can also pay attention to the spray being kicked up by the cars in front. If it suddenly increases (bottom photo), it is possible that the driver has hit a patch of water that could cause hydroplaning.

WARNING: No one can tell you at exactly what speed and water depth your particular vehicle will start to hydroplane. There are complicated formulas used by scientists to figure this out and they depend on vehicle weight, water depth, tire tread type, and even the density of the water among other things. Suffice it to say that your vehicle will hydroplane if you are going fast enough in deep enough water.

DISCLAIMER: Storm spotting/chasing has the potential to be a life threatening activity. The material presented here is for educational purposes only. You are strongly suggested to contact someone in your area about getting official SKYWARN training and riding along with someone with spotting/chasing experience before ever attempting to do so on your own. By viewing the material contained within, you agree that you accept full responsibility for what you do with this information.
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