Weather 101


Any storm accompanied by thunder and lightning can be categorized as a thunderstorm. They form when moisture meets rising, unstable air. Most thunderstorms bring heavy rains and blustery winds. Severe thunderstorms can also bring hail, extreme winds (58 mph or greater), and even tornadoes. Damage from thunderstorms can be caused by any of their parts, including wind damage, hail damage, flooding, and the destruction caused by a tornado. It’s always good to have an emergency kit available in case of a severe storm. Additional preparations for a thunderstorm include measures such as being inside a significant structure, unplugging electronic devices, avoiding contact with anything that can conduct lightning, and listening to you weather radio for regular updates from local authorities.


Lightning forms high in the clouds, where raindrops are still frozen. In a storm, these frozen particles continually crash into each other, gradually building up an electric charge in the clouds. This charge is then attracted to the ground, and eventually the charges connect, giving us the electrical current known as lightning. Lightning is very dangerous, since it is nearly 54,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and anything struck by lightning can be damaged, destroyed, or killed. Lightening can happen in several weather conditions, but is most common in thunderstorms. The primary precaution to take in case of severe lightning is to keep away from anything that might attract a strike. Stay away from the tallest structures or objects in your area, electronic equipment, and things made of metal. Take cover in a significant building and listen for updates on your weather radio.


During a thunderstorm it is possible for balls of ice, known as hail, to fall with the rain. These chunks of ice most often measure between 0.20 inches and 6 inches in diameter, and are not to be confused with sleet, which is simply freezing rain. Hail forms under the same conditions as thunderstorms, with the added ingredient of freezing temperatures lower in the atmosphere. Damage from hail can be significant for property, animals, and people, with potential for damage increasing as the size of the hail increases. If a hail storm is threatening your area, stay inside and away from windows. Animals should also be given cover until the potential for hail has passed.

Damaging Winds

Wind is the movement of the air caused by the surface of the earth being heated by the sun. Since the earth is uneven, different places absorb heat differently. Wind is the movement of warm air rising and cooler air coming in to replace it. During a storm, winds can become incredibly strong. Damaging winds, also known as straight-line winds, gust at over 50 mph and can reach in excess of 100 mph. Winds of that strength can knock over trees, down power lines, and cause damage to homes and structures. Precautions for damaging winds are similar to those for a tornado – take shelter in a significant structure (not a mobile home), and to go an interior room with no windows.


Hurricanes are enormous storms that form over water. These storms are characterized by fierce winds, heavy rain, damaging waves, and storm surge. Hurricanes form over warm ocean water where the atmosphere rapidly cools off above the ocean, and when the winds are just right to begin the rotation. When a hurricane reaches land, damage is most often caused by high winds and water. In addition to rain, as a hurricane comes ashore it brings a significant surge of water, often resulting in severe flooding. If your area is threatened by a hurricane, evacuation is often the best course of action. Homes can be prepared by covering windows, securing anything loose, and bringing everything you can inside. If you are caught in a hurricane, make sure you property is prepared, have an ample supply of food, water, and batteries, stay inside your home, and listen to your weather radio for updates on the conditions outside.


Earthquakes are the sudden shaking that happens on the surface of the earth when the fault lines under the surface shift. Actually, fault lines also shift when it is not felt on the surface. As the pressure at a fault line builds, eventually that pressure releases, and the resulting earthquake can cause significant damage to structures on the earth’s surface. The strong an earthquake is, the more damage is will cause, including destruction of buildings, roadways, and structures. Unfortunately, no technology exists that can predict earthquakes, but you can still be prepared in the event of a quake. Have an emergency kit and a communication plan in place, and identify safe places to go in case of an earthquake. If an earthquake happens, stay where you are, drop to the ground, and place yourself against an interior wall or under a sturdy piece of furniture or table, away from anything that might break.


A tornado is a funnel of rapidly rotating air that stretches from a thunderstorm in the clouds all the way to the ground. Tornadoes typically form during thunderstorms, when a mass of moist, warm air meets a mass of dry, cool air. The meeting of these air masses can destabilize, and given the right conditions, a tornado can form. Damage from violent tornadoes can be severe, including destroying buildings and ripping trees up by their roots. The largest tornadoes can produce wind speeds up to 300mph. Nothing on the surface is safe in the face of a large and powerful tornado. In case of a tornado, seek immediate shelter in the interior room of a significant shelter, preferably a small room with no windows. Cover yourself with whatever you have available (mattress, table, etc.) and stay tuned to your weather radio until local news reports that conditions are okay to return to normal activity. Tornadoes can come up suddenly and cause dramatic damage, and all warnings should be taken seriously.


Landslides occur when a large quantity of rock and debris flow down a slope or hill of some sort. They can be caused by earthquakes, storms, land modifications, and other factors. A landslide happens when a large amount of water very quickly collects in the ground, essentially forming a river of debris that begins to rapidly flow downhill. A large landslide can bury anything in its path, even people, cars, and homes. It is good to always have an emergency kit on hand, and if you live in an area that has an increased level of landslides, then monitoring land management and building retaining walls are levels of preparedness anyone can take. During times of potential flooding, pay careful attention to the weather and listen for any signs of a landslide. In the event you are caught in one, experts say to curl yourself in a tight ball and protect your head if unable to escape.


Sinkholes are large holes that appear in the ground, usually gradually, but sometimes suddenly and without warning. They form when water sits underground for long periods of time with no place to drain, slowly dissolving soluble elements until the surface begins to sink into the vacuum. Gradual sinkholes pose no great risk, but suddenly appearing ones have been known to consume cars and even homes. Other than keeping an emergency kit and paying attention to your surroundings, there is not much preparation for a sinkhole. If a sinkhole suddenly opens up, keep a clear head, try not to panic, and assess the situation for ways to escape and others who may be in need of help.


A tsunami is a wave (or series of waves) caused by an underwater earthquake, volcanic eruption, or other significant event. The waves of a tsunami can cause significant damage when they hit the shore, including the destruction of buildings and property. Tsunami waves have been measure at over 1,000 feet tall, generating enormous force and water displacement. Drowning takes the largest toll on human life in tsunamis. As is the case with any potential natural disaster, having an emergency kit and a plan of action are necessary steps for being prepared. In areas where tsunamis occur there are also evacuation routes, and a working knowledge of these routes is crucial. If a tsunami warning is issued, this means that an event is expected, and all recommendations should be followed.


A wildfire is a large fire, typically in a wilderness-type area, that spreads quickly to the point of being out of control. Sometimes these start as controlled burns, camp fires, or accidents, but they can also be caused by lightning strikes and arson. As a wildfire moves toward a populated area, the potential for damage is obvious – anything manmade can burn. Preparing for a wildfire requires an awareness of your property. Keep anything flammable, including trash, wood piles, and brush, at least 30 feet away from your home. It is also a good idea to have access to hoses long enough to wet the area immediately around your home, in case a wildfire actually happens. If there is a wildfire in your area, pay careful attention to evacuation notices, and if the time comes, evacuate immediately.


Floods happen when the ground is unable to absorb the amount of rainfall happening at any given moment, either because the fall is too rapid or the soil is already saturated. They can be caused by heavy rain, melting snow, or natural disasters. When flooding happens with little to no warning, this is called a flash flood. Flood damage can be wide spread, ranging from structural damage to flooded buildings, washing cars off the road, and damage to infrastructure and even crops. Prepare for potential flooding by having a flood plan, keeping an emergency kit, and know your local flood plans and evacuation routes. To stay safe in times of flooding, listen to local weather reports, never go into flood water (on foot or by automobile), and move to higher ground whenever possible.


When both the atmospheric and ground temperatures are just right (around freezing), precipitation comes in the form of snow. Snow is pretty and fun to play in, but large snowfalls can cause serious issues with transportation. If a snow event is severe enough, it can even wreak havoc with utilities and supply lines. In some regions, winter storms can also result in avalanches, and a heavy late-season snow can cause spring flooding. People caught outdoors in the middle of a sudden snowstorm risk hypothermia. Being ready for a snow event requires some preparations above your typical emergency kit. You also need salt and sand for traction, snow shovels, a way to heat your home (firewood, generator, etc.), and enough food and fresh water to last for several days. Be sure to bring in your animals, and stay off the roads as much as possible.


Ice accumulations during the winter can be a very dangerous and inconvenient event. They usually happen when there is a layer of warm air in the atmosphere, but the temperature at ground level is below freezing. This means that precipitation falls as liquid, but quickly freezes into ice on the surface. The result can be ice coverings on roadways, buildings, trees, and power lines. Much of the damage from ice accumulation can be assigned to two categories – driving accidents caused by icy roads, and damage caused by breaking limbs, power lines, and other constructs. To prepare for an ice event, have your emergency kit ready. Make sure you also have salt and sand for traction, flashlights and candles, and plenty of food and fresh water in case of a significant accumulation. As long as the roadways are icy, try to stay off the roads, or at least minimize your travel.