Every year in the United States, hundreds of people are killed and thousands injured because of the weather. Dangerous weather can take many forms, ranging from violent tornadoes to crippling winter storms. With the notable exception of hurricanes, Iowa can experience any of these dangerous phenomena.
While there is nothing we can do to stop dangerous weather from affecting us, there are things we can do to stay safe when the weather turns nasty. Weather safety and survival – no matter what the hazard – depends on the following key items:
- KNOW THE HAZARDS – Be aware of the hazards that you might face during a weather event.
- KNOW WHEN TO EXPECT DANGEROUS WEATHER – Monitor forecasts and information from our local National Weather Service Forecast Office in Sioux Falls, SD.
- PAY ATTENTION – Be aware of all watches, warnings, and advisories affecting you.
- HAVE A PLAN TO STAY SAFE – Think about it before it happens and be ready to act to survive.
A tornado is a violently rotating column of air extending from the base of a thunderstorm down to the ground. Tornadoes are capable of completely destroying well-made structures, uprooting trees, and hurling objects through the air like deadly missiles. Tornadoes can occur at any time of day or night and at any time of the year. Although tornadoes are most common in the Central Plains and the southeastern United States, they have been reported in all 50 states.
Understand Tornado Alerts
What is the difference between a Tornado Watch and a Tornado Warning issued by the National Weather Service?
Tornado Watch: Be Prepared! Tornadoes are possible in and near the watch area. Review and discuss your emergency plans and check supplies and your safe room. Be ready to act quickly if a warning is issued or you suspect a tornado is approaching. Acting early helps to save lives! Watches are issued by the Storm Prediction Center for counties where tornadoes may occur. The watch area is typically large, covering numerous counties or even states.
Tornado Warning: Take Action! A tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. There is imminent danger to life and property. Move to an interior room on the lowest floor of a sturdy building. Avoid windows. If in a mobile home, a vehicle, or outdoors, move to the closest substantial shelter and protect yourself from flying debris. Warnings are issued by your local forecast office. Warnings typically encompass a much smaller area (around the size of a city or small county) that may be impacted by a tornado identified by a forecaster on Radar or by a trained spotter/law enforcement who is watching the storm.
Severe Thunderstorm Safety
Severe thunderstorms are officially defined as storms that are capable of producing hail that is an inch or larger or wind gusts over 58 mph. Hail this size can damage property such as plants, roofs and vehicles. Wind this strong is able to break off large branches, knock over trees or cause structural damage to trees. Some severe thunderstorms can produce hail larger than softballs or winds over 100 mph, so please pay attention to the weather so you know when severe storms are possible. Thunderstorms also produce tornadoes and dangerous lightning; heavy rain can cause flash flooding.
Prepare! Don’t Let Severe Weather Take You by Surprise
Find out what you can do before severe weather strikes. Preparation is key to staying safe and minimizing impacts.
- Be Weather-Ready: Check the forecast regularly to see if you’re at risk for severe weather. Listen to local news or a NOAA Weather Radio to stay informed about severe thunderstorm watches and warnings.
- Sign Up for Notifications: Know how your community sends warning. Some communities have outdoor sirens. Others depend on media and smart phones to alert residents to severe storms.
- Create a Communications Plan: Have a family plan that includes an emergency meeting place and related information. Pick a safe room in your home such as a basement, storm cellar or an interior room on the lowest floor with no windows.
- Practice Your Plan: Conduct a family severe thunderstorm drill regularly so everyone knows what to do if a damaging wind or large hail is approaching. Make sure all members of your family know to go there when severe thunderstorm warnings are issued. Don’t forget pets if time allows.
Prepare Your Home : Keep trees and branches trimmed near your house. If you have time before severe weather hits, secure loose objects, close windows and doors, and move any valuable objects inside or under a sturdy structure.
Help Your Neighbor: Encourage your loved ones to prepare for severe thunderstorms. Take CPR training so you can help if someone is hurt during severe weather.
High winds can occur during a severe thunderstorm, with a strong weather system, or can flow down a mountain. When winds are sustained at 40-50 mph, isolated wind damage is possible. Widespread significant wind damage can occur with higher wind speeds. During strong thunderstorms, straight line wind speeds can exceed 100 mph. High winds can blow objects around and pose a significant threat to your safety. Understanding the risks can help you prepare for these events.
Before a High Wind Event
- Trim tree branches away from your house and powerlines.
- Secure loose gutters and shutters.
- Identify an interior room of your house, such as a basement or interior bathroom, that you can take shelter in during high wind warnings.
- If you live in a mobile home, identify a sturdy building you can go to if NWS issues a high wind or severe thunderstorm warning.
- Update your emergency kit and be sure to include enough food and water to last for 3 days for each person in your home.
- Make a list of items outside your home you will need to tie down or put away so that they don’t blow away or fly through a window. When NWS issues a high wind or severe thunderstorm watch, immediately secure these items to avoid damage or injury once the wind starts picking up.
Fog, particularly when dense, can be hazardous to drivers, mariners and aviators. Fog contributes to numerous travel accidents every year. Restrictions in visibility resulting from fog can also impact takeoff and landing procedures and requirements for pilots, and can be the cause of weather-related aviation delays.
If you must drive in foggy conditions, keep the following safety tips in mind:
- Slow down and allow extra time to reach your destination.
- Make your vehicle visible to others both ahead of you and behind you by using your low-beam headlights since this means your taillights will also be on. Use fog lights if you have them.
- Never use your high-beam lights. Using high beam lights causes glare, making it more difficult for you to see what’s ahead of you on the road.
- Leave plenty of distance between you and the vehicle in front of you to account for sudden stops or changes in the traffic pattern.
- To ensure you are staying in the proper lane, follow the lines on the road with your eyes.
- In extremely dense fog where visibility is near zero, the best course of action is to first turn on your hazard lights, then simply pull into a safe location such as a parking lot of a local business and stop.
- If there is no parking lot or driveway to pull into, pull your vehicle off to the side of the road as far as possible. Once you come to a stop, turn off all lights except your hazard flashing lights, set the emergency brake, and take your foot off of the brake pedal to be sure the tail lights are not illuminated so that other drivers don’t mistakenly run into you.
To gain more information on Weather and keeping your family prepared go to https://www.weather.gov/dmx/preparedness.