Thunderstorms are caused by an unstable moisture-filled air mass and the rising and falling atmospheric motion known as a convection cell. All thunderstorms are accompanied by lightning, however, you may see bolts of lightning in the sky without hearing thunder. About 100,000 thunderstorms occur across the U.S. every year, and of these, about 10% are considered severe. Rainfall associated with thunderstorms can cause flash flooding, which is responsible for more deaths annually than hurricanes, tornadoes, or lightning. While the chance of getting hit by lightning in the U.S. is one in 700,000, a strike can be fatal or result in permanent physical and behavioral side effects. And fire departments in the U.S. respond to an estimated 22,600 fires started by lightning every year. In addition, thunderstorms are associated with strong winds (up to more than 120 mph) that can knock down trees, power lines, and mobile homes. Listening to weather forecasts and planning ahead are two essential steps for staying safe when a storm hits.
Of course, when you live in the Pacific Northwest, thunderstorms aren’t typically second nature – that’s why it’s important to know the basics and teach your children what to look for.
Mixing up the terms watch and warning is common, regardless of the region of the country you live in. Here’s the difference:
Storm safety tips
At the first sign of an approaching storm, close all your windows, secure outside doors, and unplug electronic equipment. Experts also recommend that you develop a family emergency plan. This includes where you’ll stay if you need to leave your home and special provisions that may be required for older adults, infants, and disabled or medically-fragile individuals. If you live on a coastal or inland shoreline, familiarize yourself with evacuation routes.
Items to keep on hand
If you’ve heard on weather reports that a storm is approaching or the skies look threatening, shelter inside your home, a building, or a hard-top automobile. The following tips can help prevent damage and reduce clean-up after the storm.