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What to do in case of severe weather

July 03, 2020 by Beckie Gaskill

Severe weather can be scary enough from the comfort of home. But when it hits when you are outdoors — at a picnic or camping, for instance — it can be even more unnerving. Keeping your head and knowing what to do can make the difference between staying safe and putting yourself and your family at risk. Additionally, it is good to know which facilities will be open and which will not be able to be used as a shelter. While most facilities are opening back up around the state, that may not be the case in all locations. 

Before you go

The first thing to do when you arrive at your destination is to learn where safe areas are. For instance, a campground may have a shelter for use in case of inclement weather. Knowing where these areas are from the beginning of your stay will ensure everyone in your party knows where to go should the weather turn ugly. 

Before heading out, it is a good idea to have some way to be informed of dangerous weather that may be approaching. There are a number of cell phone apps available, but keep in mind many of those will only work if there is cell reception where you plan to be. Snowmads.com a website for RVers, recommends having several weather apps rather than relying on just one. Some may have faster or more accurate data and, in an emergency, minutes may make all the difference.

It is a good idea to always have an emergency kit ready in the event of bad weather. The kit should contain a flashlight with good batteries, a NOAA radio or some type of weather radio, a first aid kit and water and food.  

Snowmads.com also recommends having what they call a “cut and run” kit. This kit contains all of the above and also any important documents or paperwork. Identifications, drivers’ licences, credit cards, insurance papers and any other important paperwork you may have in your RV or motorhome should all be kept in one place. This way you can grab everything you need quickly in the event you need to evacuate. Cell phone chargers should be kept in your cut and run kit as well.

Weather terminology

The National Weather Service recommends a NOAA radio for those who spend a good deal of time camping or RVing. NOAA radios are used for weather only and are much more likely to be helpful to you in many areas in the Northwoods than a cell phone app would be.

It is also important to understand weather terminology. A “watch” means that conditions are favorable. For instance, a tornado watch does not mean that a tornado has been sighted, but that conditions are right for the formation of one and people should be on the watch for them. A warning, conversely, means the weather event is occurring or is expected in a short period of tim. A severe thunderstorm warning means that a severe thunderstorm is near and headed your way. You should take shelter immediately.

A severe thunderstorm means one that has winds of 50 miles per hour or more, hail one inch or greater, or one that contains a tornado. Not all thunderstorms are severe, but any lightning can be dangerous. A flash flood is flooding with a rapid onset that is imminent within six hours of issuing the warning. Depending on where you are, it could be much sooner.

Storm threats and how to stay safe

In a severe thunderstorm, according to the National Weather Service (NWS), the main threats are tornadoes, down bursts or straight-line winds, large hail, heavy rain and/or flash flooding and lightning. 

High wind threats include flying debris and falling trees. It is important to get away from trees if possible. The NWS recommends leaving tents, cars and campers in a high wind event. If possible, get inside a sturdy shelter. If none is available, try to find a sheltered area away from the trees. Being in a car is better protection than nothing, but again, be sure not to park near trees that may fall on the vehicle.

In the event of a tornado, look for a sturdy structure or shelter. If possible, get below ground. If it is not possible to get below ground in a basement or other structure, move to an interior room in an above-ground shelter. Stay away from windows and doors. Do not stay in the car in case of a tornado. Instead look for a ditch or culvert in which to lie down. Be aware of any possible flooding conditions, however, to avoid drowning hazards. Try to protect your head and torso, do not head for a highway overpass. Often debris will be blown under overpasses, creating a greater chance of being hit by flying debris.

In the case of lightning, head inside immediately. If you can hear thunder, you have a chance of being struck by lightning. Do not stand near trees or metal objects. If you are on the lake, head for the nearest shore immediately until the storm passes. Also avoid high elevations. The NWS also recommends crouching down until there is a break in the storm should you be caught out in the open when a storm comes through.

In flash flood situations, never attempt to cross or travel down a flooded road. Be especially cautious at night when visibility is poor. Do not wade through moving water higher than ankle deep. Moving water is very powerful and it is better to be safe than sorry.

Snowmads.com reminds that not leaving your belongings behind in an emergency puts more than you at risk. By not responding in a timely manner to an evacuation order or to a severe weather event, you put not only yourself and your family at risk, but you may also be risking the lives of those who would then be charged with rescuing you. Belongings can be replaced. You and your loved ones cannot. Head weather warnings and take appropriate action whenever necessary.

Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at [email protected]

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