101 Critical Days of Summer week 5: Stormy weather

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Brandon Sutliff
  • 341st Missile Wing Safety
With warmer weather comes an increased risk for thunderstorms and accompanying phenomena - wind, heavy rain, lightning, hail and tornadoes. It's important to be aware of the risks associated with foul weather, how to prepare for it and how to survive it. Summertime weather conditions in Montana can rapidly change and being ready can save lives.

Wind: Downbursts can be common during thunderstorms. This is a mass of cold air that quickly sinks from higher levels of the atmosphere, hits the ground and spreads in all directions. Downbursts can create straight line winds - a type of wind not associated with tornadoes but capable of reaching speeds of 150 miles per hour. Straight line winds can cause major damage to trees and man-made objects. Flying debris is a particular hazard for these types of winds; take cover to prevent being struck by flying projectiles.

Heavy rain: Multiple inches of rain can fall during a thunderstorm. If the ground cannot absorb all of the water, flash flooding can occur. Low lying areas can be quickly inundated with water sweeping away anything that is not affixed to the ground. Seek higher ground to avoid fast currents and never attempt to drive a vehicle through a submerged road; a vehicle can be swept away in water only two feet deep. According to the National Weather Service, more Americans die every year due to flooding than any other weather phenomenon.

Lightning: Most people associate a higher risk of lightning strike when a storm is overhead. In fact, more lightning strikes are reported before and after a storm passes. The best way to avoid a lightning strike is to seek shelter indoors as soon as you hear thunder. This includes a substantial building or a hard-top vehicle. Do not seek shelter in a small shed, rain shelter or open-top vehicle. When indoors, do not touch items plugged into an electrical outlet, corded telephones and plumbing.

Hail: When air rises quickly and condenses, water droplets form. If the updraft wind carries the water droplets to colder levels of the atmosphere, the water freezes and can eventually turn into hail stones. Depending on the size, hail can travel downward at speeds from 20 to 110 miles per hour. Hail can be very destructive and create additional hazards when people are present near glass. Skylights and windows should be avoided during a hailstorm.

Tornadoes are more frequent in the United States than in any other country in the world. No state is immune from this phenomenon, with about 1,200 occurring every year. Tornadoes are the most violent and destructive hazards associated with thunderstorms. The best way to prepare for a tornado is to have a plan. Stay tuned to local television and radio stations when conditions are favorable or when a thunderstorm approaches. Local and national news outlets even have applications that can be loaded to mobile phones to warn members when such conditions occur. If your home or place of work does not have a "safe room," know where one is nearby or go to another area that is not in the path of the storm.

There are many easy steps that will keep you out of harm's way during a thunderstorm. First, know the associated weather risks in your area. Remember, if you travel to another area, the risks may be different. Ensure all of your family members know what to do during an emergency situation. Be sure to monitor the weather for quickly deteriorating conditions. Avoid planning outdoor activities when bad weather is forecasted. Have a designated safe place to shield the affects of the storm. Being prepared is up to you...the decision to do so may one day save your life.