How to Prepare Your Home for Severe Weather, Thunderstorms, and Lightning
Severe Thunderstorm Watch vs. Severe Thunderstorm Warning
A severe thunderstorm watch is issued when a severe thunderstorm is likely, and will include information on when and where it might occur. A severe thunderstorm warning is issued when a severe thunderstorm has been indicated by radar or reported by storm spotters. In both cases, be alert for further developments and stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio, a local radio station, or television for information.
If you have a smartphone, look into downloading one of many apps available to provide warnings about severe weather or other local alerts directly to your phone. These apps tend to be regional in nature, so do some research online to find a good app for reporting in your area.
Risks Associated with Thunderstorms
Thunderstorms can cause or be associated with hail, lightning strikes, tornadoes, flash floods, and wildfires. Dry thunderstorms (which do not produce rain that reaches the ground) are more likely to occur in the western United States, and they can start wildfires more easily than other types of thunderstorms. Flash floods on average cause more deaths per year than other components of thunderstorms.
Well Before a Storm
Make certain that your home and contents insurance is up-to-date and comprehensive. Your insurance policy will need to be updated if you have changed, added, or removed anything structurally about your home. Make or update an inventory of all contents of your home and store the inventory either online or off-site, away from your home. Ensure that your contents coverage is adequate to pay to replace any and all belongings. Also, standard homeowner’s insurance does not cover flood insurance. Flood insurance has a 30-day waiting period. Check to see if you are at risk of storm surge, although be aware that flooding can occur even in areas not at risk of storm surge. If it is not already covered, consider adding sewer water backup coverage to your homeowner’s insurance policy.
Consider installing a lightning rod if you don’t already have one and live in an area prone to severe weather. Some modern lightning rods are harder to spot, so you might have a lightning rod already installed and not be aware of it. Houses that are the tallest in their neighborhood, that are on their own in a large field, that are on a hill, and that are in areas prone to lightning strikes are at higher risk. Some insurance policies will offer a discount if you install a lightning rod.
Ensure that your sump pump is working. Consider purchasing and installing a backup battery for the pump.
A major storm threat to houses comes from trees falling on them. Prune or thin the canopy of trees that are close to your house, so that wind can pass more easily through the branches without knocking them over. Remove branches facing your house to reduce weight on that side, since the tree is more likely to fall in the direction with more weight.
Secure loose rain gutters and downspouts. Keep them and storm drains clear of debris.
Lightning strikes can cause power surges, posing a serious risk to any plugged-in electronic devices and to those using them. If using powerstrips, use ones with built-in surge protection – not every powerstrip is also a surge protector. Surge protectors usually include the words surge protection, fused strip, or interruption switch somewhere in the name or description of the product. Just because a powerstrip is located next to surge protectors in a physical store or in the same category as surge protectors in an online store does not mean it will provide surge protection. Ensure that the surge protector you buy is certified by Underwriter’s Laboratories (it will have the UL seal) and meets the UL 1449 standards, indicated by the label “transient voltage surge suppressor.”
Do not plug surge protectors into each other, also known as daisy chaining. This is extremely dangerous. Either purchase a surge protector with more outlets or an extension cord.
Consider having an electrician install a whole house surge device. If you have any essential electronics, look into buying either a version that can be battery operated in an emergency or a portable power outlet.
Consider a permanent generator if the area you live is frequently hit by power outages or if it usually takes the power a while to go back up after an outage. Temporary and permanent generators should be properly installed outside, at least twenty feet away from windows and doors, and protected from moisture. Never plug a generator into a wall outlet. Before purchasing, check with your home owners association to make sure they are allowed in your neighborhood.
Gather enough non-perishable food and water for everyone in your family for at least three days in case power goes out and you are unable to reach the store, taking into account the water needs of any pets. Make sure you have enough hygiene items for at least three days, and extra trash bags to dispose of any waste products. Store at least enough water for one gallon per person per day, to cover drinking, cooking, and sanitary needs. Use plastic, fiberglass, or enamel-lined containers that have been thoroughly washed. Avoid breakable containers such as glass bottles. Seal containers tightly, label with the date sealed, and store in a cool, dark place. Change water out every six months to prevent the buildup of bacteria.
When a Watch is Issued
Postpone any and all non-essential outdoor activities. Secure any outdoor objects that could be blown away or that could cause damage if moved or knocked over. Consider bringing smaller outdoor objects inside.
Unplug all unnecessary electronic equipment. Even the highest-rated surge protectors and whole house surge devices are not guaranteed to protect your electronics if your building is directly struck by lightning.
Bring all pets inside. Animals run a risk of injury if left outside, and even if they escape injury, they are extremely likely to panic and run away. Consider separating cats, dogs, and small animals – even if they usually get along, thunderstorms are stressful situations and can increase the risk of fights.
Close all windows and secure exterior doors. Shutter your windows if you have storm shutters installed.
During a Storm
Immediately seek shelter in a sturdy building or hard-top automobile. Convertibles will not provide sufficient protection. If sheltering inside your car, do not touch any metal. Rubber-soled shoes and rubber tires provide zero protection from lightning. It is the metal shell of a car that provides protection, as it directs lightning away from you. Do not take shelter under a tall tree in an open field, as trees are natural lightning rods. Avoid hilltops, open fields, open water, and beaches. Avoid contact with anything metal.
Use a battery powered NOAA Weather Radio for continued updates from officials. Avoid taking shelter in an isolated shed or a similarly small structure in an open area. Stay inside, away from windows and exterior doors.
Plumbing and bathroom fixtures can conduct electricity from lightning strikes. Do not shower, wash dishes, or do the laundry during a thunderstorm. Avoid contacting corded phones and other plugged-in electronics. Cordless phones that are not currently plugged in to charge are okay to use.
Avoid contact with exposed concrete. No not lie on a concrete floor or lean against a concrete wall. Lightning can travel through any metal wires or bars in concrete walls or flooring. However, even concrete without metal in it can be dangerous.
After a Storm
Victims of lightning strikes are not electrically charged and are safe to attend to. Be wary of moving the victim of a lightning strike without aid from medical professionals, as the victim might have suffered a spinal injury. Anyone struck by lightning should receive medical attention as soon as possible.
Unless there is an emergency, stay inside for at least 30 minutes after you last see lightning or hear thunder. People have been struck by lightning up to 10 miles away from the center of a storm.
Continue listening to your NOAA Weather Radio or to your local radio or television stations for further updates. There might also be a weather site or app you can access with your smartphone.
Never drive through a flooded roadway. It can be difficult to accurately gauge the depth of floodwaters. Even low floodwaters can damage the undercarriage of your car.
If your home has been hit by lightning, call the fire department. Lightning produces extreme heat, and there is a significant risk that it will ignite fires. Fires might not be obvious immediately, as they might start in attics or inside walls.
There is a potential for gas leaks from storm-damaged lines. Do not light candles, gas lanterns, oil lanterns, the fireplace, or other sources of open flame until power is restored and all lines have been checked. Use battery powered flashlights and lanterns for emergency light. Also be aware of downed power lines in the neighborhood, do not approach them, and avoid any standing water in the area.
Be aware that even after the storm passes there is a risk of tornadoes and continued flooding.