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Severe Weather Preparedness
Be Prepared for Severe Weather

A Severe weather event can strike a community at a moment's notice, potentially leaving those in its pathway with having to cope with destruction of property or the loss of a loved one. Most often, severe weather events such as tornadoes, thunderstorms, lightning, flooding, and hail occur during the spring months but, if conditions are right, severe weather can strike any time of the year. The key to responding successfully and surviving severe weather is being prepared and learning what to do to protect yourself from the effects of severe weather.

What is the difference between a Severe Weather Watch and a Severe Weather Warning?

  • Severe Weather Watch means that severe weather is possible in the area. Conditions are favorable for severe weather.
  • Severe Weather Warning means that severe weather has been observed or indicated by radar. Warnings signify imminent danger to life and property to those in the path of the storm.

Facts about severe weather

  • Although smaller in size when compared to hurricanes and winter storms, a thunderstorm should always be considered dangerous. Thunderstorms are typically 15 miles in diameter and have an average duration of 30 minutes. Annually, there are approximately 100,000 thunderstorms that occur in the United States, and of those; ten percent are classified as severe. Thunderstorms can produce tornadoes, lighting, strong winds, flash floods, and hail. The National Weather Service classifies a thunderstorm as severe if it produces hail at least ¾ inch in diameter, winds of greater than 58 mph, or a tornado.
  • The United States averages 1,200 tornadoes per year which results in 70 fatalities and 1,500 injuries throughout the nation. A tornado is a violently rotating column of air extending from a thunderstorm to the ground. A tornado can have wind speeds of up to 250 mph and has an average forward speed of 30 mph but can vary from nearly stationary to 70 mph.
  • A buildup and discharge of electrical energy between positively and negatively charged areas produces lightning. Lightning occurs with all thunderstorms and strikes the Earth 20 million times each year which causes an average of 62 fatalities annually in the United States.
  • Flash floods are responsible for 140 fatalities each year and are the number one cause of deaths associated with thunderstorms. Surprisingly, as little as six inches of fast-moving water has the ability to knock a person down, and a vehicle will float in two feet of water. Most victims of flash floods are those who become trapped in their automobiles.

Precautions to take and how to prepare in the event of severe weather


  • If the sky is getting dark and there are increasing winds with flashes of light, a thunderstorm is approaching and you should postpone any outdoor activities and seek shelter immediately in a sturdy building or car. Sturdy buildings are the safest, but if buildings are not available, a hard top vehicle will offer some protection. Pick a safe place where there are no windows, skylights, or glass doors which could be broken by hail or strong winds. Always remember, thunderstorms have the potential to produce tornadoes. If a tornado is a possibility, you may want to reconsider your safe place.
  • Lightning often strikes outside of heavy rain and may occur as far as 10 miles away from rainfall. Therefore, if thunder can be heard you are in striking distance of its lightning. Remember, telephone lines and metal pipes can conduct electricity, so avoid using the telephone or any electrical appliances.
  • If outside, move to a low area away from trees, poles, or metal objects. If you are unable to get inside and you feel your hair stand on end, lightning is about to strike. Your goal should be to make yourself as small a target as possible, minimizing contact with the ground. Therefore it is recommended that you crouch low, on the balls of your feet, place your hands on your knees, and lower your head. Try not to touch the ground with your knees or hands and do not lie on the ground.


  • An approaching cloud of debris can mark a tornado even if the funnel is not visible. If there are tornado warnings, you should move to a safe place. Seek shelter on the lowest floor of your home in an interior room such as a bathroom, closet or hallway. Pick a safe place that is away from windows or glass doors. Get under a sturdy piece of furniture such as a workbench or heavy table and use your arms to protect your head.
  • If outside, get inside a building if possible. If there is no time to get indoors, lie in a ditch or low-lying area and be alert to the possibility of flash flooding. Never try to out-drive a tornado or stay inside a vehicle if a tornado is approaching. Again, leave the vehicle and lie flat in a ditch or low-lying area.

Please use these tips to assist in preparing a safety plan for you and your family in the event of severe weather so when "Mother Nature" does strike, your family will be able to respond in a swift and safe manner.

City of Wonderful Water
City of Stevens Point, 1515 Strongs Ave., Stevens Point, WI 54481 | Phone 715-346-1569