What to Do If You’re Caught Outside in Severe Weather

Hopefully your family has a disaster supply kit in your home, workplace and schools, plus emergency plans and designated safe areas. But what happens if severe weather strikes when you’re outdoors, away from your car or protective buildings? It could happen during  a campout, festival, sporting event, bike ride or a hike in the woods. Let’s hope you never have to use these tips!

Your best protection during a lightning storm is a stout building or a metal vehicle with a hard top.  If you’re outdoors and hear thunder, don’t waste any time—move immediately to the safest place you can find! Lightning strikes 25 million times across the US in a typical year, and there is no safe place outdoors during a thunderstorm. Remember this slogan from the National Weather Service: “When Thunder Roars, Stay Indoors!” (There’s lots more good advice on their Lightning Safety site.)

If you’re outdoors and unable to reach shelter, here’s the most important thing to remember:  Don’t be the tallest object around you, and move away from objects that are. Stay away from open spaces. Steer clear of utility poles or isolated tall trees. Lightning can travel through metal fences and wires so avoid them too. PS: it’s a myth that rubber shoes and car tires will protect you from a lightning strike. You’re safer in a car because the steel frame protects you.

First off, know the signs. If you see a dark, greenish sky or circling clouds, head for shelter immediately. If you hear a loud roar that sounds like a freight train, it’s too late! Lie down flat in the lowest spot you can find and cover your head with your hands. Some people think that taking shelter under a highway overpass is good protection. Not true! You’re better off away from anything that can become a projectile. Ready.gov has great info on what to do before, during and after tornadoes (and disaster preparedness in general).

Don’t mess around with hail—even small hailstones can cause severe injuries. And large hailstones can fall at 100 mph! If it’s too late to take shelter in a car or building, think fast and look around for anything that can protect you, like a board, backpack, cooler or picnic table. Cover your head first. Hailstones can easily shred tents and canopies so they’re not much protection. Fortunately, hailstorms usually don’t last long. Tornadoes are often preceded by hailstorms, though. Be careful out there! And if you’re heading away from civilization for a while, be sure to read  this How Stuff Works article, How to Survive a Storm in the Middle of the Woods.

Thanks to Flickr user Snassek