NOTE: This article includes information and text from the National Weather Service.
(WGHP) – Do you know the difference between a watch and a warning? Do you know what the criteria is for a severe thunderstorm?
To prepare for the severe weather season, we’re taking a dive into each of these as well as the best ways to take shelter from storms.
What is a severe thunderstorm?
A thunderstorm is a local storm that produces lightning and thunder. Thunderstorms are often accompanied by rain, gusty winds, and can also bring hail.
Thunderstorms occur most frequently during the spring and summer, but are also possible in the fall and winter. North Carolina experiences about 40 to 50 thunderstorm days per year.
About 10% of thunderstorms are classified as severe. For a thunderstorm to be classified as severe it will include at least one or all of the following: produces hail at least an inch in diameter, has winds of 58 mph or stronger or produces a tornado.
Thunderstorms are sometimes underestimated as a serious weather threat, but they can be deadly. Strong winds can turn tree branches and ordinary loose objects into dangerous projects. Help your community stay safe by trimming trees and picking up or securing loose items.
Lightning can strike up to 10 miles away from a storm. Make sure to get everyone inside at the first sign of thunder or lightning and keep them inside until at least 30 minutes after the last sign of thunder or lightning.
What is a tornado?
Tornadoes are nature’s most violent storms. Spawned from powerful thunderstorms, tornadoes can cause fatalities and devastate a neighborhood in seconds.
A tornado appears as a rotating, funnel-shaped cloud that extends from a thunderstorm to the ground with whirling winds that can reach 300 miles per hour. Damage paths can be in excess of one mile wide and 50 miles long.
Some tornadoes are clearly visible, while rain or nearby low-hanging clouds obscure others. Sometimes, tornadoes develop so rapidly that little, if any, advance warning is possible.
The difference between a watch and warning
A severe thunderstorm watch means be prepared. Stay informed and be ready to act, because severe thunderstorms are possible.
A severe thunderstorm warning means take action! Take shelter in a strong building, because severe weather is occurring or will occur shortly.
The same goes for tornadoes. A tornado watch means that a tornado is possible. Once a watch is issued, you’ll want to make sure you identify your safe place (storm shelter, basement, interior hallway away from winds, etc.). Have a plan in place and be ready to act quickly if a warning is issued.
A tornado warning is issued when a tornado is happening or about to happen. During a warning, take action! Immediately seek shelter in your safe place.
What is considered a “safe place” during a tornado warning?
The best place to be during a tornado warning is a storm shelter or a basement. If you don’t have either of these at your home, a low-level, interior room without windows is a great option.
In the image below, the green shows the areas that are good for sheltering during a tornado warning. A closet or bathroom on the lowest level and in the interior portion of the home is one of the best places to be. A hallway can also be good if there’s no other option and as long as there are no windows.
Once you’re in you safe space, use blankets, pillows, a helmet or even a mattress to protect yourself from any possible debris.
You’ll also want to have on closed toed shoes during severe weather days in the event of damage. This can help prevent injuries once a warning is lifted and any tornado damage has occurred.
If you’re in a large business, school, hospital, shopping center, or a factory during a tornado warning, go to an interior hallway on the lowest level. Stay away from the structurally weaker portions of the buildings, such as winds and rooms with expansive roofs which are more likely to collapse when tornadoes strike.
If you’re in a mobile home or a home on stilts during a tornado warning, get out and take shelter in a sturdy building or storm shelter. If there is not one nearby, take shelter in the most interior room that has no windows, such as an interior bathroom or closet.
If you are unable to leave your mobile home during a tornado warning, bring helmets, pillows and blankets and gather the family in the bathtub with these items to provide as much protection as possible.
If you do live in a mobile home, try to pay attention to the weather beforehand and make a plan to stay with a friend or family member in a sturdy building on a severe weather day.
Where’s your safe place if you live in an apartment complex?
If you live in an apartment complex, the best course of action during a tornado warning is to move towards the lowest level of the building and put as many walls between you and the outside as possible.
If you live on the top floor of a building, try to make friends with a neighbor and have a plan worked out in the event of a tornado warning. This will allow you to seek shelter on a lower level of the building.
Some apartment complexes have laundry rooms or underground garages. These can also be good areas to shelter in the event of a tornado warning or damaging wind event. Be sure to be as far from a window as possible.
What do you do if you’re traveling during severe weather?
If you happen to be traveling during a severe weather event day, make sure you’re tuned in to a radio station or have a way to get weather alerts on your phone. The notifications and emergency alerts will keep you in the know if you’re traveling through a severe weather area, such as a tornado warning.
If a tornado warning is issued while you’re driving, get off the road. The best option is to drive to a designated shelter or basement. This includes gas stations, rest stops, or even a friend’s house.
You never want to seek shelter in your vehicle, outside, or under an overpass. A highway overpass will put you in greater risk of a serious injury from flying debris due to the powerful winds.