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April Showers Bring Thunderstorms

KEENE, N.H. 3/7/02 - April showers may bring May flowers, but they may also herald thunderstorms, our most common severe weather experience. With the start of spring, the Keene State College Safety Center in Manchester and the American Red Cross warn people to take precautions to protect themselves against lightning and other severe thunderstorm hazards.

Every thunderstorm produces lightning that kills more people each year than tornadoes. Heavy rain from thunderstorms can lead to flash flooding. Strong winds, hail, and tornadoes are also dangers associated with some thunderstorms.

The typical thunderstorm is 15 miles in diameter and lasts an average of 30 minutes. Of the estimated 100,000 thunderstorms that occur each year in the United States, only about ten percent are classified as severe. The National Weather Service considers a thunderstorm severe if it produces hail at least 3/4 inch in diameter, wind 58 mph or higher, or tornadoes. The five main offspring of thunderstorms are lightning, floods, straight-line winds, large hail, and tornadoes.

Lightning occurs with all thunderstorms. It averages 93 deaths and 300 injuries each year. It also causes several hundred million dollars in damage to property and forests annually.

Flash floods/floods are the number one thunderstorm killer, causing nearly 140 fatalities each year. Most flash flood deaths occur at night and when people become trapped in automobiles.

Straight line winds are responsible for most thunderstorm wind damage. Winds can exceed 100 mph! One type of straight line wind that can cause extreme damage is a downburst, a small area of rapidly descending air beneath a thunderstorm. Downbursts can reach speeds equal to that of a strong tornado and can be extremely dangerous to aviation.

Hail causes nearly $1 billion in damage to property and crops annually. Large hailstones can fall at speeds faster than 100 mph. The costliest U.S. hailstorm occurred in Denver, Colo., in July 1990. Total damage was $625 million.

Lightning is perhaps the most spectacular phenomenon associated with thunderstorms. Most lightning deaths and injuries occur when people are caught outdoors. In the past decade, over 15,000 lightning-induced fires nationwide have resulted in several hundred million dollars a year in damage and the loss of two million acres of forest. Your chances of being struck by lightning are estimated to be 1 in 600,000 but could be reduced by following safety rules:

  • Listen to a radio or television for severe thunderstorm notices. When conditions are favorable for severe weather to develop, a severe thunderstorm watch is issued. When severe weather has been reported by spotters or indicated by radar, a severe thunderstorm warning is issued. Warnings indicate imminent danger to life and property to those in the path of the storm.
  • Before the storm, check weather forecasts before leaving for extended periods outdoors. Watch for signs of approaching storms. Postpone outdoor activities if thunderstorms are imminent. This is your best way to avoid being caught in a dangerous situation.
  • When a thunderstorm approaches, remember that if you can hear thunder, you are close enough to the storm to be struck by lightning.
  1. Go to safe shelter immediately. Move to a sturdy building or car. Do not take shelter in small sheds, under isolated trees, or in convertible automobiles.
  2. Get out of boats and stay away from water.
  3. Avoid using the telephone or any other electrical appliances. Use the phone only in an emergency.
  4. Do not take a bath/shower.
  5. Turn off air conditioners.
  6. Get to higher ground if flooding is possible. Abandon cars and climb to higher ground because most flash flood deaths occur in automobiles.
  7. If caught outdoors and no shelter is nearby, find a low spot away from trees, fences, and poles. Make sure the area is not subject to flooding. If you are in the woods, take shelter under the shorter trees.
  8. If you feel your skin tingle or your hair stand on end, squat low to the ground on the balls of your feet. Place your hands on your knees with your head between them. Make yourself the smallest target possible and minimize your contact with the ground.

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Keene, New Hampshire 03435