A thunderstorm develops in an unstable atmosphere when warm moist air near the earth’s surface rises quickly and cools. The moisture condenses to form rain droplets and dark thunderclouds called cumulonimbus clouds. These storms are often accompanied by hail, lightning, high winds, heavy rain and tornadoes. Thunderstorms are usually over in an hour, although a series of thunderstorms can last for several hours.
To estimate how far away the lightning is, count the seconds between the flash of lightning and the thunderclap. Each second is about 300 metres. If you count fewer than five seconds, take shelter immediately. Lightning is near and you do not want to be the tallest object in the area.
At the office or house
- If indoors, stay there but away from windows, doors, fireplaces, radiators, stoves, sinks, bathtubs, appliances, metal pipes, telephones and other materials which conduct electricity. (You can use a cellular phone.)
- Unplug radios and televisions.
- Do no go out to rescue the laundry on the clothesline as it conducts electricity.
- If caught in the open, do not lie flat but crouch in the leap frog position and lower your head.
- Take shelter in a building or depressed area such as a ditch or a culvert but never under a tree.
- Do not ride bicycles, motorcycles or golf carts or use metal shovels or golf clubs as they conduct electricity.
- If swimming or in a boat, get back to shore immediately.
- If you are in a car, stay there but pull away from trees which might fall on you.
Winter storms kill more than 100 people every year. That is more than the total number of people killed by hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, lightning and extreme heat.
If you live in a rural community where winter storms are frequent, you may want to consider stocking up on heating fuel, ready-to-eat foods, and a battery powered flashlight and radio and extra batteries.
- When a winter storm is forecast, leave your radio on. If you are on a farm with livestock, bring the animals into the barn. Make sure they have plenty of water and food. You may also want to string a lifeline between your house and any outbuildings which you may have to go to during the storm.
- When a winter storm hits, stay indoors. If you must go to the outbuildings, dress for the weather. Outer clothing should be tightly woven and water-repellant. The jacket should have a hood. Wear mittens.
In Your Car
Restock your car survival kit. Keep your gas tank almost full during the winter and have extra windshield washer fluid and gas line anti-freeze on hand.
If you do not already have a cellular telephone, you may want to consider having one in your car for emergencies. If you must travel during a snowstorm, do so during the day and let someone know your route and arrival time.
If your car is stuck in a winter storm, remain calm and stay in your car. Keep fresh air in your car by opening the window slightly on the sheltered side, away from the wind. You can run the car engine about 10 minutes every half-hour if the exhaust system is working well. Beware of exhaust fumes and check the exhaust pipe periodically to make sure it is not blocked with snow. (Remember, you cannot smell potentially fatal carbon monoxide fumes.) In order to keep your hands and feet warm exercise them periodically. In general, it is a good idea to keep moving to avoid falling asleep. If you do try to shovel the snow from around your car avoid over-exerting yourself as shoveling and bitter cold can kill. Keep watch for traffic or searchers.
Hypothermia is defined as a condition where a person’s body temperature falls below 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit).
Signs and Symptoms
The symptoms of hypothermia may be more dangerous than seems evident.
- Falling core body temperature can lead to fatigue, lethargy/apathy, clumsiness, mental confusion, slurred speech, shivering, slowed breathing, slowed heartbeat,
low blood pressure and eventually death.
- Cold hands, feet and abdomen
- Blueness or puffiness of skin
Anyone with suspected hypothermia must be transported to the emergency room of the nearest hospital as soon as possible. Prevent further heat loss with dry, warm clothes and blankets. Warm fluids by mouth may also be given (avoid alcohol and caffeine).
Wear many layers of clothing (three or more). Wearing a hat will help you to conserve as much as 40% of your body heat. Eat lots of energy food. Drink plenty of fluids and hot drinks (not alcohol). Avoid getting wet. Keep moving the arms and legs to generate heat.