Thunderstorms

Thunderstorm Fact Sheet

All thunderstorms are dangerous because they can produce strong winds, lightning, tornadoes, hail and flash flooding. Because they are so common though, many people often become complacent and fail to take safety precautions. Learn more about staying safe when you face a threatening storm.


Know the Terms

Severe Thunderstorm Watch
Tells you when and where severe thunderstorms are likely to occur. Watch the sky and stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for information. Watch for alerts on your cell phone and check social media for additional information from trusted sources.

Severe Thunderstorm Warning
Issued when severe weather has been reported by spotters or indicated by radar. Warnings indicate imminent danger to life and property to those in the path of the storm.


What to Do Before a Thunderstorm
Thunderstorms can develop rapidly and without warning. It’s important to think in advance about how a storm might affect your activities and what you should do if the weather changes. You can also take steps to limit the potential damage a storm may cause on your property by regularly trimming trees to remove dead or rotting branches, which could fall and injure someone or damage your home during a storm.

If a thunderstorm is likely to develop or is currently in the area:

  • Postpone outdoor activities.
  • Get inside a home, building, or hard top automobile (not a convertible). Although you may be injured if lightning strikes your car, you are much safer inside a vehicle than outside.
  • Remember, rubber-soled shoes and rubber tires provide NO protection from lightning. However, the steel frame of a hard-topped vehicle provides increased protection if you are not touching metal.
  • Secure outdoor objects that could blow away or cause damage.
  • Shutter windows and secure outside doors. If shutters are not available, close window blinds, shades, or curtains.
  • Avoid showering or bathing. Plumbing and bathroom fixtures can conduct electricity.
  • Use a corded telephone only for emergencies. Cordless and cellular telephones are safe to use.
  • Unplug appliances and other electrical items such as computers and turn off air conditioners. Power surges from lightning can cause serious damage.
  • Use your battery-operated NOAA Weather Radio for updates from local officials.
  • Remember that lightning can strike as far as 10 miles from the area where it is raining. That’s about the distance you can hear thunder. If you can hear thunder, you are within striking distance. Seek safe shelter immediately.

Avoid the following:

  • Natural lightning rods such as a tall, isolated tree in an open area.
  • Hilltops, open fields, the beach, or a boat on the water.
  • Isolated sheds or other small structures in open areas.
  • Anything metal—tractors, farm equipment, motorcycles, golf carts, golf clubs, and bicycles.
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Additional Resources
Wisconsin Severe Thunderstorm and Tornadoes toolkit
Thunderstorm Fact Sheet