A lot of us think thunderstorms are borderline magic. But, along with that beauty comes tons of dangers.
Let’s look at why are thunderstorms dangerous so we better understand why we can’t just play in a thunderstorm.
Why are thunderstorms dangerous?
Thunderstorms are rain showers where lightning is present. It’s the rain shower part that makes it seem harmless. But the lightning part makes adventuring during a thunderstorm a terrible idea.
Thunderstorms’ overall and biggest danger is that they are totally unpredictable and can bring them all sorts of nightmares.
5 Reasons Why Thunderstorms Are Dangerous
Rumbling thunder and lightning strikes are soothing to some, but there are reasons why it’s a better idea to enjoy them indoors.
Most Lightning Stats Don’t Really Matter
You’ll hear the ‘one in a million,’ but those odds should not make you feel safe or lightning-proof.
The only standout stat is that between 2006 and 2021, the average number of deaths in the US caused by lightning was 28. And in Florida (the lightning capital), more than 2000 people have been injured by lightning strikes over the last 50 years.
The chances of getting struck also depend on regional and seasonal conditions and what activity you’re doing outside.
Will my car’s rubber tires save me from lightning?
Okay, so you’re pretty safe in your car during a typical thunderstorm. But it’s not because of the tires. It’s the metal roof and sides that create a safe box.
However, convertibles, motorcycles, bikes, and open-shelled recreational vehicles have plastic or fiberglass shells and offer no protection from lighting.
Flash Floods Can Happen Fast
Slow-moving thunderstorms can dump a massive amount of rain very quickly.
When possible, avoid getting out during any thunderstorm. Flash floods form in minutes or hours, meaning they’re nothing to play with.
- Thunderstorms put human lives at risk.
- Do damage to infrastructure and buildings.
- Causes loss of livestock and crops
- It can lead to dangerous landslides.
- Disrupts transportation, extended power outages, and communications.
A nice breeze or even a low wind is part of the wonder of a thunderstorm. But, winds get dangerous quickly.
During a thunderstorm, winds develop high in the atmosphere. Downdrafts of cool air caused are carried to the surface to create high winds.
High winds can reach 100mph and do as much damage as a tornado.
Why are thunderstorms dangerous to aircraft?
Of all of the dangers of thunderstorms, it’s the high winds that pose the most threat to aircraft.
But, every aspect of a thunderstorm can cause aviation problems, including lightning, tornadoes, and hail.
A tornado can reach speeds upward of 300mph, making them the most dangerous side effect of a thunderstorm. In the United States, the National Weather Service reports that an average of 28 people are killed yearly by tornadoes.
It does take a combination of winds to develop the conditions for a tornado. The best that NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center (SPC) and NWS can do is issue a general tornado watch that just means the weather is favorable for a tornado to develop.
The average lead time for a tornado warning is right at 9 minutes. Always take tornado warning alerts seriously and follow their instructions.
Who’s Most At Risk From Thunderstorms?
- Lightning associated with thunderstorms is the most dangerous for those outdoors. Do not take cover under trees or near hilltops. If you’re in or on water, find dry land when you see the warning signs of a thunderstorm.
- People in automobiles during a thunderstorm are at the most risk of a flash flood. The Turn Around Don’t Drown® campaign exists for the sole purpose of saving lives from flash floods.
- Tornados most threaten people in mobile homes and vehicles.
- If in a trailer, find the lowest spot possible, pile mattresses atop you to catch possible debris, and hunker down until it’s over.
- Don’t try to outrun one. Pull over and duck down out of the view of car windows.
Hail Raining Down
The dreaded thrum against the windows and roof typically is the first ‘warning’ you get before a full-fledged hail storm happens.
Most hail measures an average of ¾ of an inch in diameter or smaller. But it can be far worse than a few hail dents. People and livestock are at risk as the hail falls from the atmosphere.
In 2000, a thunderstorm in Fort Worth, Texas, produced baseball-sized hail that killed one resident. You’ve no way of knowing how big the transparent ice will get.
Scattered Thunderstorms vs Isolated Thunderstorms
Weathercasters say words, and we don’t always pay attention. They are wrong so often. Why would we?
The big news about scattered and isolated thunderstorms is that the verbiage in no way describes the strength of the thunderstorm.
Are scattered thunderstorms dangerous?
Scattered thunderstorms are more annoying than they are dangerous. With that said, lightning and flash flooding could still happen, but the worst consequence of a scattered thunderstorm is simply the need to postpone outdoor activities.
To be deemed a scattered thunderstorm, it must cover a large area with a 30% to 50% chance of storms. And, it’s possible it can storm on and off for hours and bring additional threats. One scattered thunderstorm only lasts around ten minutes.
- Weak tornadoes.
- Torrential rain leads to flash flooding.
- Small to medium-sized hail.
Are isolated thunderstorms dangerous?
Isolated thunderstorms affect 30% or less of the forecasted area and are hard to predict. An added danger is that one could be raging only ten miles away, and it is still sunny where you are.
An isolated thunderstorm is also known as a supercell. If you’re caught outside when an isolated thunderstorm happens, take whatever cover you can. It will most likely be a short-lived shower and only a pause in your activities.
People that live in areas prone to tornadoes should always pay extra attention during crappy weather (and consider shelter planning).
- A high percentage of rain
- High, strong winds
- Big, dark cumulonimbus (thunderclouds).
- Lightning strikes and loud rumbling thunder.
- The possibility of tornadoes