Prepare for the Possibility of Sudden, Severe Storms

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Anglers, boaters and campers all hope for pleasant weather when they plan their weekend outings and annual vacations, and most of the time they are blessed with sunny skies and warm temperatures. But they also know that conditions can change rapidly and that the potential for wind and rain always exists, so they plan ahead.

This spring has been a showcase of diverse weather conditions in many parts of the country including the Midwest, where conditions have ranged from bluebird weather with highs already in the 80-degree range, to cool days and overcast skies and even late snowfalls. There has been rain ranging from light drizzle to pounding cloudbursts and hail. There have been pleasantly warm breezes tinged with the delicate perfume of blossoming mulberry trees one day, only to be followed the next by violent tornados tearing across the land leaving destroyed lives and property in their wake.

You never know what Mother Nature has up her sleeve.

Memorial Day weekend in southeast Nebraska saw a combination of warm temperatures and light rain followed by a heavy downpour, hail and 70-mph winds that took the roofs off of barns, scattered garbage cans, lawn furniture and decorative ornaments like pick-up sticks and left the ground littered with broken tree limbs, branches, the neighbor’s laundry and the tattered petals of early-blooming flowers.

People who enjoy participating in outdoor activities know how quickly the weather can change and the most experienced among them plan and hope for good weather and the occasional mild rain shower, but are prepared for the worst and have learned what to do if a sudden severe storm materializes in their area.

It is always a good idea to choose a campsite with an eye towards what you would do in the case of a severe storm or tornado. Plan ahead so you won’t be caught by surprise if a storm comes up. Just thinking about your options for a couple of minutes before setting up camp can save confusion if a storm suddenly does approach your area. A weather radio, a first aid kit and a cell phone may be invaluable if there is an emergency.

Experienced campers say a tent or camper should offer sufficient protection during a gentle rain and mild winds. During a heavy rain, especially when there is hail involved, tents can be damaged or develop leaks. Most aluminum tent poles are not sturdy enough to withstand high winds and the frames may become twisted, bent or broken. Lightning can also be a hazard for tent campers because cloud-to-ground flashes may create currents that can travel along the ground and are capable of injuring a person walking around outside during the storm or just laying or standing in a tent. Avoid being or being under the tallest object in the area. Stay away from metal fences or water. Most experts agree that the best place to be during a thunderstorm is in a vehicle, providing you don’t touch its frame.

Tornados are rare and the chances of being in the path of one are very low, but if there is a tornado warning or high winds in the area where you are camping, find the best shelter from flying debris as possible, such as laying down in a ditch, the lee side of a hill or, if nothing else is available, a depression in the ground. Cover your head with your hands or something more sturdy if it is available. We all know what to do if there is a severe storm or tornado warning when we are at home, and we should be just as prepared when we are enjoying outdoor activities.

At the state parks or state recreation areas manned by Nebraska Game and Parks Commission employees there are generally foul weather programs in place and the staff has communications with the county sheriff and the Nebraska State Patrol. In the event of emergencies or severe weather, the staff is on hand to assist people using the area. Most of the state areas are within cell phone service areas and most manned areas have emergency numbers posted, according to Jim Fuller, administrator of the Parks Division.

Boaters also should keep an eye and ear on the weather and at the first sign of approaching storm they should get off the water, according to Nebraska Boating Law Administer Herb Angell.

“Don’t wait until the last minute to head for shore and remember that you don’t have to go all the way back to the dock or marina, just head directly to shore, tie the boat up as well as possible, find some cover and sit it out,” he said. “Even if you make it back to the dock, when it is windy it can be very difficult to get the boat back on the trailer. Never trade safety for protecting your boat.”

“Storm-related accidents on the water are rare in Nebraska,” Angell said. “Most Nebraskans are pretty good, they are smart and get off the water when a storm approaches.”

It just makes sense to be prepared for weather emergencies.
-Tom Keith-