What to do during a storm

This article is intended as a general guide only. You should consult your state emergency services for further information. 

Knowing what to do during a storm emergency can be confusing. But there are clear procedures of which you and your family should be aware. Here are our safety tips to follow from the time a storm warning is issued, to when winds return to levels considered non-threatening, including when and how to evacuate if necessary.

Severe storm warnings

Alerts are issued by The Bureau of Meteorology via media outlets when a severe storm is likely to occur in an area within six hours. These are updated any time from 30 minutes to six hour intervals depending on the location, with notification of when the next warning will be released.

A warning will specify the conditions expected including hail, heavy rain, flash flooding, abnormally high tides, strong winds or tornadoes. Keep in mind residents often only have a short time to act. “Maybe less than 15 minutes,” confirms a BOM spokesperson. So it’s important to do so promptly.

It’s a good idea to check your neighbours are also aware of storm warning signs. There are also precautions you should take before a storm, to adequately prepare your home and greatly reduce the risk of damage. It’s also handy to have downloaded the free BOM Weather app so you can access warnings from anywhere, on your smartphone.

How to be safe in a storm

Where you and your family shelter during a storm is a crucial factor in staying safe. Ideally your home is already prepared before the storm hits, so it’s time to focus on safeguarding your family while it’s in full force. State based emergency services recommend the safest place to be is indoors but if you are outdoors during a severe storm, avoid exterior walls and get to shelter as soon as it’s safe to do so.

Other simple things you can do in a storm situation are:

  • Stay clear of windows, doors and openings such as fireplaces.
  • Take shelter in your designated room, a bathroom or basement is recommended and protect your head with a cushion or mattress. If possible, crouch beneath heavy furniture.
  • Continue to tune in to local weather broadcasts for updates and advice.

State Government authorities further advise the following dos and don’ts, depending on the type of weather phenomena being experienced:

Lightning strikes

  • If your house has been struck by lightning before, it’s a good idea to leave. Contrary to popular belief, lightning often strikes the same location repeatedly.
  • Electrical charges conduct through water so it’s best not to take a bath, enter water outdoors or touch metal objects. Using a landline telephone or touching telecommunications objects at home is also not advised.
  • If you are inside a car, close your windows and pull over, away from trees that may fall on you if struck by lightning. Check for downed power lines touching or near your vehicle before getting out and call for help if need be.
  • If you are caught outdoors crouch down with your head tucked in and your feet together. If you are with other people, spread several metres apart. Stay away from open spaces, tall trees and poles which are likely to be struck by lightning.

Strong winds

  • Do not attempt to drive out of the path of strong winds or a tornado. It’s less risky to leave the vehicle and run to a nearby building.
  • If you are caught outside lie flat in the lowest spot you can find such as a ditch or under a low bridge.
  • Hang on to the base of a small tree in a severe wind event. 

Heavy rain and hail

  • If you are driving steer clear of dips and underpasses. Pull over to the side of the road - away from drains, trees and powerlines - turn on your hazard lights and keep your head and face away from the car windows.
  • Floodwater is never safe to pass through, nor is trying to climb or drive over fallen trees.

Storm emergency procedures

Maintain contact with your local emergency services and inform your neighbours about what you plan to do if you must evacuate. Ideally take your pets, emergency kit and follow your storm disaster plan before moving to higher ground.

See our previous How to prepare for a storm article for more information.

“Think about the safest routes,” advises Victoria State Emergency Service and, “find out if pets are allowed at your local evacuation centre,” adds a NSW State Emergency Service spokesperson.

However, if you cannot evacuate, keep your family calm until the storm passes then get to the highest part of your home, before calling either 000 nationally, or your state-based emergency service, to be rescued.

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