Severe Weather Week: Keeping yourself safe during severe weather

MADISON, Wis. — When severe weather threatens, even seconds can save lives.

If you find yourself in the path of dangerous storms, the actions you take may make the difference between being a survivor — or being a stastistic.

The weather element you are most likely to encounter technically isn’t classified as severe: lightning.

Protecting yourself from lightning

If the amount of time from when you see lightning until you hear its thunder is 30 seconds or less, seek shelter immediately. Wait 30 minutes after the last time you hear thunder before resuming outside activities. To protect yourself from lightning, move indoors to an enclosed building. If you’re outdoors, a car with a metal roof offers good protection.

If you can’t get inside, get as far away from tall trees, but don’t stand in the open or right next to any single tree. If you are in a group, spread out so that a single bolt isn’t as likely to affect everyone.

Turn around, don’t drown

Most people who die in flash floods drown in vehicles. It only takes about two feet of water to get a car to float. Once that happens, you are at the mercy of the flowing water.

Never, ever drive into areas where water covers the road and you have any question as to its depth. If you come upon water covering the highway and you’re unsure of its depth, it’s best to turn around and find another route.

Wisconsin’s most dangerous weather: tornadoes

Tornadoes are the most dangerous type of severe weather, and how you protect yourself may make the difference between life and death. If you live in a well-built house or apartment building, go to the center part of your basement. Getting under a stairwell or some heavy furniture will offer you the best protection.

If you don’t have a basement, the rule of thumb is to get to the lowest floor and put as many walls as possible between you and the outside. Often, this will be a closet or bathroom at the center of the building.

Wherever you decide is the best place to shelter, it’s important that you have a way to protect your body. A bicycle helmet to protect your head and pillows and blankets to protect body should be wherever you are taking shelter, along with shoes or boots in case you have to walk through broken glass and wood. Also make sure you have a battery-powered radio and cell phone with you and check to make sure they are working and can receive a signal.

Mobile homes and buildings of weak construction offer almost no protection from a tornado. If you live in one of those buildings, go to a storm shelter or sturdy nearby building, and don’t wait until the storm is too close.

RELATED: EF-1 tornado confirmed as strong winds damage Stoughton homes

One of the worst places to be is in a car. If you can’t make it to a building for protection, you only have two choices, and neither is very good: you can get out of your car and try to find refuge in a ditch or culvert, but you won’t have much other than your hands to protect yourself from flying debris. The other option is to fasten your seatbelt and duck as low as possible.

In a weaker tornado, the car will protect you a little better, but the windows will probably shatter, leading to dangerous flying broken glass, and a strong tornado may just toss or roll the car.

If you’re not at home, you’ll have to depend on your instincts or the instructions of others. On Wednesday, Chris Reece will look at severe weather safety when you’re away from home.