MELFORT — With severe weather like large hail, flooding rains, damaging winds and tornadoes all but guaranteed each year, it’s Terri Lang’s job to teach people how to respond.
“The No. 1 thing that I teach about severe weather is having that awareness,” said the severe weather meteorologist with Environment Canada. “Always having that awareness for the potential of severe weather.”
Lang gave a severe weather storm safety presentation at the Kerry Vickar Centre in Melfort on May 23. The event was sponsored by the City of Melfort, the Melfort Fire Department, and Environment and Climate Change Canada.
The meteorologist said damaging winds are more common than tornadoes. Last year the province recorded 19 tornadoes, above the provincial average.
She stated when a person learns that there is a chance of a severe storm, the next step is having a shelter plan.
“Just make sure you’re going inside as quickly as you can. The lowest part of the house is [almost] always the best place to be, putting as many walls between yourself and the outside as you possibly can. There was this hailstorm that went through Kerrobert a few years ago and it smashed out most of the windows through the town.”
For this reason, Lang advises getting away from the windows when choosing a shelter area. A basement is recommended, but if one can’t be accessed she recommends an interior room with no windows such as a closet or bathroom.
Sometimes the basement may not be the best location to take refuge. When it is flooding would be a good example.
“Flooding, that’s sort of one of the underrated dangers, I think. A lot of the deaths in the United States associated with severe weather are from flooding.”
With flooding, she recommends staying put and calling emergency services.
Lang said people driving into flooded roadways are one of the causes of these flood-related deaths due to it only taking 18 inches of water to flood a car. She tells people, “Turn around, don’t drown”.
“You don’t know when you see a flooded roadway, if the roadway has been eroded out from underneath it. You can’t see that,” Lang said.
Lightning safety is another topic she covers in her lectures, despite it not being severe weather. The reason she covers it is the mortality rate.
“More people are killed by lightning than by tornadoes, but I think everybody is scared of tornadoes but they’re not scared of lightning. Which they should be. Not enough that it ruins your summer, but just you recognize it for what it is.”
Lang said one-third of people are injured by lightning before the storm hits, one-third during, and one-third after.
“They’re not seeking shelter soon enough and they come out too soon, because lightning can carry a long way from a lightning cloud,” she said. “In general we use 10 to 20 kilometers for how far a lightning strike can travel but there have been documented cases for over 100 kilometers away.”
She uses the rule of “when thunder roars, go indoors” to know when to seek shelter in a lightning storm. If she can hear the thunder or see the lightning she heads inside.
For leaving, it is recommended to wait until 30 minutes have passed from the last rumble of thunder.
In a lightning storm the recommended shelter is something large and grounded such as a house or a car. While a car isn’t a good shelter for severe weather like a tornado or hail, it can be generally effective with protection from lightning.
“A lot of people think it has to do with the tires on the car, but it doesn’t have to do with the rubber tires. It has to do with what’s called the Faraday cage effect. What that means is you’re sitting in the car and it’s a piece of metal so if your car is struck by lightning the electricity goes around sort of the outer part of the car, the frame of the car and goes into the ground.”
Because convertibles don’t have that hard top, they’re not a good place to take refuge.
While it is generally effective at protecting the occupant, the lightning may destroy the electronics.
Lang also recommends not taking a shower or using a landline phone during this time. This is due to the potential of lightning travelling through the house. She said generally when the lightning strikes a house it goes through the electronics.
“You’ll know if your house is struck by lightning because you’ll hear a deafening sound. It can start fires and sometimes it can smolder for a bit and then start on fire, but inside you’re generally safe.”
Cell phones and electronics not corded into the walls are safe to use.