How Can You Tell If a Thunderstorm is Truly Severe? [FAQs]

Have you ever wondered whether that rumble in the distance is just another regular thunderstorm or something more intense?

Thunderstorms can be a spectacular display of nature’s power, with lightning illuminating the dark sky and thunder rumbling through the air. But not all thunderstorms are created equal. Some are more severe and potentially dangerous than others. So, how do you differentiate between an ordinary thunderstorm and a truly severe one? Let’s dive in and uncover the signs that indicate a thunderstorm is severe.


Thunderstorms can be classified as severe based on a combination of several specific criteria. These criteria include:

1. Wind Speed

  • If the wind speed during the thunderstorm reaches 58 miles per hour or higher, it is generally considered severe.
  • Powerful winds can uproot trees, cause structural damage to buildings, and even propel objects through the air at dangerous speeds.
  • Pay attention to how the wind is behaving during a thunderstorm. If you notice significant gusts or swirling winds, it could be an indication of a severe storm.
  • 2. Hail Size

  • Another key indicator of the severity of a thunderstorm is the size of the hail it produces.
  • Large hailstones, typically measuring one inch in diameter or bigger, are common in severe thunderstorms.
  • Hail of this size can damage vehicles, shatter windows, and pose risks to people caught outside during the storm.
  • 3. Intense Lightning and Thunder

  • Severe thunderstorms are often characterized by an increase in both the frequency and intensity of lightning and thunder.
  • If you notice continuous flashes of lightning and booming thunder with minimal time gaps between each strike, it’s a clear sign that the storm is severe.
  • Remember to take proper precautions like seeking shelter indoors and avoiding open spaces during intense lightning and thunder.
  • Things You Should Know:

    To better understand what constitutes a severe thunderstorm, keep these three key points in mind:

    1. Stay Informed

  • Make sure you have access to a reliable weather forecast service that can provide you with up-to-date information on thunderstorm alerts in your area.
  • Stay tuned to weather radios, smartphone apps, or local news channels for real-time updates about severe thunderstorms.
  • Knowing in advance can help you make better decisions to protect yourself and your property.
  • 2. Be Prepared

  • It’s always a good idea to have an emergency kit on hand in case a severe thunderstorm causes a power outage or other disruptions.
  • Stock up on essential supplies such as flashlight, batteries, first aid kit, non-perishable food, and bottled water.
  • Keep important documents, like insurance policies and identification, in a safe and easily accessible place.
  • 3. Take Shelter

  • When a severe thunderstorm warning is issued for your area, seek shelter immediately.
  • The safest place to be is indoors, away from windows and exterior walls.
  • If you are caught outside during a severe thunderstorm, find low-lying, sturdy shelter or seek out a vehicle with a metal roof to protect yourself from lightning and hail.
  • Tips:

    Here are five essential tips to help you navigate severe thunderstorms:

    1. Stay Away from Open Spaces

  • Avoid open fields, hilltops, and other high-exposure areas during a severe thunderstorm.
  • Lightning is more likely to strike elevated or open areas, making them unsafe during a storm.
  • Find shelter in lower lying areas until the storm passes.
  • 2. Unplug Electronics

  • Before the storm hits, unplug sensitive electronic devices to protect them from power surges caused by lightning strikes.
  • This simple precaution can prevent costly damage to your appliances and electronics.
  • Remember to also avoid using landline phones during a thunderstorm.
  • 3. Stay Indoors for at Least 30 Minutes

  • Even after the thunder and lightning have subsided, it is wise to stay indoors for at least 30 minutes.
  • Thunderstorms can move quickly, and a secondary storm may be approaching.
  • Waiting for a short period ensures your safety and gives weather conditions a chance to stabilize.
  • 4. Avoid Water-Related Activities

  • Swimming, boating, and other water-related activities should be avoided during a thunderstorm.
  • Water is an excellent conductor of electricity, and lightning can easily strike bodies of water.
  • Wait until the storm has passed before resuming any water activities.
  • 5. Watch for Tornado Warnings

  • Severe thunderstorms can produce tornadoes, so be on the lookout for tornado warnings.
  • If a tornado warning is issued, take immediate action and seek shelter in a basement, storm cellar, or designated tornado-safe room.
  • Listen for updates and instructions from local authorities.
  • Frequently Asked Questions:

    1. Can thunderstorms cause power outages?

    Yes, severe thunderstorms, especially those with strong winds, can cause power outages by knocking down power lines or damaging electrical infrastructure. It is always a good idea to be prepared for potential power outages during thunderstorms.

    2. Are all thunderstorms dangerous?

    While all thunderstorms carry some level of risk, not all of them are considered severe. Non-severe thunderstorms typically have lower wind speeds, smaller hail, and less intense lightning activity. However, it is important to take precautions and stay safe during any thunderstorm.

    3. How long does a severe thunderstorm usually last?

    The duration of a severe thunderstorm can vary. Some may last only a few minutes, while others can persist for several hours. The intensity and severity of the storm often determine its duration. Always err on the side of caution and remain prepared until the storm has fully passed.

    4. What is the difference between a watch and a warning?

    A thunderstorm watch means that the atmospheric conditions are favorable for the development of severe thunderstorms in a particular area. It is a general alert to be prepared and stay informed. On the other hand, a thunderstorm warning is more specific and indicates that severe weather has been detected or is imminent. When a warning is issued, take immediate action to protect yourself.

    5. Can you hear thunder from far away?

    The distance at which you can hear thunder depends on various factors, including the intensity of the storm and the surrounding environment. On average, thunder can be heard up to about 10 miles away. However, in certain conditions, such as during a particularly severe storm, thunder can be heard from much farther distances.

    Related Topics:

    If you found this article informative, you may also be interested in the following related topics:

    1. How to Prepare Your Home for Severe Weather

    Learn practical steps to safeguard your home and minimize damage during severe thunderstorms and other severe weather events.

    2. Lightning Safety Tips for Outdoor Activities

    Discover crucial safety advice for staying safe from lightning strikes during outdoor activities, including camping, hiking, and sports events.

    3. How to Create an Emergency Kit

    Find out what essential items to include in your emergency kit to ensure you’re prepared for unexpected events such as severe thunderstorms, hurricanes, and power outages.

    Now armed with this knowledge, you’ll be better equipped to identify truly severe thunderstorms and take the necessary precautions to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.

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