Severe Storm

A severe storm can be anything involving strong winds and large hail, thunderstorms, tornados, rain, snow, or other mixed precipitation. Typically, transportation issues and loss of utilities come about because of a severe storm.

The following are severe storm elements (using National Weather Service definitions):

  • High winds – Storms with sustained winds of 40 mph or gusts of 58 mph or greater, not caused by thunderstorms, expected to last for an hour or more.
  • Severe Thunderstorm – Storms that produce winds of 58 mph or greater or three-quarters of an inch or larger hail.
  • Tornado – A storm with a violently rotating column of air that contacts the ground; tornados usually develop from severe thunderstorms. Tornados can produce winds of 100 to 300 mph.
  • Winter storm – A storm with significant snowfall, ice, and/or freezing rain; the quantity of precipitation varies by elevation. Heavy snowfall is 4 inches or more in a 12-hour period, or 6 or more inches in a 24-hour period in non-mountainous areas; and 12 inches or more in a 12-hour period or 18 inches or more in a 24-hour period in mountainous areas.
  • Blizzard – A storm with considerable falling and/or blowing snow combined with sustained winds or frequent gusts of 35 mph or greater that frequently reduces visibility to less than one-quarter mile. Blizzards typically are confined to the Columbia River Gorge and Northwest Washington near the Fraser River Valley of British Columbia.
  • Dust storm – A storm of dust and debris blown by wind gusts of at least 35 mph, or caused by a downburst from a dry thunderstorm, that reduces visibility to less than one-quarter mile
  • Coastal flooding – Flooding in coastal areas caused by storm surge, astronomical high tides, or a combination of them.

Learn More About Severe Storms in Washington State (PDF)

Every fall and winter, windstorms cause extensive damage, including the loss of electricity throughout the Pacific Northwest. By taking action now, you can save lives and reduce the damage caused by windstorms and other weather-related hazards.

What to do before a windstorm

  • Contact your local emergency management office or the National Weather Service to find out what types of storms are most likely to occur in your community.
  • Assemble a disaster supply kit.
  • If you have a home generator, make sure you know how to use it safely. Follow all instructions and contact the vendor, if necessary. Improper use of a generator can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Find out who in your area might need special assistance, such as the elderly, disabled, and non-English speaking neighbors.
  • Check with your veterinarian for animal care instructions in an emergency situation.
  • If you live on a coastal or inland shoreline, be familiar with evacuation routes.
  • Know what emergency plans are in place at your workplace, school and daycare center.
  • Conduct a home safety evaluation to find out which nearby trees could fall in  windstorm.
  • If you have an electric garage door opener, locate the manual override.

What to do during a windstorm

  • Don’t panic. Take quick action to protect yourself and help others.
  • Turn off the stove if you’re cooking when the power goes out, and turn off natural gas appliances.
  • Never use a gas stove for heat.
  • Never burn charcoal indoors.
  • Never us a generator indoors or in a garage or carport.
  • If you are indoors, move away from windows or objects that could fall. Go to lower floors in multi-story homes.
  • If you are outdoors, move into a building. Avoid downed electric power lines, utility poles and trees.
  • If you are driving, pull off the road and stop away from trees. If possible, walk into a safe building. Avoid overpasses, power lines and other hazards.
  • Listen to your radio for emergency instructions.

What to do after a windstorm

  • Check yourself and those around you for injuries.
  • Evacuate damaged buildings. Do not re-enter until declared safe by authorities.
  • Call 9-1-1 only to report a life threatening emergency.
  • If you smell gas or hear a hissing sound indoors — open windows and leave the building. Turn off the gas source and call your gas company. Do not use matches, candles, open flames or electric switches indoors.
  • If the power goes out, keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed to keep food frozen for up to two days.
  • Provide assistance to your neighbors, especially the elderly or disabled.
  • Try to make contact with your out-of-area phone contact, but avoid making local telephone calls.
  • Monitor your portable or weather radio for instructions or an official "all clear" notice. Radio stations will broadcast what to do, the location of emergency shelters, medical aid stations, and the extent of damage.

This document was produced in cooperation
with the state Department of Health and Emergency Management Division of the Washington State Military Department.

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