KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Tornadoes are no doubt terrifying and the attention they receive is justified, but flooding kills more people per year than tornadoes.
Strong thunderstorm winds and lightning follow closely behind tornadoes when it comes to annual deaths. On average, there are 88 deaths per year due to flooding, 68 for tornadoes, 58 for strong winds and 41 people die per year due to lightning. Let’s break down these other hazards produced by thunderstorms that should be taken just as serious as tornadoes.
The stretch of July 27 to Aug. 22 in 2017 provided an unfortunate example of why flooding is a serious problem. Four to nine inches of rain fell each of those dates in a six-hour period, which by definition is a flash flood, as opposed to the slower widespread flooding that occurred on the Missouri river in 2019.
The torrential rain during the summer of 2017 caused Indian Creek to look more like the Amazon River. Intersection of 103rd Street and Wornall Road was covered in several feet of water, destroying a strip mall. Business owners had to be rescued as the water came up so fast. Indian Creek has flooded like this prior to 2017, but this was the final straw, and the strip mall is no more.
Six inches of flowing water can sweep a person away, 12 inches of flowing water can sweep a car/SUV away and 18 inches of flowing water can sweep away any vehicles larger than an SUV. There is an easy way to avoid being a flood death statistic: “Turn Around Don’t Drown." If you see water flowing over a road and you don’t know the depth, turn around.
If you are deciding to buy a home or start a business, make sure you are not in a flood plain and check your insurance coverage. If you own a house, make sure to clear storm drains and charge electronic devices in case of an emergency. Also, make sure you have a working sump pump.
Strong thunderstorm winds, often referred to as “straight line winds” can be as high as 80 to 90 mph. This is equivalent to a low end EF1 tornado covering hundreds of miles. These winds can be caused when some of the rain and hail in the cumulonimbus cloud evaporate, cooling a large pocket of air in the cloud. Cold air is heavy and the whole pocket races to the ground and the air spreads out rapidly in all directions after impact, a microburst. This creates a unique pattern of wind damage as opposed to the smaller swirling pattern of tornadoes. You can prevent harm from the “straight line winds” by treating it like a tornado. The best place to ride out the storm is in an interior room in the lowest level of the house.
Lightning is caused by a buildup of positive and negative charges in the cumulonimbus cloud due to the collision of ice and water particles.
A positive lightning strike can come from the anvil of the thunderstorm. These are also known as a "bolt from the blue" and are the deadliest strikes due to most people being outside as the thunderstorm can be 10s of miles away.
What can you do to avoid being a lightning death statistic?
There is really no safe place outside when thunderstorms are in the area. If you hear thunder, you are likely within striking distance of the storm. If you see lightning, start counting until you hear thunder.
Every count to 5 is 1 mile. Just remember, When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors.
Too many people wait far too long to get to a safe place when thunderstorms approach. Unfortunately, these delayed actions lead to many of the lightning deaths and injuries in the United States. If you cannot go inside, avoid open fields and the tops of hills as lightning usually strikes the tallest object, such as trees. Stay away from water, wet items, trees and metal objects such as fences and poles.
There are three main ways lightning enters structures: A direct strike, through wires or pipes that extend outside the structure, or through the ground.
Once in a structure, lightning can travel through the electrical, phone, plumbing, and radio/television reception systems. Lightning can also travel through any metal wires or bars in concrete walls or flooring.
If you are indoors during a thunderstorm, delay a shower until after the thunderstorm has ended as the electric current can travel through your plumbing and emerge into the bathtub/shower while you are wet.
- Stay off corded phones. You can use cellular or cordless phones.
- Do not touch electrical equipment such as computers, TVs, or cords.
- Avoid plumbing. Do not wash your hands, take a shower, or wash dishes.
- Stay away from exterior windows and doors that might contain metal components leading from outside your home to the inside.
- Stay off balconies, porches and out of open garages or car ports.
- Do not lie on concrete floors or lean against concrete walls.
We don’t want you to be scared of thunderstorms but use caution and common sense when you encounter them, and you will be able to enjoy all that Mother Nature has to offer.