Staying Safe on the Farm: Severe Weather Tips

 – By

  (Photo of calf shed destroyed by the June 16 tornado at Chris Johnsen's farm 10 miles northeast of Miller.) Last week parts of South Dakota where hit hard by heavy rain fall, severe winds and even the touch down of two tornadoes in Hand County. This recent weather has been a reminder that the arrival of spring and summer also brings the arrival of storm season, presenting its own unique set of challenges for farmers and ranchers. Here are a few tips on how you can get prepared and stay safe this storm season: TORNADOES Every year, between 600 and 1,400 tornadoes are reported in the United States that result in as many as 400 deaths and more than 1,500 injuries. One of the worst years in recent history was 1974, when early spring tornadoes killed 315 people in the Midwest and the South. Tornadoes are small but violent storms that can pack up to 250 mph winds and travel 50 miles. One weather system can spawn multiple storms. For example, the Plains Outbreak, April 26-27, 1991, produced more than 70 tornadoes that caused 21 deaths, 308 injuries and more than $277 million damage. In Iowa, most tornadoes occur from April to June between noon and midnight, although they can occur at any time of the year and at any time of the day or night. What to watch for:
  • dark, often greenish sky,
  • large hail,
  • a cloud that looks like a wall, and
  • a loud roar, similar to a freight train.
What to do:
  • In an open field, stop and get out of the tractor or vehicle. Lie in a low area or ditch away from the tractor. Cover your head with your arms to protect yourself from flying debris.
  • Do not try to outrun a tornado on your tractor. A tornado's speed and direction are deceptive.
  • Know which buildings can offer the best protection, such as a building with a below-grade floor (basement), or a building with a strong inner structure (barn). Stay away from the outside walls of the building.
THUNDERSTORMS Compared to other storms, thunderstorms are small. They typically are only 30 miles wide and last an average of 30 minutes. Despite their size, thunderstorms are more deadly than tornadoes. All thunderstorms produce lightning, which kills an average of 93 people every year. Some thunderstorms produce heavy rain that leads to flash flooding, which kills approximately 140 people every year. Of the estimated 100,000 thunderstorms each year in the United States, only 10 percent are classified as severe. Most deaths by lightning happen outdoors, although you can be injured from lightning while indoors (e.g., talking on the telephone, taking a shower or bath, or standing near a window or open door). The air near a lightning strike is heated to 50,000F, hotter than the surface of the sun. To estimate the distance in miles between you and the lightning flash, count the seconds between the lightning and thunder and divide by five. Contrary to popular belief, lightning often strikes areas outside of heavy rain and may occur as far as 10 miles away from any rainfall. Many people also believe that "heat lightning" after very hot summer days poses no threat. In reality, "heat lightning" is from a storm too far away for the thunder to be heard. Caution is advised because the storm could be moving toward you. Flash flooding quickly can result in fatalities when preventative actions are not taken, such as avoiding low-water bridges or roads that could be washed out. Many deaths occur when people are trapped in vehicles. When a storm occurs at night, the warning may not reach people who need to move out of or avoid low-lying areas. What to watch for:
  • increasing wind,
  • flashes of lightning,
  • sound of thunder, and
  • static on your AM radio.
What to do:
  • In an open field, find a low spot away from trees, fences, and poles. Make sure the place is not subject to flooding.
  • If you are in the woods, take shelter under shorter trees.
  • If you have no shelter, make yourself the smallest target by squatting low to the ground on the balls of your feet. Minimize contact with the ground, and place your hands on your knees with your head between them when your skin tingles or your hair stands on end.
  • If you are in a tractor or other vehicle during an electrical storm, stay put. Vehicles often provide better protection than lying exposed in open fields.
  • When a flash flood warning has been issued for your area, avoid low-lying areas, and do not drive over low-water bridges, small creeks, or roads that may be soft or partially washed out. It is better to spend the extra time to take other routes than to be caught in swiftly moving floodwaters.
THE U.S. WEATHER NOTIFICATION SYSTEM The National Weather Service issues daily forecasts and long-range weather outlooks, and decides when to issue severe weather watches. Private companies also issue forecasts that help farmers plan field work and monitor market prices. Severe weather watch: Indicates when conditions are favorable for the development of severe weather, such as tornadoes, thunderstorms, and blizzards. Severe weather warning: Indicates when a tornado, severe thunderstorm, or winter storm is in the immediate vicinity. People who are outdoors should take appropriate actions as soon as possible. HOW TO STAY ON TOP OF THINGS A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) radio provides more accurate and current weather information that is specific to your area. Some NOAA radios have a feature that automatically sounds a tone when a watch or warning is issued in your area.   Source:  

Last Modified:



By Year:

By Month: