Insurance Institute of Michigan
January 17, 2019

Severe Weather Safety

The Michigan Committee for Severe Weather Awareness
Tornado facts
Tornado / thunderstorm safety
Flood facts
Flood safety
Winter hazards safety tips
Severe weather poster contest for 4th & 5th graders

Click here to view a listing of tornadoes by Michigan county.

Michigan Committee for Severe Weather Awareness

The Michigan Committee for Severe Weather Awareness was formed in 1991 to coordinate tornado, flood and winter weather safety information.  Members of the Committee are IIM, National Weather Service, Emergency Management Division of Michigan State Police, WDIV-TV, Michigan Earth Science Teachers Association, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, National Weather Service, State Farm Insurance and American Red Cross.  The Committee sponsors Winter Hazards Awareness Week in November and Severe Weather Awareness Week each March.

Tornado facts

  1. What is a tornado?
    It is a column of violently rotating winds extending down from a thunderstorm cloud and touching the surface of the earth.
  2. What is the difference between a tornado and a funnel cloud?
    A funnel cloud is also a column of violently rotating winds extending down from a thunderstorm; however, it does not touch the earth.
  3. How many tornadoes usually occur in Michigan every year?
    An average of 16 tornadoes occur in Michigan each year.  Since 1950, 242 persons have been killed due to tornadoes.  During this same time, Michigan has experienced 869 tornadoes.
  4. When do tornadoes generally occur?
    Most tornadoes occur during the months of June, July and August in the late afternoon and evening hours.  However, tornadoes can occur anytime of the day or night in almost any month during the year.
  5. How fast do tornadoes travel?
    Tornadoes generally travel from the southwest and at an average speed of 30 miles per hour.  However, some tornadoes have very erratic paths, with speeds approaching 70 mph.
  6. How far do tornadoes travel once they touch the ground?
    The average Michigan tornado is on the ground for less than 10 minutes and travels a distance of about five miles.  However, they do not always follow the norm, and have been known to stay on the ground for more than an hour and travel more than 100 miles.
  7. What is a tornado watch?
    A tornado/severe thunderstorm watch is issued whenever conditions exist for severe weather to develop.  Watches are usually for large areas about two-thirds the size of lower Michigan and are usually two-to-six hours long.  Watches give you time to plan and prepare.
  8. What is a tornado warning?
    A tornado/severe weather warning is issued by the local Weather Service Office whenever NWS Doppler Radar indicates a thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado or when a tornado has been sighted by a credible source.  You must act immediately when you first hear the warning.  If the severe weather is reported near you, seek shelter immediately.  If not, keep a constant lookout for severe weather and stay near a shelter.
  9. How do I find out about a warning if my electricity is already out?
    NOAA All Hazard Weather Radio with battery back-up capability is your best source to receive the warning.  In some areas, civil emergency sirens may be yur first official warning.  In addition, if your television or radio has battery back-up, you may receive NOAA’s National Weather Service warnings from local media.

Tornado / Thunderstorm safety

  • Preparing for a tornado:

    • Have emergency supplies on hand, including a battery-operated radio, a flashlight and a supply of fresh batteries.
    • Know the location of designated shelter areas in public facilities, such as schools, shopping centers and other public buildings.
    • Make an inventory of household furnishings and other possessions.  Supplement it with photographs of each room.  Keep in a safe place.
    • Plan ahead.  Be sure everyone in your household knows where to go and what to do in case of a tornado warning.
  • What to do when thunderstorms approach:

    • Move to a sturdy building or car.  Do not take shelter in small sheds, under isolated trees, or in convertible cars.  If no sturdy shelter is near, get inside a hard top car and keep windows rolled up.
    • If too far from shelter, find a low spot away from trees, fences and poles, but not in a place subject to flooding.  If you are boating or swimming, get to land and shelter immediately.
    • If you feel your skin tingle or hair stand on end, squat low to the ground on the balls of your feet.  Place your hands on your knees with your head between them.  Minimize contact with the ground.
    • Telephone lines and metal pipes can conduct electricity.  Unplug appliances not necessary for receiving weather information.  Use telephones only in an emergency.
  • What to do When a tornado threatens:

    • Stay away from windows, doors and outside walls.  Protect your head.
    • In homes and small buildings, go to the basement or to an interior part on the lowest level.  Get under something sturdy.
    • In schools, hospitals and public places, move to designated shelter areas. Interior hallways on the lowest floors are best.
    • Leave mobile homes and vehicles, and go to the nearest shelter.  If there is not shelter nearby, lie in the nearest ditch and shield your head with your arms.
  • After a tornado:

    • Inspect your property, including motor vehicles for damage.  Check for electrical problems and gas leaks and report it to the utility company at once.  If you have damage, contact your insurance agent.
    • Watch out for fallen power lines.  Stay out of damaged buildings until you are sure they are safe and will not collapse.  Secure your property from further damage or theft.
    • Use only approved or chlorinated supplies of drinking water.  Check food supplies.

Flood facts

  1. What is a flood and when do most occur?
    The inundation of a normally dry area caused by an increased water level in an established watercourse, such as a river, stream, or drainage ditch, or ponding of water at or near the point where the rain fell.  Flooding can occur anytime during the year. However, many occur seasonally after winter snow melts or heavy spring rains.
  2. What are flash floods?
    Flash floods occur suddenly and result from heavy localized rainfall.  Flash floods can begin before the rain stops.  Water levels on small streams may rise quickly in heavy rain storms, especially near the head waters or river basins.  Heavy rains can also cause flash flooding in areas where the floodplain has been urbanized.
  3. What are other causes of flooding in Michigan?
    Ice jams and dam failures can also cause both flooding and flash flooding.
  4. Are people killed as a result of floods?
    Many people are killed by flash floods when driving or walking on roads and bridges that are covered by water.  Even though the water might only look inches deep, it could be much deeper and the current might be strong.  It only takes two feet of water to carry away many of today’s automobiles.  If you are in a car and water starts rising, get out and move to higher ground.
  5. What is a flood watch?
    Flood watch means that heavy rains occurring or expecting to occur may soon cause flooding in certain areas.  It is issued to inform the public and cooperating agencies that current and developing weather conditions are such that there is threat of flooding, but the occurrence is neither certain or imminent.
  6. What is a flash flood or flood warning?
    A flash flood or flood warning indicates that flash flooding or flooding is already occurring or imminent within the designated WARNING area — take necessary precautions at once.  When a flash flood or flood warning is issued for your area, act quickly.  Get out of areas subject to flooding and avoid areas where flooding has already occurred.

Flood safety

  • Preparing for a flood:

    • Make an itemized list of personal property well in advance of a flood occurring.  Photograph the interior and exterior of your home.  Store the list, photos and documents in a safe place.
    • Memorize the safest and fastest route to high ground.  Keep a battery-operated radio on hand, along with emergency cooking equipment and a flashlight.
    • If you live in a frequently flooded area, keep sandbags, plastic sheets and lumber on hand to protect property.
    • Know the elevation of your property in relation to nearby streams and other waterways, and plan what you will do and where you will go in a flood emergency.
  • When a flood threatens:

    • If forced to leave your property and time permits, move essential items to safe ground, fill tanks to keep them from floating away and grease immovable machinery.
    • Store a supply of drinking water in clean bathtubs and in large containers.
  • During a flood:

    • Avoid areas subject to sudden flooding.
    • Do not attempt to cross a flowing stream where water is above your knees.
    • Do not attempt to drive over a flooded road.
    • Keep children from playing in floodwaters or near culverts and storm drains.
  • After a flood:

    • Seek necessary medical care at the nearest hospital.  Food, clothing, shelter and first aid are available at Red Cross shelters.
    • Use flashlights, not lanterns or torches, to examine buildings.  Flammables may be inside.
    • Do not handle live electrical equipment in wet areas.  Electrical equipment should be checked and dried before being returned to service.
    • Do not use fresh food that has come in contact with floodwaters.

Winter hazards safety tips

  • At home:

    • Keep handy a battery-powered flashlight, radio, extra food (canned or dried food is best) and bottled water.
    • Make sure there are extra blankets and heavy clothes available.
    • Be aware of potential fire and carbon monoxide hazards if you plan to use an emergency heating source such as a fireplace, wood stove or space heater.
  • In a vehicle:

    • Have the following emergency supplies in your auto: shovel, blankets, windshield scraper, container of sand, battery booster cables, tow chain or rope, flashlight, battery-operated radio, first-aid kit and high energy snacks (i.e. nuts, raisins).
  • Outside:

    • Avoid overexertion, such as shoveling heavy snow, pushing a car, or walking in deep snow.  Sweating could lead to chill and hypothermia.
    • Wear loose-fitting, light-weight, warm clothing in layers.  Wear wool hat and mittens.
    • Keep your clothes dry.  Change wet socks and clothing quickly to prevent loss of body heat.

During a Winter Storm:

  • At home:

    • To save heat, close off unneeded rooms, cover windows at night and stuff towels or rags in cracks under doors.
    • Maintain adequate food and water intake.  Food provides the body with energy for producing its own heat.
  • In a vehicle:

    • Attach a cloth to your antenna to attract attention and then remain in the vehicle.
    • Run the motor about 10 minutes each hour for heat.  However, open the window slightly for fresh air and make sure that the exhaust pipe isn’t blocked.
    • Get attention by turning on the dome light and emergency flashers when running the engine.
    • Exercise by moving arms, legs, fingers and toes to keep blood circulating and to keep warm.
  • Outside:

    • Try to stay dry and cover all exposed parts of the body.
    • Prepare a wind-break or snow cave for protection from the wind.  Build a fire for heat and to attract attention.
    • Do not eat snow. It will lower your body temperature. Melt it first.

Severe weather poster contest for 4th & 5th graders

The contest for 4th and 5th grade school students is sponsored by the Michigan Committee for Severe Weather Awareness.  Artwork must illustrate what individuals and families should do to prepare for Michigan severe weather, such as snowstorms, severe cold, tornadoes, thunderstorms, lightning or floods.

Prizes are awarded for first, second, third and honorable mention.  The deadline to enter is February 1, 2010.
Download the poster flyer

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