Be alert when the thunder rolls


Photo courtesy of OAR/ERL/National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL).

Iowa's annual severe weather awareness week (March 27-31) wraps up tomorrow, so it's a good time to brush up on what action to take during spring and summer's severe weather.

Visit the Environmental Health and Safety website for lists of the university's weather coordinators, evacuation maps and weather radio locations. The site also offers numerous tips, detailed below, to stay safe when severe weather threatens.

Helpful hints

  • Be aware of weather conditions at all times, especially if severe weather is predicted
  • Sign up for an email or severe weather text alert from local news organizations
  • Download a weather app for smartphones or mobile devices (many are free)
  • If you receive a severe weather alert, spread the word to your co-workers, especially those who work outside
  • Follow local weather services on social media, such as the National Weather Service Des Moines (Twitter, Facebook)


Of all natural disasters, floods occur most frequently and are the most costly. They also are the leading cause of death among natural disasters.

  • Head to higher ground if a flash flood warning is issued for your area
  • Don't drive or walk through floodwaters
  • If you work in a flood-prone area, be prepared to evacuate quickly


  • All thunderstorms produce lightning. Lightning is the second most common cause of natural disaster deaths.
  • If you hear thunder, lightning is close enough to harm you
  • If you hear thunder -- even in the distance -- move to a safe place. Fully enclosed buildings are best. Sheds, picnic tables, tents and covered porches do not protect from lightning. If no safe buildings are nearby, get in a car (with a hard metal top) and close the windows. Stay there for at least 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder.
  • If you are planning outdoor activities, know where to go for safety and how long it will take to get there
  • Consider postponing outdoor activities or moving them inside if thunderstorms are predicted
  • Don't use a corded phone while there's thunder and lightning, unless it's an emergency. Cordless and cell phones are OK.
  • Avoid touching metal, such as tools
  • Avoid using plumbing fixtures since pipes conduct electricity
  • Do not lie on concrete floors or lean against concrete walls


Tornadoes are one of nature's most violent storms, reaching wind speeds of up to 300 miles per hour.

  • If you hear a tornado siren while inside a building, go to a windowless interior room on the lowest level; bathrooms often are best. Avoid buildings with large, expansive roof structures, like the Armory. Many campus buildings have designated storm shelters.
  • If you are walking across campus and hear the tornado siren, get to the nearest building and follow the same procedures
  • If you are driving a car and debris begins flying around you, pull over and park. Your next two options are:
    • stay in the car, buckle your seatbelt and keep your head below the windows and cover it with your hands or a blanket
    • if you can safely get to a ditch or area lower than the road, exit the car, lie down and cover your head

Heat stress

Excessive heat exposure causes more deaths each year in the United States than hurricanes, lightning, tornados, floods and earthquakes combined. For yourself and your co-workers, know the signs of heat stress:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Heavy sweating
  • Fainting, collapsing
  • Blurred vision
  • Weakness, fatigue
  • Pale, clammy skin
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion, erratic behavior

To avoid heat stress, take frequent breaks in a cool, shaded area and drink water. If symptoms appear serious, seek medical help.

Become a storm spotter

The National Weather Service will present severe storm spotter training at Iowa State on April 4 (1:30-3:30 p.m., Memorial Union, Gallery Room). Training is open to all faculty and staff, but encouraged for employees in departments with outside workers. Participants will learn about severe weather climatology, severe thunderstorm types, severe weather threats and how to identify them, how to report severe weather, spotter safety and severe weather communications. Register at Learn@ISU. Contact Environmental Health and Safety for more information.