Severe Weather

Thunderstorms & Tornadoes


A tornado is a violently rotating column of air in contact with the ground. When the column of air is aloft and does not produce damage, the visible portion is called a funnel cloud. Tornadoes can occur anytime, but are most prevalent during the hours of 3:00 - 7:00 p.m. Tornadoes occur most frequently during the months of April, May, June, and July. Tornadoes develop from severe thunderstorms and typically approach from the west at speeds from 35 to 70 miles per hour. The average tornado is on the ground for less than 10 minutes and travels a distance of about 5 miles. Rotary wind speeds may reach 100 to 300 miles per hour. Tornadoes do their destructive work through the combined action of their strong rotary winds and the impact of wind-caused debris.

A TORNADO WATCH is issued by the National Weather Service when weather conditions are favorable for the development of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. Be alert for signs of threatening weather when a Tornado Watch is issued. Look for special weather statements and possible warnings.

A TORNADO WARNING is issued by the National Weather Service when a tornado has been sighted by trained spotters or is strongly indicated by radar. When a tornado threatens the Midland area the outdoor warning sirens are activated. Listen closely to warning information. If a tornado is nearby take protective action immediately. 


• Stay away from windows, doors and outside walls.
• Protect your head.
• In homes and small buildings go to the basement or an interior part of the lowest level if an      underground shelter is not available.
• Closets, bathrooms, and interior halls may offer the best protection if you don't have a basement.
• Get under something heavy and sturdy if you can.
• In schools, nursing homes, factories, and shopping centers go to pre-designated shelter areas.
• In multi-story buildings go to interior small rooms or hallways on as low a floor as possible.
• In mobile homes or vehicles, leave and take shelter in a substantial structure. If there is no nearby  shelter, lie flat in the nearest ditch or ravine with your hands shielding your head.


There are at least 100,000 thunderstorms annually across the United States. On average there are 100 people killed and 250 injured by lightning each year in the United States. Property loss from lightning is estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars each year.


Many lightning deaths and injuries could be prevented if people had proper respect for lightning. Michigan ranks 11th nationwide in deaths from lightning, and second in injuries. Most injuries and deaths occur in the months of June, July, and August.

Large outdoor gatherings are particularly vulnerable to lightning strikes which may result in many lightning related injuries and deaths. For example in August 1975, 90 people were injured by a lightning strike at a campground near Leslie, Michigan (Ingham County).


Check the latest weather forecast and keep an eye on the sky. At signs of an impending storm head for shelter and tune in radio or television for weather information or check your smart phone weather app if you have one.

When a thunderstorm threatens, stay indoors. Stay clear of open doors, windows, fireplaces, radiators, metal pipes, stoves, sinks, and electrical appliances. Personal appliances such as electric hair dryers and razors should not be used until the storm is over. Delay land line telephone use.

If you are caught outside, do not stand underneath a tall isolated tree or a utility pole. Avoid projecting above the surrounding landscape. In a wooded area, seek shelter in a low area under a thick growth of small trees. In open areas go to a low place such as a ravine or valley.

Do not swim or stay in a boat during a thunderstorm. Get off bicycles, motorcycles, or golf carts.

Golfers should put down their clubs and take off golf shoes. Stay away from wire fences, metal pipes and rails. If you are in a group in the open, spread out, keeping people several yards apart.

Open agricultural field work should be stopped and shelter should be sought. Tractors in open fields are often struck by lightning. Strikes of up to 7 miles ahead of a storm have been documented. Precautions should be taken even though the thunderstorm is not directly overhead.

If you are caught in the open and you feel your hair stand on end, lightning may be about to strike you. Crouch down with your feet together, similar to a baseball pitchers' stance. Place your hands over your ears to minimize hearing damage from thunder. Do not lie flat on the ground.


Persons struck by lightning receive a severe electrical shock and may be burned, but they carry no electrical charge and can be handled safely. Someone who appears to have been killed by lightning can often be revived by prompt action. An American Red Cross first aid course provides excellent instruction on how to render aid to a person who has been struck by lightning.


Thunderstorms are generated by temperature imbalances in the atmosphere. These storms are characterized by strong winds, heavy precipitation (rain or hail), lightning, and of course thunder. A severe thunderstorm is classified by the National Weather Service as a storm that has winds of 58 miles per hour or more or has hailstones of 3/4 inch in diameter.


A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WATCH is issued when weather conditions are favorable for the development of severe thunderstorms. Watches are usually issued for large areas of the lower Michigan and typically last for 2 to 6 hours. The watch period gives you time to prepare for a possible storm. When Midland County is within a severe thunderstorm area you should place objects like trash cans and bicycles indoors. Make sure the entire family is informed of the watch. Keep an eye out for changing weather conditions and listen for updated weather statements and warnings.

A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING is issued by the National Weather Service whenever a severe thunderstorm has been sighted or is strongly indicated by radar. Warnings are usually 30 to 60 minutes long. Act immediately when you first hear the warning. If severe weather is reported near you, seek shelter immediately. If not, keep a constant lookout for severe weather and stay near shelter.

NWS Severe Weather Summary

Lightning Safety

Weather Radio