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Deadliest Aspects of Severe Weather

By Ryan Loverick
June 3, 2013; 2:03 PM ET

With severe weather season approaching, AccuWeather wants to ensure your inclination and knowledge so that you are better prepared for whatever Mother Nature may throw your way. Understanding severe weather is the first step to preparing for an extreme threat.

Photo by: Flickr user RaeAllen

A leading cause of weather-related deaths in the United States is flooding, according to floodsafety.com. Approximately 200 Americans die annually due to flash flooding. Although flooding is often the result of hurricanes and lengthy rainstorms, it can also occur any time the ground cannot handle the amount of moisture brought into a particular area. A broken levy or rapid winter warm up could also cause a flood, so make sure to have the essentials and an evacuation plan ready for when the water starts to rise. Heavy rains can create a flash flood in the blink of an eye when the ground is too hard to take on moisture. Texas is the most flood-plagued state in America due to its hard soil. Always keep a dry destination in mind to avoid being caught up in a fight with a flash flood.

Hurricanes, tornadoes, and other variations of high wind are Mother Nature's haymaker, claiming more than 13,000 lives per year. This high number is the product of the worldwide population not having practical shelter from wind. Many communities around the world lack an area to protect themselves from wicked winds. In the United States, an average of about 109 people die every year in the grasp of a tornado. To properly prepare for severe windstorms, finding an underground area will be the most important key to survival. If that is not possible, seek shelter in a sturdy building such as a home, office, or church. Laying flat close to a strong interior wall while covering the head and vital organs will offer the best protection from falling debris. When possible, never choose a room above ground level or around any glass or windows.

Photo by: Flickr user bunnygoth

Lighting is another fatal aspect of severe weather, totaling roughly 35 deaths per year, according to NOAA. Lightning can strike the ground up to ten miles away from where the storm cloud might be. Sometimes "bolts from the blue" occur when there are blue skies as far as the eye can see, but a bit of rogue electricity touches down. "It is most common for sparks, to occur lingering behind a thunderstorm, rather than in one or before," said Senior Meteorologist Bob Smerbeck. A safe shelter when conditions are favorable for lightning can be any structure that has a roof, walls, a floor, and has basic plumbing and wiring. The plumbing and wiring are to ensure safety over long periods of time, if necessary. Wiring is crucial in a storm shelter to allow for open lines of communication with the outside world. When lightning is in the area, however, always stay away from bathtubs, sinks, and electronic equipment when possible due to their ability to conduct electricity. Although lightning is attracted to metal, cars and other enclosed vehicles are a safe haven during a thunderstorm and should never be exited.

During extreme thunderstorms there are other dangerous weather phenomena that can strike in a moments notice. Downbursts occur when humidity from warm air gets pulled into the clouds. This moist air turns into a column of water that falls out of the center of the storm, sending a burst of wind in all directions. "Winds in a downburst can sometimes exceed 100 miles per hour, turning into a more severe downburst most commonly referred to as 'microbursts,' said Smerbeck.

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Squalls are another weather risk to always have in mind in the midst of severe weather. "Squalls are a skinny line of intense weather that is going to hit hard and be gone. They typically ride in cold fronts and can occur during a thunderstorm or a Great Lakes snowstorm."

Though hail only produces only one death per year on average, it is a type of severe weather not to get soft over. Hail can prove to be more than troublesome to aircraft, as it is one of the leading concerns for pilots during thunderstorms, and is one of the most expensive natural hazards, factoring insurance claims. A few seconds of hail a half an inch or bigger can translate to billions of dollars spent in repairing damages to roofs and cars.

Increase your safety by ensuring the availability of all basic necessities such as food, water, shelter, and the AccuWeather.com mobile app available on all of your favorite mobile devices.

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