Storm safety: What to do in a storm

cloudy storm

RACV

Posted October 29, 2021


Don’t get caught out in stormy weather this summer. Here’s how to stay safe in a storm.

Victorians should brace for severe weather in the coming months with atmospheric conditions ripe for thunderstorms, heavy rains and strong winds through spring and summer, known as peak ‘storm season’.

Victorian householders got a taste of what’s to come when storms lashed the state in June 2021, with RACV’s Emergency Home Assist experiencing a massive spike in call-outs for help.

Annually, up to 10 Australians die from lightning strikes, while falling trees and branches due to strong winds cause further deaths. RACV advises people to be “storm safe” and prepare for dangerous weather.  

“These weather events can be very localised, but extremely intense,” warns Kirsty Hayes RACV’s Head of Home Insurance. “The strong winds, hail and lightning that accompany these storms can cause enormous damage to property and even loss of life.”

Hayes says dangers include flash flooding, which can inundate homes, strand vehicles and pose extreme risks to families and urges Victorians to ensure that they have adequate Home Insurance coverage in place prior to heading off on holidays this summer

While summer storms are often short in duration, they can cause severe damage. 

Heavy rain can also cause significant damage during summer storms, says RACV’s Home Services trade training manager, Andy Anderson.

“We tend to find that in the warmer months there are downpours, such as 100 millimetres in a few hours, and then even a perfectly maintained home may not be able to cope,” he says.

Even a small crack in a roof tile can allow water to get inside the roof and into a home’s electrical system, shorting out power, he says.

He says gutters that have not been cleaned can overflow and drains can be blocked causing water to back up and leak into the house.

Driveways that slope toward a house can wash debris along with water in a heavy downpour causing flooding of courtyards and garages, he says.

He says homeowners should prepare for storms by having their gutters cleaned and roof checked in advance. People should heed storm warnings and secure garden furniture and other outdoor items, park cars under cover and shut all external doors and windows.

Image above: Rob Embury, palebluedotphotography.com.au

hail storm in front of a driveway

The strong winds and hail that accompany storms can cause enormous damage.


Storms and asthma risks

The National Asthma Council Australia chief executive Siobhan Brophy says people with asthma, hay fever and other respiratory problems can be at risk when strong winds, thunderstorms, bushfire smoke, dust storms and high pollen counts hit over summer.

Thunderstorm asthma happens when a storm hits on a hot, windy day with high pollen counts. The pollen grains soak up moisture and explode into smaller particles that are easily dispersed by windy conditions and inhaled deep into the lungs.

Other airborne dangers include dust storms that can irritate the lungs and bushfire smoke.

The Melbourne Pollen Count and Forecast has daily updates of pollen and thunderstorm asthma dangers. Run by the University of Melbourne’s school of biosciences, its website has maps based on Victorian regions indicating low to extreme forecasts, as well as a phone app for information on the run.

Associate Professor Ed Newbigin says Melbourne’s pollen season typically starts in October, peaks in November and trails off in December, ending in January when grass has died off and the pollen forecasts help people prepare for bad days.

“It’s all about prevention and preparing for the season such as reviewing asthma management plans and using preventative medication more than reliever medication,” he says.

He says the 21 November 2016 thunderstorm asthma event was the worst ever recorded anywhere in the world. It killed 10 people, affected thousands of others and put ambulance and health services under enormous strain.

Tips for staying storm safe this summer:

Before the storm

  • Put garden furniture and toys away.
  • Listen to local radio for storm warnings. 
  • Park vehicles under cover.
  • Secure all external doors and windows and draw curtains.
  • Charge all mobile communication devices such as phones, tablets and laptops.
  • Disconnect all non-essential electrical items.
  • Prepare an emergency kit with valuables, medication and warm clothing.
  • Bring your pets inside if possible.

During the storm

  • Stay inside and shelter away windows, doors and skylights.
  • If outdoors, seek a solid enclosed shelter (not a tree).
  • If driving, stop clear of trees, powerlines and streams.
  • Do not shower, wash dishes, or make any other contact with water.

After the Storm

  • Check windows, walls and roof for damage.
  • Call emergency services for assistance if required.
  • Check on and help your neighbours. 

Related reading