Storms and the damage done: Staying safe when the weather rages

The times when electricity is crackling across the sky are also those when you’re most likely to lose power in your home. Is that irony? Perhaps. It’s definitely dangerous—and in some ways you might not expect.

We’re in the middle of a particularly stormy summer, and so we’d feel a lot better if we ran through some important points about staying safe when storms roll in. The first thing to know is that just because the storm is over doesn’t mean the danger is. Which brings us to our first point (and all the others, really).

  • Downed power lines require extreme caution. You aren’t safe just because the line isn’t sparking or arcing. It may still be energized, and anything in contact with the line may be energized, as well. So keep far away from a downed power line, and call 911 right away. Do not drive over a downed power line, but if your car comes into contact with one, stay in the car.
  • Keep an eye on the weather forecast so that you can plan to take cover if necessary. In a storm situation, you’re much better off with a roof over your head, or at least in a hard-topped car. Injuries arise when people get caught in a storm without access to shelter.
  • If you can’t get to your breaker box to shut off power or if you would be standing in water to get to the box, call your co-op or REMC to shut off power for you. It’s important to shut off the power before you go into a storm-damaged building or room to assess the damage.
  • Stay out of a basement or room if the water level reaches outlets or is covering an appliance or cord. Make sure, too, that you don’t touch anything electrical when you’re in standing water.
  • If an electrical appliance sustains water damage, it needs professional attention before it can be used again. Drenched or submerged motors need to be cleaned and reconditioned before use, and a host of other issues may need to be addressed before you can safely use the appliance. Err on the side of caution.
  • Be especially careful when using electric yard tools after a storm. Don’t use them if it’s still raining, if you’re wet, or if the ground is wet. Stay at least ten feet from standing water.
  • Prepare your home for water safety by having a professional install ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). GFCIs stop the flow of electricity whenever there’s a problem, like water damage, and so are especially important for outdoor outlets and those in bathrooms, kitchens, basements, and laundry rooms—or anywhere you’re likely to encounter water.

The United States sees about 100,000 thunderstorms every year, and they’re more deadly than hurricanes. A lot of that destruction could be avoided with a little forethought and some basic safety tips.

Incidentally, do you still have a tough time keeping a storm “watch” straight from a “warning”? It’s the warning that’s more serious. Watch means keep your eye out, but warning means storms are in progress.

Either way, it’s probably not the best time for that poolside barbecue.