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09 September 2011

2011/2012 Thunderstorm Season approaching South Africa

Image: Werner Vermaak, ER24 (Click on image for larger view.)

With the summer thunderstorm season approaching, the SAWDIS will once again offer valuable information in the next few weeks on what to expect this season.

This time of year, as the weather warms and many activities return outdoors, residents are urged to prepare for a new season: Thunderstorm season.

Threats posed by thunderstorms are substantial and the phrase "when lightning strikes" describes an occurrence more frequent than many may think.

According to SAWDIS statistics, an annual of 49 fatalities has been caused by lightning in South Africa in the 2010/2011 season while more than 70 were injured.

The SAWDIS are urging people not to underestimate the potential for harm posed by a common spring or summer thunderstorm. Thunderstorms produce a variety of conditions, causing considerable damage to people and property — including damaging winds, hail, heavy rainfall and lightning.

Lightning is something that people really need to be concerned about.

This is true even though lightning is not always visible during a storm. People assume incorrectly that if they don’t see it, it is not there.

All thunderstorms, by definition, produce lightning. If you hear thunder, get inside and away from windows and doors.

A roof over one’s head such as bus stops, open taxi ranks, park shelters may not suffice. You need walls around you.

The SA Weather and Disaster Information Service (SAWDIS) is taking active measures to educate citizens of South Africa who may find themselves tempted to assume lightning risk is minimal in many parts of the country.

The simple message is: It is not worth it so when thunder roars go indoors!!

Statistics show that most lightning deaths occur under or near trees, and in open fields and lands.

If you are caught outside, try to get to a building. If not, a vehicle with closed windows is fairly safe. Although taking refuge in a metal structure ("Faraday cage") seems counter intuitive,lightning should safely conduct around the outside of a vehicle with no openings.

Another factor to consider, in addition to location, is timing.

Sometimes people do all these right things, but make the mistake of going back outside too soon. Do not judge the end of a storm by when rain stops falling. It is recommended to wait 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder to go outside.

SAWDIS Terms used to describe thunderstorm threats

Severe Thunderstorm Watch: Severe thunderstorms are possible. Watch the sky and visit the SAWDIS Blog for more information. Be prepared to take shelter.

Severe Thunderstorm Warning: Severe thunderstorms will be approaching or are occurring.

Once again the SAWDIS would like to ask SAWDIS Weather and Disaster Observers and the Public to keep the SAWDIS informed of any severe weather approaching and building in their respected areas. Also provide the SAWDIS with images, photos and reports of storm damage.

In order to raise awareness about the importance of being prepared for severe weather, the SAWDIS teamed up with HAMNET, Stormchasing SA, Eumetsat and other organizations to observe Severe Weather in South Africa.

Being prepared is the key to staying safe this 2011/2012 Storm Season.