7 steps to prepare for and recover from thunderstorms

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Susan Meyer

Senior Editorial Manager

  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Susan is a licensed insurance agent and has worked as a writer and editor for over 10 years across a number of industries. She has worked at The Zebr…

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Ross Martin

Insurance Writer

  • 4+ years in the Insurance Industry

Ross joined The Zebra as a writer and researcher in 2019. He specializes in writing insurance content to help shoppers make informed decisions.

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Did you know that lightning strikes more than eight million times a day worldwide ? Or that a single lightning bolt is five times hotter than the sun’s surface?[1]

While there may be a lot of “fun facts” about lightning, what’s not fun is getting stuck in a thunderstorm. In fact, it can be outright dangerous if you don’t take the right precautions. 

That’s why we’re here with seven steps to take to prepare for a thunderstorm so you keep yourself, your family and your assets safe. 

1. Watch the weather

Thunderstorms are most likely to occur in the spring and summer months, but can happen year-round, so it’s important to always know your area’s risk. You can do so by staying up-to-date on local weather forecasts and signing up for your community’s warning system.[2] You can also opt-in to receive notifications from weather apps or the National Weather Service when a storm is in the forecast

Thunderstorms can bring with them other severe weather dangers like tornadoes, wildfires (from lightning strikes) and flash flooding due to heavy rain, so it’s important to keep abreast of all updates.

Watch or warning?

A “Severe Thunderstorm Watch” means that thunderstorms are possible in and around the watch area. A “Severe Thunderstorm Warning” means that severe weather has been reported nearby, and there’s imminent danger to life and property.

2. Make a shelter plan

Think ahead about where you’d seek shelter during a thunderstorm, especially if you aren’t home when one occurs. Identify sturdy buildings in your neighborhood or near your workplace that you could easily get to at the start of a storm. Take time before a storm hits to develop a family emergency plan.

Assuming you will be home during a severe storm warning, choose a safe place for you, your family, and your pets to gather inside. Prepare a family communication plan to reach all family members. Remember to stay away from windows, skylights and glass doors that could break and cause harm during strong winds. Make sure your carbon monoxide detector is up to date. Carbon monoxide poisoning is common when people use generators after a power outage in too enclosed a space.[3]

3. Trim your trees

After you’ve found the best places in your home to take shelter, you need to make sure that shelter is safe. Head outdoors to investigate whether any trees need to be trimmed to avoid having them fall on your home. 

Obviously, any large branches overhanging your home should be looked at and potentially trimmed back. But you should also maintain your trees with structural pruning to prevent smaller branches from falling and knocking through windows in the event of high winds. This means reducing the length of thinning and weak branches that are too long, which will improve overall tree architecture and minimize damage from storms. Make sure to remove any dead branches you see as well. If you suspect a tree is sick or dying, consult with an arborist to see what can be done. 

4. Secure outdoor objects

In addition to trimming trees, there are some other important steps to take to prepare your home if you have advance warning a storm is coming. Secure outdoor objects like chairs and grills. Put smaller objects that could become projectiles away in sheds or garages. Pay attention to any metal objects that could become a lightning rod.

5. Make an emergency kit

Next, look around the house for any and all supplies that would be helpful during a thunderstorm, such as:

  • Surge protectors in the event of power surges

  • flashlights and lanterns

  • Battery-powered radio

  • Bottled water and canned goods (in case you lose power for a period of time)

  • First aid kit

Consider investing in a lightning protection system to guard your home, appliances and electronic equipment from damage.

5. Review your insurance coverage

According to the Insurance Information Institute, about $952 million in lightning claims were paid out in 2022 to over 62,000 policyholders.[4] This underlines the importance of understanding your insurance options and choosing the right coverage in case of any damage to your assets. 

The good news is lightning is considered a covered loss within standard property insurance policies, so if you have adequate homeowners insurance coverage, you should be in good shape. Make sure your home is appropriately valued – if it’s not, you may not get your property fully rebuilt. 

Not a homeowner? Having renters insurance coverage will protect your personal property (not your dwelling itself) against fire and lightning damage. 

When it comes to auto insurance, you need comprehensive coverage in order to be covered in a lightning strike situation. This insurance pays for any damages not related to collisions, minus your deductible. 

Just don’t wait until after damage has occurred to get insured; you need to have your policy in place prior to an incident in order to be covered. 

6. Take cover during the storm

When a Severe Thunderstorm Warning goes into effect, that’s your cue to take shelter. Find the safest location within your home or other sturdy building, making sure those who need extra assistance (including your pets) make their way to the designated spot. 

If you’re outdoors when a storm starts, head inside as soon as possible. As an alternative, you can get inside your car; while it’s not as safe as being indoors, it’s better than staying outside. It’s the metal (not the wheels as is often thought) that will give you some protection, because the metal shell disperses the lightning around you and to the ground.

If you aren’t near your car and are in an open area, your next best bet is to stay low to the ground, so you’re not the tallest object in the storm’s path. Avoid being near anything metal. If you’re in or near water, get out or move away, since water is a conductor of electricity.

7. Assess the damage

When the thunder stops booming and the last flash of lightning strikes, you may think you’re out of harm’s way. However, continue listening to local news or NOAA Weather Radio to make sure another storm isn’t headed in your direction.[5] 

Once you’re in the clear, take a minute and send messages to your family and friends letting them know you’re OK and making sure they aren’t in need of any help. Texts and social media are often the best forms of communication after a storm because phones aren’t always as reliable.

When assessing damage in and around your home, do so with caution. Wear protective clothing, and stay away from damaged buildings or downed power lines. Take pictures of any damage to your house or vehicle for use as documentation when submitting an insurance claim. And don’t wait long to do so – insurance companies usually limit the time you have for making a claim, so you don’t want to miss your window.  

Now that you have the facts for emergency preparedness, you’ll be ready to ride out the next storm until the sun shines again.