Have a plan. What you and your family should do during severe weather.

Published: Apr. 23, 2020 at 4:55 PM EDT
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This spring has brought more hazards than we all expected, but one thing has remained the same—the threat of severe weather.

Even in the mountains of southwest Virginia, we are threatened by many forms of severe weather, including severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, and flooding.

It is important that we all have a plan when it comes to severe weather. COVID-19 has forced many of us to work from home, and with schools out, the kids are home too. This may actually prove to be a perfect time for your family to develop a severe weather plan and also give your children the opportunity to take a role in developing it.

“Having a severe weather plan is vital because during a stressful situation like a life-threatening event, it is difficult to clearly think about where to take shelter,” says Phil Hysell, Warning Coordination Meteorologist at National Weather Service Blacksburg. “Having a plan and practicing this plan routinely make this instinctive and saves valuable time.”

Before you even make a plan, it’s important that you have a way to receive watches and warnings when they come in. Downloading our WDBJ7 Weather app is a great start to ensure you are getting notified. One huge misconception is outdoor sirens will alert you. Our area has very few of them. Plus, sirens are only meant to alert you if you are outdoors.

Another great alerting tool is a NOAA Weather Radio that can notify you of all watches, warnings, and even provide forecasts 7 days a week.

Below is a list of the different types of severe weather and what you should do in each situation.


Severe thunderstorms can happen any time of year in Virginia. These storms can produce lightning, damaging winds, heavy rain and large hail. In rare cases, even a tornado.



is issued when conditions are favorable for severe weather. While storms may not have formed yet, be on the lookout for warnings.



is issued when a strong storm is occurring which is capable of producing severe conditions. Seek shelter and follow instructions listed below.


When thunder roars, go indoors!

• If outside, seek shelter in a nearby building or car.

• If on the water, get out immediately and onto land ASAP.

• If in an open area with no nearby shelter, seek a valley or lowest

ground possible.

• Be on alert for new warnings and updates.

• Unplug appliances if you can.

• Do not use landline phone and do not take a shower or bath.

• Do not touch metallic objects such as poles or fences.


Tornadoes are violent, rapidly rotating columns of air found in some severe storms that can cause devastating damage. They can form at any terrain, even in mountains.



means that conditions are ideal for the formation of one or more tornadoes. Keep an eye out for any warnings.



means a storm has developed that may be capable of producing a tornado. Whether a tornado is confirmed or not, seek shelter immediately. Tornadoes can develop quickly. Every second counts.


• Safely get to a sturdy building as soon as you can.

• Go to a safe room, basement, or storm cellar.

• If you are in a building with no basement, go to the most interior room on the lowest level.

• Stay away from windows, doors, and outside walls.

• If out on the roads, do not get under an overpass or bridge. You are safer in a flat location.

• Watch out for deadly flying debris.

• Protect your head with your arms. Place a mattress above you if possible.

• If you live in a mobile home, it is important that you identify a safe shelter beforehand. This should be a place you can get to quickly whether it is a nearby neighbor or community building.


In our region, flooding remains one of the most common hazards during every season. Flash flooding can occur with little to no warning. Heavy rain can cause creeks and streams to flow outside of their banks. Failing to evacuate flooded areas, walking through rushing water, and driving across flooded roads can cause injuries and even death.



means that heavy rains could lead to flash flooding in certain areas.



means flash flooding is already occurring or is imminent for certain streams or in specific areas.

• Do not walk, swim, or drive through flood waters.

Turn Around, Don’t Drown!

Just six inches of moving water can knock you down, and one foot of moving water can sweep your vehicle away.

• Stay off of bridges over fast-moving water.

• Determine how best to protect yourself based on the type of flooding.

o Evacuate if told to do so.

o Move to higher ground or a higher floor.

o Stay where you are.

• Be careful at night as it can be harder to recognize danger.

• Abandon your car if water begins to rise over the road.

It’s important to know the flood risk in your area. Whether you live along a mountain-side prone to a landslide or in low-lying areas, be familiar with your surroundings.


After an emergency, you may need to survive on your own for several days. Being prepared means having your own food, water, and other necessary supplies to last for at least a few days. Make sure your emergency kit is stocked with items on the below checklist.


• Water (one gallon per person per day for at least three days)

• Food (at least a three day supply of non-perishables)

• Battery powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio

• Flashlight

• First aid kit

• Extra batteries

• Whistle (to signal for help)

• Dust mask (to filter contaminated air)

• Tape

• Garbage bags and plastic ties

• Wrench or pliers (to turn off utilities)

• Manual can opener

• Local maps

• Three-day supply of medication (if necessary)

• Baby food, diapers, etc. (if necessary)

• Fire extinguisher

• Hygiene products

• Change of clothes.

• Blanket

• Money

Since you do not know where you will be when an emergency occurs, prepare supplies for home, work, and cars.


: Keep this kit in a designated place and have it ready in case you have to leave your home quickly. Make sure all family members know where to find it.


: Be prepared to shelter at work for at least 24 hours. Your work kit should include food, water and other necessities.


: In case you are stranded, keep a kit of emergency supplies in your car.

Now is the time to prepare and practice in case of an emergency. Conduct a family drill so everyone knows what to do and where to go.

Having a plan can save you and your family’s life. Every second matters when it comes to how you react when severe weather strikes.

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