Severe Weather Awareness
NWS Gaylord

A few simple safety rules can keep you and your family safe during the summer months.  Now is a good time to remind you about the dangers of severe weather, including thunderstorms, flash flooding, and tornadoes.  It is important you know what to do when severe weather strikes.  

A variety of topics are covered below including:
  • NWS Severe Weather Products
  • Severe Thunderstorms
  • Flash Flooding
  • Tornadoes
  • Lightning
  • NOAA Weather Radio

Contact Jim Keysor, Warning Coordination Meteorologist, for additional information.

To see the National Severe Weather awareness page, Click here.

NWS Severe Weather Products

It is important that you learn and understand the definitions of different severe weather related
headlines. Here are the main products used by the NWS to keep people informed.

Hazardous Weather Outlook (HWO)

    The Hazardous Weather Outlook includes any potential weather hazard out to seven (7) days. It is used for planning purposes and will include a short description of what the weather threat is, when it is expected, and whether storm spotter activation will be needed. The HWO is issued daily around 6:00 AM, and updated during the day as needed.

Severe Thunderstorm Watch

    A Severe Thunderstorm Watch is issued by the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) when there is a potential for severe thunderstorms to form or move into the area. A severe thunderstorm consists of wind gusts of 58 mph or higher, or 1" diameter size hail or larger. Severe Thunderstorms occasionally do produce tornadoes with little advance warning. A Watch is typically in effect for about 6 hours and covers a region of a state.

Flash Flood Watch

    A Flash Flood Watch is issued when the potential for flash flooding exists. Usually these are issued when abundant, heavy rainfall is expected from thunderstorms, especially if the ground is already near saturation. Flash Flood Watches are sometimes issued if there is a possibility of a dam failure as well.

Tornado Watch

    A Tornado Watch is issued by the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) when there is potential for severe thunderstorms that can produce tornadoes. Thunderstorms may be more severe and the atmosphere is favorable for rotation within thunderstorms and tornado development. A Watch is typically in effect for about 6 hours and covers a region of a state.

Severe Thunderstorm Warning (SVR)

    A Severe Thunderstorm Warning is issued when a thunderstorm is or is expected to produce wind gusts of 58 mph or higher, or 1" diameter size hail or larger. In this case, either severe weather has been reported or the thunderstorm looks severe based on Doppler Radar. The warning is typically in effect for 30 to 60 minutes and usually covers a county.

Flash Flood Warning (FFW)

    A Flash Flood Warning is issued when a rapid rise in small creeks and streams is expected. Flash Flooding or mudslides are expected or occuring. The warning is typically in effect for 2 to 3 hours and covers a county.

Tornado Warning (TOR)

    A Tornado Warning is issued when a severe thunderstorm is or is expected to produce a tornado. In this case, either a tornado has been spotted or rotation is being detected within the thunderstorm on Doppler Radar. The warning is typically in effect for 30 to 60 minutes and usually covers a county.

Severe Thunderstorms

A thunderstorm is defined as severe if it produces damaging wind gusts (58 mph or higher), large hail (1" or larger), a tornado, or a combination of these elements. Of course thunderstorms also produce deadly lightning and heavy rains. Most thunderstorms do not become severe, but for the smaller percentage that do - Severe Thunderstorm Warnings are issued.

Severe thunderstorms can occur at any time of the year, day or night. The peak season for thunderstorms is from May through September, and during the afternoon or evening hours.

The most common type of severe weather is damaging thunderstorm wind, also known as "straight line wind". Strong thunderstorm wind gusts can reach hurricane force and in extreme cases - 100+ mph. Wind damage can be extensive and affect entire counties instead of narrow tracks like tornadoes. Objects like branches, trees, barns, outbuildings, high-profile vehicles, and power lines/poles can be toppled or destroyed, but as wind gusts increase you can have damage to roofs, windows, or homes.

Large hail is also common and can produce tremendous property damage. Usually large hail does not become life threatening unless people are stuck outdoors without shelter. Hail is considered severe when it reaches the size of a penny or larger.

Have a good source of weather information. When a severe thunderstorm moves into your area, or a warning is issued for your county, take action to protect yourself and property:

  • Move to a sturdy building.
  • Stay away from windows.
  • If boating or fishing, move to shore.

Flash Floods

Flash flooding, one of the leading thunderstorm killers, is a rapid rise in small creeks or streams, usually from excessive thunderstorm rains. Flash flooding can also occur with ice jams on rivers or if a dam fails. A mudslide can also indicate flash flooding and can be just as dangerous.

Most people don't respect or understand the force of flowing water. Many automobiles become bouyant in as little as 2 feet of water, and you can lose control of your vehicle in as little as 6 inches. Even pickup trucks or SUVs may begin to float in relatively shallow water given the size of the tire. Most flash flood related deaths occur from people driving into high water. This is especially dangerous at night when people may not see the flooding and simply drive into it.

When flash flooding is observed, or a warning is issued for your county, take action to protect yourself and property:

  • Move to high ground. Avoid flash flood prone areas.
  • Never drive into flood waters.
  • Obey all road closure or high water signs - find an alternative route if needed.
  • Be especially cautious at night when it is more difficult to spot flash flooding.


A tornado is a violently rotating column of air in contact with the ground. The peak tornado months are  June and July in Northern Michigan, but tornadoes can occur during other times of the year if conditions are right.  Peak tornado time is 3:00 to 9:00 PM, but they can occur day or night, and may be hard to spot or wrapped in rain at times. Tornadoes are not always visible and can form with little advance warning.

Have a good source of weather information. Consider NOAA Weather Radio. If a tornado or funnel cloud is spotted, or a warning is issued for your county, take action to protect yourself.

At home...

  • Move to a sturdy building. Shelters are more safe than mobile homes.
  • Stay away from windows. Do not try to open or close windows.
  • Stay away from outside doors and garages.
  • Move to a basement and get under something sturdy.
  • If you have no basement, move to the lowest level and get in an interior room, like a bathroom or closet.
  • Put as many walls between you and the storm as possible.
  • Developing a safety plan at home

At work...

  • Move to a basement or interior hallway on the lowest level.
  • Leave large span rooms.

At school...

  • Leave classrooms that have windows or that are on the exterior of the building.
  • Leave large span rooms, like gymnasium or auditoriums.
  • Seek shelter in interior rooms and get under desks or sturdy objects.
  • Be careful in hallways that may act as wind tunnels and funnel debris.
  • Move students off buses and back into the school.
  • Do not let students board buses during a Tornado Warning.
  • Tornado preparedness in schools

When traveling...

  • Do not try and outrun a tornado.
  • If the tornado is some distance away, drive away from it.
  • If the tornado is relatively close, leave your vehicle for a sturdy building.
  • If no shelter is available, seek refuge in a ditch or culvert. Crouch down and protect your head.

If outdoors...

  • Find a shelter if possible.
  • If boating or fishing, move to shore.
  • If no shelter is available, seek refuge in a low spot. Crouch down and protect your head.


Lightning is the top weather killer in Michigan. Like flash flooding, people do not respect lightning and will often dangerously continue outdoor activities as thunderstorms approach. Lightning is common to all thunderstorms so the threat is always there, with or without a severe weather warning. It only takes one lightning strike to kill or injure. Do not take chances!

You do not have to be directly under the storm, or where the heaviest rain is falling to get struck. Lightning strikes can occur many miles away from the parent thunderstorm. If you are near a storm or hear thunder, you are potentially close enough to get struck.

For additional Lightning Safety guidelines, click here.

With lightning in the area:

  • Move indoors or to a shelter. A vehicle is more safe than standing outdoors.
  • Avoid standing in an open or high area.
  • Avoid standing near tall objects, or objects that may attract lightning.
  • Avoid standing near objects, like chain link fences or grandstands, that may be struck and carry a charge quite a distance.

NOAA Weather Radio

Staying informed of hazardous and life threatening weather is key to severe weather survival. NOAA Weather Radio is an excellent source of weather information directly from the National Weather Service.

Every school should have and monitor a NOAA Weather Radio!

NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts 24 hours a day - 7 days a week. At the touch of a button you can hear the:

  • Regional weather summary
  • Current weather conditions, including hourly wind chill values
  • The 7-day forecast
  • Radar summaries and short term forecasts
  • Any watches, warnings, or advisories in effect
  • Hazardous Weather Outlooks (top and bottom of the hour)
  • Other pertinent weather information as needed

To visit our main NOAA Weather Radio page, click here. is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.