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George Little: Be prepared for thunderstorms

May 24, 2013 at 09:00 AM

The State Journal-Register

We’ve had more than our share of rain this spring.

The crik has flooded several times. Mushroomers and turkey hunters could not get across the streams to reach their favorite spots. Spring planting got backed up. In places, lakes were too deep for optimum crappie fishing. Weekend outings turned into gray afternoons of renting movies, or shopping for better rain gear just to shake off the cabin fever and get outside.

With all the rain, we didn’t have many thunderstorms with flashing lightning and booming thunder. Those of us who love a good thunderstorm (and a safe observation point) were deprived of nature’s fireworks.

There’s still time. Statistically speaking, much of Illinois thunderstorm activity comes in June. Almost always, one or two of those storms reach the severe category.

By definition, a severe thunderstorm has wind gusts of 57.5 mph or higher and hailstones that are more than three quarters of an inch in diameter. Obviously, a thunderstorm that produces a tornado is also classified as severe.

Right now, hikers, runners and cyclists are taking advantage of the warm days and long evenings. Some of them are likely to get wet. Run of the mill thunderstorms can be scary and dangerous if you’re caught outside during one.

It is a good idea to check the weather forecast. If there’s a high probability for thunderstorms late in the day, plan accordingly. Watch the sky. When you see thunderheads starting to boil up, start for home.

If a storm catches you by surprise and gets on top of you before you can get to shelter, it’s best to get under a low clump of trees. Never get under the tallest tree, especially if it’s out in the open. It’s very simple. Tall trees are closer to the lightning than short ones.

Don’t lean against anything metal, like your bicycle. Get off your bike and move away from it. If you’re tent camping, stay in the tent, but don’t hold onto the tent poles. Let it go if it starts to blow away.

You may be in real trouble if a funnel cloud drops down. Move away from it at right angles. If it is coming from the west, move north or south. Don’t stay in front of it.
When you think you are a safe distance away, or if you can’t get away, get down in lowest spot you can find. Cover your head and wait for it to pass.

No matter how much you like watching one, being caught out in a thunderstorm can be a hair-raising experience. The first best thing to do when you hear thunder in the distance is to go back where you came from. At least get back to your vehicle.
If you can’t do that, take shelter where you can. I’ve ridden out several storms in old barns and hog sheds.

Those hog sheds added a new meaning to aromatherapy, but those jagged pitchforks of lightning stabbing the ground took my mind off it.

Contact George Little at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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