CHARLOTTE, N.C. — North Carolina's severe weather preparedness week kicked off Sunday to coincide with the start of meteorological spring.

Now is the time to prepare for severe weather.

All this week, and next week in South Carolina, officials are encouraging residents to educate and prepare themselves and their families.

The WCNC Charlotte First Warn weather team will be there every step of the way.

Monday: Severe thunderstorms and tornadoes

A thunderstorm is a local storm that produces lightning and thunder. Thunderstorms are often accompanied by showery rain and gusty winds, and may also bring hail or snow. Thunderstorms occur most frequently during the spring and summer, but they are also possible in the fall and winter. North Carolina experiences about 40 to 50 thunderstorm days per year. About 10 percent of thunderstorms are classified as severe – one that produces hail at least an inch in diameter, has winds of 58 miles per hour or stronger, or produces a tornado. 

Tornadoes are nature’s most violent storms. Spawned from powerful thunderstorms, tornadoes can cause fatalities and devastate a neighborhood in seconds. A tornado appears as a rotating, funnel-shaped cloud that extends from a thunderstorm to the ground with whirling winds that can reach 300 miles per hour. Damage paths can be in excess of one mile wide and 50 miles long. Some tornadoes are clearly visible, while rain or nearby low-hanging clouds obscure others. Sometimes, tornadoes develop so rapidly that little, if any, advance warning is possible.

The National Weather Service will alert you of an impending severe thunderstorm or tornado threat by issuing bulletins called a 'watch' or a 'warning.'

A watch means conditions are favorable and likely for severe weather in the coming hours.

A warning means the severe weather is imminent or occurring.

The National Weather Service issues all of the following when needed:

  • A Severe Thunderstorm Watch
  • A Severe Thunderstorm Warning
  • A Tornado Watch
  • A Tornado Warning

For all forms of severe weather, you should:

  • Prepare now when the weather is not bad
  • If a watch is issued, get your plan ready to deploy
  • If a warning is issued, put your plan into action. The first step should be to seek sturdy shelter immediately.

Tuesday: How to relieve severe weather alerts

You can be alerted of severe weather watches and warnings through communications including:

  • Local television, including WCNC Charlotte
  • Local radio, such as 102.9 FM or 96.9 FM
  • Push notifications from apps, such as the WCNC Charlotte mobile news app (Android or Apple) or the WCNC First Warn weather app (Android or Apple)
  • A weather radio
  • The emergency alert system, and it's related product the wireless emergency alert system, which will send alerts to your cell phone

On Wednesday, March 4th at 9:30 AM, the National Weather Service in cooperation with local broadcasters will conduct a statewide tornado drill. The alarm test, which will come in the form of a Required Monthly Test, will activate the State Emergency Alert System and be carried by local radio broadcasters. Every school, business, and residence is encouraged to participate in this drill. It’s really easy: at 9:30 AM on Wednesday, take a few moments to practice your severe weather safety plan, and seek shelter for a few minutes as if a tornado was headed your way.

Wednesday: Hail and winds

While hail and straight-line winds generally do not garner the same attention or respect as tornadoes, they can be just as deadly! Hail can exceed the size of softballs and fall at speeds of over 100 mph, seriously injuring or killing anyone in its path.

During large hail situations, you should move indoors and stay away from windows. Wind-blown hail can shatter windows. If you are driving during a large hail episode, pull over into a parking lot or gas station and use blankets or coats to cover yourself in case the windshield shatters and hail enters the vehicle.

Straight-line winds can topple trees onto cars, houses, and power lines. Many deaths from straight-line winds are the result of trees falling onto the person, whether they are outside, in their house, or driving in their car.

Strong straight-line wind events can even destroy buildings, especially mobile homes and manufactured homes. When damaging straight-line thunderstorm winds or large hail is expected, the National Weather Service will issue a Severe Thunderstorm Warning.

When a Severe Thunderstorm Warning is issued for your area, or when threatening thunderstorms approach your area, you should seek shelter immediately! To stay safe during high winds, the same safety rules that are used for tornadoes also apply during straight-line wind events, namely, you should seek shelter in an interior room on the lowest floor of a sturdy building or shelter, get away from windows, and get down low to protect yourself from possible flying debris and falling trees.

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Thursday: Lightning

Each year in the United States, more than 400 people are struck by lightning. On average, between 55 and 60 people are killed; hundreds of others suffer permanent neurological disabilities. Most of these tragedies can be avoided with a few simple precautions. When thunderstorms threaten, get to a safe place. Lightning safety is an inconvenience that can save your life. 

Stay inside a safe building or vehicle for at least 30 minutes after you hear the last thunder clap. Some victims were struck inside homes or buildings while they were using electrical equipment or corded phones. Others were in contact with plumbing, a metal door or a window frame. Avoid contact with these electrical conductors when a thunderstorm is nearby.

All thunderstorms produce lightning and are dangerous. Lightning often strikes outside the area of heavy rain and may strike as far as 10 miles from any rainfall. Many lightning deaths occur ahead of storms or after storms have seemingly passed.

Keep this simple fact in mind: if you can hear thunder, you are in danger.

Also, don’t be fooled by blue skies. There is no such thing as “heat lightning.” All lightning comes as a result of a thunderstorm, and if you hear thunder, lightning is close enough to pose an immediate threat to you. 

The following lightning safety tips could one day save your life:

• NO PLACE outside is safe when thunderstorms are in the area! 

• If you hear thunder, lightning is close enough to strike you. 

• When you hear thunder, immediately move to safe shelter. A safe shelter is an enclosed substantial building with electricity or plumbing, such as a home, office building, school, restaurant, or a store. Sheds, tents, picnic pavilions, porches, and ball-field dugouts DO NOT offer any lightning protection whatsoever and may actually increase your danger of being struck. 

• If no substantial building is available for shelter, enclosed metal-topped vehicles offer protection from lightning, but make sure the windows are in the up position.

• Stay in your safe shelter at least 30 minutes after you hear the last sound of thunder. 

• When indoors, stay off corded phones, computers and other electrical equipment that put you in direct contact with electricity. Avoid plumbing, including sinks, baths and faucets. Stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches. Do not lie on concrete floors, and do not lean against concrete walls.

• If you are caught outside with no safe shelter anywhere nearby, the following actions may reduce your risk: 

  1. Immediately get off elevated areas such as hills, mountain ridges or peaks 
  2. Never lie flat on the ground o Never shelter under an isolated tree 
  3. Never use a cliff or rocky overhang for shelter 
  4. Immediately get out and away from ponds, lakes and other bodies of water
  5. Stay away from objects that conduct electricity (barbed wire fences, power lines, windmills, etc.)

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Friday: Flash flooding

Flash flooding in North Carolina usually occurs when a large amount of rain falls in an area over a short period of time. The ground can only soak up so much water in a given time, and when the rain rate exceeds what can infiltrate into the ground or run off into drainage systems or streams, flooding is likely to occur. Hurricanes, tropical storms, and ordinary thunderstorms can produce flash flooding. 

More people die from floods each year than from tornadoes, lightning, or hurricanes. Forecasters can usually predict where flooding will occur when a hurricane or tropical storm affects an area. However, when dealing with thunderstorms, predicting flash floods can be nearly impossible due to their isolated nature. Flash floods usually occur in low-lying areas where water can collect or in cities where water runoff from impermeable surfaces can fill roads or storm drains quickly.

In the past 10 years, flash flooding has occurred in North Carolina over 1000 times, amounting to damages on the order of hundreds of millions of dollars, and resulting in numerous fatalities. Being prepared and knowing how to stay safe will help you and your loved ones survive a flood. 

Knowing your flood risk is the best way to prepare for flooding. Determine if you live in or near locations that are prone to flooding. You can find out if you live in a flood plain by visiting our partners at FEMA at https://msc.fema.gov.

Just six inches of fast-moving water can knock over an adult. Only eighteen inches of flowing water can carry away most vehicles, including large SUVs. It is impossible to tell the exact depth of water covering a roadway or the condition of the road below the water. This is especially true at night when your vision is more limited. It is never safe to drive or walk through flood waters. Any time you come to a flooded road, walkway, or path, follow this simple rule: turn around, don’t drown. Remember these flash flood safety tips:

• If a flash flood warning is issued for your area, or if there is any possibility of a flash flood, move immediately to higher ground. Do not wait for instructions to move.

• Do not walk through moving water. Six inches of moving water can make you fall.

• Do not drive into flooded areas. If floodwaters rise around your car, abandon the car and move to higher ground, when water is not moving or not more than a few inches deep. You and the vehicle can be swept away quickly. If your vehicle is trapped in rapidly moving water, stay in the vehicle. If the water is rising inside the vehicle, seek refuge on the roof.

• Do not disregard or drive around traffic barricades that close off flooded roadways.

• Do not camp or park your vehicle along streams, rivers or creeks, particularly during threatening conditions

Saturday: Make a plan and prepare now

The first step in making sure that you and your family are prepared for severe weather is pledging to prepare. This includes developing a family emergency and communications plan. In short, know what to do before severe weather strikes by creating an emergency plan today.

Your family may not be together when a disaster strikes, so it is important to plan in advance: how you will get to a safe place; how you will contact one another; how you will get back together; and what you will do in different situations. 

The web site ReadyNC.org has made it simple for you to make a family emergency plan. 

Items for your preparedness kit should include:

  • First Aid kit
  • Cash (power outages mean banks and ATMs may be unavailable)
  • Road maps 
  • Battery-operated radio
  • Flashlight 
  • Extra batteries
  • Important documents and records (Photos, IDs, proof of residence, etc)
  • Three-day supply of non-perishable food items
  • One gallon of bottled water per person, per day
  • Coolers for food and ice storage
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Blankets
  • Sleeping bags
  • Extra clothing
  • Extra medications and prescriptions
  • Hearing aids and other specialty medical items
  • Eyeglasses and sunglasses 
  • Toilet paper
  • Clean-up supplies
  • Duct tape
  • Tarp
  • Rope
  • Can opener
  • Knife
  • Tools
  • Booster cables
  • Baby, elderly and pet supplies if necessary
  • Cell phone chargers
  • Family communication plan with emergency contact information
  • Maps of the area