Habitat Ready: Disaster preparedness for homeowners

A thunderstorm is a rain shower with thunder and lightning. All thunderstorms are dangerous, but if conditions are right, a severe thunderstorm may occur.

Thunderstorms last an average of 30 minutes and can cause dangerous lightning, large hail, flash flooding, tornadoes and strong winds. They often develop quickly and with little warning, so it’s important to learn the danger signs and plan ahead.

Before a thunderstorm

  • Check out FLASH Hurricane Strong for do-it-yourself ways to strengthen your homes against flooding, high winds and lightning.
  • Review your family preparedness plan.
  • Establish a family communications plan.
  • Assemble a disaster supply kit.
  • Be familiar with thunderstorm warning signs:
    • Dark, towering and threatening clouds.
    • Distant thunder and lightning.
    • A sudden increase in wind.
  • Know the difference between a severe thunderstorm WATCH and a severe thunderstorm WARNING:
    • Severe thunderstorm WATCH: A severe thunderstorm is possible. Stay tuned to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio or TV for more information.
    • Severe thunderstorm WARNING: A severe thunderstorm is expected or occurring. Take shelter immediately.
  • Remove dead or rotting trees and branches that could fall and cause damage or injury.
  • Secure outdoor objects such as furniture, toys and tools that could blow away.
  • Close windows, secure outside doors and unplug electronic equipment.
  • Get inside a home, building or hard-top automobile.

Additional considerations for COVID-19

  • Unless you live in a mandatory evacuation zone, it is recommended that you make a plan to shelter-in-place in your home, if it is safe to do so.
  • If you live in a mandatory evacuation zone, make a plan with friends or family to shelter with them where you will be safer and more comfortable.
  • Only evacuate to shelters if you are unable to shelter at home or with family or friends. Note that your regular shelter may not be open this year. Check with local authorities for the latest information about public shelters.
  • If you need to go to a disaster shelter, follow CDC recommendations for staying safe and healthy in a public disaster shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is a severe thunderstorm?
A severe thunderstorm contains one or more of the following:
• Hail greater than 1 inch in diameter.
• Winds gusting over 57 miles per hour.
• A tornado.

During a thunderstorm

  • If indoors:
    • Avoid contact with electrical equipment such as telephones and TVs.
    • Avoid contact with plumbing. Do not take a shower, wash the dishes, etc.
    • Stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches.
  • If outdoors:
    • Try to take shelter in a nearby building or car.
    • If no shelter is available, go to an open space in a low-lying area.

After a thunderstorm

  • Continue listening to a NOAA weather radio or TV for updated information.
  • Assist injured people. If lightning strikes a person:
    • Check the site for safety. Move the victim to a safer area only if necessary.
    • Call 911 yourself or have someone else call 911 immediately. Even if the victim seems OK, serious problems can occur later.
  • Care: Check the following and act:
    • Consciousness: Loudly call, “Hey, are you OK?” Gently but forcefully poke his or her shoulder and ask again. If there is no response, then:
    • Breathing: Put your ear near the victim’s mouth to listen and feel breath, and look for the chest to rise, but do so for no more than 10 seconds. If no breathing is evident, open the airway and give two rescue breaths.
    • Check for severe bleeding: Quickly scan the person’s body and stop severe bleeding. Have someone help you if available.
    • Begin CPR: 30 chest compressions (2 inches deep at a rate of 100 per minute). Check again for breathing, and if there is no breathing repeat two rescue breaths followed by 30 chest compressions. Do not stop until there are visible signs of the victim’s recovery, until you collapse or are relieved, or until rescue personnel arrive.
  • Inspect your home:
    • Leave the house if you smell gas or chemical fumes.
    • Check for damage to walls, the roof, the foundation, the electrical system and water lines.
    • Notify your insurance company if your home is damaged.
  • Be aware of the threat of flooding caused by heavy rainfall.
  • Stay away from flooded roadways, storm-damaged areas and downed power lines.
  • Avoid making phone calls except in serious emergencies.

Additional considerations for COVID-19

  • You should continue to use preventive actions like washing your hands and wearing a face covering during clean up or when returning home.
  • It may take longer than usual to restore power and water if they are out. Take steps to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning if you use a generator.
  • If you are injured or ill, contact your medical provider for treatment recommendations. Keep wounds clean to prevent infection. Remember, accessing medical care may be more difficult than usual during the pandemic.
  • Dealing with disasters can cause stress and strong emotions, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is natural to feel anxiety, grief, and worry. Coping with these feelings and getting help when you need it will help you, your family and your community recover.
  • People with preexisting mental health conditions should continue with their treatment and be aware of new or worsening symptoms. Additional information can be found at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration page.
  • When you check on neighbors and friends, be sure to follow social distancing recommendations (staying at least 6 feet, about two arms’ length, from others) and other CDC recommendations to protect yourself and others.
  • If you need to go to a disaster shelter, follow CDC recommendations for staying safe and healthy in a public disaster shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • If you are sick and need medical attention, contact your healthcare provider for further care instructions and shelter-in-place, if possible. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 9-1-1 and let the operator know if you have, or think you might have, COVID-19. If possible, put on a cloth face covering before help arrives. If staying at a shelter or public facility, alert shelter staff immediately so they can call a local hospital or clinic.

Additional resources

Emergency/preparedness information

Current storm information

Thunderstorm and lightning information

Other information

Floods and flash floods

Some floods develop slowly, while others develop in just minutes. Being prepared and taking mitigation measures, such as building away from floodplains and elevating homes, can reduce the risk of damage and injuries in a flood.

Learn more


Tornadoes are earth’s most violent storms and often form quickly, leaving little time to make life-or-death decisions. To survive a tornado, advanced planning and a quick response are essential.

Learn more

You can help a family rebuild after a disaster

Families who partner with us rebuild their homes alongside volunteers, pay an affordable mortgage and are grateful for your help.