Watch sky, stay alert and prepared for severe summer weather

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How many times have you heard that low rumble in the distance in the summer? That means severe weather could be on the way. Summer storms can range anywhere from rain to hail to high winds.

A severe thunderstorm watch means thunderstorms are possible near the watch area. Stay informed.

A severe thunderstorm warning means that severe weather has been reported by spotters or indicated by radar.

Here's what you can do to prepare yourself and your family.

Before lightning strikes: Keep an eye on the sky. Look for darkening skies, flashes of light or increasing wind. If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning.

Lightning can travel a very long distance (5 to 10 miles) and strike without you seeing the storm at all.

When a storm approaches: Find shelter in a building or car (preferably not a convertible). The worst spot to be is in an open boat or in or near water. Avoid open spaces.

In a car: Keep your car windows closed. Do not stop on a bridge or over a body of water. Do not park under a large tree or near power poles. Do not touch metal surfaces in your car.

At home: Turn off the air conditioner. Power surges from lightning can overload the compressor, resulting in a costly repair job. Unplug unnecessary appliances and computers.

Lightning might strike exterior electric and phone lines, inducing shocks to inside equipment. Draw blinds and shades over windows; this will prevent glass from shattering into your home should a window break due to objects blown by the wind. Do not use the landline telephone. Do not take a bath, shower or do dishes by hand.

With children: When dealing with children during a storm, begin a quiet activity, such as reading to them. Explain what is going on. Remind them that "When thunder roars, we go indoors."

In a boat: Pull any metal object taller than the boat and lay it on the deck. This includes fishing rods, antennas and Bimini tops. Stay away from deck water and electronics.

On the golf course: Get off the course as soon as you hear thunder. Golf shoes (spiked) and golf clubs are some of the best lightning rods around.

If caught outside: If you are in the woods, take shelter under shorter trees. Stay away from poles or metal objects. Be a very small target. Get low to the ground. Place your hands on your knees with your head between them. Do not lie flat on the ground; this will make you a larger target.

Do not think it is safe because lightning has already struck something. It can and often does strike the same spot more than once.

Don't underestimate the power of a strong thunderstorm wind - they can reach speeds of 100 to 150 mph! These winds can overturn a vehicle or even send a person airborne.

And don't forget that thunderstorms can produce large hail stones that can fall at speeds over 100 mph. Seek shelter if hail begins to fall.

Cinda Seamon is the fire and life safety educator for the Town of Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue.

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