As full-service realtors serving the Scottsdale and Phoenix area, we are often asked questions about the weather here in Arizona. During the months of July and August, the greater Phoenix area experiences what we call “monsoon season”. The monsoon is characterized by extremely high humidity, coupled with Arizona’s summer heat. These conditions combine and result in monsoon storms, which feature high winds and heavy rains, as well as thunder and lightning. These storms are sudden and intense, and residents in the Scottsdale and Phoenix area need to be prepared.
The Matheson Team has compiled this list of Facts You Should Know About Thunderstorms and Lightning so you will know what precautions to take if caught out in our summer weather.
All thunderstorms produce lightning and are dangerous. They can bring tornadoes, strong winds, hail, and flash flooding. If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning! Lightning has been known to strike more than 10 miles from the storm in an area of clear sky above.
30/30 Lightning Safety Rule: Go indoors if, after seeing lightning, you cannot count to 30 before hearing thunder. Stay indoors for 30 minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder. The best protection is to be inside a strong, sturdy building.
Dry thunderstorms are prevalent in the western United States. Falling raindrops evaporate before hitting the ground (this is called verge) but lightning can still reach the ground and start wildfires.
Warm humid conditions are highly favorable for thunderstorm development. A severe thunderstorm has winds of 58 miles per hour or higher, can produce hail of at least ¾ of an inch in diameter, and can even produce a tornado.
Make sure you know the name of your county and the names of surrounding towns. Warnings are usually issued by county. Two types of warnings you may hear (and what they mean):
Severe Thunderstorm Watch: issued when severe thunderstorms are possible in and close to the watch area. The watch is issued to alert you to the possibility that thunderstorms with damaging winds and large hail may develop. Listen to NOAA Weather Radio and your local media weather updates and stay informed!
Severe Thunderstorm Warning: issued when a severe thunderstorm has been spotted and is going to move through your county soon. The key is to remain CALM, but take precautionary action IMMEDIATELY to protect your life and property.
If a thunderstorm is likely in your area you should:
-Postpone outdoor activities
-Get inside a sturdy building that has electrical and plumbing systems (this means the building will be grounded by wires and pipes). Shutter windows and secure outside doors. If no shutters, close window blinds, shades or curtains. Stay away from the windows. Secure outdoor objects that could blow away or cause damage.
-Avoid showering, bathing or running the water for any purpose. Plumbing and bathroom fixtures can conduct electricity.
-If you cannot get to a building, you should get into an automobile with a hard top (not a convertible). Keep car windows closed, and do not touch any metal parts of the car. The steel frame of a hard-topped vehicle provides increased protection if you are not touching metal. Note: Rubber tires and rubber-soled shoes provide NO protection from lightning.
-Use cordless and cellular phones during a thunderstorm phones with a cord should only be used if other types are not available and it is an emergency. Do not handle any electrical equipment or telephones, because lightning could follow the wire. Use telephones ONLY in an emergency.
-Unplug appliances and other electrical items such as computers and television sets. Leaving electric lights on does NOT increase the chances of your home being struck by lightning. Turn off air conditioners. Power surges from lightning can cause serious damage.
-Use your battery-operated NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Weather Radio for updates from local officials. Or, you can use a battery-operated radio tuned to your local news station for storm updates.
What to do if you are outside during a Thunderstorm
Make sure to avoid:
-Tall, isolated trees in open areas. These could become natural lightening rods.
-Hilltops, open fields, the beach, or a boat on the water
-Isolated sheds or other small structures in open areas
-Anything metal for example: bicycles, golf clubs, motorcycles, golf carts, fences, etc.
If you are in a forest: Seek shelter in a low area under a thick growth of small trees
If you are in an open area: Go to a low place such as a ravine or valley. Be alert for flash floods
If you are on open water: Get to land and find shelter immediately. The best course of action is to head for the nearest harbor away from the approaching clouds, and to make sure all on board are wearing approved personal safety flotation devices.
If you’re driving when a thunderstorm starts: Pull off the roadway. A lightning flash hitting the vehicle could startle you and cause temporary blindness, especially at night.
If you feel your hair standing on end, and/or hear “crackling noises” (which means lightning is about to strike): Immediately remove metal objects, including baseball caps. Place your feet together, duck your head, and crouch down low on the balls of your feet in baseball catcher’s stance with hands over your ears (to minimize hearing damage from thunder). Make yourself the smallest target possible and minimize your contact with the ground. DO NOT lie flat on the ground.
Use the Flash to Bang Method to estimate the distance between you and a lightning flash: If you observe lightning, count the number of seconds until you hear thunder. Divide the number of seconds by five to get the distance in miles.
If Thunder is heard The Lightning is…
5 seconds after a Flash 1 mile away
10 seconds after a Flash 2 miles away
15 seconds after a Flash 3 miles away
20 seconds after a Flash 4 miles away
25 seconds after a Flash 5 miles away
30 seconds after a Flash 6 miles away
35 seconds after a Flash 7 miles away
40 seconds after a Flash 8 miles away
If the time between flash and bang is 30 seconds or less, get to a safe location NOW.