Weather Safety


A flood is a high flow or overflow of water from a river or other body of water.  Most communities in the United States can experience some kind of flooding.  Floods can happen anytime during the year, such as after winter snowmelts, spring thunderstorms, and fall hurricanes.  

The National Weather Service issues flood watches and warnings, which are transmitted on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radios and through local broadcast media.  A flood watch is issued when high water flow is possible in the specified time period.  A flood warning means flood conditions are occurring.  If a flood warning is issued for your area, go to safety immediately.

Flash Floods

Flash floods are rapidly developing floods that can occur with little or no warning in mountainous areas on small streams, on rivers, and even in towns.  Water levels can suddenly rise in heavy rainstorms, leaving little time before small streams become raging rivers.  Sometimes a flash flood can unleash its deadly force in minutes.  

The National Weather Service issues flash flood watches and warnings, which are transmitted on NOAA weather radios and through local broadcast media.  A flash flood watch means threatening weather is possible in the area.  A flash flood warningmeans you may have only seconds to escape.  A flash flood can happen so rapidly that you may not get a warning.  If a flash flood warning is issued for your area, go to safety immediately.


  • Know your area's flood risks.  Monitor NOAA weather radio broadcasts or local broadcast media for vital weather information.
  • Visit for weather updates. When possible, carry a NOAA weather radio.
  • Stay alert for signs of heavy rain, both in your current location and upstream.  Watch for rising water levels.
  • Get to higher ground if flooding occurs. Leave low-lying areas immediately.
  • Don't try to get toyour car. Climb to safety immediately on foot.
  • For safe driving tips, visit the Weather Channel.
  • If you’re in your car and it stalls, abandon it immediately, and climb to higher ground.  Avoid already flooded areas, especially if the water is flowing fast. Do not attempt to cross streams.  Remember:  turn around; don’t down.
  • Don't try to swim to safety.  Wait for rescuers to come to you.
  • Be especially cautious at night, when it is harder to recognize and respond to danger. During threatening conditions, do not camp or park your vehicle along streams and rivers.
  • Stay away from downed power lines and electrical wires.
  • Do not let children play near flooded streams or rivers.  Flooded streams and rivers are not safe for recreational boating.


If you hear thunder, lightning is close enough to strike you.  Lightning can be very dangerous.  It can span 5 miles in length, attain a temperature of approximately 50,000°F, and contain over 100 million electrical volts.

A severe thunderstorm watch is issued when conditions are conducive to the development of a severe thunderstorm.  A severe thunderstorm warningis issued when a severe thunderstorm has been observed or is indicated on radar and is occurring or imminent in the warning area.

  • Immediately move to safe shelter when you hear thunder, as lightening is then close enough to strike you. Safe shelter is a substantial building or inside a closed, metal-topped vehicle.  Stay in safe shelter until at least 30 minutes after you hear the last clap of thunder.
  • Stay low when outdoors.  Lightening hits the tallest object around.  Immediately leave elevated areas such as hills, mountain ridges, or peaks.  If caught in an open field, seek a low spot and crouch with your feet together and head low.
  • Avoid isolated trees, cliffs, rocky overhangs, and cliffs.  Run into a forested area if possible.  Stay away from objects that conduct electricity, such as barbed wire fences, power lines, windmills, and other tall objects.
  • Drop metal objects such as golf clubs, fishing poles, umbrellas, and backpacks with metal frames.
  • Get off bicycles, motorcycles, horses, and off-highway vehicles.
  • Get off lakes, ponds, and rivers, and seek shelter when a storm is approaching.  If you can’t get off the water, crouch down low in the boat.
  • Avoid pitching your tent under a tree.
  • Carry a NOAA weather radio or visit for weather updates.


With winds of 74 mph or more, hurricanes are seasonal storms that develop over a large body of warm water.  When reaching a land mass, they typically bring torrential rains, high waves, a storm surge, damaging winds, and devastation.  Lightning and tornadoes may also accompany hurricanes.

According to the National Hurricane Center, on average 11 tropical storms develop each year over the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, or Caribbean Ocean, and five of those storms will strike the U.S. coastline, killing 50 to 100 people.  Although a hurricane’s intensity, speed, and direction are unpredictable, a hurricane can be tracked by weather experts, which allows travelers and forest visitors to be prepared in advance by monitoring tropical storm watches and warnings.

Tropical Storm and Hurricane Watches and Warnings

A tropical storm watchis issued when tropical storm conditions with sustained winds from 39 to 73 mph are possible in your area within the next 48 hours.  A tropical storm warning is issued when tropical storm conditions are expected in your area in the next 36 hours.  A hurricane watch is issued when hurricane conditions (sustained winds of 74 mph or greater) are possible in your area in the next 48 hours.  A Hurricane warning is issued when hurricane conditions are expected in your area in 36 hours or less.

  • Avoid visiting an area that is predicted to be in the path of an approaching hurricane.
  • Get to a safe, indoor locationbefore a tropical storm or hurricane approaches your area.
  • Find a clear spotaway from buildings, trees, streetlights, and power lines if you are caught outside.  Avoid trees, power lines, poles, street signs, and other overhead items.
  • If you are in a vehicle, pull over to a clear location.  Stay there with your seatbelt fastened until the storm abates.
  • Have a hurricane preparedness kitif you live and travel in hurricane-prone areas.
  • Visit for weather updatesand detailed information about hurricane preparedness.


A tornado is a violently rotating column of air extending from the base of a thunderstorm down to the ground. Tornado intensities are classified as F0 (weakest) to F5 (strongest).  The vast majority of tornadoes in the world occur in the southeastern region of the United States.  Tornadoes are capable of completely destroying well-made structures, uprooting trees, and hurling objects through the air.  The biggest danger you'll face if a tornado strikes while you're in a forest is falling trees and tree limbs. 

A tornado watch is broadcast when conditions are conducive to the development of tornadoes.  A tornado warning is issued when a tornado has been sighted, indicated on radar, or is occurring in the warning area.


If you are outdoors:

  • Get inside a building if possible. At a developed recreation site, the restroom may be the closest option.
  • If shelter is not available or there is no time to get indoors, lie in a ditch or low-lying area, or crouch near a strong building.

If you are in a car:

  • Never try to out-drive a tornado in a car or truck. Tornadoes can change direction quickly and can lift up a car or truck and toss it through the air.  Get out of the car immediately, and take shelter in a nearby building.
  • If there is no time to reach shelter, get out of the car and lie in a ditch or low-lying area away from the vehicle.

High Winds

High winds can knock over fully grown trees.  Pay attention to high wind advisories and high wind warnings issued by the National Weather Service.

  • Take shelter immediately if there are high winds in the area you are visiting.
  • Watch out for falling trees and limbs and flying debris.
  • Be careful when driving.  Strong winds can making driving difficult, especially in the case of high-clearance vehicles such as recreational vehicles, campers, and trucks.  Be careful on bridges and overpasses.
  • Tune in to local weather forecasts and bulletins issued by the National Weather Service.  Visit for weather updates.  Visit The Weather Channel for safe driving tips.

Heat and Cold

Heat waves and sub-zero temperatures can be deadly if you are not prepared.

Heat Waves

A heat wave is a prolonged period of excessively hot weather that can be hazardous to your health. Sometimes a heat wave involves a combination of heat and humidity that causes the air to become oppressive and stifling.  There is no universal definition of a heat wave; it is not linked to an exact temperature.  

A heat advisory is issued when high temperatures or the combination of heat and humidity is expected to become an inconvenience for much of the population and a problem for sensitive individuals.  A heat warning is issued when the weather conditions are expected to be dangerous for a large portion of the population.

  • Listen to a NOAA weather radio for heat advisories and warnings.  Check the ultraviolet index on weather sites.
  • Stay hydrated.  Drink plenty of fluids. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.  Eat small, frequent meals.
  • Wear appropriate clothing that is loose-fitting, light-weight, and light-colored. Avoid dark colors in hot weather.
  • Ensure that your animals’ needs for water and shade are met.
  • Know how to recognize and treat heat-related emergencies.
  • Visit for more information on heat waves.

Weather Hazards

Blizzards, snowstorms, freezing rain, and sleet can pose hazards. Winter storms also can be deceiving. Even a small amount of precipitation can cause problems, especially in areas where snow is an unusual occurrence.  Many fatalities from car accidents occur as a result of slippery roads.  Downed trees and power outages can also be caused by ice storms or by heavy, wet snow.  Although many roads will have clear sections exposed to sunlight during these weather events, most or all  roads will have icy sections due to shading, and these surface conditions can change with no warning.  Motorists should use common sense on all roads and try to avoid unnecessary travel when the weather causes treacherous driving conditions.

  • Your vehicle should be in good working orderand should have appropriate tires for snow and mud, a jack, and plenty of fuel.
  • Carry an emergency road kit that includes a map of the area, flashlight, tools, water, food, warm layered clothing, and matches or other means for starting a fire.
  • Travel the appropriate speed.  Many roads are narrow, so allow for on-coming traffic, and travel with headlights on.  Snow and ice covering a road can disguise surface conditions and the location of the shoulder.  Many roads are not cleared of snow or ice.  In addition, ice storms or very heavy snows can cause tree limbs to snap and fall across roads and trails.


Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing of the skin and other tissue.  Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas.  Frostbite most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, and toes.  Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation.  The risk of frostbite is increased for people with poor blood circulation and for people who are not dressed properly for cold temperatures. 

A victim is often unaware of frostbite until someone else points it out because the frozen tissues are numb.  Frostbite is indicated by skin that is white or grayish-yellow, skin that feels unusually firm, or skin that feels waxy and numb.

If there is frostbite, seek medical attention as soon as possible.  In the meantime:

  • As soon as possible, get into a warm environment or protect any exposed skin.
  • Do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes unless absolutely necessary.  Do not rub the frostbitten area with snow or massage it.
  • Immerse the affected area in warm, not hot, water.  The temperature should be comfortable to the touch for unaffected parts of the body.
  • Warm the affected area using body heat.  For example, the heat of an armpit can be used to warm frostbitten fingers.
  • Don’t use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a stove, fireplace, or radiator for warming.Affected areas are numb and can be easily burned.


When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Prolonged exposure to cold will eventually use up your body’s stored energy.  The result is hypothermia or abnormally low body temperature.

Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well.  Hypothermia particularly dangerous since a person may not know it is happening and may not be able to do anything about it.

Hypothermia is most likely at very cold temperatures, but it can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or submersion in cold water.

Victims of hypothermia are often (1) elderly people with inadequate food, clothing, or heating; (2) babies sleeping in cold bedrooms; (3) people who remain outdoors for long periods, such as the homeless, hikers, and hunters; and (4) people who drink alcohol or use controlled substances.

If you believe a person has hypothermia, take the person’s temperature.  If it is below 95°F, seek medical attention as soon as possible.  In the meantime:

  • As soon as possible, get the victim into a warmenvironment.  If the victim has on any wet clothing, remove it.  Warm the center of the body—the chest, neck, head, and groin— first using an electric blanket or skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets.  
  • Warm beverages can help increase the body temperature.  Do not give alcoholic beverages to the victim.  Do not try to give beverages if the victim is unconscious.  
  • Perform CPR if the victim is unconscious or lacks a pulse.  CPR should continue while the victim is being warmed, until the victim responds or medical aid becomes available.  In some cases, hypothermia victims who appear to be dead can be resuscitated.
  • After the victim’s body temperature has increased, keep the victim dry and fully wrapped in a warm blanket, up to the head and neck.

Hail Storms

Hail can cause serious damage to life and property.  Hail is precipitation in the form of a chunk of ice that can fall from a cumulonimbus cloud.  Most hail falls from the central region of a cloud in a severe thunderstorm.

  • Seek shelter immediately if you are caught outdoors in a hail storm.  If you can’t find something to protect your entire body, at least find something to protect your head.
  • Stay out of culverts and lowland areasthat might fill suddenly with water.
  • Trees are a last resort for shelter, as they may lose their branches and attract lightning.
  • Drive cautiouslyif you are in a vehicle.  Close all windows, and stay in your vehicle.!ut/p/z0/04_Sj9CPykssy0xPLMnMz0vMAfIjo8zijQwgwNHCwN_DI8zPwBcqYKBfkO2oCADIwpjI/?position=BROWSEBYSUBJECT&pname=Forest%20Service%20-%20Weather%20Safety&navtype=BROWSEBYSUBJECT&ss=11&pnavid=760000000000000&navid=760160000000000&ttype=main&cid=null