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A lightning storm rages in the night sky behind a farm in silhouette.

Weathering the Storm: Farm and Ranch Severe Weather Safety Tips

March 24, 2016

Increasing temperatures are upon us, and while most are happy to say a not-so-fond farewell to winter, spring and summer bring their own set of problems. Specifically: storm season. While cold snaps and blizzards are soon to be a thing of the past, your farm or ranch operation now faces the severe weather that comes with the spring. Are you ready? Here are some tips to help you keep your operation safe during storm season.

Tornadoes

Each year, between 600 and 1,400 tornadoes are reported in the United States, and cause millions of dollars’ worth of damage. With winds that can reach over 250 miles per hour and the potential to travel up to 50 miles, tornadoes have a destructive potential that often puts them in the headlines. In the face of such a huge force of nature, what do you do?

  • DON’T remain in your tractor or vehicle. It may seem safer, but don’t trust this false sense of security. In fact, get away from your vehicle—you don’t want to be too close if it happens to tip over. Find a low-lying area, such as a ditch, and cover your head with your arms to protect yourself from flying debris.
  • DON’T try to outrun a tornado with your vehicle. One of the biggest dangers presented by a tornado is its unpredictability; there are eyewitness accounts of the tornadoes jumping from location to location, or suddenly veering in a different direction.
  • DO have a plan for which buildings on your property provide the most protection. Basements are best, of course, but if you’re caught out during a tornado, a building with a strong inner structure, such as a barn, can be a safe haven. If you can, stay away from the outside walls of the building you take shelter in.

Of course, prevention is an even bigger factor. Pay attention to warning signs; most people in tornado-prone areas are familiar with the eerie, often greenish sky that warns of impending nasty weather. Keep an eye out for funnel clouds, and take shelter immediately if you hear sirens. The warning may end up being nothing—but you don’t want to be caught out in the field if it isn’t.

Lightning

You would think that tornadoes would be the more dangerous of the two, but lightning is more common and therefore more dangerous. The air near a lightning strike can reach 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit—that’s hotter than the surface of the sun. If you happen to be caught out during a lightning storm, some important safety rules apply.

  • DON’T be the highest point. If you’re in an open field, find a low spot away from potential conductors like trees, fences, and poles. If you feel your skin tingling or your hair starts to stand on end, the atmosphere is charged with electricity. Crouch down low, minimizing your contact with the ground, and place your hands on your knees with your head between them.
  • DO stay in your vehicle. Unlike a situation with a tornado, a truck or tractor can provide better protection that lying exposed in a field.

Flash Flooding

Flooding was responsible for $2.7 billion in property damage in 2015. Never underestimate the power of water! Floods can be sudden and powerful, giving you little time to prepare. If you are confronted with flash flooding, there are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • DON’T attempt to drive through water over the road. You have no idea how deep it may be, and it only takes 6 inches of water to sweep a vehicle away.
  • DO avoid low-lying areas in your fields or on your property. During a torrential downpour, all that water has to go somewhere. You don’t want to be there when it arrives.
  • DO have an evacuation plan in place for your livestock, should you need to move them to higher ground.

Fires

While some areas of the country are bracing themselves for wet weather, others are preparing for the arid conditions that lend themselves to fires. 2015 was a record year for fires, with 10 million acres burned and over 68,000 wildfires reported that year. In addition, farms and ranches can be at risk of man-made fires if proper safety precautions aren’t followed.

  • DO install and regularly inspect smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, and sprinklers in both residences and farm buildings, on combines and tractors, and around mechanized equipment.
  • DON’T provide a potential fire with fuel! Remove vegetation from within at least 30 feet of residences and farm buildings.
  • DO have an evacuation plan in place for livestock. Moving them to a plowed or heavily-grazed field or pasture with water or shade can provide them with protection and comfort in the event of a fire.
  • DON’T leave a fire unattended, and always comply with state or local regulations regarding open burning.

An Ounce of Prevention

Of course, the best case scenario is to avoid these dangerous situations in the first place. Do you know your watches and warnings? See the list below for a guide on what to watch out for during storm season.

  • Severe Thunderstorm Watch: There’s the potential for severe thunderstorms to develop. Be ready to act if a warning is issued.
  • Severe Thunderstorm Warning: Severe weather indicates imminent danger to life and/or property – this includes potential for large hail, lightning, damaging winds, flash flooding and tornadoes.
  • Tornado Watch: Weather conditions are capable of producing tornadoes.
  • Tornado Warning: A tornado is sighted or indicated by radar. Seek shelter immediately.
  • Flash Flood Watch: Conditions are favorable for flash flooding or flooding in the watch area. Be alert.
  • Flash Flood Warning: A flash flood is imminent or occurring can take only a few minutes to develop.
  • Fire Weather Watch: Conditions may result in either numerous fire starts or extreme fire behavior within the next 24 to 72 hours.
  • Red Flag Warning: Fire conditions are ongoing or expected to occur within the next 24 hours.

Every season brings its challenges, and you don’t need to go into storm season unprepared. And if you want to make sure your insurance can weather the storm, contact your local Farm Bureau agent for a SuperCheck®; he or she can help ensure that your insurance continues to offer the best coverage for your operation.

Sources:

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach
NOAA’s National Weather Service http://www.spc.noaa.gov/climo/online/monthly/2015_annual_summary.html
Weather.gov