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Severe Windstorms and Lightning

Thunderstorms, Tornadoes, Tropical Cyclones, Nor'easters, Lightning and Hail

Are You Ready sign with storm in the background

Based on the Sheepdog Church Security Training Course

Severe Weather and Natural Disasters [1]

In the Bible

"... and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you” (Job 1:19).

Then Moses stretched out his staff toward heaven, and the Lord sent thunder and hail, and fire ran down to the earth. And the Lord rained hail upon the land of 1and of Egypt (Exodus 9:23).

The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lighted up the world; the earth trembled and shook (Psalm 77:18).

And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling (Mark 4:37).

In the News

Wetumpka Alabama, January 19, 2019 - A tornado struck the west side of town Saturday morning, extensively damaging the First Baptist Church and destroying the First Presbyterian Church. Fortunately, there were no fatalities and only a few injuries. Both congregations held services the next day in the Civic Center. [2]

Henrico County, Virginia, September 17, 2018 - A tornado ripped sheets of metal off the roof of West End Assembly of God Church. This was on a Friday, and the church was closed Sunday awaiting repairs. [3][4]

Lansing, Michigan, March 8, 2017 - A strong windstorm crossing the state tore a wall outside the sanctuary of St. Paul's Episcopal Church party away from the building. Thankfully, no one was in the sanctuary at the time. Services were held in the parish hall while repairs were made. [5]

Rochester, New York, March 8, 2017 - The same strong windstorm that hit Lansing struck Rochester. It bent the cross atop the steeple of St. Mary Catholic Church downtown. The sheet metal cross, which housed a lightning rod, had to be removed since it was a danger to persons on the street below. [6]

Stormy Weather

"Storms of life" and "rough sailing" are metaphors we use for situations with combinations of difficulty, conflict, loss, danger, and uncertainty. Physical storms cause literal rough sailing on lakes and seas, turbulent flying in the air, and difficulty on land. Besides winter storms, covered in another article in this series, windstorms we may experience include thunderstorms, tornadoes, tropical cyclones (hurricanes or typhoons), and nor'easters, along with associated lightning and hail.

Of course, this is not new. Windstorms of different kinds and intensities are mentioned both literally and figuratively in the Bible. In the seventh plague on Egypt, thunder, lighting, and hail arrived together. In Psalm 77, Asaph associated whirlwinds (tornadoes) with thunderstorms and lightning. And on the Sea of Galilee, a powerful windstorm came suddenly.

Perilous Times

The approach and arrival of a major windstorm produces spectacular pictures. Most are awesome, some are beautiful, and many are scary - scary because strong windstorms are damaging and dangerous. Live news coverage of a powerful storm has updates on death tolls. To state that this is serious business would be telling people what they already know. For us in Church Safety Ministry, the issue is how we can protect those who come to church. We are also concerned about how to minimize damage to church property.

How to Protect the Flock

The steps in protecting church members and guests from severe windstorms are Education (knowing and understanding the risks), Knowing What's Coming (staying informed), Decision, Informing the Congregation, Equipping, and Planning Assistance (for those who may not make it on their own).

Educate Yourselves

To prepare for severe windstorms, we must know what they are, know which ones are likely in our area, know the risks from each kind of windstorm, and know how to keep others and yourself safe.

Hurricanes or Typhoons

The hurricane season is usually from June through November. Hurricanes and Typhoons are tropical cyclones with sustained wind speeds of at least 74 mph. They are hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean and eastern Pacific, typhoons in the western Pacific. Tropical storms have wind speeds from 39 to 73 mph. At 38 mph or less, it is a tropical depression.

Gulf Coast and Atlantic Coast states are at risk for hurricanes and tropical storms, and remnants, such as Ike, can move far inland. Both typhoons and hurricanes have hit Hawaii.

Hurricanes are classified into five categories. A Category 1 hurricane can cause roof damage to well-built structures. A category 5 hurricane, such as Hurricane Michael, will cause catastrophic damage, destroying all but the most solid buildings. Hurricanes and tropical storms bring torrential rain and storm surges, which cause massive flooding. They also spawn tornadoes and lightning.

Depending where you are, the area around the church may have to be evacuated ahead of a hurricane. On the other hand, if the church's location is safe, they may provide shelter for those fleeing the storm. If you are in a hurricane-prone area, you should be prepared either way. The building should be built to withstand at least a Category 1 storm. It should be equipped to shelter storm refugees. And duplicates of vital records should be in a safe location.


Nor'easters, so called because their strongest winds come from the northeast, are extra-tropical cyclones forming in the North Atlantic. They can come any time of year, but are more likely September through April. Besides the dangers of hurricanes, nor'easter can bring snow and ice, as in the Blizzard of 1888. Prepare for both severe winter storms and hurricane strength cyclones. The risk area extends from the Maritime Provinces and New England south to Virginia.


A thunderstorm is more than just a noisy show, it brings rain, lightning and hail. Downpours can cause flash flooding, but lightning and hail result in more overall damage.

Lightning can kill. A strike on a tree can injure nearby people and animals. It can also set fire to buildings. Lightning rods, such as the one on St. Mary's, direct the lightning's current directly to the ground.

Large hail can cause significant and widespread damage. It can also kill and injure people and animals, as happened in Egypt. Porch roofs and covered drop-offs can shelter people outside in a hailstorm.


Tornadoes, also called twisters or whirlwinds, cause the most intense damage, rivaled only by category 5 hurricanes. The tornado risk area is anywhere east of the Rockies.

Church buildings in tornado-prone areas should have places that can serve as tornado shelters. This means a sturdy interior room or corridor on the ground floor or basement. Suggested shelters include interior restrooms. It should have an inward-opening door so it can be opened if debris is in front of it.

In a tornado response, keep people away from windows and glass doors. Have them cover their heads. If there is a shelter or safe area, move them there.

Know What's Coming

Be aware of approaching storms. The church should have a weather alert radio such as the MIDLAND WR300 Weather Radio[7] on Sheepdog Church Security's Amazon page[8]. Also keep an eye out for the weather. Some systems can develop before a watch or warning is issued.

Know the difference between an advisory, a watch and a warning. An advisory is more general than a watch or warning. It can say that a system is heading our way days before arriving. Or it may include a watch or warning. A watch says that certain weather events are likely for a specific area - a tornado watch means conditions are right for tornadoes. A warning says that it is coming - a tornado warning means that a tornado has formed and has been spotted.

Make a Decision

When you receive a long-term severe windstorm advisory (such as "Later in the week …"), consider your readiness and plan accordingly. "What will we do?" When there is a watch, decide to be ready to act if it becomes a warning. For instance, if a tornado watch is issued, get everyone inside so they can go to the shelter if needed. Then when a tornado warning is issued or the tornado siren sounds, call for everyone to head to the tornado shelter - NOW!

Inform the Congregation

Tell the congregation what the planned response is to a severe windstorm. If the church building would not be a safe place in a hurricane, let them know. Tell them where the tornado shelter is. Have a tornado drill. On the West Coast, have earthquake drills. You may also have wildfire drills.

Use a mass notification service, such as[9], to inform everyone when the church will be closed due to weather, and when caution is advised. Or in some situations, that the church will be a shelter from a storm (many churches have sheltered hurricane refugees).

Equipment and Supplies

Some supplies should be on hand for severe windstorms. Because of the increased risk of injuries and stress-related medical incidents (strokes, seizures, heart attacks), First Aid kits[10][11], nitrile gloves[12], tourniquets[13] and pressure bandages[14], CPR masks, and AEDs are at the top of the list.

If the church will be a community storm shelter, supplies such as drinking water, sleeping mats, blankets, hygiene needs, and non-perishable foods are needed.

Plan Assistance

Most churches have at least a few persons who cannot evacuate or move to shelter on their own. How will you evacuate the nursery and toddlers? How will you help mobility-impaired persons up or down stairs? How do you get cognitively impaired persons to understand instructions and cooperate? There is equipment to use for aiding evacuation. [15][16][17]

There is more …

Other articles in this series deal with winter weather, preparations, floods, wildfires, and earthquakes.


  1. Sheepdog Church Security, TrainingCourses, "Severe Weather and Natural Disasters"
    1. Online Training [],
    2. Training Materials [].
  2. Ann Albers and Marty Roney, "Wetumpka tornado damage: See the destruction caused in Alabama town," Montgomery Advertiser, Published 6:15 p.m. CT Jan. 19, 2019 | Updated 2:23 p.m. CT Jan. 20, 2019 [].
  3. Kristin Smith, "Storm damages Henrico County church," ABC 8 WRIC, September 17, 2018 [].
  4. Vernon Freeman Jr. "Security video shows tornado rip through Henrico, damage West End church," CBS 6 WTVR, Posted 3:08 pm, November 28, 2018 [].
  5. Ken Palmer and Vickki Dozier, "Repairs underway to church wall damaged by strong winds," Lansing State Journal, Published 3:35 p.m. ET March 19, 2017 | Updated 4:20 p.m. ET March 19, 2017 [].
  6. David Anreatta, "After 77 years, St. Mary Church's cross comes down," Democrat & Chronicle, March 10, 2017 [].
  7. MIDLAND WR300 Weather Radio, Amazon [].
  8. Sheepdog Church Security, "Recommended Equipment for Safety Ministries" [[].
  9. Alert.Church [].
  10. Rapid Care First Aid Cabinet, Amazon [].
  11. Ergodyne Arsenal First Responder Trauma Duffel Bag, Amazon []
  12. CAT Combat Application Tourniquet, Amazon [].
  13. Emergency Pressure Bandage, Amazon [].
  14. Nitrile Exam Gloves, Amazon].
  15. LA Baby The Condo Metal Evacuation Window Crib, Amazon [].
  16. LINE2design Stair Chair, Amazon [].
  17. Brand New World WR99 Safety Walking Rope, Amazon [].