Tornadoes, Thunderstorms, Hail, and Lightning
In the Bible
The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lighted up the world; the earth trembled and shook (Psalm 77:18).
Behold, the storm of the Lord! Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked (Jeremiah 23:19 and 30:23).
The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth thunder; your arrows flashed on every side (Psalm 77:17).
He gave them hail for rain, and fiery lightning bolts through their land (Psalm 105:32) [referring to the 7th plague in Egypt].
In the News
Vernon Parish, Louisiana, December 16, 2019 - A church in Vernon Parish was one of many structures damaged or destroyed by tornadoes in a storm system sweeping across five states.
Dallas, Texas, October 20, 2019 - An EF3 tornado tore through the north end of Dallas. The cross on top of a destroyed church was found stuck upright in the ground. This tornado was one of several spawned by a widespread storm system.
Palm Beach, Florida, July and August 2019 - Lightning hit the same church twice, about a month apart, and the grounds were hit by a microburst. The lightning damaged electrical and electronic components both times. The church is seeking a more effective system for lightning suppression.
Allen, Texas, March 25, 2019 - A church's fellowship hall was severely damaged in a hailstorm. Some hailstones in the area measured 4.5 inches.
Special Resource for Severe Weather and Natural Disasters
Preparing for and responding to severe weather and disasters (natural and human-caused) is the focus of our article series for March. The topics of this article, Twisting in the Wind, are weather hazards associated with thunderstorms.
First, you need to know about our download - "Emergency Supply List Recommendations (Essential supplies to have on hand in a disaster or emergency event)." To receive this free download, click here.
All the windows light up at once. A few seconds later "BOOM! "BOOOOM!" shakes the house, followed by a long "Rum-um-um-umble!" Some of the children run to hiding places, while others head for windows to see the show.
A thunderstorm can be both frightening and fascinating:
- Photos of rolling clouds and flashes of lightning have a beauty all their own in a display of raw power.
- The lengthening funnel of a descending tornado is both transfixing and terrifying.
- The "rat-a-tat-tat" of hail on the roof makes you thankful you're inside, while kids can't wait to run outside and collect hailstones - I know of at least one boy who kept his hailstone collection in the freezer.
The thunder of thunderstorms starts with friction between turbulent bodies of air moving in different directions. This friction creates static electric charges. When the static is discharged, it does so explosively with a bang - literally. The discharging of static can continue for miles, creating a long, rolling rumble. Thunderstorms can also cause torrential rain and flooding.
Lightning is a spark, the discharge of static electricity that is usually between clouds. It is beneficial when it creates nitric acid which comes down in rain to enrich the soil.
Sometimes, however, the discharge is between the clouds and the ground. With up to a billion volts in one lightning bolt, the potential damage is enormous. The heat of lightning can start fires. The rapid rise in temperature can become an explosion. And the sudden massive electric current can damage or destroy electric and electronic devices.
From our own experience, lightning set a house on fire a mile away, fried the computers in a local business, and exploded a dead tree across the street during one storm. That was a year after lightning knocked out our well pump.
In the third story above, lightning did strike the same place twice, contrary to popular lore, and with only a month between strikes. No, churches are not immune to lightning. In fact, a tall spire or steeple can act like a lightning rod. Every church needs to have lightning arrestors (aka lightning rods) to prevent damage from a lightning strike. A well-designed and constructed lightning arrestor carries the charge to the ground, bypassing the building itself.
As the news story points out, there can be more than structural damage. The electric surge generated by a lightning strike can damage electronics, as it did to those controlling the church's organ. The strike doesn't have to be a direct hit to create a surge, just in the neighborhood. When the story was published, the double-struck church was looking for a more robust surge suppression system. Our churches need surge protectors for electronics, especially the computers, the media complex, and security systems.
The turbulence of a thunderstorm lifts raindrops to very high altitudes to freeze, lets them down to collect more water, up again for more freezing - the cycle keeps repeating - until the swollen frozen rain drops drop as sleet or hail. The difference between sleet and hail is the size of the hailstones. Sleet is more like icy sand, while hailstones are larger. The stones can cause damage proportionate to their size. Damage can be to roofs and windows on buildings, but vehicle damage is more common. Sometimes, as in the seventh plague on Egypt (Ex. 9:13-35), hail can be deadly.
If someone at the church can get church vehicles under cover when a hailstorm is expected, it can prevent some damage. Having a covered entry or drop-off can provide people a safe place to go if a hailstorm hits while they are outside..
The most threatening accompaniment to a thunderstorm is a tornado. Some tornadoes form outside of thunderstorms. These are the whirlwinds frequently referred to in the Bible. A small EF0 twister can overturn sheds, cause minor damage to roofs, break off tree branches, and knock down a power line or two. EF5 tornadoes are monster storms with incredible damage.
Going to Shelter
Most industrial, commercial, and governmental buildings in tornado-prone area have tornado shelters. Many areas in the nation have tornado sirens to warn entire neighborhoods of twisters.
Churches should have places which can be used as tornado shelters. Your church should also have a weather radio to warn of severe weather. If a tornado warning is received for your area, all persons in the church should go to a safe area (there may be more than one for a large church).
Sheltering-in will be a smoother operation if the congregation has had a tornado drill. If not for the whole church, at least the leaders should have drilled in directing people to the safe places when a tornado warning is received or a tornado is sighted. There have been several instances when lives in a church were saved because everyone was in a safe area when the tornado hit the church building.
What areas in a church are safe?
If the church has a basement, the corridor there can serve as a tornado shelter. This is even better if there are windowless classrooms extending into a hill. This means that more people can be sheltered safely. Other considerations are doors opening inward. This means that the door can be opened after a tornado strike, even if there is debris on the other side. Pry bars kept in the shelter area can be used to pry loose anything blocking the exit.
Conclusion: Protecting the Church in Thunderstorms
When dark clouds roll in and the sky rumbles, beware. There is danger ahead. Know what's coming and be prepared. Here's a summary of how to protect the flock:
- A. Protecting people, buildings, and systems from lightning:
- Have lightning rods/arrestors properly installed. Check grounding for integrity.
- Install surge suppressors for all electronics in the church as well as for the entire electrical wiring.
- Urge people to stay inside and away from electrical equipment during a severe thunderstorm
- Protecting people and vehicles from hail:
- Provide covered areas for church vehicles.
- Provide a covered entry or drop-off area, maybe also a pavilion or gazebo.
- Protecting from tornadoes:
- Identify or build tornado shelters in the church.
- Have shelter door(s) open inward.
- Have pry bars in shelters.
- Have and monitor a weather radio with S.A.M.E. (Specific Area Message Encoding).
- Plan and conduct tornado drills.
- Have supplies for treating injuries.
There Is More
This article is one of five in a series on Severe Weather and Disasters. The other four are "It Ain't Over 'til It's Over" (Winter, That Is), "A Burning Problem" (Wildfires, Drought, Extreme Heat), "Human Error" (Disasters Caused by People), and "Tectonic Terror" (Earthquakes and Volcanic Activity),
- Kris Moloney, Sheepdog Church Security Training Courses, "Severe Weather and Natural Disasters" --
- Training Bundle (Classroom) [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/severe-weather-and-natural-disasters-training-bundle];
- Individual Training (Online) [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/severe-weather-and-natural-disasters].
- Bradford Betz, "Tornadoes reported throughout southeast, damaging homes, church; at least 3 dead," Fox News, December 16, 2019 [https://www.foxnews.com/us/louisiana-tornadoes-reported-church-homes-damaged].
- Sam Masterson, "'Cross of Jesus' only thing left standing after Dallas tornado destroyed church," KMOX Radio, October 24, 2019 [https://kmox.radio.com/articles/news/cross-only-thing-left-after-dallas-tornado-hits-church].
- Michelle Marchante, "Lightning struck a church once. Then it happened again. And a wicked wind came, too," Miami Herald, August 09, 2019 [https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/article233697677.html].
- Jesus Jimenez, "North Texas cleans up after pummeling from hailstorm that may have caused $400 million in damage," The Dallas Morning News, March 25, 2019 [https://www.dallasnews.com/news/weather/2019/03/25/north-texas-cleans-up-after-pummeling-from-hailstorm-that-may-have-caused-400-million-in-damage/].
- Kris Moloney, "Emergency Supply List Recommendations (Essential supplies to have on hand in a disaster or emergency event)," Sheepdog Church Security, Resources, [https://sheepdogchurchsecurity.lpages.co/pdf-severe-weather/].
- Reference staff writers, "Lightning," National Geographic, February 4, 2020 [https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/natural-disasters/lightning/].