When summer storms pop up in rural areas, farmers may find themselves with little or inadequate shelter.
Something as simple as cell phone radar or alerts from a weather radio can help in monitoring weather and tracking sudden storms.
“If you’re in a field, a tractor with an enclosed cab can provide adequate shelter,” Brian Smith, Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the National Weather Service Omaha/Valley, Nebraska, said. “Taking shelter in a tractor would be similar to being in a car during a storm, at least for protection from lightning. If lightning did strike, it would go around the shell of the tractor and into the ground.”
While the rubber tires on the tractor have nothing to do with protecting you from lightning, the metal cab does because it works like a lightning rod. The metal enclosure conducts an electric charge to the ground. Make sure the engine and any lights are turned off and sit quietly till the storm subsides.
“If you don’t have an enclosed tractor, a vehicle is a good option,” Smith says. “Be sure to avoid any area with tall objects, such as a tree, as tall objects can attract lightning.”
In his experience, Smith has seen that farmers are weather savvy and generally aware of what’s going on around them.
“It’s a good idea to have a portable weather radio in your tractor or vehicle to stay abreast of weather alerts and warnings,” Smith says. “Many cell phone apps can be set up to receive weather alerts, which is also very useful.”
Following the 2014 devastating tornado that tore through Pilger Nebraska, Smith conducted surveys to determine how residents there learned about the danger and were able to take shelter in time.
“Ten years ago, most people would have seen warnings on their TV,” Smith says. “Or perhaps a neighbor would have called them. The vast majority of Pilger residents said they received a warning on their cell phone.”
Facing a tornado in a remote area can make it extremely difficult to decide where to find the best possible shelter.
“Getting out of your tractor or vehicle may not seem like the best option,” Smith says. “However, there’s no guarantee the tornado won’t pick up a tractor or vehicle and mangle it.”
If there’s no other recourse, Smith recommends finding a low area where it’s possible to lie flat to the ground.
“The ideal approach is to avoid getting into that kind of situation by staying informed about weather conditions,” he says.
Whenever possible, the best shelter from a tornado is a storm shelter or basement. In a home, go to the lowest floor and smallest center room (i.e., bathroom or closet), under a stairwell, or in an interior hallway with no windows. Crouch as low as possible to the floor, face down, covering your head with your hands.
“Generally, there are signs of an approaching severe storm,” Smith says. “Darkening skies are one sign. Often, a shelf cloud, also known as a horizontal cloud, is on the leading edge of the storm. When you see those kinds of conditions developing, it’s a good idea to at least know where to find shelter.”
A shelf cloud may not always be visible until minutes before a storm arrives.
“If you know weather conditions are favorable for severe storms, that’s when it pays to watch weather reports, predictions and developments carefully. Knowing ahead of time how you would respond and keeping an eye on what the sky looks like and weather reports on the radio or cell phone can all help avoid a dangerous situation. Whenever a weather watch is issued, be sure you know where to find shelter and protection.”