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7 Deadliest Weather Conditions

Severe Weather Safety Tips to Beat Nature's Wrath

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Updated January 25, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Mother Nature is beautiful, but she's got a temper. The trick to dodging her bad moods is to be prepared and to use some good judgment when she strikes with severe weather.

Nature fills in several spots on the "leading-causes-of-death" chart. Here are the deadliest weather conditions Mother Nature has to offer, with severe weather safety tips to get you through alive.

1. Hurricanes

Hurricane Katrina
Image courtesy of NOAA

This is a no-brainer. In 2005, I went to the Gulf Coast to help out after hurricane Katrina. I can attest to the devastation that a hurricane is capable of bringing. The National Weather Service reports that the 10-year average annual deaths for hurricanes is currently 116. Katrina and her relatives, Ike and Rita, had a lot to do with that average. Assuming we don't have another huge hurricane catastrophe, the annual death rate for hurricanes should drop when Katrina falls out of the 10-year average.

Hurricane safety is all about preparation. There's not too much you can do to stay safe in a hurricane other than not being in a hurricane. Buttoning up the house so it doesn't get destroyed, and either hunkering down in the most secure structure possible or getting away from the coast, are your only good options.

2. Heat

(c) McGun at Flickr
Hot weather is another killer. The 10-year average for heat-related deaths in the United States is just under that for hurricanes: 115 deaths per year. I live in a fairly mild area of the country. We hardly ever have severe weather, but we do get heat waves - triple-digit scorchers that reach well past 110 degrees. Staying hydrated is the best way to combat severe heat. Heat illnesses (heat exhaustion and heat stroke) are common conditions that require immediate first aid.

3. Floods

Car stalled on a flooded street in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina
(c) Stevie Wright

Flooding comes in a distant third on our list of deadliest weather conditions. From 2001 to 2010, an average of 71 people died in flood-related incidents in the United States. The 30-year average (a number not available for all types of weather conditions) is the highest of all the conditions: 92 fatalities per year. Floods kill in a variety of ways. They can wash away your house, your car or just you.

The trick to avoid death during a flood is to stay out of - or at least on top of - the water. Don't try to walk or drive through flood waters. And don't drink groundwater or anything that touches flood waters, because contamination is a serious problem during floods.

4. Tornadoes

Tornado
Image courtesy of the NOAA
Twisters kill an average of 56 people a year. They're also known for flying cows and sending folks - and dogs - over the rainbow (movie references in case you were wondering). Tornadoes are usually a summer phenomenon. Inside and underground are the best places to be during a tornado. If that's not an option, then getting flat and low is your best bet. Crawling under a bridge is not a good idea.

5. Rip Current

(c) K Christner
Not necessarily related to storms, rip currents are still a serious weather phenomenon. An average of 43 people drown in rip currents every year. The trick to surviving a rip current is not to fight it. You won't be able to swim against the current; instead, you'll have to let it sweep you out to sea a little and swim parallel to the shore for a bit. Once you've successfully swam away from the rip current, you can swim back to the beach.

6. Lightning

Lightning
Image courtesy of NOAA
For the first decade of this millennium, 39 people per year were killed by lightning. For 20 years before that, however, the yearly death toll averaged 63 people. The way to avoid being struck by lightning is never to be the highest thing around, or next to the highest thing around.

7. Cold and Winter

Driving in snow
(c) jespahjoy
In the National Weather Services chart of weather fatalities, cold and winter are different categories. I guess if the cold exposure doesn't get you, then the ice storms will. Between the two categories, there was an average of 62 fatalities per year from 2001 to 2010. Cold exposure can only be cured with warmth and shelter. Frostbite requires thawing, but only if the fingers, toes or other parts aren't going to freeze again.
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