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How to Stay Safe at Work During Severe Weather

Northern Illinois has seen some wacky weather lately. Sometimes it feels like April rather than the end of June! Even though it’s officially summer now, we are still getting a ton of thunderstorms, dangerous high-speed winds, and tornado warnings. So, I thought it would be a good idea to throw some reminders your way about safety tips before more bad weather strikes.

The obvious things are overlooked in severe weather, and you want to make sure you’re prepared during a serious thunderstorm or tornado! This is especially crucial while you’re at work, because there’s probably no basement and you may not have discussed a safety plan with your co-workers.

First and foremost, you need to know the difference between a Thunderstorm Watch and a Thunderstorm Warning. According to, those terms are defined as follows:

Severe Thunderstorm Watch: Severe thunderstorms are possible in and near the watch area. Stay informed and be ready to act if a severe thunderstorm warning is issued.


Severe Thunderstorm Warning: Severe weather has been reported by spotters or indicated by radar. Warnings indicate imminent danger to life and property.


Important tips and products you need to know/have before a thunderstorm hits:

  • Emergency weather radio (this is one of the best items to keep on hand at the office).
  • Know where your office fire extinguisher is kept.
  • Know ahead of time where your office first aid kit is located (some great choices are here and here).
  • Keep flashlights handy (Mag lites are always excellent flashlight ideas).
  • Remember where the emergency exits are in case of fire.

Here’s what to do when a severe thunderstorm occurs while you are at work:

  • Ask if computers and equipment need to be unplugged.
  • Stay inside, and stay away from windows and any glass doors, skylights, etc.
  • Avoid talking on the phone (including cell phones!) if you can hear thunder, and take off headsets.
  • You can be injured by lightning inside the office too. Stay away from all electronics, appliances, and metal items like doors and window frames.


You also need to make sure you know the difference between a Tornado Watch and Warning. According to the Red Cross:

If a Tornado Watch is issued for your area, it means that a tornado is “possible.”

If a Tornado Warning is issued, it means that a tornado has actually been spotted, or is strongly indicated on radar, and it is time to go to a safe shelter immediately.

Also, urges you to be alert about what is happening outside. Here are some of the things that people describe in regard to a tornado experience:

  • A sickly greenish or greenish-black color to the sky.
  • If there is a watch or warning posted, then the fall of hail should be considered as a real danger sign. Hail can be common in some areas, however, and usually has no tornadic activity along with it.
  • A strange quiet that occurs within or shortly after the thunderstorm.
  • Clouds moving by very fast, especially in a rotating pattern or converging toward one area of the sky.
  • A sound like a waterfall or rushing air that turns into a roaring sound as it comes closer. The sound of a tornado has been likened to that of both railroad trains and jets.
  • Debris dropping from the sky.
  • An obvious “funnel-shaped” cloud that is rotating, or debris such as branches or leaves being pulled upwards, even if no funnel cloud is visible.

What to do if a tornado occurs when you’re at work:

  • Find out if your town has a tornado siren and make a note of what it sounds like.
  • In extreme situations, sit under a desk.
  • If there is no basement or emergency shelter at your place of work, go to the Northeast side of the building into a bathroom (with no windows) or a hallway. They will provide you with the most safety. You want to put as many walls as possible between you and the tornado.

Using these tips will help everyone stay safe during these summer months when storms are still very prevalent. What other tips do you have for staying safe in a storm while at work? Have you ever been caught in a severe weather situation?


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  1. amy

    Ugh, I hate tornadoes!! As someone who has lived in the midwest for majority of my life, I should be used to them.

    These are some great tips though! I always got the warnings and watches switched, now I know that first there’s a watch and then a warning.

    *Knocking on wood* Hopefully, we won’t need these today 😉

    • Amanda

      Having a tornado warning is scary! Luckily, even though we get a lot of watches and warnings for them, they are still not as likely to touch down or cause damage. The main thing is to be prepared for them, just in case…because when they do touch down in town, they can cause a lot of damage very quickly!

      And I never thought about how some people might confuse watches and warnings…but it does make sense how someone could think that the warning comes first. I’m glad I put the definitions in here.

  2. cyberneticSAM

    Reading these kinds of articles ALWAYS gives me the paranoid eyes. Yes, having grown up not only in the mid-west but also in the boonies, I have one to many run-ins with the feared tornado monster. I have an extreme phobia; I know everyone is scared of them to a degree, but my fear is that as soon as I even see the possible makings of a tornado I lose my mind! Storms do very crazy things to me, while my significant other is fascinated by them. Yes they are interesting and cool, but I am not about to be a yard dweller (as I often see) staring and on the lookout for danger. I get so upset when that happens, sirens go off and you can’t see anything outside – it is scary! And then you look outside and there is Joe Yokel sitting outside with his family pointing at the sky, saying “All be damned look at that tornada”. I am often the type that is curled up in a ball in a basement closet, making deals with god! Ha! Anyway this was a great idea for a blog, it is always a good idea to inform and remind people of safety as they often forget these warnings, plans, and tips exist for a reason!

    • amy

      Yay! I’m not the only one who has made a few deals with god in order for the storm to hurry up and move on!!

      • Amanda

        Storms are very scary to a lot of people–I think it’s because they can cause so much damage and because we can’t control them. I like to look at the sky and watch the lightning sometimes through the window, but when it gets really bad, I’d rather hide out inside too. 😉 I’d never want to be a storm chaser! But watching stuff like that on tv is interesting.

  3. Joseph Giorgi

    Sound advice, Amanda! These things are especially important to know for those of us living in the Midwest, where we always have to be on the lookout. Considering everything we’ve been hearing on the news about the current tornado season, you really can’t be too careful.

    Excellent and timely post! 🙂

    By the way, that “Office Emergency Kit” is beyond amazing. All kidding aside, that’s a beneficial product to have laying around. It’s got everything: a spare energy bar, packets of purified water, glow sticks, a whistle, a thermal blanket, a face mask, and more. Talk about being prepared! Throw a hazmat suit in there and you’ll never need another kit.

    • Amanda

      Yeah, this year has been full of bad weather and tornadoes. I read that this year alone the US has had over 500 deaths due to tornadoes, when normally in a year it’s only around 50. That’s what inspired this post.

      That Office Emergency Kit is amazing. We should keep one here in the office, just in case. And we’ll put you in charge of the Hazmat suits, lol.

  4. Tony Promo

    Step #1.) Work at Quality Logo Products. It isn’t just our home away from home, it’s a fortified tornado-proof fortress. If the ish ever hits the fan, I’m burying myself in a box of Bubbas (I know that sounds weird) under my desk.

    • Amanda

      Alright Tony Promo, you’re in charge of the safe hiding spots! Can we all fit in your box of Bubbas? Luckily, this building has a lot of inside rooms with no windows that would be safe for a tornado! 😉

  5. Jana Quinn

    Thanks for these tips, Amanda. Like most people (I think), I always double check when it comes down to watch/warning and which means something has been spotted.

    I noticed you put in that you shouldn’t talk on CELL phones during storms. Why is that?

    • Tony Promo

      Because you’ll blow up a gas station? 😉

    • Amanda

      While it’s generally agreed upon that home phones (especially corded phones) should not be used during a thunderstorm, cell phones are not 100% figured out yet. But according to the Red Cross, it is dangerous because cell phones have radiation and metal in them, which can make them an easier target for lightning to strike–some scientists believe that lightning can be carried through radio waves. Some people think they are harmless to use during storms, but since Red Cross thinks they’re dangerous, I included it to be extra safe. I know I’d feel pretty stupid if I got struck by lighting because I was chatting away about the most recent Bachlorette episode, lol. Joking aside though, I think that they are the safest option if an important phone call needs to be made during sever weather.

    • Juliette

      I always heard that the reason for the “no cell phone” thing was because the signal has the chance to attract lightning. Not sure if that’s actually true or not…

      • Jana Quinn

        Looks like it’s not that cell phones/iPods attract lightning (It doesn’t make sense to me that amount of metal would be significant enough to ATTRACT the lightning) but that it can make a lightning strike injury WORSE.

        FSM bless

  6. Juliette

    Wonderful post (and perfect timing with all these summer storms)!

    Here at our office we get phone alerts when a warning is issued for our area and we have a couple of folks that keep an eye on the NWS when nasty weather starts to pop up. If a tornado warning is called (or if a few of us feel that sudden pressure change in our ears) we all gather in a central hallway away from windows.

    (though I have a bad habit of being last to the hallway due to me taking a few extra photos out the front door)

    • Amanda

      Thanks Juliette! The recent bad weather was my inspiration for this post! I can’t believe all of the storms we’ve been having.

  7. LK

    My dad is one of those people that likes to sit outside and watch the storms and skies… I on the other hand, take cover at the moment I hear there’s a chance of a tornado! When I was little I used to stock water bottles, books, candy, toys under the bathroom sink (we didn’t have a basement) and then create a bed out of the bathtub and hide out until the storm was gone.

    Ugh I hate tornadoes. But this was a great post to prepare everyone for all the storms we’ve been having!

    • LK

      P.S. Why is taking cover on the Northeast side of a building important?

      ..and can someone please point me Northeast if a storm hits?! Or get me a compass?

      • Amanda

        The NE side of any building is the safest because most tornadoes travel from Southwest to Northeast. So taking shelter at the NE side of a building gives you more space between you and the tornado. And since tornadoes are on the ground very shortly, it will hopefully be all done by the time it reaches the NE side.

  8. JPorretto

    Thanks A.S.! Super handy tips. You never know how bad you need flashlights until you don’t have them when the lights go out. I’d buy extra just to be safe.

    P.S. I love watching storms. Right up until about the point my fight or flight response kicks in and I yell at everyone to get in the damn basement!

  9. Jill Tooley

    Thanks for the refresher course in workplace safety! Like other commenters, I sometimes get mixed up with warnings and watches. Those warnings are nothing to mess around with…storms can be terrifying even though I love the way they sound.

    Also, good call on the NE side of the building tip, Amanda – yet another safety precaution that I was unaware of! You can never be too prepared. Hopefully some of these heavy thunderstorms will subside in our area soon!

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