Severe Weather Coverage

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS Helps You Prepare for Severe Weather

The 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS Weather Team is helping you prepare for various severe weather events, including severe thunderstorms, flooding, tornadoes and heat. Read our guide below.

Severe Thunderstorms

A severe thunderstorm watch is issued with the atmosphere has a lot of ingredients for severe thunderstorms.

A severe thunderstorm warning is issued when a storm is producing at least 1" hail and/or 58 mph winds based on radar information or verified storm reports.

Starting in 2021, there are new styles of Severe Thunderstorm Warnings issued by the National Weather Service. These are designed to warn about more significant impacts from severe thunderstorms. If a severe storm is producing 80+ mph winds and/or 2.75+ inch hail (baseball sized or larger) it would be called "destructive." This would trigger the Wireless Emergency Alert on your phone, similar to what happens during Tornado Warnings.

The top priority is getting inside a sturdy building, and moving away from windows. This would keep you safer from any damage from the wind or hail. With most severe thunderstorms, it is not necessary to head to a designated storm shelter. However, with the more destructive storms, it would be smart to treat it like a tornado and head to a safe place in your home or business.

Please have a cell phone with the KSTP mobile app downloaded so that you can keep up with the latest watches and warnings for your area. Bring plenty of water and snacks down to the lowest floor with you.

Thunderstorms can produce damage similar to that of tornadoes. For that reason, you should protect yourself from severe thunderstorms as you would when a tornado approaches. Always try to get to a sturdy building. An interior room on the lowest floor of that building is usually the safest. Always remember to stay away from windows.

If you do get stuck outside, remember to crouch down in a low area away from tall, individual trees. Lightning is attracted to tall objects. If you're caught in a severe thunderstorm while driving, slow down and get off of heavily-traveled roads. If possible, find a sturdy structure to get inside. Your car does offer a certain amount of protection from lightning, so stay inside if there are no buildings available close by.

A flood watch is issued when weather conditions are favorable to see flooding in an area. This doesn't guarantee flooding will happen, but instead indicates the potential for flooding. A flash flood watch gives the public time to prepare for potential flooding. We typically will have a Flood watch ahead of weather events that end up producing flood warnings.

A flood warning means flooding is happening or about to happen (inevitable). Flood warnings require the public to act immediately within the warning area.

Flash flooding is particularly dangerous because it can occur very quick. Heavy rain within six hours or less can produce flash flooding, which can also cause things like erosion, and mudslides. Topography, soils type and degree of soil saturation are all contributor to how both flash flooding and flooding in general occur.

A flood advisory will be issued when flooding is expected in a specific area, but the flooding is not expected to be bad enough for a warning. So, this level of flood concern is more nuanced. A Flood Advisory is issued to help the public be aware of this lesser degree of threat.

To prepare for flooding at home, I'd first recommend having flooding insurance. Minnesota weather is now, on average, generally more wet than it was in the past. We've dealt with more flooding problems as of late. Flooding insurance must be purchase 30+ days before you're dealing with home flooding. It's good to buy insurance before you have a problem. That brings me to the topic of knowing your risk. Where do you live? Are you near a creek, stream, river, low-lying area, or do you live on top of a hill? This knowledge of the flooding vulnerabilities to where you live, will help you decide what planning is necessary to prepare for flooding.

Before flooding occurs, the National Weather Service suggests "install(ing) check-valves in plumbing to prevent flood waters from backing up into the drains of your home. You'll want to make sure your sump pump is working and consider having a backup. Make sure your electric circuit breakers, or fuses, are clearly marked for each area of your home." Make sure your electronics are charged before a flood, and make sure you have a NOAA weather radio. Also, make sure your flashlights have working batteries.

I'm sure you've heard meteorologists say "turn around, don't drown." We couldn't be more serious about this topic! Each year, people get swept away by moving water that they think they can drive or walk through. We frequently remind people that 6+ inches of water can stall your car, and easily knock a person off their feet. A foot of water will likely float your vehicle, and once we're talking 2 feet of water, well your car is now a boat likely to sink.

I think what's challenging for people during flooding events is that even knowing the facts that I just listed above, many people think they can eyeball the depth of the water. The truth is during a flood, the depth of moving water is changing (especially a flash flood.) The moving water has also picked up a ton of sediment debris, so it's very difficult to see through the water to get an idea of depth.

Third, the velocity of the moving water will change with differences in topographic slope, and the velocity will also change with changes in volume to the water that contributing to the flooding. As we all know, the faster the water moves, the easier it is to bulldoze through objects, and sweep cars and people away. Are you able you eyeball the speed of river? I know I'm not able to just know the general velocity of moving water without measuring it. So, that unknown regarding velocity of moving water, is another reason why it's too dangerous to take a risk and assume you can walk or drive through flooded areas.

One other thing that's important to mention is that the fastest flowing areas within a flooded river, for example, are not at the margins of the river. The fastest-flowing areas are also not at the surface, but instead toward the middle. You can't see the middle interior portion as we stand to the side of a flooded area. So, by the time someone reaches this midpoint, and finds out that the water is moving too fast to control their vehicle, it's typically too late and too difficult to get back to the shore.

Ready, a national public service campaign, advises citizens do the following in the midst of flooding:

  • Do not walk, swim, or drive through flood waters
  • Stay away from bridges over fast-moving water
  • Evacuate if told to do so, otherwise move to higher ground or a higher floor
  • Gather supplies in case you need to evacuate immediately or if services are cut off
  • Purchase or renew a flood insurance policy

Meanwhile, those who want to keep neighborhood storm drains clear of debris can "Adopt a Drain" in St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Here are a series of resources to help prepare for flooding, to locate assistance and to find or provide aid:


A tornado watch is issued when atmospheric conditions are favorable for the development of a tornado over a large area for the next six to 12 hours. During a tornado watch, people should closely monitor updated weather statements and be prepared to move to shelter if a tornado develops in their area. Tornadoes do not always occur during a tornado watch and tornado watches can be canceled if the threat of a tornado decreases, usually due to cooler air moving into the area.

A tornado warning means a tornado has been spotted by trained storm spotters or National Weather Service radar is indicating rotation in a thunderstorm that could produce a tornado. Issuing a tornado warning based on rotation in the thunderstorm can give the public a few minutes and up to 20 minutes before a tornado hits. Tornado warnings usually cover a small area for 30 to 90 minutes and can be canceled or extended.

Many people are confused by civil defense sirens during a tornado. The civil defense sirens sounding during a tornado is to alert people outside of the storm danger and people should not depend on hearing the civil defense sirens while inside. People should get tornado warnings from NOAA weather radios, TV media or off computers and smartphones.

The safest place during a tornado is the lowest level of a home or building away from windows. Windows should be left closed to avoid allowing lightning to enter the home, as lightning is common during a tornado.

If your home is struck by a tornado, it is important to contact your home owners insurance company immediately and avoid hiring anyone to remove trees, fix damage, etc. until you speak with your insurance agent. Typically, people place tarps over homes damaged by tornadoes.

Always stay away from tornado damage, as broken glass or other sharp objects, along with adjusting building materials and trees, could cause serious injury.

Everyone should have a tornado kit that has a flashlight with extra batteries, bottles of water, foods that will not spoil, phone chargers, important documents and credit cards, food and water for pets, pillows and blankets. In the past, candles were recommended but due to the potential of leaking gas after a tornado, this is not advised.

Travel should always be avoided during an active tornado warning and being in a vehicle is extremely dangerous, because the vehicle is not anchored to the ground and is likely to roll in tornado winds.

An excessive heat warning is issued within 12 hours of the onset of extremely dangerous heat conditions, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This type of warning is typically issued when the maximum heat index temperature is to be 105 degrees or higher for at least two days and nighttime temperatures stay above 75 degrees, however, those criteria can vary across the country.

An excessive heat watch is issued when conditions are likely for an excessive heat event in the upcoming 24 to 72 hours.

An excessive heat outlook is issued when there is potential for an excessive heat event in the upcoming three to seven days.

NOAA suggests drinking plenty of water and eating cool, easy-to-digest foods such as fruit or salads while inside. Take a cool bath or shower. Use air conditioners or spend time in air-conditioned locations. Do not direct the flow of portable electric fans toward you if the room's temperature is over 90 degrees; the blowing air is more likely to dehydrate you faster. Make sure rooms are well-vented.

According to NOAA, if you must go out during excessive heat events, you should dress in lightweight, loose clothing that reflects heat and sunlight. Drink plenty of water and minimize exposure to the sun. Do not leave valuable electronic equipment, such as cellphones and GPS units, in hot vehicles. Children, seniors and anyone with underlying health conditions should stay in the coolest places available to them.

Watching a forecast on air or on the KSTP mobile app remains a good way to get local forecast information during severe weather. However, it’s good to have numerous ways to get watches and warning information. That way no matter where you are and what is happening, you can stay safe.

Weather radios are one of the best tools in severe weather. They broadcast watches and warnings as soon as they are issued. They also have a battery back-up so if the power goes out, or you need to go to your tornado shelter, you can still get information.

You can always get severe weather information online and on certain apps. and the KSTP mobile app will always have the latest watches and warnings.

If you are someone who pays attention to the weather a lot, you can help get information out by calling or texting friends or family who are in the path of a dangerous storm. Sometimes that personal connection can make people take warnings seriously.

Outdoor tornado sirens are another way, but they are probably the least accurate. First, they are not meant to be heard inside. They do not always go off automatically, and that delay can mean less time to get to safety. Plus, if the power goes out in your neighborhood, the sirens will stay silent. This is why having many ways to get warning information is so important.

Getting severe weather information is important, but you also need to know what to do after that information. Before every severe weather season, make sure you and everyone in your house know what to do and where to go during severe weather.

For most severe thunderstorms, being inside and away from windows is the easiest way to stay safe. However, with more destructive severe storms, you will need to take extra steps, similar to a Tornado Warning.

When a Tornado Warning is issued, you want to get to the lowest floor of a building, with basements being the best place. You want to stay away from windows, and get into an interior room, hallway, or closet. Put as many walls between you and the outside as possible! If possible, grab something to protect your head from any debris.

If there is a tornado when you are at work or school, there should be a plan in place with designated storm shelters. Follow the safety protocol and get to a place of safety.

If you are driving or outside when a tornado warning is issued, the best thing to do is get into a building as quickly as possible. Avoid stopping under highway overpasses. This is very dangerous for other drivers, and especially dangerous during a tornado.

For the home, work, and school plans, make sure to practice them before every severe weather season. That way when you need to put the plan into action, it feels familiar, and less stressful.

This plan should also include a severe weather kit that you can keep in your storm shelter. The National Weather Service has an extensive list that you can find here.