Your severe weather survival guide

Severe storms coming into Luxemburg, Minn.
Are you ready for the serious storms Minnesota summers bring? If your answer isn't a solid "yes," keep reading.
Dave Schwarz | St. Cloud Times via AP file

The hurricane- and earthquake-free zone of Minnesota doesn't have a reputation as a particularly dangerous place for weather. We're in a flat state, insulated from the oceans.

While scenery is fairly tame, the storms aren't — especially in the summer.

Severe storms in the Boundary Waters killed two people in summer 2016. A tornado has killed a Minnesotan as recently as 2011, and three died the year before in a major twister outbreak.

The danger is real, and the best thing you can do is be prepared for the worst. MPR News has compiled this guide for staying safe in warm-weather storms.

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Weather alerts: What do they mean?

Watch vs. warning

The two W's of storms are issued for different reasons.

A watch comes when there are favorable conditions for a tornado, severe thunderstorm or flash flood. You should keep on with business as usual during a watch, but with one eye on the skies. Be ready to take shelter if things change.

Warnings are more serious — they're issued when severe weather is imminent or has already been reported. Get to a safe place when there's a warning in your area. They're issued county-by-county.

When do sirens go off?

This is tricky, as both cities and counties own sirens and choose when to use them. The National Weather Service said it doesn't sound sirens, though it will issue recommendations to local jurisdictions on when to use them.

It generally has to be serious for a siren to sound. In Hennepin County, for example, sirens sound for severe weather warnings or reports of sustained straight-line winds over 70 mph. Check out your county's website to see what its specific guidelines are.

Know your insurance

Storm damage in Duluth
Bjorn Reed surveys damage to his home after a severe thunderstorm in Duluth.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News 2016

As thunderstorms become more frequent, so does damage to homes. But there a few things homeowners and renters can do to prepare.

Here are a few things to check as far as insurance goes, courtesy of Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman:

• Make sure that homeowners insurance is up to date. If you've done any recent remodeling, you've added new value that may not be covered under an outdated insurance policy.

• Renting? Consider getting a renters insurance policy — a landlord's property insurance does not cover tenants' personal possessions.

• Renters and homeowners alike should keep inventory of their possessions. Details such as model and serial numbers can ease the process of making a claim.

• Finally, consider flood insurance, and check to see if your policy covers hail and falling trees.

More information can be found at the state commerce department's website.

How to be safe in a variety of weather

A few general rules

When a tornado comes twisting through your vicinity or lightning is striking nearby, the National Weather Service has some guidance for staying safe no matter where you are:

1. Get as close to the ground as possible.

2. When in a building, get as close to its core as you can.

3. Keep away from doors, windows and outside walls.

4. The smaller the room you shelter in, the better.

For apartment-dwellers

The same basic rules apply here: Get to the building's lowest floor in the place with the most barriers between you and the storm outdoors.

Some buildings will have a reinforced shelter, possibly in a laundry room or other shared space, so make a plan ahead of time for how you'll get to safety. This is especially important for people who live on the upper floors of high-rise buildings.

Mobile homes

Even in a weak tornado, mobile homes won't hold up, said the National Weather Service, so make sheltering plans before a storm comes if you live in a mobile home.

The NWS encourages mobile-home residents consider heading to safety when a watch comes, rather than waiting for a warning. It's crucial to have a safe space available 24/7.

Mobile home park in Kansas
This file photo shows the damage after an EF3 tornado swept through a mobile home park in Wichita, Kansas.
Julie Denesha | Getty Images 2012

In the car

Cars aren't a great place to be during bad weather, especially tornadoes. Try getting into a shelter nearby. If that's not an option, your best bet is to stay in the vehicle and crouch on the floor.

In the outdoors

Quoth the NWS: "Being exposed outdoors is one of the worst places to be in a tornado or severe thunderstorm."

If you can get indoors, do it! If that's impossible, the recommendations are a little different for tornadoes vs. thunder or lightning storms.

If you get caught outside in a tornado, get to the lowest area, such as a ditch. Lie flat, face-down on the ground and cover your head and neck with your arms. Avoid trees or anything else that might fall and hit you.

For electrical storms, avoid open fields and elevated spaces (standing on a hilltop is a bad idea). Keep away from tall and isolated trees, or anything else that might act like a lightning rod. If you're in the woods, try crouching in a lower group of trees or bushes.

If you're in a group, have people spread out so any electrical current can't spread between folks. As in a tornado, look for low-lying areas. Stay away from anything wet or metallic, since water and metal conduct electricity.

Build a disaster-supply kit, the Department of Homeland Security's website, has a ready-made list of things to keep on hand for when a serious storm strikes. Here's what they recommend for a "basic" kit:

Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation

Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food

• A battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA weather radio with tone alert, and extra batteries

• Flashlight and extra batteries

• First aid kit

• Whistle to signal for help

• Dust mask to filter contaminated air, and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place

• Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation

• Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities

• Manual can opener for food

• Local maps

• Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger