Summer Weather Hazards

  • Published
  • By Greg Chadwick, Air Force Materiel Command Health & Wellness Team
  • Air Force Materiel Command

Summer is a great time to be outside and enjoy the weather. But don’t let the sunny days and warm nights fool you. Summer also holds significant weather hazards.

Thunderstorms produce dangerous lightning and heavy rain. Heat waves can be lengthy and deadly.

Let’s take a look at some of the hazards that summer weather can bring and what you need to do to stay safe and be weather-ready.

Thunderstorms and Lightning Strikes

Thunderstorms are dangerous storms that produce heavy rain and lightning, and are capable of producing powerful wind gusts and flash floods. According to National Weather Service Storm Data, an average of 182 people are injured and 33 people are killed each year by lightning in the U.S. If you hear thunder, lightning is close enough to pose an immediate threat. When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors! Many lightning victims are caught outside during a storm because they did not act promptly to get to a safe place, or they go back outside too soon after a storm has passed. Find a safe, enclosed shelter when you hear thunder. Safe shelters include homes, offices, shopping centers, and hard-top vehicles with the windows rolled up. The NWS recommends staying inside for at least 30 minutes after the last thunder clap. Lightning can also injure individuals who are inside their home during a thunderstorm; approximately one-third of lightning-strike injuries occur indoors. Lightning has the ability to send electricity through the plumbing and wiring if your building is struck. Avoid showering, bathing, or washing dishes during a storm. Do not use electronic equipment connected to an electrical outlet.  If you are driving, try to safely exit the roadway and park. Stay in the vehicle and turn on emergency flashers until the heavy rain ends. Avoid touching metal or other surfaces that conduct electricity in and outside the vehicle. When a Severe Thunderstorm Warning is issued- Take Action! Severe weather has been reported by spotters or indicated by radar. Warnings indicate imminent danger to life and property. Take shelter in a substantial building.  

Flash Flooding

A flash flood is a rapid rise in water levels along rivers, creeks, arroyos, or even normally dry land areas. Flash flooding is most often due to extremely heavy rainfall from thunderstorms. It occurs so quickly that many people are caught off-guard. Their situation may become dangerous if they encounter high, fast moving water while traveling. Each year, more deaths occur due to flooding than from any other thunderstorm related hazard. While the number of fatalities can vary dramatically with weather conditions from year to year, the national 30-year average for flood deaths is 88 per year in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that over half of all flood-related drownings occur when a vehicle is driven into hazardous flood water. Turn Around Don’t Drown! Don’t drive into flood waters. The road may have collapsed under that water. People underestimate the power and force of water. It takes only 6 inches of fast-moving flood water to knock over and carry away an adult. It takes just 12 inches of rushing water to carry away most cars and just 2 feet of rushing water can carry away SUVs and trucks.  

When a Flash Flood Warning is issued-Take Action! Flooding is likely or already occurring in your area. If you are in a drainage area or other low spots, walk or climb to higher ground. Know your escape routes and act as quickly as possible. A short walk or climb to higher ground may just save your life.

Landslides and Mudflows

A landslide is rocks, earth, or other materials moving down a slope. A mudflow is a landslide that is combined with up to 60 percent water. Mudflows generally occur during intense rainfall on water-saturated soil. They usually start on steep hillsides as soil slumps or slides that liquefy and accelerate to speeds as great as 35 miles per hour. The CDC reports that an average of 25-50 people are killed by landslides each year in the U.S. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the conditions that make mudflows most likely are:

-Areas where wildfires or human modification of the land have destroyed vegetation.

-Areas where landslides have occurred before.

-Steep slopes and areas at the bottom of slopes or canyons.

-Slopes that have been altered for construction of buildings and roads.

-Areas where surface runoff is directed.

During and after intense storms, be especially alert when driving. Embankments along roadsides are particularly susceptible to landslides and mudflows. Watch the road for collapsed pavement, mud, fallen rocks, and other indications of possible debris flows.

Extreme Heat

In most of the U.S., an extreme heat wave is a period of at least 3 days of high heat and humidity with temperatures above 90 degrees. Extreme heat is the most dangerous type of severe-weather event in the U.S., and kills more people than any other weather event. The CDC reports that during 2004-2018, an average of 702 heat-related deaths occurred in the U.S. annually. Exposure to excessive heat can exacerbate many pre-existing health conditions, (e.g., cardiovascular, cerebral, and respiratory diseases), contributing to deaths from heart attacks, strokes, or respiratory ailments. One of the most notorious heat waves in U.S. history occurred across much of the Midwest in July 1995. Chicago was included in this event. On July 13, 1995, Midway Airport reported their all-time record high of 106 degrees. Because of incredibly high humidity levels, it felt even hotter – the heat index was around 120 degrees.  According to a National Disaster Survey Report, the number of heat-related deaths in Chicago totaled 465. Most of these victims were 74 years old and older. When an Excessive Heat Warning/Advisory is issued- Take Action! This warning is issued within 12 hours of the onset of extremely dangerous heat conditions. Take precautions immediately to avoid heat-related illness. Here are some tips to handle the heat from the CDC:

-Stay in air-conditioned buildings as much as possible.

-Do not rely on a fan as your primary cooling device during an extreme heat event.

-Drink more water than usual and don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink.

-Don’t use the stove or oven to cook- it will make you and your house hotter.

-Take it easy during the hottest parts of the day.

-Wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing.

-Never leave people or pets in a parked car.

-Closely monitor those who are greater risk including risk including older adults, the very young, and people with chronic health conditions.

Sun Damage

Sun exposure can cause sunburn, skin aging, eye damage, and skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S., with more than 5 million new cases annually. Most skin cancers are a result of exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight. To help protect your skin and eyes from the damaging effects of UV rays:

-Avoid the sun when UV rays are the strongest, usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

-Use sunscreen that has sun-protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.

-Wear sunglasses that filter both UVA and UVB rays to reduce the risk of cataracts.

-Apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before sun exposure. Reapply every 2 hours while outside.

-Wear clothes to protect the skin, such as long sleeves and long pants. Cover the head with a  wide-brimmed hat that shades the face, neck, and ears.

Civilian Health Promotion Services is offering Nature’s Hazards- Summer Edition health education class during June and July. For more information, visit or contact your local CHPS team. Comprehensive information on summer weather hazards can be found on the National Weather Service website at