Severe Storms - What to Do?

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This publication was produced by Public Safety Canada in collaboration with: The Canadian Red Cross, Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada, and St. John Ambulance.

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© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada 2010


Thunderstorms, hail, blizzards, ice storms, hurricanes, storm surges, tornadoes and heavy rain can develop quickly and threaten life and property. These severe storms occur in all regions of Canada and in all seasons.

When one strikes, visit Environment Canada's Weather office website and listen to the local media for severe weather warnings and advice. Keep a battery-powered or crank radio on hand as power outages can be frequent during severe storms. Everyone has a responsibility to protect their homes and their families.

You can greatly lessen the impact of a severe storm by taking the time to prepare in advance. This involves three basic steps:

  1. Find out about the risks and the type of storms in your region.
  2. Make a family emergency plan, so that everyone knows what to do, and where to go in case of an emergency.
  3. Get an emergency kit, so that you and your family can be self-sufficient for at least 72 hours during a severe storm.

Planning for a storm will also help prepare you for many other types of emergencies. After reading this guide, keep it in a handy spot, such as in your emergency kit.

Step 1: Know the risks and get prepared

To get prepared for a storm, you should know the risks specific to your community and your region to help you better prepare. To find out what the hazards are in your region, visit the ‘Know the risks' section of the website.

PREPARING for severe storms


When a storm is imminent

During a storm

Blizzards and winter storms

Blizzards come in on a wave of cold arctic air, bringing snow, bitter cold, high winds and poor visibility due to blowing snow.


What to do


Hurricanes are violent tropical storms. These extreme storms occur when winds revolve around a centre of low pressure. In the centre, called the eye, there is often a calm area of blue sky.


What to do

Ice storms

Freezing rain occurs when raindrops fall from a warm layer of air into air that is below freezing and become supercooled. When the supercooled droplets strike a surface below 0°C they instantly freeze, forming a layer of ice.

Ice storms:

What to do

Storm surges

A storm surge is an abnormally high coastal water level caused by strong winds and low air pressure during storms.

Storm surges:

What to do

Thunderstorms, lightning and hail

Thunderstorms are often accompanied by high winds, hail, lightning, heavy rain and in rare cases can produce tornadoes. Hail is formed when updrafts in thunderclouds carry raindrops upward into extremely cold areas of the atmosphere, where they freeze and merge into lumps of ice.

Thunderstorms, lightning and hail:

What to do if outside

What to do if inside

Warning signs of a potential tornado

What to do

In all cases

In a house

On a farm

In a recreational vehicle or mobile home

In a high rise building

In a gymnasium, church or auditorium

In a vehicle

Step 2: Make an emergency plan

Every Canadian household needs an emergency plan. It will help you and your family to know what to do in case of an emergency. Remember, your family may not be together when a storm or other emergency occurs. Identify safe places where everyone should meet if they have to leave home during an emergency.

Start by discussing what could happen and what you should do at home, at school or at work if a severe storm strikes. To be prepared, make a list of what needs to be done ahead of time. Store important family documents, such as birth certificates, passports, wills, financial documents, insurance policies, etc. in waterproof container(s). Identify an appropriate out-of-town contact that can act as a central point of contact in an emergency.

Write down and exercise your plan with the entire family at least once a year. Make sure everybody has a copy and keeps it close at hand.

For more information on making an emergency plan, call 1-800-O-Canada or visit to download or complete an emergency plan online.

Step 3: Get an emergency kit

In an emergency you will need some basic supplies. You may need to get by without power or tap water. Be prepared to be self-sufficient for at least 72 hours.

You may have some of the items already, such as a flashlight, battery-operated radio, food and water. The key is to make sure they are organized and easy to find. Would you be able to find your flashlight in the dark?

Make sure your kit is easy to carry. Keep it in a backpack, duffel bag or suitcase with wheels, in an easy-to-reach, accessible place, such as your front hall closet. Make sure everyone in the household knows where the emergency kit is.

Basic emergency kit

You can purchase a pre-packaged emergency kit from the Canadian Red Cross at

Visit or call 1 800 O-Canada for a list of additional emergency kit items, including a car emergency kit.


National Resources

Public Safety Canada – Other publications:

For more emergency preparedness information, visit or follow @Get_Prepared on Twitter.

Provincial and Territorial Resources

For regional or local information on emergency preparedness, contact your emergency management organization as follows:

Alberta Emergency Management Agency
Telephone: (780) 422-9000 / Toll-free: 310-0000

British Columbia
Emergency Management BC
Telephone: (250) 952-4913 / Emergency: 1-800-663-3456

Manitoba Emergency Measures Organization
Telephone: (204) 945-4772 / Toll-free: 1-888-267-8298

New Brunswick
New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization
Telephone: (506) 453-2133 / Toll-free 24 Hour line: 1-800-561-4034

Newfoundland and Labrador
Newfoundland and Labrador Fire and Emergency Services
Telephone: (709) 729-3703

Northwest Territories
Northwest Territories Emergency Management Organization
Telephone: (867) 873-7538 / 24 Hour line: (867) 920-2303

Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia Emergency Management Office
Telephone Toll-free 24 Hour line: 1-866-424-5620

Nunavut Emergency Management
Telephone: (867) 975-5403 / Toll-free 24 Hour line: 1-800-693-1666

Emergency Management Ontario
Telephone: (416) 314-3723 / Toll-free 24 Hour line: 1-877-314-3723

Prince Edward Island
Prince Edward Island Emergency Measures Organization
Telephone: (902) 894-0385 / After hours: (902) 892-9365

Quebec – Ministère de la sécurité publique
Telephone (toll-free): 1-866-644-6826
General information (Services Québec): 1-877-644-4545

Saskatchewan Emergency Management Organization
Telephone: (306) 787-9563

Yukon Emergency Measures Organization
Telephone: (867) 667-5220
Toll free (within the Yukon): 1-800-661-0408

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