All year long severe weather impacts people across the country in many different ways. It can be relentless, destructive, and even fascinating to some. But how much do Americans know about potentially catastrophic storms? And how well prepared are they for when severe weather strikes? We analyzed online search volume related to severe weather and surveyed more than 1,000 people across the nation about their preparedness for storms.
The most commonly searched question about severe weather nationwide is asking for clarification on the meaning of alerts issued by the National Weather Service. “Difference between tornado watch and warning?” topped the list among all severe weather internet inquiries. A quick Google search will explain that a watch means conditions are favorable for the severe weather, and a warning is when a severe weather event is imminent or occurring in the area. The second most common question was “When is hurricane season?” and third was “What causes earthquakes?”
These topics are also among the top searches in every state with tornadoes and floods topping the list, followed by hurricanes and thunderstorms.
With tornadoes being the most searched severe weather topic, it’s no surprise that 18 states’ most commonly asked questions revolve around twisters. Among them include Georgia, Mississippi, Kansas, Tennessee, Idaho, Nebraska, and Texas.
Floods are the second most searched severe weather topic across the nation. Questions like “What to do during a flash flood warning?” and “Coastal flood warning meaning?” make the list in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Vermont.
Hurricanes and thunderstorms are the third most-searched topics. Hurricane-related questions including “How to prepare for a Hurricane?” and “How to make a hurricane preparedness kit?” top the list in Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Virginia. Questions about thunderstorms including “Can you shower during a thunderstorm?” and “How do I comfort my dog during a thunderstorm?” were most commonly asked in Maine, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wyoming.
In a survey of more than 1,000 Americans, almost a quarter (23%) admitted they do not know the difference between a severe weather watch and a warning.
When a thunderstorm is imminent, it’s not always worrying to some as 28% said they don’t take severe thunderstorm warnings seriously. Meanwhile, the majority (94%) say they take other severe warnings (tornado, hurricane, etc.) seriously. When severe weather is imminent, 84% of Americans say they watch or listen to the news for updates, however, 23% admit to getting frustrated when TV programs are interrupted with severe weather information. Look for a generator that has at least 5,000 watts to ensure you keep your power during severe thunderstorms.
Despite the majority of Americans listening to information and warnings, they do not always act on orders or recommendations, with 3 in 4 (76%) saying they haven’t evacuated their home or area despite an evacuation order being issued.
Broken down, when a tornado warning is issued in their area, 83% say they go to a safe place in their home, while 17% go outside to look at the weather. For those who live where hurricanes hit, 81% say they are most likely to stay in their home when a hurricane warning is issued, while the other 19% say they most likely would evacuate. Opposite to hurricanes, for those impacted by wildfires, the majority are most likely to leave when an evacuation order is issued (92%), but nearly 1 in 10 (8%) said they would stay in their home.
When severe weather hits, it’s important to be prepared. 49% of people surveyed say they are somewhat likely to take precautions when a severe weather watch is issued. When a warning is issued, 57% are ‘very likely’ to take precautions.
Taking precautions can include making sure you have supplies ready. However, 78% of people say they do not have a backup or portable generator on hand. For the 22% that do, it’s come in handy as 61% say they’ve relied on it after experiencing severe weather. Other important supplies include a weather radio, which 82% of the population does not have. As for a general emergency supply kit? 54% of those surveyed do not have a kit ready to go in case severe weather hits.
In May 2022, we surveyed 1,018 participants to learn more about their severe weather preparedness and knowledge. 49% were male, 49% female, and 2% were nonbinary. Respondents ranged in ages between 18 and 80. The average age was 38.
For this report, we also analyzed Google search volume related to more than 1,500 severe weather topics and questions in all 50 states dating back to 2018.
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