SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — On this second day of Georgia’s Severe Weather Preparedness Week, we are focusing on thunderstorm safety. While there are certainly times of the year when thunderstorms are more common than others, strong to severe thunderstorms and tornadoes have been recorded in every month in both Coastal Georgia and South Carolina. The same goes for tornadoes.

While thunderstorms can be fascinating to watch, they can also be scary and deadly. We call some of the strongest thunderstorms severe for that very reason. That special designation has a criteria that must be met in order for a watch or warning to be issued by the National Weather Service.

A Severe Thunderstorm Watch means the atmosphere is primed to produce severe thunderstorms. It’s a bit like having all the ingredients on the counter to bake a cake, but you haven’t yet mixed them together or put the batter in the oven. The potential for a cake is there, but more has to happen first to bring it into existence.

A Severe Thunderstorm Warning means severe thunderstorms are actively developing or are getting ready to move into your area. In other words, the ingredients have been mixed and the batter is in the oven. You know the cake is coming.

But what is a severe thunderstorm? You may picture torrential downpours, intensely vivid lightning, and deafening claps of thunder; yet none of these actually constitute a thunderstorm being severe. By definition, winds of 58 mph or greater, hail of 1″ diameter or greater, and/or the presence of a tornado are what make a thunderstorm severe.

That said, flash flooding is the number one severe weather-related cause of death while not being part of the definition of a severe thunderstorm. The absence of a severe thunderstorm warning should not automatically be taken to mean there are no deadly hazards in a storm.

Before severe weather strikes, put together an action plan and make sure to communicate it with your family. Identify a safe spot to seek shelter in the event of a warning. You want to be at the lowest level possible in an interior room, away from windows. The more walls between you and an exterior wall the better. The same rules apply for a severe thunderstorm as with a tornado threat.

It is a myth that it is a good idea to open windows to “equalize pressure” between the inside and outside of your home in the event of a severe thunderstorm or tornado. This merely allows strong, destructive winds to more easily penetrate the walls of your home, greatly increasing the risk of structural damage. Always keep windows closed.

Also remember, straight line winds can be just as strong as the winds of some tornadoes. They are sometimes even more damaging because they can cover a larger area than many tornadoes and last for a longer time. That is why severe thunderstorm warnings should be taken just as seriously as a tornado warning.

Download the WSAV Now Weather App, free for both iOS and Android users. With that, you get VIPIR radar with the most advanced severe weather detection technology in the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry, the ability to see where storms are headed next, and all watches and warnings as soon as they’re issued.