How to prepare for severe weather

October 2020 – 4 minute read

  • Getting prepared in advance for severe weather
  • What to do when a storm is approaching
  • How to stay safe during hailstorms and high winds
  • How to stay safe during lightning
  • How to stay safe during flash floods

  • Prepare an essential emergency kit – if you already have one, check to see that it still has everything you need, such as that the torch batteries are still working. Your emergency kit should also include copies of important documents such as insurance policies, so it’s a good time to check these are still up to date.
  • Make sure you’ve got an emergency family plan, so you and your family know what to do during an emergency. This should also include where you would evacuate to or where you would reunite should anyone become separated.
  • Understand different severe weather warnings for hazardous weather conditions. The Bureau of Meteorology has information on both severe weather warnings (for potentially dangerous weather that isn’t solely related to tropical cyclones or bushfires) and severe thunderstorm warnings.
  • Check your insurance - When planning for severe weather, make sure your home and contents insurance and building insurance is up-to-date and the sum insured amount is enough. It’s a good idea to have your insurer’s details in your emergency kit checklist or saved to your phone, so you’ll be able to contact them if you need to.
  • Check around your property and remove any loose objects that could cause damage if they get blown around. If you can’t move items inside, see if you can tie down or fill items likely to get blown around with water, such as large garbage bins
  • If you can, move vehicles into a garage. If this isn’t an option, cover them with blankets or tarpaulin. You should also make sure you’ve got a full tank of petrol should you need to evacuate.
  • If there is a risk of flooding, move furniture, appliances, books, rugs and art as high as you can. If you have chemicals or poisons in your home or garage, make sure these are up high as well or get rid of them safely.
  • Make sure you’ve got protective clothing and footwear ready to wear.
  • Ensure your pets have shelter. If you have to evacuate and can’t take them, make sure they have secure shelter, but don’t tie them up.
  • Never travel through floodwater. Stay clear of creeks, streams, drains, causeways, gutters, fallen trees, power lines and damaged buildings.

Stay inside and close all windows and doors. Find refuge in a small interior room, stairwell or the lowest floor of the building. Make sure family members are safe and accounted for, including pets. Stay clear of glass windows, doors and exterior walls.

If outside, seek shelter in a building or under a low bridge – don’t shelter in a car or caravan. Protect your head and hang on to a base of a shrub or small tree. Don’t try to outrun high winds or a cyclone.

Remain indoors and stay clear of windows, doors and fireplaces. Make sure all windows and doors are securely shut. Unplug all electrical appliances and don’t use telephones (either a landline or mobile) during the storm. Both water and metal are electrical conductors so make sure you don’t take a bath or touch electrical equipment during a lightning storm.

If outside, seek shelter in a building or vehicle. When there is no available shelter, crouch down, feet close together and keep your head tucked down. If you’re in a group, spread out several metres apart. Discard umbrellas, golf clubs and don't stand under trees or poles.

How to stay safe during flash floods

A flash flood is a violent and sudden flood.  If you’re at home, get as high as you can and stay clear of windows or glass doors.

If you’re outside, find refuge as high as possible and call emergency services for help. When driving a vehicle, turn on hazard lights and pull over to the side of the road. Keep clear of causeways, streams, creeks, drains, trees and power lines.

If the flood water has risen around your car but the water isn’t moving, get out and move to higher ground. Don’t enter moving water.

Watch our 1.35 minute video to learn about what you can do to prepare for a storm. View transcript.

  • Keep branches and trees trimmed around structures and powerlines to prevent damage.
  • If needed, hire a contractor to clear trees from power lines.
  • Keep gutters clear so they drain freely.
  • Check for loose tiles and cladding on roofs to reduce leaks and risk of flying debris.
  • Check fastenings, joints and bolts on structures including carports and patios to make sure they are secure and not rusted.
  • Check your home, contents and car insurance cover are in order.
  • If flash flooding is a risk for your area, follow the flood property preparation advice.

This article was originally published in November 2018 and was updated in October 2021.

  • Storms are one of Australia’s most frequent natural hazards, with 5,000 recorded in the last 10 years
  • The peak period for severe storms is October to March, but storms can occur anytime, including when you’re not at home
  • Taking five key steps can minimise storm damage and help you ride out the worst of the weather.

Australia is no stranger to wild weather, and storms top the list of our most frequent major natural hazards.

That’s why it’s important to know how to prepare for a storm when a weather alert is issued by the relevant authorities. A few steps taken early on, can help protect you, your home and your belongings.

Australian storm facts

Severe storms hit Australia with surprising frequency. Between 2010 and 2020, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) recorded over 5,000 severe storms, which is an average of 500 storms annually. Many more storms go unreported because they occur over unpopulated areas or were not reported.

While the peak thunderstorm period is October to March, severe storms can occur any time. One of Australia’s most costly thunderstorms hit the eastern suburbs of Sydney in April 1999, causing $1.7 billion in insurance claims – a figure that would rise to $3.3 billion today.

Storm damage can arise from multiple factors – not just heavy rainfall, but also hail, lightning, strong winds and flash flooding. A good storm safety plan should address all these possibilities, so that you’re storm-ready before danger strikes.

5 storm preparation tips

Wild weather can stir up quickly, so it makes sense to have your storm safety plan in place long before dark clouds start rolling over the horizon. Here are five steps which may help you stay safe during storm season.

1. Keep gutters, downpipes and drains clean

Leaves and other debris can build up in gutters, blocking downpipes during heavy rainfall. Overflowing water can damage your home’s foundations, tear gutters from roofs and lead to mould and structural damage.

Prevent this happening by regularly cleaning out gutters. It’s also a chance to check for missing roof tiles or loose sheet cladding that could break away in high winds.

2. Trim overhanging tree branches

Keeping garden trees healthy can prevent damage caused by falling branches and boughs – or even uprooted trees.

Check local council guidelines for trimming trees – and leave big jobs to the professionals. Calling in a qualified tree surgeon can be a far safer option than tackling the task yourself.

3. Secure any loose items

Severe storms can be accompanied by wind gusts in excess of 90 kilometres per hour, turning everyday objects such as garden furniture into dangerous projectiles. In a 2019 storm, a trampoline pierced the roof of a Hobart home after being picked up by strong winds.

As part of your storm preparation, secure outdoor items and move cars undercover, or at least parked away from trees.

Remember, storms can hit while you’re not at home, so aim to keep outdoor areas tidy, and stow away items likely to be picked up by strong winds, rather than leaving them out in the open.

4. Have an emergency storm kit

Storms can leave you without power and water, potentially for several days. Having an emergency kit ready can help you get by until services are restored. Your storm kit should include medications, a torch and portable radio, spare batteries, first-aid kit, supplies of food and drinking water, blankets and clothing. Your kit can also include important documents stored in waterproof containers.

5. Stay safe as the storm approaches

As the storm draws closer, close doors and windows and bring pets inside. Unplug electrical appliances and aerials and switch appliances off at the circuit board.

Storms often pass quickly, and it can be tempting to watch the action but it’s best to stay away from windows in case of flying debris. Instead, monitor the radio or internet for local weather updates.

Tips to help reduce the risk of lightning strikes

  • Always use appropriately recommended surge protection outlets throughout your house
  • If your home is in an exposed location, consider installing a lightning protection system and an emergency back up power source.

Tips to help reduce the risk of strong winds

  • Perform regular maintenance on tile or sheet cladding to avoid parts of your roof lifting off
  • Fit windows and skylights with security mesh or durable insect screens along with storm shutters if necessary
  • Plant trees to form a windbreak on rural properties, ensuring trees are a safe distance from your home.

How to prepare for severe weather

State by state storm warning information

The BOM issues severe thunderstorm warnings on social media. Regularly check the BOM website or for automated weather warnings for all states and territories call 1300 659 210.

If you’ve been impacted by a major storm and need help, the number for State Emergency Services is the same across all states and territories – call 132 500 no matter where you are in Australia. Here are links to the websites of state-based emergency services:

Home and contents cover is essential

Australia’s high level of storm activity makes it essential to have up-to-date home insurance, or contents insurance if you’re renting.

The good news is that when you have QBE Home Insurance or QBE Contents Insurance, you don’t need to worry about insurance paperwork getting damaged in a storm. All we need is your name and phone number to get the ball rolling if you need to make a claim.