With summer just around the corner in southern Manitoba, so too is severe storm season.

While thunderstorms can occur at any time of year, Environment Canada meteorologist Natalie Hasell indicates the frequency of severe storms typically begins to increase at the end of each May with peak season arriving in July and into early August.

“It's coming pretty soon and it's something you should be familiar with if you've lived (in Manitoba) long enough,” Hasell said. “Lightning is a specific concern that is very widespread because it defines a thunderstorm. You don't have a thunderstorm without lightning.”

“But we don't issue watches and warnings for just lightning storms ... we issue warnings when we're talking about damaging or more likely damaging storms.”

Large hail, torrential downpours, strong straight-line winds, and tornadoes can all be produced by a severe storm, Hasell explained. All severe weather can be damaging and should be treated as serious situations.

“Know what the forecast is a good start in staying safe,” Hasell said. “Look for the word thunderstorm or a risk of a thunderstorm. Beyond that, it's important to pay attention to what's happening around you.”

“If winds are pick up when just before there didn't seem to be a whole lot of wind, that could be a sign convection has started and somewhere that are strong cores of thunderstorms that could be coming your way.”

When a thunderstorm approaches that has the potential to produce hail, heavy rains or tornadoes, the best course of action is to find a sturdy building to take shelter in. Ideally, the basement makes for the safest space when strong winds could possibly move debris or large hail is falling.

“If you don't have a basement then find a small interior room like a washroom or closet that has as many walls between you and the outside as possible,” said Hasell. “Do not use crawlspaces as those are not safe spots. You can't move around very quickly in them if things change.”

A low-lying spot such as a ditch provides the best space for cover if you're stuck outside when severe weather hits, Hasell noted. But heavy rains that accompany severe storms can flood or wash out areas quickly, so you need to pay attention constantly to changing surroundings to adapt.

For summer campers or cottagers who may find themselves out in the water when a storm strikes, the only course of action is to head to land immediately.

“Water does conduct electricity,” explained Hasell. “If you're on a boat you're probably the tallest thing around and that can attract lightning. Get to shore, get off the water and find a place to take cover.”

A final storm safety tip from Hasell: remain in shelter until your certain the severe weather has passed or dissipated.

“Storms come in families,” she explained. “You might be at the front end and another storm could pass by. I know it's difficult to sit and wait, but it's really important to give yourself that time for the storm to move far enough away.”

“Lightning doesn't just travel straight down from a storm,” continued Hasell. “It can travel horizontally. In some examples, it can travel very great distances.”

Usually, 30 minutes after the storm appears to have passed is when lightning strikes have moved far enough away to no longer be a concern.

Another safety tool Environment Canada provides is the Canadian Lightning Danger Map, which records lightning strikes and provides real-time data about where strikes are most likely to occur next.