Severe Weather on the Farm

Tornado damage to farm in Mercer County, Ohio

Wayne Dellinger, ANR Educator Union County

Being aware of weather conditions is nothing new to farmers. Weather is what dictates everything from when fieldwork can be done to how well crops yield. Severe weather awareness is an old topic that sometimes needs a reminder. Getting caught in the middle of a field when severe weather strikes is not the greatest of situations.  

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine proclaimed March 21-27, 2021 as Ohio’s Spring Severe Weather Awareness Week. Many of us saw pictures of the devastation of the August 2020 derecho that impacted parts of the Midwest.

As the temperatures warm up and the fields dry, tractors will be operating in full force across the corn belt to get crops planted. With today’s agricultural equipment, every pass in the field may mean numerous levers, toggle switches, and buttons to pull and push. These, in addition to GPS and other monitors in the cab, can keep the operator pretty busy. 

Keeping in Touch

Modern communication tools such as cell phones and portable weather radios provide more opportunity to avoid exposure to severe weather than ever before. A simple call from the house may be all it takes to stay safe. Monitoring weather on a radio can let the operator know well ahead of time what is coming. In the spring severe weather season, conditions can change drastically during any given day. What is heard on the 6:00 a.m. weather report may evolve throughout the day because storms have a local component. 

With all the opportunity to know what weather is coming, there are still occasions when the operator is caught in severe weather. This could be a pop-up thunderstorm, a flash flood, or even a tornado. These chances increase for every extra round that is made trying to get as much work done before the rain comes.

If an operator is caught in severe weather, there are some actions that may be taken that will improve chances of escaping injury:


Lightning may strike many miles away from the actual storm in which it was produced. Blue-sky lightning strikes are known to occur. When out in the middle of a field and caught in a lightning storm, the safest place is inside the tractor. Raise all equipment out of the ground to avoid any metal-ground contact.  


Watch the sky during severe weather for changes. Often the sky will have a greenish appearance. A cloud that looks like a wall and has rotation is an indication of the possibility of a tornado. With soundproof cabs and loud machinery, it is not likely you will hear a tornado until it is too late.  

If caught in an open area with a tornado approaching, get out of the tractor! Find a low area or ditch away from the tractor, lie down and cover head with arms.

Unfortunately for agriculture, there are many structures that are easily damaged in tornados or straight-line winds. Grain bins and large machinery sheds are vulnerable to collapse and should not be used as shelters. Farms are also conducive to a great deal of flying debris whether it is hand tools, liquid storage tanks, or even calf hutches. Below ground-level rooms offer the best protection. Interior rooms of a sturdy structure are the best alternative.


Flooding, and more specifically, flash flooding may happen in a very short period of time. Most operators are aware of what areas have a history of flooding or are susceptible to flash flooding. These areas should be avoided in severe weather events. Similar to stray lightning, flooding may occur even in areas that have received no rain if there was a large rainfall event upstream.

Don’t get caught in severe weather this spring and summer. Keep a portable weather radio nearby or have a plan to be alerted by someone who does. Monitor weather conditions in your area.  

A Watch or a Warning

Remember: A Watch indicates conditions are favorable for the development of severe weather. A Warning indicates a tornado or severe thunderstorm is in the immediate vicinity – take appropriate actions.

Wayne Dellinger, ANR Educator Union County, can be reached at 937-644-8117 or This column is provided by the OSU Extension Agricultural Safety and Health Team.