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Top tips to protect yourself from storms in Austria

With violent storms becoming increasingly common in Austria, here’s how to protect yourself and your home.

Top tips to protect yourself from storms in Austria
Photo: Pixabay.

Storms are a regular occurrence in Austria, especially during the summer months, but the strength and frequency seems to be increasing.

In June, both the Pöllinger and the Treffner rivers in Carinthia burst their banks causing widespread flooding, mudslides and damage across the region.

In July, storms in Carinthia and Tirol caused some €6 million in damages as crews struggle with clean-up work after the severe rains, Der Standard reported. In Vienna and surrounding regions, there were alerts for extreme weather as winds picked up speed and the rain also caused damages.

FOR MEMBERS: When and where to avoid driving in Austria this summer

With the summer season drawing to close and the possibility of more wild weather in the coming months, here’s our top tips to stay safe during storms in Austria.

Check the weather report

It might sound obvious, but checking the weather forecast should be at the top of the list of summer storm preparations.

Unlike in the past, weather reports are now typically reliable, and apps like Bergfex and Accuweather are well-known for providing detailed forecasts and weather warnings.

However, long-range forecasts can change quickly, so if you’re planning a camping or hiking trip, be sure to check the weather between 24 and 48 hours before to avoid being caught out.

Additionally, the Österreichischen Unwetterzentrale (Austrian Severe Weather Centre) has regular updates about storms and weather forecasts for Austria and users can sign up for email and SMS notifications.

Stay indoors

According to the organisation, Die Helfer Wiens (The Helpers of Vienna) one of the biggest risks during a storm is being hit by a fallen tree or flying debris.

For this reason, they advise people (and pets) to stay indoors during a storm and close all windows and doors. 

If staying in a tent or campervan, it’s also a good idea to seek shelter in a building (if possible) until the storm has passed.

However, if you are outside during lightning, the Austrian Red Cross says the best approach is to crouch down into a ball to reduce the amount of contact you have with the floor.

READ MORE: How to keep your apartment cool in Austria this summer amid rising energy prices

Stay away from the cellar

Cellars and underground car parks can quickly become flooded during heavy rain – as seen in recent storms in Upper Austria and Carinthia, and last year during violent storms across Austria.

Flash flooding can happen quickly (the clue is in the name), so stay away from cellars and underground spaces during a storm and call the emergency services if you suspect a flood in your home.

Remove plants and furniture from balconies

Having plants and flowers on a balcony is a lovely way to brighten up an outside space, but they risk being damaged during a storm.

To safeguard your pots and lovingly-planted flora, move them inside – especially during a thunderstorm with strong wind gusts and lightning.

The same applies to any outdoor furniture that could be damaged by wind or hail, like cushions, decorative objects and sun umbrellas.

Park cars under shelter

Hail is one of the leading causes of dents to bodywork on cars and damage to windscreens, both of which can be costly to repair.

If hail is forecast during a storm, park a car in a garage or under shelter, if possible. 

If strong wind is expected, then avoid parking a car under trees as debris, or even the tree itself, could end up landing on the vehicle.

FOR MEMBERS: EXPLAINED: How Austria banned everyone from the forest for 123 years

Don’t go into the forest

Whether walking or driving, the best advice is to stay from the forest or areas with lots of trees during a storm.

While sheltering under a tree can protect from rain or hail, lightning or strong wind can bring down trees. This makes the forest a dangerous place to be in a storm.

But if you do find yourself in the unfortunate position of being in a forest when a thunderstorm hits, stay away from low branches and tree trunks and crouch down low. Place any walking sticks or metal poles away from you and stay away from metal fences.

Avoid risky activities

Certain outdoor activities are especially hazardous if there’s a lightning storm. 

Any activity in an open area or that puts you into contact with water or metal is strongly advised against. So that means fishing, swimming, boating, cycling and golfing are out until the storm is over. 

Keep torches and candles ready

Power cuts are common during storms, so keep a stock of candles and torches ready in case you end up without electricity for several hours.

It’s also a good idea to have a portable USB charger to make sure your phone doesn’t run out of battery during an emergency.

Who to call in an emergency

These are the numbers to call if you need help from the Austrian emergency services during a storm.

122 – fire service (Feuerwehr).

133 – police (Polizei).

144 – ambulance (Krankenwagen or Rettungswagen).

120 – ÖAMTC emergency breakdown service.

123 – ARBÖ emergency breakdown service.

140 – mountain rescue.

Finally, 112 is the single European emergency number, whose operators will direct you to the relevant services. This number can even be called on a locked mobile phone without needing the pin.

Find out more with The Local’s guide on who to call and what to say in an emergency.

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STORMS

What is Austria’s official emergency-warning phone app and do I need it?

Austria is working on improving its emergency warning system, but in the meantime, there is an official app you should have on your phone.

What is Austria's official emergency-warning phone app and do I need it?

Following severe storms in Austria last week, the Austrian government has taken its first steps in creating a new warning system in which citizens can be messaged on their mobile phones when extreme weather develops unexpectedly.

However, currently, the country also has other warning methods, including the Ministry of the Interior’s smartphone app called KATWARN, which can warn of potential emergencies and disasters.

What is KATWARN Austria?

KATWARN Austria is a system that displays information and warnings from various authorities on a location-based or topic-related to smartphones, the Ministry of Interior says.

The app complements the existing warning options such as sirens, loudspeakers and media broadcasts. The advantage is that it can immediately warn people of any significant events, informing them of the danger and, just as important, giving immediate information on how to behave.

What types of warning may I get?

According to the Bundesministerium Inneres, some of the examples given for when KATWARN is used include police emergencies, natural disasters and extreme weather hazards and any major events or industrial accidents.

Additionally, the app may be used for call outs to the public, for example, with information on missing persons.

READ ALSO: The smartphone apps that make living in Austria easier

How does it work?

You first need to download the app by accessing your app store and searching for “KATWARN Österreich/Austria”. Here is the link for Apple’s App Store and the Google Play store.

You should then turn on the “Guardian Angel” mode, which sends alerts to you about warnings regarding your current location.

It’s also possible to add specific places to get alerts. So, for example, you can add the region where you have a weekend house, your workplace, or a family member’s address and get alerted for those areas too.

Currently, all of Austria has an alert for Covid-19. If you click on the information icon, you can read (in German) about what to do if you feel sick and have access to important links and information about the pandemic.

READ ALSO: Wild weather in Austria: How to protect yourself during summer storms

What other alerts are there in Austria?

People can be warned by SMS when a storm is on the way, but only if they register with the relevant local services.

There is also the siren alarm system, which is tested every weekend in Austria outside Vienna (and yearly in the capital).

A new mobile phone warning system will send messages to all phone users in the future.

Mobile phone operators are waiting for Austria’s government to put the required regulations in place. According to the Digitization State Secretariat, the ordinance went into the four-week review at the weekend but is not publicly available.

In Vienna, the official Stadt Wien app brings essential news and pushes notifications on traffic disruption near you, weather alerts or civil emergencies.

You can find the ten essential apps to download for living in Vienna here.

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