How to Prepare Your Family for Severe Weather
Severe weather will happen, and eventually it will affect you in some
way, so the best you can do is to be prepared.
In some cases, there are no easy answers to the many questions
and problems that can arise. You simply have to prepare for your
situation with the resources you have available. The first thing
to do is develop a preparedness plan. But before you get into the
details of your plan, there are some initial steps you should take.
Severe thunderstorms are a fact of life. These storms can produce tornadoes, damaging wind gusts, large hail, and heavy rain that can produce flash flooding. At some point in your life, you will likely be faced with at least one of these hazards.
Step 1: Set up your plan.
Everyone should have a severe weather plan for their home. Likewise, businesses need to have a plan for the workplace. There will be similarities, but there will also be differences between the two. Following are some ideas that can be applied to both.
1. Establish who is responsible for the plan. Someone needs to be in charge. For a large workplace that runs several shifts, you may have several people responsible for the plan.
2. How will you receive weather warnings? NOAA Weather Radio is a great way to receive severe weather warnings from the National Weather Service. You can also get information from the commercial media, such as radio and television. The Internet is also a great way to get information. However, do not depend solely on one method. Have multiple ways to receive critical weather information.
3. If you receive a weather warning such that you need to activate your plan, how will you inform the people you are responsible for? In a home that should not be a problem, but in a large workplace you have to have a method for communicating the severe weather information to everyone present.
4. Establish shelters area in your home or workplace. Depending on the amount of people who need to be sheltered, multiple areas may be needed. If your home or building is in an area prone to flooding, you need to have an evacuation plan in place.
Step 2: Practice your plan!
Conduct drills and then review the drill to find strengths and weaknesses and make improvements where necessary. It is hard to foresee every circumstance, but drills can often bring out problems that were not previously seen.
Some things you can do to protect your family include:
• Have a family disaster plan. A plan will cover what to do, where to meet, and how to contact family members in the event of a fire or severe weather. Make sure all family members know about the family emergency plan. Give emergency information to babysitters and other caregivers.
• Put together an emergency supply kit for your home, for your office, your car, and one for your child at school. A kit should have bottled water, a radio with extra batteries, a flashlight, prescription medicine and first aid supplies.
• Purchase a generator for your home or business. A generator will provide
heat during a power outage in cold weather. It will also keep your
food from spoiling, and the lights on. A generator can keep life/safety/health
equipment functioning (ventilators, oxygen, monitors, or insulin
cooling) during a power outage. Remenber though to always follow
the instructions when using a generator. For example, never use
a generator in a closed structure. The engine gives off deadly
carbon monoxide gas . Always place the generator outside.
• Make sure all family members know all possible ways to exit your home and where to meet outside the house. Keep all exits clear.
• Conduct a tornado, fire and earthquake drill once every six months.
• Choose a place for your family to meet after a disaster in case you are at work or school when the disaster happens.
• Know how to contact your children at their school or daycare and where you can pick them up after a disaster. Designate a specific person to pick up your child if you cannot. Make sure the school or daycare has the most current emergency release information.
• Have a tone-alert weather radio to receive severe weather warnings. Also have a portable radio with extra batteries in case there are power outages. This allows you to get the most current weather and emergency information quickly.
• Learn first aid and CPR.
• In the event of a flood, tornado or earthquake, learn how to shut off your water, gas and electricity. Know where to find the shut-off valves and switches.
• Keep a small amount of cash on hand. If the power is out, ATM machines won't work.
IN HOMES OR SMALL BUILDINGS: Go to the basement (if available) or to an interior room on the lowest floor, such as a closet or bathroom. Upper floors are unsafe. If there is no time to descend, go to a closet, a small room with strong walls, or an inside hallway. Wrap yourself in overcoats or blankets to protect yourself from flying debris.
IN SCHOOLS, HOSPITALS, FACTORIES, OR SHOPPING CENTERS: Go to interior rooms and halls on the lowest floor. Stay away from glass enclosed places or areas with wide-span roofs such as auditoriums and warehouses. Crouch down and cover your head. Don't take shelter in halls that open to the south or the west. Centrally-located stairwells are good shelter.
IN HIGH-RISE BUILDINGS: Go to interior small rooms or halls. Stay away from exterior walls or glassy areas.
IN MOBILE HOMES: ABANDON THEM IMMEDIATELY! Most deaths occur in cars and mobile homes. If you are in either of those locations, leave them and go to a substantial structure or designated tornado shelter.
IN VEHICLES: IF POSSIBLE, DRIVE AWAY! If not, get into a sturdy shelter (building). As a last resort, you need to make a personal decision whether to ride it out in your car hunched down below the windows with your SEATBELT ON, or to lie flat in the nearest ditch or depression with your hands covering your head.
IF NO SUITABLE STRUCTURE IS NEARBY: Lie flat in the nearest ditch or depression and use your hands to cover your head. Be alert for flash floods.
DURING A TORNADO: Absolutely avoid buildings with large free-span roofs. Stay away from west and south walls. Remember, seek shelter on the lowest level, go to the smallest room, and center part of the building.
No matter where you are, do some advance planning, if possible. Identify protective areas you can get to in a hurry. Obtain a NOAA Weather Radio that will provide an alarm if a tornado watch or warning is in effect for your county. The key to tornado survival is to be prepared and to take immediate action when a warning is issued or when you spot a tornado. Remember, the actions you take during a tornado may save your life and the lives of your family.
Hail remains one of the most costly severe weather phenomena observed in the United States every year. Damage from hail not only occurs to crops, but also to homes, vehicles and businesses.
Hailstorms produce around $2 billion worth of property damage each year. Damaging hail the size of golf balls or larger occur with the strongest of all thunderstorms, and hail will usually accompany tornadic thunderstorms. Remain alert for severe thunderstorm warnings from the National Weather Service, and use this valuable information to protect your property from the threat of hail.
If caught outdoors during a hailstorm, seek shelter in a reinforced building as quickly as possible. The key to personal safety in a hailstorm is to protect yourself from the falling hailstones. Hail rarely kills people, but it can become a killer if precautions are not taken. In China in May of 1986, intense hail killed 100 people, injured 9000, and destroyed 35,000 homes.
DAMAGING WIND SAFETY
Damaging winds come in many forms, sometimes from squall lines of thunderstorms and other times in the form of downburst winds. The most frequently encountered type of damaging straight-line wind in a thunderstorm is that associated with the leading edge of the rain-cooled outflow, known as the gust front. Although most thunderstorm outflow winds range from 30 to 50 mph, on occasion these winds can exceed 60 mph. These outflow winds typically last 5 to 15 minutes. Sometimes, the strongest winds are not associated with the gust front, but rather occur behind the gust front in close proximity to the area of heaviest rain.
When these winds are potentially damaging to structures on the ground, or to aircraft in flight, these winds are referred to as downbursts. Dr. Theodore Fujita of the University of Chicago, is credited with discovering downbursts in the mid 1970s, following investigation of the crash of Eastern Airlines Flight 66 in New York. There are two types of downbursts: microbursts produce strong winds less than 2.5 miles in diameter, while macrobursts result in strong winds over an area 2.5 miles in diameter or larger. Downbursts occur with all types of thunderstorms, from single cells to supercells. In fact, the most damaging downbursts often are produced by weaker, benign-looking storms. Downburst-producing storms often give little advance indications of the imminent danger on weather radar or to the spotter, so warnings are difficult to issue. Once the strong winds reach the ground, Doppler Radar can frequently detect the stronger winds, but the threat of additional damaging winds may be over.
While downbursts are typically produced within a single thunderstorm cell, occasionally many storms will organize into a squall line and produce damaging winds over a much larger area for a period of an hour or longer. Damaging winds of this type are known as Bow Echoes, since a portion of the squall line accelerates, or "bows" out in an easterly direction. Supercell storms also occasionally develop into Bow Echoes. In extreme cases, straight-line winds in a Bow Echo can approach 150 mph, stronger than about 80% of all tornadoes! Since Bow Echoes produce distinctive radar echoes and last 1 to 3 hours (sometimes longer), National Weather Service meteorologists can often provide considerable advance warning.
All severe thunderstorms have the potential to produce damaging winds and large hail. Count on your local National Weather Service office for the latest information regarding these weather hazards.
All thunderstorms go through various stages of growth and development. As a thunderstorm cloud continues to grow, snow and ice begin to form in the middle and higher levels of the cloud where temperatures are below freezing, and electrical charges start to build up within the cloud. Negative electrical charges near the middle of the thunderstorm cloud cause a positive charge to build up on the ground under and near the thunderstorm. Finally, when the difference between these charges becomes too great, a giant atmospheric spark we call lightning occurs.
Lightning is an underrated killer, usually claiming its victims one at a time. Lightning also leaves many victims with life-long serious injuries. Lightning can strike as far as 10 miles from the side of the thunderstorm cloud. In fact, many lightning victims are struck before the rain arrives or after the rain has ended. Many victims also report that at least a portion of the sky was blue when they were struck. Although Maine has less lightning than most states east of the Rocky Mountains, Maine ranks 8th highest in the country in terms of lightning casualties (per capita).
This summer, the National Weather Service will conduct a nationwide awareness campaign to reduce the number of deaths and injuries from lightning. Although more information on lightning and lightning safety will be provided during Lightning Safety Awareness Week which will be during the week of June 19-25, here are some basic tips to help keep you and your family safe this summer.
WHILE INSIDE A HOME OR BUILDING
1. Avoid any contact with corded phones.
2. Avoid any contact with electrical or electronic
equipment or cords that are plugged into the electrical
3. Avoid any contact with the plumbing system. Do
not wash your hands, do not wash the dishes, do not
take a shower, or do not do laundry.
4. Do not stand next to a concrete wall and do not
lie on a concrete floor.
5. Stay away from windows, outside doorways, and porches.
TIPS WHILE OUTDOORS
1. There is no safe place outside in a thunderstorm. To be safe,
you must get inside a substantial building or hard-topped metal
2. Plan outside activities so that you minimize the risk of being caught outside in a thunderstorm.
3. If you hear thunder, move inside a safe shelter immediately. Generally, if you can hear the thunder, you're within striking distance of the storm.
4. If the sky looks threatening, move inside immediately. Don't wait for the first flash of lightning. It could occur anywhere under or near the storm.
5. Stay inside a safe shelter for at least 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder was heard. Many lightning victims are struck after the worst part of the storm has passed.
Remember, when it comes to thunderstorm safety, it's your own actions that will determine your personal risk of being killed or seriously injured by the hazards that accompany thunderstorms.