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  • Take Severe Thunderstorm Warnings Seriously

    Admit it: when the National Weather Service issues a severe thunderstorm warning, most of us respond with a yawn.

    Well, maybe we shouldn’t. So far this year, eight U.S. natural disasters have caused $1 billion or more in damage, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Six of those billion-dollar disasters were severe thunderstorms. (The tally doesn’t include the recent West Virginia flooding, because losses are still being calculated. Also, seven of the eight disasters were in Texas. Apparently, Mother Nature disagrees with the slogan “Don’t Mess With Texas.”)

    A thunderstorm is severe if it does one of three things: has winds of 58 miles per hour or higher, produces hail at least an inch or larger in diameter or creates a tornado. All of these components can be dangerous to both people and property.

     

    Wind

    Severe Thunderstorm

    Severe thunderstorms can bring gusts of more than 100 miles per hour, equivalent to an EF1 tornado. High wind can knock down power lines, lop off branches and topple trees on to homes and cars. It can knock vehicles off the road. According to weather.com, in 2014, high winds from thunderstorms killed 33 people and injured 240. This weekend, three people drowned in Lake Michigan when high wind whipped up the water.

    Prepare for high wind by removing dead and rotting trees and branches. Pay attention to weather reports and be willing to change plans. Hours before the Lake Michigan drownings, the National Weather Service issued a beach hazard statement that warned of dangerous swimming conditions. If weather reports say a severe thunderstorm is coming, bring in patio furniture and other things that can become projectiles.  Keep a cooler and ice around to store food in case of a power outage. After the storm passes, remain cautious. Assume downed power lines are still active.

     

    Lightning

    Lighning strikes severe thunderstorm

    Every year, lightning kills an average of 51 people and injures hundreds, according to ready.gov. A home in south Florida had its wall shredded by a lightning strike that also knocked out power. If outside, pay attention to weather reports and be ready to seek shelter if lightning is in the vicinity. If inside, stay away from windows, doors and plumbing – bathroom fixtures can conduct electricity. Unplug electrical devices to protect them from surges.

     

    Hail

    At least half of the cost of damage from severe thunderstorms is from hail, according to weather.com. Quarter-size hail can damage roof shingles. Golf ball-size hail can dent vehicles. Baseball-size hail can smash windshields and softball-size hail can poke holes in roofs. If a severe thunderstorm warning says large hail is possible, try to find a covered place for a vehicle, and find shelter.

     

    Flash flooding

    Flash flooding is the biggest killer from thunderstorms, taking more than 140 people every year, according to ready.gov. Prepare for floods by making an emergency plan with alternate travel routes to shelters. Six inches of fast-moving water can knock a person down and two feet can sweep a car away. Pay attention to flash flood warnings.

     

    Tornadoes

    Tornado with Damage severe thunderstormA severe thunderstorm warning can quickly become a tornado warning if the storm develops enough rotation. If a severe thunderstorm warning includes the following warning: "Severe thunderstorms can and sometimes do produce tornadoes with little or no advance warning," treat it like a tornado warning, suggests weather.com.

     

    Severe thunderstorms are frequent enough to be easy to ignore. Yet severe thunderstorms can cause severe damage. So far this year they’ve accounted for more than $10 billion in damage and 17 deaths. Next time the National Weather Service announces a severe thunderstorm warning, don’t shrug it off.

     

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  • Hot Heat Fuels Dozens of Fires

    It’s simple. In the western United States, heat begets fire. As of June 26, 27 large fires are burning in 10 states. The worst situation is in California, where years of drought and tree death combined with temperatures above 100 degrees have contributed to six large fires. Here’s a look at some of the fires and some things we can learn from them.

     

    Active Fire Map June 27, 2016 - via someone

     

     Erskine (Calif.)

    “It was a firestorm,” one evacuee from the fire in South Lake, Calif., told the Los Angeles Times in an elementary school/evacuation center. He didn’t know if his house was still standing.

    The fire blasted into existence the afternoon of June 23. Fed by a 40 mph wind, temperatures above 90 degrees and bone-dry grass, it traveled 11 miles in 13 hours.

    It burned through power and phone lines, knocking out both landline and cell phone service. Sheriff deputies, going door-to-door to warn residents, had to run from the fire. A couple died trying to escape. Three firefighters were injured.

    So far, more than 225 buildings and almost 60 square miles have burned. Another 2,500 homes are still threatened and six communities evacuated. The fire is only 10 percent contained, and evacuees may not return home because of fears wind shifts could send the fire in different directions.

    When it comes to fire, be prepared to run for it. Have go-bags packed and in an accessible place.

    An evacuee, Magan Weid, told the Los Angeles Times, “Everything was flying into your eyes. I didn’t have time to get glasses. I literally just grabbed a bag with miscellaneous crap. I didn’t have time to get anything together.”

    Include prescription medicines and copies of prescriptions. One evacuee worried because she and her husband left without his heart medication.

    “I don’t know where to go,” she told the Los Angeles Times.

    Have copies of vital records. In her haste, one woman left behind her Social Security card and birth certificate. All she had were her pajamas and contents of her car.

    Keep a full tank of gas. One man said he and his neighbors created a mini traffic jam in their haste to leave. Another jumped into his car only to discover its tank was low. Fortunately, he made it out.

     

    Reservoir/Fish (Calif.)

    Dual fires northeast of Los Angeles have burned about 5,000 acres since June 20. 858 homes were evacuated. On June 22, residents of 534 were allowed to go home.

    When you’re preparing to evacuate, be prepared for a long stay.  Have something to do in your go bag. Have a way to recharge a phone. Make sure you’ve got a place for pets. Many shelters won’t allow pets unless they’re service animals.

     

    Dog Head (N.M.)

    Fire via AP Home burning - photo via AP

    The Dog Head fire in central New Mexico burned almost 18,000 acres and destroyed 12 homes and 44 other structures. It is 90 percent contained.

    It could have been worse if thinning out dead trees had not taken place, said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, who toured the area June 24. In California, according to a report released June 22, 66 million trees have died in the last five years, and only 77,000 have been cut down.

    If you live in wildfire country, clear an area about 30 feet around your home of anything that might burn, like wood piles, dried leaves, and brush. Keep the roof and gutters clean.

     

    Saddle (Utah)

    Lightning on June 13 caused the Saddle fire in southern Utah. A voluntary evacuation is still in place for the nearby town of Pine Valley. The fire spread in part because three times in a week, drones grounded firefighting aircraft.

    Don’t be stupid. This time of year, as temperatures climb and vegetation dies, the western U.S. is a tinderbox. Fire restrictions are in place in southern Utah and Arizona. Obey them. Don’t do anything that might ignite dry vegetation. When there is a fire, be aware of emergency vehicles.

     

    Cedar (Ariz.)

    Firefighters are beginning to consider the aftermath of the Cedar fire, which has been burning since June 15. The fire, which burned 46,000 acres, was 60 percent contained Sunday.

    It burned during a period of horrendous temperatures. Six people died from heat. Temperatures exceeded 120 degrees in parts of Arizona.

    Ready.gov has several suggestions for keeping safe during extreme heat.

    Excessive heat warnings and heat alerts are still in effect in many places in the west. Be smart and be safe, especially during the holiday weekend ahead.

     

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  • When Hurricanes Go Inland

    Map Inland Hurricanes

    Take a look at this map from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It shows how often U.S. counties have experienced a hurricane or tropical storm. Colored areas represent hurricane impacts. Notice how far inland the map goes: counties in Utah and Nebraska have experienced the remnants of tropical storms and hurricanes.

    Hurricane Sandy in 2012 was a great example of the broad reach of a hurricane. It affected 24 states – half the continental U.S. It was the second-most devastating hurricane in U.S. history, killing 157 people and causing $71.4 billion in damage.

    Even if you live inland, it’s useful to find out if you might be susceptible to a hurricane’s reach.

    Your risk from hurricanes is based on where you live, the structure of your home, and your personal circumstances,” said FEMA’s How to Prepare for a Hurricane.

    Flooding is the greatest problem when hurricanes head inland.

    To prepare, check your flood risk with FEMA’s flood mapping tool. Buy flood insurance in addition to regular insurance. Regular insurance will usually cover water damage from precipitation and wind. It won’t usually cover flooding. Buy it early. Flood insurance doesn’t take effect until 30 days after its purchase.

    If you live in an area that can be flooded, have an evacuation plan with a place to go and alternate routes to get there. Make sure animals are provided for. Many shelters won’t take pets. FEMA recommends you plan to evacuate the “5 P’s”: People (and pets), Prescriptions, Papers, Personal items and Priceless items.

    Hurricanes can create snowstorms. Hurricane Sandy combined with polar air to dump at least a foot of snow in more than half of West Virginia’s counties. The heavy snow collapsed buildings and toppled trees.

    tropical storm - Inland Hurricanes

    Hurricanes can create thunderstorms, hail and tornadoes thousands of miles from landfall. Hurricane Patricia, the largest tropical cyclone in the western hemisphere, hit western Mexico in October 2015. Although it dissipated quickly, storm remnants crossed Mexico and whacked Texas. Houston got 9.4 inches of rain in 24 hours, and a tornado touched down near the city.

    Hurricanes can bring wind far inland. Wind gusts from Hurricane Sandy measured 60-70 miles per hour around the Great Lakes. Flying debris hit killed a Toronto, Canada woman.

    It’s possible to prepare a home for all these weather events. Clean gutters and drains and waterproof a basement. Prepare for wind by removing diseased and damaged tree limbs.

    When hurricane remnants are in the forecast, store or tie down outdoor furniture, decorations, trash cans and anything else that wind can turn into a projectile. Also, close curtains or blinds. If windows do get broken, this will prevent shattered glass from scattering in the home.

    Finally, be prepared for power outages. Hurricane Sandy left more than 9 million utility customers without power. Two weeks later, more than 6 million in 15 states and the District of Columbia were still without electricity.

    “Depending on the strength of the hurricane and its impact on your community, you could be in your home with no power or other basic services for several weeks,” FEMA wrote.

    Ready.gov suggests ways to prepare for power outages.

    Have a fully stocked emergency kit including food and water, a flashlight, batteries, cash in small bills and first aid supplies. Keep a cell phone and other battery-powered devices charged and have an alternative charging method. Those who use a power-dependent or battery-operated medical device should have a backup power plan and tell their local utility so it can prioritize their home.

    Keep the car’s gas tank full and know how to manually release an electric garage door opener. A vehicle can be a power source, but not in an enclosed space.

    Before a major storm, buy dry ice. Fifty pounds will keep a fully stocked fridge cold for two days. Without it, an unopened fridge will keep food cold for only about four hours.

    Finally, prepare for price increases. Hurricane Ike, the third-most costly storm in U.S. history, brought an “Ike Spike” in gas prices all the way into Canada.

    In July 2015, former Hurricane Dolores caused record rainfall and flooding in southern California and Arizona. Yet the closest the center of the storm got to California was 300 miles west of Baja. At the time, it too weak to even be considered a tropical storm. What was left of Dolores caused flash flood watches in Nevada and farther inland.

    It just goes to show that coastal areas aren’t the only places that should prepare for hurricanes.

     

    Hurricane_prep_03 - Inland Hurricanes

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