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  • Everything You Need to Know About Tornadoes

    No matter where you live in the United States, you’re not immune from tornadoes. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), every single state in the U.S. has experienced a tornado. That means no matter where you live, learning about and preparing for tornadoes is important.

    In order to prepare most effectively, learn about these twisting phenomena. Once you know more about tornadoes, you can use your knowledge to prepare as best as you can.

     

    What is a Tornado?

    Tornado 01Let’s start off with the basics. Chances are you’ve at least seen a picture of a tornado, which means you know what one looks like. But what exactly is a tornado?

    According to The National Severe Storms Laboratory, a tornado “is a narrow, violently rotating column of air that extends from the base of a thunderstorm to the ground.” That’s a pretty good description. Tornadoes, however, are naturally invisible, since they’re made up of air. The reason we are able to see a tornado is due to the fact that the vortex is made up of water droplets, dust, and debris.

    Tornadoes form when warm, moist air (usually from the Gulf of Mexico) collides with cool, dry air (from the North, usually from Canada). This collision of air pressures destabilizes the atmosphere, causing changes in wind direction. When this change occurs, wind speed also increases, which causes the spinning effect we attribute to tornadoes. As mentioned above, the reason we can see this spinning air is because of all the extras the vortex picks up with it.

     

    Tornadoes on Radar

    The United States is the most tornado prone country in the world. NOAA reports an average of over 1,000 tornadoes in the U.S. every year. The next country in line with the most yearly tornadoes is Canada with roughly 100 twisters annually. So congratulations, America, on having the most tornadoes.

    Tornado Alley Infographic - via LiveScience Tornado Alley via LIveScience (click to enlarge)

    Although the United States wins when it comes to tornado count (if you can call that “winning”), most of the states aren’t tornado prone. There are a few states, however, that make up what is known as Tornado Alley. These states are in the Midwest and start in Texas, then up through Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Don’t forget about Colorado and New Mexico which also see their fair share of twisters. Tornado Alley can also spill into Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and parts of Ohio.

    Tornadoes struggle to form in the winter months, but they can start coming as early as March. Spring is the official start of tornado season. Tornadoes will begin to form more frequently in the Southern Plains, and from there work northward. Tornado season begins to wind down in the Northern states and the upper Midwest around June or July.

    But, just because there’s a season set for these twisters doesn’t mean they follow the rules exactly. Sure, spring sees the most tornadoes (all the way up through July), but they can still form before or after their expected dates. Likewise – as mentioned above – they can form in any state. For example, a tornado struck Salt Lake City, Utah back in 1999. To throw us off even more, the tornado occurred in August. If we’re following the rules of tornado season and where tornadoes generally form, both the location and the month should dictate that a tornado just shouldn’t have shown up in Salt Lake City in August. But, as is typical with natural disasters – especially tornadoes – we just can’t predict when or where they’ll spring up.

     

    Tornado Damage

    From thin to thick, tornadoes vary greatly in size and form. That doesn’t mean, however, that size determines strength. Some small tornadoes can be at the strongest measurement, whereas a wide tornado can be fairly weak. But no matter what size a tornado is, you should take cover anyway. Even a weak tornado can cause injury or death.

     

    Tornado Ratings

    16 June 1992 Chandler Tornado EF 5 Chandler, MN Tornado (EF 5), June 16, 1992

    Tornadoes are ranked based on the Enhanced Fujita scale (EF), which replaced the original F-scale in 2007. While similar, there are a few differences in how it’s measured (the image to the side shows how the EF scale gets its rankings). Once wind gusts reach 65 miles per hour, the lowest level of the EF scale is reached (EF0). After that, the rankings rise as the winds increase. An EF5 constitutes wind speeds over 200 mph.

    While EF5’s are obviously devastating, even the weakest EF0 can bring about lots of damage and injury. Just because a tornado isn’t an all-out howler doesn’t mean you aren’t at risk. After all, 65 mph is quite fast; it may just look slow when compared to the other speeds on the EF scale.

     

    Before a Tornado

    In order to be as safe as possible during a tornado, it is important to prepare in advance. Knowing exactly when and where a tornado will strike is quite nearly impossible. However, there are some things you can do to be better prepared.

     

    Be Prepared

    How does one prepare for a tornado? First off, make sure you have enough food, water, and other essential gear for at least 72 hours. The ideal place to keep this gear is in your basement or storm shelter, as the winds are less apt to reach down there and blow everything away.

    Empty Shelves - TornadoFollowing a tornado, power may be out for days, leaving you without a way to refrigerate your food, have light, air conditioning, and other comforts of life. Having food that won’t go bad if not refrigerated (freeze-dried food being a great option) gives you greater control over your diet. It is common for store shelves to be stripped bare before and immediately following disasters.

    If your power is out, having an alternate source of power can make a huge difference until your home’s power gets up and running. These smaller power sources can charge your cell phones, and depending on the size of the power supply, can charge laptops and even power your television. Having a bit of extra power on hand can make a huge difference following a disaster, especially once the sun sets and darkness falls.

    Shelter is something else that’s important to procure before a disaster. If your home becomes damaged so much that you can’t stay the night for fear of structural damage, having a tent or other form of shelter will keep you covered.

     

    Know the Signs

    You may not always be around a radio or television for tornado alerts, so knowing the visual signs of an imminent tornado is important in making it safely to a shelter in time. You’ll know there’s a tornado coming if you see the funnel cloud – that part is obvious – but there are some other, perhaps lesser known signs to look out for.

    green sky tornadoA dark, sometimes green sky can give good indication that a tornado is about to form. There is a lot of hail in thunderstorms associated with tornadoes, so as this hail begins to be whipped around, the light of the sun refracts off the hail, giving the sky a green tint. The sky won’t always be green before a tornado, however, so don’t be fooled if the sky just appears very, very dark.

    A loud roar – similar to a freight train – is another way a tornado may be heralded in. This is especially useful if you don’t live near a railroad, as the sound might be a bit out of place. The high velocity of the winds produce the howling, as well as all the debris the tornado is hurling around and smashing into.

    Another sign of a tornado is a strange calm after a thunderstorm. Tornadoes are not uncommon after a large storm, so don’t be surprised if you see a clear, calm sky followed by a tornado!

     

    Do Drills

    If you want to get better at a sport, you’ll most likely be doing drill after drill in order to get your skills up to – and way above – par. Likewise, if you want to be as safe and prepared as possible for a tornado, you’ll want to do tornado drills until you and your family know what to do without having to hardly think about it.

    Tornado drills will be pretty similar for each family, although there will be differences in your designated safe room in your home and other things depending on your location. Tornado drills should involve acting out what you should do during a tornado (see section During a Tornado below).

     

    Watch vs. Warning

    tornado watch

    Knowing the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning can help you better prepare. A tornado watch suggests that tornadoes are possible. This warning can cover entire cities, counties, and even multiple states. When a tornado watch occurs, that is the time to check and gather your supplies, review your emergency plan, and identify and locate your nearest safe room. A tornado watch may pass without incident, but it could very quickly turn into a more dangerous situation.

    A tornado warning means that there is a visual on a tornado, or has been indicated by weather radar. Once a tornado warning arrives, head directly to your safe room. Avoid window and open areas. Tornado warnings cover a much smaller area than tornado watches – perhaps a single city or county – but act as a warning to those in the area to take action immediately.

     

    During a Tornado

    The first step to take when you hear the tornado sirens going off (or receive the warning in some other way) is to take shelter. Where you find cover depends largely on where you are and what is available.

     

    Minimal/Inadequate Protection

    During a Tornado - Outside - via Ohio Weather Safety Outdoor Tornado Safety via Ohio Weather Safety (click to enlarge)

    Some locations just don’t provide adequate protection. Being outside is, of course, one of these places. Other shelters that provide inadequate cover are manufactured (i.e. mobile) homes and offices, malls, gymnasiums, and vehicles. The problem with manufactured buildings is they blow away far too easily. Malls, gymnasiums, and other open-plan buildings are too open.

    If you do find yourself outside when a tornado starts to form and there is no available shelter to run to, lay flat in a ditch or other low-lying area. Use your arms or another object to protect your head from flying debris. Avoid areas with trees, and do not take cover underneath an overpass. Doing so can put you at greater risk from the winds and debris.

     

    Moderate Protection

    While not always 100% effective, sturdy buildings – like modern houses – can provide adequate decent protection from tornadoes. Still, while inside a sturdy building, you’ll still want to exercise caution. Stay away from window, which can shatter and start flying through the air. In fact, it’s best to find yourself a central room on the lowest level of the building. A room such as that will provide you with the most protection.

    Even if you feel safe inside a sturdy building, still take cover. Use what you can find – blankets, sleeping bags, pillows, etc. – to cover up so if the howling winds do break through, your body will still be at least somewhat protected from flying objects.

     

    Best Protection

    If you live in an area that is constantly at threat from tornadoes, perhaps it’s time to look into a safe room or storm shelter. These safe havens will withstand nearly all strengths of tornadoes and greatly increase your chances for safely weathering the storm. FEMA has a guide on building a personal safe room, so be sure to check it out.

     

    Outdoor Safety

    Being outside during a tornado is one of the least safe places you can be. There is little to no protection, and between the buffeting winds and the flying debris, things could get unpleasant fast. One of the best things you can do during a tornado, no matter where you are, is to stay low to the ground, or even below it if possible. If available, lay flat in a ditch. This will help protect you from debris and other flying objects. Do not hide underneath an overpass. This could potentially channel the already high wind speeds, making them even faster. Besides stronger winds, there is usually nothing to hold on to, and dirt, debris, and other projectiles can be channeled through, making you a susceptible target.

    Should you be driving when a tornado comes, do not try and outrun it. Tornadoes can be dangerously fast, and can shift direction without warning. Pull over and park your car. If you see a noticeably lower area than the roadway you’re on, quickly make your way there and lie flat, covering your head with your hands. Otherwise, remain in your car with your seat belt on.

     

    The following video helps explain what you should do during a tornado.

     

     

    After a Tornado

    Once the winds have died down and the threat has passed, you can start surveying the damage and checking for injuries. But remember, just because the tornado has passed doesn’t mean the danger is over. A study done after an Illinois tornado showed that half of the injuries caused by that tornado came during rescues, cleanup, and other activities following the tornado. So while it is important to take care of yourself, others, and your home once the tornado leaves, it is important to do so with caution.

     

    Check for Injuries

    Tornadoes can be deadly. Caring for the injured should be the first thing you do after a tornado. Clean open wounds and cuts with soap and clean water. If you or someone near you is bleeding, apply pressure directly on the wound to help it stop. If you find somebody that is seriously injured, do not attempt to move them. Doing so could only injure them more. For more information on taking care of the injured, check out the CDCs post-tornado page.

     

    Damaged Structures

    Tornado damage

    Buildings can be badly damaged because of tornadoes, but you may not be able to see some of it. This includes some structural damage which can leave your home weakened. This is a potential hazard, so when the tornado passes and you start inspecting your home, be extra cautious.

    If you smell natural gas, or suspect there might be substantial damage to your home, you should turn off your gas valve. This will keep the gas from coming through into your home so you don’t have to worry about breathing it in. Likewise, if there is too much gas floating around inside your home, that has the potential for an explosion should some sort of open flame come too close. This is why using a flashlight is a better option than a candle or torch when checking out the damages.

    Similarly, shut off the main circuit breaker if you see any sparks, frayed wires, or other electrical damage. Sparks could jump up and catch your home on fire.

     

    Cleaning Up Safely

    Because there will probably be a lot of dangerous debris, be sure to wear the proper attire when cleaning up. Glass and other sharp objects can be anywhere, so wear sturdy boots, cloves, and long sleeves and pants. Pay attention to your surroundings, and don’t go into any building that has received extensive damage and may not be structurally sound. Remember, many injuries come after the tornado has passed.

     

    Disaster_Blog_Banner Tornado

  • Where to Begin Your Hurricane Preparations

    The skies are clear, the winds are calm, and there’s no report of any weather-related threat on the radar. What a perfect day for getting disaster ready! But where do you even begin with your hurricane preparations?

    When the sun is shining, it can be difficult to think about the urgency of being prepared for a natural disaster – especially a hurricane. But that’s exactly when you should be thinking about it. When the clouds come and the winds start blowing, it’s more than likely that it’s too late to begin.

    Never fear, though, because today the skies are clear (at least at the time of this posting), which means it’s time to make sure you’re ready for the next tropical storm. Where do you begin? At the beginning, of course! Follow these steps from ready.gov and you’ll be ready for whatever storm blows in!

     

    Know Your Hurricane Risk

    If you live pretty far inland, chances are you won’t be feeling the brunt of the storm. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t risks for those living farther away from the coast. In fact, Hurricane Sandy affected 24 states – that’s half the continental United States! No matter where you are, there’s something to be said about being prepared.

    If you are on the coast (or at least close by), the threat is much more real, the winds more powerful, and the flooding more severe, so plan accordingly. If you’re unsure of what your risk is, the image below shows the frequency of hurricanes and tropical storms by county.

     

    Hurricane risk by state - FEMA Hurricane risk by state (via FEMA) - Click to enlarge

     

    Make an Emergency Plan

    Without a plan, being effectively prepared will be mighty difficult. It’s not that you can’t do it without, but plans make it easier to keep things together without having to remember every small detail. Write your plan down, post it where you can see it, and even keep one in your emergency kit so you have it to refer to.

    Your plan will differ depending on your situation, location, and many other factors. If you have pets, include them in your plan as well. Small children, seniors, and those with disabilities will likewise require special attention. What do you need to prepare with before the first warning comes? What should you do when there is a warning? These are some things to consider when making your plan.

     

    Restock Supplies

    Empty ShelvesIf you wait until the hurricane warnings come, you may find your grocery store’s inventory to be virtually empty. To avoid that rather unpleasant inconvenience, take time today to stock up on emergency food. This can be extra cans of food from the store during your regular shopping trip, or even something more long term, such as freeze-dried meals.

    Freeze-dried food has a shelf life of 25 years or more (as long as it’s stored properly), so once you get it, you won’t have to rotate it for a very long time, unlike your canned goods from the local store. Those you’ll need to rotate much more frequently. Another perk of freeze-dried food is that it’s already cooked. Meaning, if you’re power’s out, all you need to do is add water, wait a few minutes, and voila! Dinner is served.

    Water is also a vital part of your supplies. During a hurricane, as well as after, your water supply might be cut off, or even contaminated (flood water does that to your drinking water). Water filters are an excellent option to have on hand. Also consider storing water in your home, be it in water barrels or just 2-liter pop bottles. Each person needs at least one gallon of water per day for hydration and light sanitation, so the more water you have the better off you’ll be. And, if you have freeze-dried food, you will want more water so you can rehydrate your food, thus allowing you to actually eat your food.

    Other supplies to keep stocked are batteries, chargers, cash, first aid, and flashlights, among other personal supplies that are necessary for you and your family. Remember, make sure you have everything you need before the radar picks up a dangerous looking blip. Otherwise, the things you need might be hard to come by.

     

    Flood Insurance

    Most home insurance policies don’t cover flood damage – that’s additional. However, depending on where you live, you might be able to get by without it. FloodSmart.gov can help you identify your flood risk and thereby help you decide if flood insurance is right for you.

    If you do decide you need flood insurance, you may not want to wait too long. Most flood insurance policies take effect 30 days once you purchase it. That means, if you see a hurricane is coming and then get insurance…you still won’t be covered if you get flooded. When it comes to flood insurance, you will definitely want it well in advance.

     

    Hurricane route marker

    Familiarize Yourself with Local Emergency Plans

    Your city or town will have an emergency plan in place. Learn it and know it well so you won’t have any hesitation when the need to execute it arises. Know the evacuation route to ensure not getting lost on your way out.

     

    Stay Tuned

    If a hurricane is heading to your area, you’ll want to know about it as soon as possible. To make this possible, Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs) will come to your phone free of charge whenever there’s an imminent threat, such as a hurricane. Aside from these automatic messages, keep an eye and ear open for weather alerts on the TV or radio for specific instructions. Above all, when the order is given to evacuate, do so immediately. The longer you linger, the less likely you will be to get out safely.

     

    Fortunately, hurricanes give us at least a day or more of warning before they come for a visit. However, once we’re apprised of their arrival, the time to prepare is all but past. Start getting prepared now so when the next disaster comes, you’ll be ready for it.

     

    Hurricane_prep_03

  • 5 Differences Between Dehydrated and Freeze-Dried Food

    When it comes to storing food long term, the age-old question keeps coming up: freeze-dried or dehydrated?

    Both can work as part of your emergency food storage, but there are key differences between the two that could make one better than the other for your particular circumstances. Check out these differences and then choose the option that’s best for you.

     

    Shelf Life

    IMG_4120 - Dehydrated and Freeze-driedMoisture content plays a huge impact on shelf life. The more moisture, the less amount of time it will last. With that in mind, it’s time to compare the moisture content of dehydrated and freeze-dried food.

    Dehydrated food can lose quite a bit of moisture–up to 95 percent! However, do-it-yourself home dehydrators may only remove 70% or a food’s water, leaving it with a shelf life of only one year on average. However, most top end dehydrated food will still maintain a shelf life of even longer, up to 15 years or more.

    Freeze-dried food, on the other hand, is much more suitable for long-term storage. Getting rid of 98-99 percent of moisture gives freeze-dried food a much lengthier shelf life. Our freeze-dried food has a shelf life of 25 years or more.

    While both dehydrated and freeze-dried foods can have long shelf lives, freeze-dried food is definitely superior when it comes to long-term storage. In both cases, however, cooler temperatures will help lengthen their shelf life. We recommend storing your food in temperatures below 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

     

    Preparation

    Water_poured_in_5 - Dehydrated and Freeze-driedFreeze-dried meals prepare easily. Since everything is pre-cooked, all you need to do is add water, wait a few minutes, and your food is ready for eating! Best of all, it tastes just like it did the day it was created (which might very well have been 25 years ago).

    Dehydrated food is a touch different in the way it’s prepared. Instead of letting your food soak for a few minutes, it needs to be cook—boiled, even—in order to rehydrate enough to become the food it used to be. This can take upwards to 20 minutes, depending on the food. While it’s not a huge issue, it can make a big difference if you’re in a hurry.

     

    Nutrition

    According to a food science professor at UC-Davis, freeze-dried food maintains most of its nutrients throughout the process, and once rehydrated, is very similar in nutritional value to its fresh counterpart. This is in contrast to dehydrated food which, although much of the nutrients remain, only around 50% - 60% of the original nutrients are left over. In freeze-dried food, there is about 97% of retained nutrients. In this area, freeze-dried food comes out on top.

     

    Taste

    Lasagna_image - Dehydrated and Freeze-dried Lasagna with Meat Sauce, previously freeze-dried

    Flavor is important in your food. If it doesn’t taste good, why would you even want to eat it? Fortunately, both freeze-dried and dehydrated foods taste great, but there is a difference in the way it’s prepared that makes one taste better than the other.

    According to the Wild Backpacker, the taste of freeze-dried food is essentially held in the food, as the process involves very little heat. This keeps in the flavor, retains original texture, and secures the natural scents. This is why many believe freeze-dried food tastes better than dehydrated food, which uses heat to lose moisture, thus forfeiting flavor, original texture, and smell.

     

    Weight

    If your food intends to stay in your pantry or with your emergency food storage until used, then weight won’t really be an issue. However, dehydrated and freeze-dried food are delicious treats and meals to take on camping trips, hikes, and even in your bug-out bag, which in turn makes weight play a crucial role.

    Dehydrated food is heavier than freeze-dried food, so if you are planning on taking one of these types of foods with you on a hike, freeze-dried food is your best option in terms of being lightweight. If you’re planning on getting a meal out of your food, you’ll want to make sure you either bring enough water or have access to it so you can rehydrate your meals. Many freeze-dried foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and even meats, can be snacked on without rehydrating them, making them a nice, lightweight option for snacking.

     

    There are pros and cons to both dehydrated and freeze-dried food, so in the end it all boils down to what you’re looking for in a food, and how you intend to use it. When it comes to long-term storage and nutrients, however, freeze-dried food reigns supreme. So when you’re looking to invest in an emergency food storage, freeze-dried may very well be the way to go.

    Check out our freeze-dried food here!

     

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