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  • Severe Weather Has Its Own Timetable: Now Is the Time to Prepare

    Tornado Severe WeatherIowa’s statewide tornado drill, held on March 24, was supposed to be held the day before. It was postponed because of bad weather.

    Natural disasters don’t exactly conform to our timetables. Yet many have a seasonal ebb and flow. Although tornadoes occur year-round, most take place in the spring and early summer – hence, tornado season. Floods are common in March and April because of heavy rain and melting snow. Hurricane season peaks in August and September.

    This seasonal nature of wild weather could explain why 33 states and U.S. territories held severe weather awareness events in March. Another 21 events are planned for April.

    Events varied from state to state. Last week, for example, California sponsored Tsunami Preparedness Week, while Colorado nailed some extremes with Flood Safety and Wildfire Preparedness Week. Maryland’s Severe Storms Awareness Week highlighted a different hazard every day.

    The point of all this is, if you haven’t started preparing for a natural disaster, now’s a good time.

    One goal of Maryland’s awareness week was to highlight the difference between a watch and a warning, so people can act appropriately.

    A watch meansTornado Watch - Severe Weather that atmospheric conditions are right for severe weather to develop, but it hasn’t yet. Severe weather watches tend to last for longer time periods. A warning means severe weather is imminent or occurring, so take appropriate action now. The terminology is the same for many types of severe weather: tornadoes, flooding, severe thunderstorms, winter storms and hurricanes.

    Sometimes the National Weather Service issues weather advisories. These can refer to specific weather hazards within a storm, like a high wind advisory. They can also refer to severe weather that is imminent or occurring but won’t have quite as adverse an impact. A flood advisory, for example, is for flooding that shouldn’t really affect life or property.

    A month ago, eight tornadoes touched down in Virginia, killing five people.  Virginia’s governor referenced that disaster in a proclamation calling March 22 Tornado Preparedness Day.

    “All Virginians should know where to seek shelter during a tornado, whether at home, at work, at school, or elsewhere,” the proclamation said.

    Part of preparing for a disaster is knowing how to respond appropriately. For example, before a tornado, pick the safest place to shelter in a building. A basement is best, but if that’s not available, go to the center of a small, interior room on a building’s lowest floor. Either way, get under something and cover your head and neck. This advice doesn’t apply to mobile homes or buildings. From those, go to the nearest shelter.

    Flooded Street of Des Plains City - Severe Weather

    Evacuating if directed is also the best course of action during a flood. But be careful. Flooding is the deadliest weather hazard, mostly because people try to drive or walk across flooded roads and bridges. Be sure to have alternate routes to get to a shelter in case the main route is flooded.

    Once you’ve got a plan, practicing it is equally important.

    Employees of the Clear Lake, Iowa, Chamber of Commerce participated in this year’s delayed Iowa tornado drill. The Chamber’s Director of Tourism, Libbey Patton, said in a TV news story that chamber members had inclement weather plans for both office and events.

    “And we have had to use it a few years ago for [a weekly event] just to get everyone home and off the roads,” she said.


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  • Thanks for the Rain, Pineapple Express! (Got any more?)

    Finally. After an unexpectedly warm, dry February, the Pineapple Express has dumped enough rain and snow on northern California to bring reservoirs there up to average levels – the first time they’ve been that high since the drought began.

    Drought Monitor Released Thursday March 17, 2016 - Pineapple Express Drought Monitor - Released Thursday March 17, 2016

    This doesn’t mean the end of the state’s drought. The U.S. Drought Monitor’s latest report shows 55 percent of the state is still in extreme or exceptional drought. Groundwater is a major concern too. The state’s underground aquifers, which have been building their supply for hundreds or thousands of years, are being depleted far faster than they can be refurbished. Some of them have caved in and will never recover.

    The good news is the drought has been a wake-up call for the need to better manage water use.

    Here’s how some people are trying to save water.

    In California’s Central Valley, where a huge percentage of the food the U.S. eats is grown, declining aquifers have become a health hazard. Shallow municipal wells have gone dry as large agricultural companies draw down groundwater from deeper wells. This has left residents without water, or with polluted water.

    One problem is, when a lot of rain falls, the area doesn’t have enough surface storage, like reservoirs, to keep it, according to a story in the Christian Science Monitor. According to the story, George Goshgarian, an almond farmer in the San Joaquin Valley, is trying something new: flooding his almond orchards during the winter rainy season when his trees are dormant and don’t need the water.

    The idea is, the water will soak into the ground and hopefully some will trickle into the aquifer below. If he’s careful, the flooding shouldn’t hurt the trees because they are dormant. Then, during the drier growing season, the ground will have more moisture. And the aquifer below will have a bit more water.

    According to a study for the California Water Foundation that was cited in the story, groundwater in the southern San Joaquin is being depleted at a rate of 250,000 acre-feet per year on average. Using the rainy season’s runoff could reduce that amount between a third and a half, the study estimated.

    Homeowners and municipalities are also trying to figure out how to use rainwater runoff. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power last August presented a plan to capture more rainwater for the city.

    According to Andy Lipkis, president of Tree People, which advocates for sustainable urban water use, an inch of rain falling on Los Angeles represents 7.6 billion gallons of water. Half that runs off into the ocean, he said in a story in the Christian Science Monitor.

    The utility’s master plan suggests projects to capture water that range in size from major basins to individuals’ yards.

    Drip Irrigation - Pineapple ExpressThe yard of Carrie Wassenaar of North Hollywood, Calif., is a case study in how water catching works. As described in the Christian Science Monitor, her yard has drought-tolerant plants watered by a drip-irrigation system that uses rainwater. A depression in the yard allows water to pool and seep down to the aquifer below. The water comes from an above-ground cistern that collects rainfall from her roof.

    “You want to feel like you're at least trying to help with the solution instead of just contributing to the problem,” she said in the story.

    Ready.gov says the best way to prepare for a drought is to use less water beforehand. Here are some tips from ready.gov for saving water inside the home.

    Replace washers in dripping faucets and repair pipe leaks.

    “One drop per second wastes 2,700 gallons of water per year,” ready.gov said.

    Insulate water pipes. This will reduce heat loss, which means it’ll take less time to heat water from the tap.

    Install low-flow appliances, toilets, and shower heads. Some water districts will offer rebates to offset the cost.

    Instead of rinsing dishes and using the disposal, scrape dishes into the trash or compost.

    Lawns - Pineapple ExpressOutside, reduce the lawn and put in plants adapted to your climate. According to a study, lawns cover an estimated 50,000 square miles of the country. That makes lawns the biggest crop in America. And you can’t even eat them.

    Don’t water too much. Lawns only need about a half inch of water per week and less in the autumn and winter. If water’s running down the gutter, you’re using too much.

    Consider using grey water for outdoor watering. For information about installing a rain catching system, check out the web site for the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association.

    Be aware of regulations when considering water-saving tools. California offered homeowners tax-free rebates of up to $2,000 to help homeowners pay for water-efficient yards. As of February, the state had spent $22 million in rebates. Unfortunately, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service is taxing those rebates as income.


    Drought Preparedness - Pineapple Express

  • What Everyone Should Know About a Power Grid Attack

    The United States’ power grid has flaws. In fact, we’re definitely not the leader when it comes to protecting our grid. According to Glenn Reynolds, author of many books and the widely popular political blog Instapundit, the Ukraine has better gird security than we do here, and yet they were still hacked in a grand, elaborate manner. So what does that mean for us?

    New York City after Sandy - Power Grid Attack New York City was without power for many days following Hurricane Sandy.

    Well, it means we still have a lot of work to do as a country. Even President Obama admits we’re lagging behind in grid security. So they’re working on it. But, as Reynolds pointed out, the way the government reacted to expected disasters, such as hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, we might be left in the dark for a very long time if our power grid gets compromised. An attack to our grid is something that has never happened before, and if we struggle to recover after expected disasters like hurricanes, then we may very well be left tin the dark for a very long time if our grid goes down.

    Ted Koppel, author of the bestselling book Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath, calls us a “reactive society,” meaning we don’t tend to be preventive in our actions, but rather decide what to do after an event. When the grid goes down, the time to prepare will be far gone.

    And with the help we can expect from the government (think back to Sandy and Katrina), relying on them might take quite a while. So while you wait for the country’s grid to come back online, how will you be living? Hopefully not in the dark. While it’s not entirely feasible for everybody to set up to go off the grid, it most certainly wouldn’t hurt to do what you can. While this article isn’t about the various methods of going completely off-grid, you can find one of our posts describing off-grid power solutions by clicking here.

    We plan for all sorts of natural disasters because we’ve seen then; they’re common. But we haven’t been the victim of a power grid attack. We haven’t seen how dark it really can be if our power is taken away from us. And so, since we haven’t seen it first-hand, many people just aren’t preparing. This is a complacency problem, and one we need to fix.

    Solar panels - Power Grid Attack Small solar panels can help charge your devices and give you power when other sources refuse to work.

    As was mentioned, going off-grid might be all but impossible for most of us. That being said, we can still collect power on a smaller scale from the sun. Solar panels have become much more portable and cost-efficient. By having a few of these in your emergency prep, you can power your devices and even charge larger power packs. So, if the grid were to go down, you wouldn’t be completely powerless (so to speak).

    But it’s not just extra power you’ll be worried about. You’ll need a way too cook, and most likely you’ll need actual food to cook, too. Then there’s the issue of water. These two necessities of life might be very difficult to come by in a grid-down situation. That’s one reason why prepping for other disasters is so important – if you’re prepared for one, you’re well on your way to being prepared for more.

    But think about what would happen if the grid went down during the winter. In the case of the cyber-attack in the Ukraine, the hackers cause widespread power outages on December 23. If you’re not familiar with Ukrainian weather, it can get pretty cold that time of year. Bringing this back a little closer to home, what would you do if the power went out for a long time during the winter? Would you have enough blankets? Warm clothing? A way to power a heater? Just some things to think about.

    As a nation, we have grown mighty accustomed to the conveniences of power whenever we want it. That could all be gone in a moment. Are you prepared for something of that magnitude? We don’t think about it often because it hasn’t happened to us yet. But it can. And if it does – I ask again – will you be prepared?


    How are you prepared for widespread power outages?


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