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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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  • 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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  • National Severe Weather Preparedness Week

    Prep yourself each day with a new survival skill during National Severe Weather Preparedness Week

    Throughout 2013, severe weather disasters touched down all across the country. Whether citizens faced tornadoes, hurricanes, winter storms, or other disasters, the importance of preparing became very apparent. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have teamed up for their third year to inform the public how to best prepare for severe weather. They have chosen March 2-8, 2014 as National Severe Weather Preparedness Week.

    This year’s campaign, “Be a Force of Nature: Take the Next Step,” encourages individuals to set an example for others in their communities through disaster preparation and responses. For example, when tornado warnings, hurricane alerts, or other alarms notify the public of oncoming weather conditions, be an example and take action first rather than ignore the warnings.

    Often many will choose not to seek shelter immediately after hearing the alert. Instead, they wait to hear a second warning. Sometimes a second warning never comes. But once in a while that second alarm will sound and those who didn’t act after the first alert are caught in the chaos of a severe weather storm. If you take action to prepare, others will follow and, ultimately, stay safe.

    Knowing how to prepare for different weather disasters—and responding immediately to warnings—can help save your life. And so FEMA and NOAA ask you to “Be a Force of Nature.”

    Throughout this week, “Be a Force of Nature: Take the Next Step” challenges the public to take a single preparedness action each day. Your action can be something simple such as preparing an emergency evacuation plan for your family, or as complex as building your food and water storage supply. No matter what action you choose to do, this week is meant to better prepare you and your community for severe weather.

    Check back this week for tips on what you can do to stay safe during severe storms.

    Sources:

    http://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1392907694854-c8defc5a1deef616f4c2fefb760b65bd/Severe+Weather+Preparedness+WeekToolkit.pdf

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