Severe Weather Safety Tips

We’ve all been caught in the rain. Especially the ever-trepid angler who understands that the fishing is usually better during a cloudburst. 

But how do you know when to seriously take cover? Squalls have been known to pop up out of nowhere and quickly build in ferocity. It goes without saying that you should have proper raingear for those occasions. As we say, it’s waterproof, it’s windproof, but it’s NOT lightning proof.

So there’s a few signs that you should pay attention to, especially if you’re in a boat or vehicle. Let’s start with your garden variety thunderstorms

SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS are officially defined as storms that are capable of producing hail that is an inch or larger or wind gusts over 58 mph. Winds this strong can break off large branches, knock over trees or cause structural damage to trees. Thunderstorms also produce tornadoes and dangerous lightning; heavy rain can cause flash flooding.

There’s a few rules once the threat of lightning is present:

- If you can hear thunder, lightning can strike. 

- Stay away from anything metal

- Stay away from pools and lakes

- Avoid open spaces, but never stand under a tree. 

- Get to a home or large building.

If you’re in a watercraft, you’ll want to head for shore at the earliest opportunity. A lightning strike to a vessel can be catastrophic, especially if it results in a fire or loss of electronics.  If your boat has a cabin, then stay inside and avoid touching metal or electrical devices.  If your boat doesn't have a cabin, stay as low as you can in the boat.  

As always, be prepared for the possibility of storms in the forecast. Listen to local news or a NOAA Weather Radio to stay informed about severe thunderstorm watches and warnings.

TORNADOES

A tornado is a violently rotating column of air extending from the base of a thunderstorm down to the ground. Tornadoes are capable of completely destroying well-made structures, uprooting trees, and hurling objects through the air like deadly missiles. Tornadoes can occur at any time of day or night and at any time of the year. Although tornadoes are most common in the Central Plains and the southeastern United States, they have been reported in all 50 states.

It is not the wind inside and around a tornado that kills and injures people - it's the flying debris that's in the wind.  The key to tornado survival is a safety plan.  Your plan at home should be known by everyone in the home and practiced at least twice each year.  Children who may be at home alone should know what to do and where to go even if no adults are there.

As with severe thunderstorms, there are a few basic rules for surviving a tornado:

  • GET IN - If you are outside, get inside.  If you're already inside, get as far into the middle of the building as possible.
  • GET DOWN - Get underground if possible.  If you cannot, go to the lowest floor possible.
  • COVER UP - Flying and falling debris are a storm's number one killer.  Use pillows, blankets, coats, helmets, etc to cover up and protect your head and body from flying debris.

A basement is also a good shelter in most cases.  If your basement is not totally underground, or has outside doors or windows, stay as far away from them as possible. If you're like most people, you don't have an underground shelter.  In this case, you need to find a location that is:

  • As close to the ground as possible
  • As far inside the building as possible
  • Away from doors, windows and outside walls
  • In as small a room as possible

Bathrooms MAY be a good shelter, provided they are not along an outside wall and have no windows.  Contrary to popular belief, there is nothing magically safe about getting in a bathtub with a mattress. Bathrooms tend to be small rooms, and it is thought that the plumbing within the walls of a bathroom helps to add some structural strength to the room. 

A small interior closet can also serve as a shelter. The closet should be as deep inside the building as possible, with no outside walls, doors or windows.  Be sure to close the door and cover up.

If a hallway is your shelter area, be sure to shut all doors.  The goal is to create as many barriers as possible between you and the flying debris in and near a tornado. The hallway should be as far inside the building as possible. 

Mobile homes are especially susceptible to high winds from severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.  You will likely not be safe in a mobile home, whether you’re in a hallway, a closet or a bathroom. Get out of mobile homes and find a more substantial shelter as quickly as possible.

No matter your situation, staying low is the best thing you can do to avoid the flying debris of a tornado. Another phenomenon that is rare but quite dangerous is a derecho.

DERECHOS

A derecho (pronounced similar to "deh-REY-cho") is a widespread, long-lived wind storm that is associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms. Although a derecho can produce destruction similar to the strength of tornadoes, the damage typically is directed in one direction along a relatively straight swath. As a result, the term "straight-line wind damage" sometimes is used to describe derecho damage. By definition, if the wind damage swath extends more than 240 miles (about 400 kilometers) and includes wind gusts of at least 58 mph (93 km/h) or greater along most of its length, then the event may be classified as a derecho.

Derechos in the United States most commonly occur along two axes. One extends along the "Corn Belt" from the upper Mississippi Valley southeast into the Ohio Valley, and the other from the southern Plains northeast into the mid Mississippi Valley. Derechos are extremely rare west of the Great Plains, but have occurred there. 70% of all derechos occur between the months of May-August (the warm season). The other 30% occur during the cool season. Areas most prone to them only average about one per year.

Derechos can cause hurricane or tornadic-force winds, actual tornadoes, heavy rains, and flash floods. Given this, the safety precautions mirror those of tornadoes. Get to the lowest, most secure spot possible and protect yourself from flying debris. Be mindful of rising flood waters as well, especially if you’re driving.

FLASH FLOODS

Flash Floods can be caused by a number of things, but are most often due to extremely heavy rainfall from thunderstorms. By definition, it is flooding that occurs 3 to 6 hours after heavy rainfall. Flash Floods can also occur due to dam or levee breaks, river overflows and/or mudslides.  In urban areas, the impervious surfaces do not allow water to infiltrate the ground, and the water runs off to the low spots very quickly.

Given this, flash flooding occurs so quickly that people are caught off-guard. Their situation may become dangerous if they encounter high, fast-moving water while traveling. If people are at their homes or businesses, the water may rise quickly and trap them, or cause damage to the property without them having a chance to protect the property.

You may feel invincible in your car, but driving through standing water is extremely risky. Once enough water infiltrates your engine cavity, you’re likely to lose all power. Be aware that your vehicle can literally be swept away in just two feet of water. You can become a turtle on your back very quickly in such cases.

Also refrain from walking in any moving flood water, as that is when drownings occur. If you’re in doubt, remember, “turn around, don’t drown.” As with your vehicle, the situation can turn on you quickly and catch you unable to recover your balance. Wait for help instead if you can.

Flash flooding is becoming the greatest cause of casualties following hurricanes as well. People are out after the storm has passed, and often don’t realize the coming threat of the flood waters until it’s too late. Use extra caution in these cases and avoid ALL unnecessary travel.


HURRICANES

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June to November, with the peak season happening between mid-August to late October. On average there are six hurricanes, three which are categorized as “major,” each year. History provides important examples of the potentially dangerous impact hurricanes can have and the need to be prepared.

Preparation begins with an emergency plan. Start by identifying any nearby evacuation areas with your family, and pick one place to meet for safe shelter.  Make plans for elderly, infant and pet needs during an evacuation. If your senior needs assistance, consider keeping a walker or wheelchair nearby to help them evacuate safely. And consider car seats for infants and crates or kennels for your pet.

Keep a list of nearby and distant emergency contacts to get in touch with just in case of an evacuation. Before receiving a hurricane evacuation warning, here are a few other ‘to-do’ items:

  • Stock up on gas and keep your car full. In the event of a hurricane warning, there may be a shortage, so consider storing it in a gas can now safely outside of your home.
  • Bring patio furniture and outdoor items inside. Leaving them outdoors may damage your home from wind gusts.
  • Protect your home with sandbags and plywood to reduce damage from strong winds and flooding.
  • Charge up all mobile devices, unplug electronics items and get them up high.
  • Battery-powered radio or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) mobile app for updates.
  • Turn off gas, water and other utilities if your municipality recommends it.

Stock up - whether you plan to stay through the storm or evacuate, you should have the essentials ready. Pack a bag when a hurricane warning is issued. This way, if you need to evacuate, it’s one less thing to worry about. Pack at least three days worth of clothes, medication and non-perishable food. 

If you’re staying put, avoid all doors and windows, and protect yourself from flying debris and residual flood waters. Know which resources may be available should you require evacuation assistance.

Afterward - after it is confirmed by authorities that the storm has passed and it is safe to go outdoors, you can begin to assess any potential damage to your home and property. Follow these tips after the storm is over:

  • If you were evacuated, return home only after authorities advise it is safe to do so.
  • Avoid downed power lines. Never touch anything in contact with power lines, including water or water puddles that may be near the downed power lines.
  • Protect your property from further damage by boarding up broken windows to help deter vandalism or additional weather damage. Arrange for reasonable temporary repairs.
  • Be wary of any gas lines that may have been damaged or broken during the storm. If a gas leak is suspected, stay out of the property until the utility company deems it safe.
  • Be cautious of hazards that are a product of the storm, such as water due to flooding, sharp or broken objects, damaged tree limbs or other structures that may have been damaged by high winds or water.
  • Keep accurate records of your expenses and save bills and receipts from your temporary repairs. (Avoid making permanent repairs until your Claim professional has reviewed the damage.) Keep accurate records of any other expenses incurred.
  • Separate and inventory any damaged personal property. Create a list of any damaged contents, including a description of the item, name of the manufacturer, brand name, age, as well as the place and date of purchase, if known. Include photographs, videotapes or personal property inventories you may already have available.
  • If you think your home might be unsafe due to storm damage, contact your insurance company to discuss finding temporary accommodations.

CONCLUSIONS

So no matter the severe weather you find yourself facing, being prepared and using common sense will be your greatest assets. Above all, be aware that weather conditions can change quickly and leave little time for preparation. Try not to assume that taking a few small risks won’t lead to potential danger. 

And if you’re out fishing, don’t worry - those fish will be biting again. Better to lose a bit of fishing time than your property or your life. It’s all part of enjoying; and respecting the water.   -WR