It’s not your imagination. Thanks to its geography, the United States experiences more than its share of extreme weather. “Two oceans, the Gulf of Mexico, the Rocky Mountains, jutting peninsulas like Florida, clashing storm fronts and the jet stream combine to naturally brew the nastiest of weather,” according to this PBS article. In fact, the U.S. actually gets more of the worst weather on the planet than other countries. We were dealt a bad hand, weatherwise.
That shows up as the severe weather patterns that seem to come through every few weeks, such as blizzards and snowstorms, heatwaves, hurricanes, severe thunderstorms, and tornadoes. Those weather events are becoming more extreme and more common, too.
“One of the most visible consequences of a warming world is an increase in the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events. The National Climate Assessment finds that the number of heat waves, heavy downpours, and major hurricanes has increased in the United States, and the strength of these events has increased, too,” said the nonprofit Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (formerly known as the Pew Center on Global Climate Change).
While we can and should take action to halt climate change so the weather doesn’t get too much worse, we also must accept the reality that our weather is changing. In other words, no matter what, nasty weather is headed our way—and we need to prepare in advance for what lies ahead. Each weather event may require different preparations, though, so let’s look at what you can do to be ready in the event of these emergencies. For all of these events, though, I’d repeat one thing: if you own a car, keep the car full of fuel. Running out of fuel could be disastrous.
Technically (according to the National Weather Service), a blizzard is a storm with large amounts of snow, winds greater than 35 mph, and visibility of less than ¼ mile. Practically, it’s a severe snowstorm with potentially life-threatening conditions due to high winds, extreme cold, and poor visibility. The best thing to do in a snowstorm is to get to shelter and wait it out. If you’re home, so much the better. Then, you have the benefit of all the prep work you’ve done.
Here’s what the National Weather Service recommends for your winter storm preparations:
For your vehicle kit, here’s what they recommend:
The National Weather Service defines a heat wave as a period of abnormally hot weather lasting more than two days. In just the last couple of years the U.S. has seen heat waves in all the 48 contiguous states, even the typically cool Pacific Northwest. Like a snowstorm, we generally have some warning so we can prepare, and like a snowstorm, heat waves can linger for a while.
We all know that heat waves can be deadly, especially for people whose health is compromised in some way. In fact, extreme heat is responsible for more deaths than any other weather-related cause. But any of us can succumb to extreme heat, especially when it’s combined with high humidity. Dealing with a heat wave involves a few basic behavior changes and preparation, including the following tips:
These massive storms tend to be full of surprises, but we know they can be deadly and destructive. Oftentimes, the best option when a hurricane is bearing down is just to leave. For that, you’ll need to know your evacuation route and have your evacuation plan ready. This page from Ready.gov by the Department of Homeland Security has comprehensive information about preparing for evacuation and dealing with an evacuation, but here are some tips for preparation:
Because you might have to be away from home for many days after a hurricane, your disaster kit may need to be more extensive. Here’s a big list to go over from Ready.gov. and the following is your basic disaster kit so you’ll be ready for most emergency situations. You may want to store your kit in a waterproof plastic bin. A lot of this is the same as for the snowstorm kit, but some is unique.
I would also add to create your emergency plan checklist so you can go through it step by step at that stressful time. It should include tasks like charging cell phones in advance, checking in on people you know who may need help, reminders to turn off the gas supply, and so on. Whatever applies to your situation.
Major thunderstorms carry major risk from heavy rain, hail, high winds, and especially from lighting. Lighting is a major cause of death from storms, but heavy rain can cause dangerous flash flooding, as well. Your major preparation for dealing with severe thunderstorms is to build your emergency kit for both home and car. Those listed above for snowstorms and hurricanes have all the necessary items to see you through if your power at home is out for a day or more, which does happen with downed power lines from high winds. A battery-powered NOAA weather radio is always good to have on hand, in particular.
During a storm nothing is as crucial as seeking shelter. Stay home if possible, or get inside another sturdy building. If you’re out and about, drive away from tall trees if you can and stay in your car until the storm has passed. Do not try to drive through standing or moving water; just wait it out in your car.
What makes tornadoes so wicked and deadly is their speed of formation and intensity. Tornadoes may have winds over 200 miles per hour and have destroyed entire towns and cities in just moments. Preparation involves, again, having a battery-powered NOAA weather radio on hand, and identifying your safe space(s) in the event of a tornado. If you have a basement, that’s typically your best bet. If not, an interior space in your home, preferably windowless, is the next-best choice. If that’s a closet, so be it.
You can also assemble an emergency kit so you’re ready for whatever you and your family face after the tornado, so the lists above will do just fine for that. Again, putting together a checklist would be helpful so you’ll remember to handle certain tasks if there’s time, but that’s the thing about a tornado: they tend to come on so fast that there’s no time to waste. You need to grab the kids and get to the safe space at once, and that reinforces why you put together your emergency kit with food, water, lighting, blankets, and all the rest in advance.
Knowledge is power, and maybe you will have a bit more peace of mind as well with some preparation. We know that major weather events are not going away, but we can certainly do our best to be ready.
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