Protecting You and Your Family
During A Natural Disaster
It’s something we see in the news at least once a year – a terrible storm or other meteorological event that absolutely devastates a town. The fiscal expense associated with natural disasters is draining on citizens and local governments, but the emotional cost for many who lose their homes is often the most damaging aspect of all.
Depending on where you live, there may be no way to avoid a natural disaster. Coastal cities are susceptible to hurricane weather, while flat lands are favorite spots for tornadoes. Despite these precarious environments, it does not mean that you can’t prepare your home and family for when another possible natural disaster could strike.
Even if you haven’t been in the middle of a hurricane, you have seen the otherworldly force and damage that they are capable of doing. The blanket term for a hurricane is “tropical cyclone” but the term “hurricane” or “typhoon” is applied depending on where the storm originates and how strong it is.
Storms that form in the southern Atlantic Ocean are hurricanes, and are the storms that the entire Atlantic coast of the United States is at risk of experiencing.
You’ve probably heard the term “hurricane season”, which for the Atlantic is the time period between mid-August through late October, mid-May through the end of November for the Pacific. This notes the time period that conditions are often right for hurricanes to form, although each year has brought varying numbers of hurricanes with various levels of intensity.
Considerations in hurricane preparedness
If you live along the coast, or another area is that is at risk of experiencing a tropical cyclone, one number you’ll want to understand is the elevation at which your home sits. This is a major factor in determining whether or not your house is flood-prone or not.
If you are not sure how to gauge this, your insurance company or local housing authority should be able to help you out.
DID YOU KNOW…
Hurricanes need warm water (between 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit) to survive. These conditions are common for the Atlantic coastal regions of the US, but not for the Pacific coast regions, explaining their absence on the West coast.7
If a hurricane is imminent, consider some of the following steps to ensure that your home is protected.
- Board up ALL windows - There are two ways you can go about this. 1) Go with permanently installed storm shutters; 2) Board up with 5/8” marine plywood1. Do not assume that only the windows facing water (if you live on the coast) need to be boarded up – this is a dangerous myth.
- If you have anything sitting outside of your home, bring it inside. Minimize the damage to your home and others.
- CLOSE and REINFORCE your garage doors - Never under any circumstances leave you garages doors open during a hurricane. The damage caused by wind entering your garage can be the difference between having a home and not when the storm is over. It is highly recommended that you reinforce your garage door with a Secure Door brace. More can be learned at Popular Mechanics
- Proof your roof - Roofs are extremely susceptible to damage during a hurricane, so making it more hurricane proof can make a big difference. Ways that you can minimize the risk of wind damage include2:
- replacing and hammering loose nails in your roof shingles
- using roofing cement on shingle edges
- applying construction adhesive to rafters/trusses
- Unplug all small devices where possible.
Flooding is caused by a variety of factors, and similar to hurricanes, some areas are more prone to flooding than others. Cities and areas that reside below sea level such as New Orleans are at a higher risk of experiencing floods, as was shown during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Flooding can be caused by everything from snowmelt, dams, heavy sustained rains, and more. Residents who are close to streams and rivers are at a higher risk, especially when their home is at a lower elevation. Despite the risk, there are precautions and safety measures that can put in place in the event of a flood.
Before a flood
- Avoid a choosing a home or building a home on a floodplain. A floodplain is the area next to a stream or river that is geomorphic, or prone to changes in land structure.
- If you live in a high-risk area, consider placing your hot water heater and furnace in an elevated position
During a flood
Floods can happen quick, so you have to act even quicker. You don’t want to wait around until it is too late, as attempting to walk or drive through flooded ground can be extremely dangerous. Get to higher ground if possible.
Although the situation might be hard to avoid, avoid driving in flooded waters if possible. Flooding can do quick damage to roads, so you will not necessarily know what you’re actually driving through.
DID YOU KNOW…
It only takes two feet of water for your vehicle to get carried away in? Even pickup trucks and SUVs are subject to these dangers.3
The destructive force and appearance of a tornado is both horrifying and surreal. In the US, more than 1,200 tornadoes are recorded on a yearly basis – more than any other country in the world. Although some states get hit with the brunt of most of the systems, every US state has recorded a tornado at some point in its history.
What are tornadoes, and how do they form?
The basic definition of a tornado, according to the American Meteorological Society, is “a rotating column of air, in contact with the surface, pendant from a cumuliform cloud, and often visible as a funnel cloud and/or circulating debris/dust at the ground.”4
Origins of these powerful cyclones begin with the presence of a “supercell” storm, which contains a vortex of air called a mesocyclone. These storms are located high up in the atmosphere – going upwards as much as six miles – but once they end up below the cloud base, cool air (downdraft) and warm air (updraft) begins to mix, and a wall cloud begins to form.
As the updraft begins to get stronger, low pressure forms on the ground which then forces the mesocyclone to get “pulled” down to the ground. This is the beginning of the tornado.
The average lifespan of a tornado is about fifteen minutes 5, but some have lasted for as long as an hour.
During a Tornado
What to watch out for
You should always keep connected to your local weather reports for tornado watches or warnings, as this will be your most valuable source of information. Otherwise, there are several warning signs to look out for that can indicate that a tornado is likely to touch down in your area:
- A tornado can’t form without an existing storm, so basic qualities such as strong winds, rain and/or hail is one of the primary indicators
- If the sky exhibits unusual colors such as green, orange, or is extremely dark in nature
- A period of no wind and quiet conditions seemingly out of nowhere.
- A sustained rumbling that is often described as sounding similar to a freight train.
DID YOU KNOW…
Three out of every four tornadoes recorded throughout the world occur in the United States6
What to do
If a tornado has touched down, damage to your home and possessions are likely unavoidable depending on the strength of the storm. In terms of survival, there are several considerations for you to make.
- If you are at home, take your family to the lowest point of your house, which is likely your basement. Be sure to stay away from any windows
- If your home does not have a basement, go to a room with no loose items (pack away prior if you know a storm is coming) and no windows. Cover yourself with anything that will protect from potentially flying objects.
- 1 - http://www.ready.gov/hurricanes
- 2 - http://www.houselogic.com/home-advice/hurricanes/hurricanes-protect-your-roof/#
- 3 - http://www.oci.ga.gov/consumerservice/SafetyTips-Flooding.aspx
- 4 - http://glossary.ametsoc.org/wiki/Tornado
- 5 - http://www.fortthomas.kyschools.us/userfiles/171/Classes/2572/Fact%20Card%201.pdf
- 6 - http://tornado-facts.com/interesting-tornado-facts/
- 7 - http://www.siue.edu/MLTE/Thematic%20Units/The%20Weather%20Around%20Us/hurricane_facts.htm