How to Survive Extreme Weather
Extreme Weather Conditions
Whether global warming or a natural cycle of atmospheric change, the worldwide weather patterns have worsened substantially. Global average surface temperature has increased steadily since 1970. Precipitation patterns have changed around the world and after 2,000 years of little change, sea levels have risen by 8 inches with levels rising at a rate double the rate observed over the past century. Nine of the worst ten weather years have occurred since 2001. Expected weather events for your area are now different and there may be new weather events coming your way.
Here are the 12 major weather events and how to deal with them effectively in order to survive.
If a blizzard is predicted, stay off the roads and stay indoors. A dangerous health hazard of the brutal cold can be hypothermia. Warning signs include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness, and apparent exhaustion.
Dress for the unexpected and wear tightly woven, water repellent layers, and go with mittens instead of gloves. If a blizzard strikes without warning, find shelter quickly as core body temperatures will drop rapidly as the wind child factor becomes dangerous. A wind chill of -20 degrees F will cause frostbite in 30 minutes. Dig a snow cave or build an underground cave if needed. If you are wet, light a small fire to dry quickly. Stay hydrated but do not eat the snow (snow should be melted first to avoid dehydration).
If in a vehicle, stay in the vehicle. You can run the car periodically but crack the windows to allow for safe air circulation. This is especially important if the tailpipe is under the snow and dangerous fumes are vented into the car. Keep moving while inside the car. Hang brightly covered objects on the car to make the vehicle visible for rescue.
If in your home, move to a single room and section off the other rooms. Use alternative heat (fireplace) if electricity is off. Allow sunlight through the windows during the day and block off all windows during nighttime hours.
Ice-covered trees may be an attractive winter sight, but the weight of the ice causes tree limbs to break producing a potentially dangerous situation. If the branches fall on power lines, they can knock out your power – often for days or even weeks at a time. To prepare, make sure you have basic food and water supplies on hand – and don’t forget the manual – not electric – can opener. If power fails, try to keep the refrigerator closed as much as possible.
Install storm windows or wrap windows with plastic to protect and add extra insulation. To protect your indoor pipes, drain the pipes or run the tap at a trickle (with cabinets open) to keep pipes from freezing. If you have no heat, close off unneeded rooms, and don’t forget to eat and drink: food provides the body with energy to produce its own heat. If you have to drive, avoid bridges and overpasses – they freeze first. Wipe your dog’s feet stomach after a winter’s walk, since ice-melting chemicals are dangerous to pets.
Wildfires can be caused by weather events, such as a lightning strike. This is a common cause for wildfires in the Western United States. Often, though, they are ignited by the careless behavior – like tossing a lit cigarette or failing to properly extinguish a campfire.
The worst place to be in a wildfire is in a car. A car provides no protection from radiant heat and the small area heats us rapidly. A small grass fire may be survivable in a car but the chances of surviving an inferno like fire while inside an automobile are nil. If there is no other alternative, close all windows and air vents, put AC on “recirculate”, and keep the car engine running (the engine may stall anyway). Keep headlights and emergency lights on, use your horn frequently, and continue to drive. If you must stop, park beside a solid structure which may provide protection from the radiant heat. Never park near trees which will drop heavy branches as they burn. Cover up with a blanket and crouch in the floor of the car. If you have water, drink and dampen a rag to put over your face and prepare for fire-fed winds to whip the car. Understand that the temperatures inside the car will become unbearable but you must not flee on foot (metal tanks rarely explode).
If you are living in an area prone to wildfire, protect your home’s most vulnerable spots for embers to enter: roofs, eaves, vents, walls, windows, balconies and decks. Create a defensible space around your home: this means removing trees, shrubs, and grasses from near the house. If you are home when a wildfire threatens, remember to shut off the gas, close the garage doors, and put valuables in the car – which should be moved out of the garage on onto the driveway. Watering or running sprinklers on the roof is not very helpful, however wetting down the surrounding vegetation is a wise precaution. If power is out, or water will not flow, try connecting a hose to the water heater’s outlet. Check roof structure for burning embers and extinguish as needed.
If you are caught in the open, find an area that has sparse fuel. If a road is nearby, cover yourself and lie face down along the road. If no suitable area is available, clear away as much grass and fuel as you can, lie down, and wait for the fire to pass.
Tornados, a rapidly rotating column of air that extends from the base of the thunderstorm to the ground, is nature’s most violent thunderstorm. Tornadoes typically occur in the late afternoon. If there’s a tornado warning, move into a storm shelter. If no storm shelter is available, stay away from windows and outside walls, seek the lowest level and most central part of the home and use mattresses or blankets to protect against flying debris. In large, multistory buildings, stairways provide good protection. In typical homes, the extra reinforcement from pipes makes bathrooms good shelter locations. Bathtubs, closets, and sturdy furniture provide protection too.
Stay out of automobiles. In weaker tornadoes, car glass becomes dangerous projectiles. In stronger tornadoes, cars may be tossed around like a ball. If you are in a motor vehicle (or a mobile home), get out of the vehicle and take shelter in a nearby ditch.
Direct lightning hits result in tremendous damage to the human body. The air around a lightning strike can reach 50,000 degrees F. Even nearby strikes can kill a human. Wide open spaces are particularly dangerous during lightning storms, since shelter may be further away. If lightning strikes while you’re outside, avoid standing under trees, poles or other tall objects. If you are in water, get out immediately. Dense forests or inside a motor vehicle are safe shelters. If no shelter is available, do not lie flat on the ground (nearby lightning strikes will radiate through your entire body). Crouch down on the balls of your feet with feet together and hands off the ground and covering your ears. If there are others with you, stay at least 20 feet apart.
If you are inside a house, stay away from plumbing fixtures, electrical appliances, and landline phones. Avoid metal doors, windows, and window frames.
Hail is caused by small ice particles riding up and down the inside of a thunderstorm and growing in size as they move. The stronger the updraft, the longer the particle is suspended, and the larger the hailstone can grow. A hailstone the diameter of a baseball falls at the speed of 100 miles-per-hour.
If caught in a severe hailstorm while driving, pull over until the storm passes and cover your head and eyes from the threat of breaking glass. If you are outside, try to find something to cover your head. Trees make poor cover because they can be hit by lightning. If you are inside, stay away from windows.
Landslides can occur in every state and country. Contributing factors to landslides include erosion, saturation from rain or snow, fires, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, human modification of the land, and excess weight. They’re more likely during period of heavy rain. Landslides can grow in size as they flow and pick up debris such as trees, boulders, and other objects. Some landslide witnesses describe hearing the the sounds of trees breaking or boulders falling or a faint rumble that increases in volume as the landslide nears.
There are some indicators that a landslide is about to occur. Doors or windows that begin sticking, outside walkways that begin pulling away from the building, widening cracks in the ground or pavement, underground utility lines that break, bulging ground around the base of a slope, and fences or trees that have begun to lean are all signs that a landslide could occur.
If driving in a vulnerable area, keep on the lookout for collapsed pavement, mud, and falling rocks. If you are in your home, move to the second story if possible. If you are in the path of a landslide, run away from it as quickly as possible. If you cannot escape, curl into a tight ball and protect your head with your hands.
Watch for additional dangers after a landslide such as broken gas lines, weakened structures, and downed power lines.
Hurricanes, classified as tropical storms with winds greater than 74 mph, pose the double threat of hammering wind and dangerous flood waters. Preparation is key: if a hurricane threatens, be sure to have a NOAA weather radio ready, and secure your property by clearing your outdoor area of anything that could get blown about. Keep valuables in a sealed, waterproof container and prepare food and water just in case. Board or tape all windows using sturdy plywood and clean out all rain gutters and downspouts. Turn off propane tanks. Shelter in a room with no windows or skylights. Close all interior doors and brace outside doors from the inside. Lie on the floor under something sturdy such as a strong table.
If you can, evacuate the area before the storm arrives. Ensure that your gas tank is filled and leave yourself plenty of time to get through the congested areas.
Remember that the eye of the hurricane can pass over and provide a brief period of “clearing” weather. Allow at least 30 minutes after the storm before moving outside.
Floods can trap a person in a home for extended periods of time. Make sure you always have supplies and an emergency kit available in your house. Attempt to minimize any potential damage – raise water heater, furnace, electrical panel to a higher level and move furniture and valuables to an upper story in your home.
If you are told to evacuate, evacuate immediately. Flood waters can rise very fast. Move to higher ground away from rivers, streams, and creeks.
Never attempt to walk through or drive across a water-covered road. More than half of all flood deaths occur in vehicles. The current in as little as six inches of water can sweep a car. Never drive around barricades.
To minimize your flood risk when camping, set up camp at least a quarter mile away from any water source and look for evidence of past flooding, like large logs littering the creek.
The word “tsunami” comes from the Japanese words for harbor and wave and is a series of large, dangerous waves. A tsunami is caused by a sudden displacement of water under the sea such as an earthquake, landslide, volcanic eruption or meteorite. The wave speed of a tsunami can move as fast as a commercial jet, at 500 miles-per-hour. A tsunami isn’t one giant wave, but rather a series of waves; the first is often not the largest.
Watch for signs that a tsunami is coming. If near a coastal area, an earthquake should be cause for alarm. Watch for strange animal behavior such as groups of animals fleeing the area or attempting to enter human habitats. If the coastal waters recede suddenly, leaving bare sand, leave the area immediately and quickly (there is about to be a surge of water inland).
If the tsunami is approaching, quickly move inland to the highest ground possible. If you cannot head inland, climb the nearest object (building, tree) as high as you can. Note that a tree is not an ideal object to climb because they are often swept away by tsunamis. If you must climb a tree, choose a sturdy tree over a tall one.
If you become trapped in the water, grab onto something that floats to keep yourself above water. Note that tsunamis come in waves that may last for hours and sometimes later waves are larger than the first sets. Use the time in between waves to seek safety.
Heat waves are silent killers. in an average year, roughly 175 Americans succumb to its effects. Excessive heat can lead to heat cramps, heat exhaustion (cool, moist, pale or flushed skin, heavy sweating, headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness), and heat stroke (red, hot skin, vomiting, change in consciousness).
Prepare your home for a heat wave. Make sure that vents are open, air conditioners are insulated, and window units are snugly installed. Install temporary window reflectors such as aluminum foil covered cardboard, in between windows and drapes. Weather strip doors and sills to keep cool air in. Cover windows with drapes or awnings. Keep storm windows up. Since heat rises, stay in the lowest level of your home where cool air falls into. Avoid running stoves, ovens (a microwave should be used instead), incandescent lights, computers (or leave them in low power mode), and appliances. If you must run high energy appliances (e.g. dishwasher, dryer), run them at night. A dryer can be avoided since the excessive heat makes clothes line drying very effective.
During a heat wave, wear light-weight, loose-fitting, light-colored natural fabrics (e.g. cotton) to reflect heat and sunlight. Stay hydrated by drinking water frequently and avoiding drinks with caffeine and alcohol. Eat small meals and eat more often and avoid hot meals and proteins (they raise your metabolic level). Salads and vegetables are preferable. Avoid strenuous exercise and stay indoors. Run fans to assist in wicking perspiration off the body (and cooling the skin). At night, open windows and run fans to expel trapped hot air.
Water can be used to cool the body too. Place feet in buckets of cool water. Take cool showers or use wet clothe to cool the skin. A spray bottle and fan make an excellent cooling device – leave fan blowing on your body and lightly spray mist on your skin or point the fan over a shallow pan of ice.
If outdoors, avoid areas that are paved or covered with concrete (they store heat during the day and release heat at night). If you must work outdoors, take frequent breaks and breathe through your nose to minimize moisture escaping through the mouth. Sunburn affects your body’s ability to cool itself. To prevent sunburn, they advise to always wear sunscreen and apply 30 minutes before going outdoors.
If you know someone 65 or older, you should check on them regularly during a heat wave. People over 65 and infants and young children are at greater risk for a heat related illness. Never leave children in a car.
If you experience heat cramps, move to a cooler area and lightly stretch the affected muscle. Replenish fluids with water every 15 minutes. In more severe cases (heat exhaustion), remove or loosen clothing and apply cool, wet clothes to the skin. The most severe form, heat stroke, may cause brain damage and is life threatening and the person should be cooled as quickly and aggressively as possible.
If you live in the vicinity of a volcano, make sure you have an escape route in place beforehand. If you are instructed to evacuate, do so immediately (many deaths occur for people who do not heed these warnings).
If caught in the eruption, move to high ground. You cannot outrun a lava flow (they can travel up to 300 mph) but you may be able to dodge it by stepping onto higher ground. In addition, higher ground offers protection from floods and mud flows which often accompany volcanic eruptions. Do not step on dried lava flows – often they simply form a hard, brittle shell with molten lava underneath.
Shield yourself from pyroclastic (rocks and debris) by crouching down, facing away from the volcano, and covering your head with your arms. If possible, get out of the range of falling pyroclastic debris. Breathe through a respirator or damp clothe to protect your lungs from ash and poisonous gases such as carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide (which can kill a person in less than a minute). Do not stay low to the ground where the gases accumulate. If possible, shelter in a home or strong structure.
If sheltering inside, close all windows and doors. Understand that structures can collapse when covered with heavy ash. If possible, periodically clear the roof of accumulated ash.
If driving, understand that roads become slippery with ash and radiators become clogged. Keep headlights on, move slowly, and watch the automobile’s temperature gauge to avoid overheating.