How to Be #HurricaneStrong

  1. Minimize Danger – Understand the Power of Rushing Water

According to the National Hurricane Center, storm surge accounts for approximately half the deaths in hurricanes since 1970. The National Weather Service (NWS) tells us that these tragedies happen because people underestimate the force, speed, and power of water. A modest six inches of fast-moving water can knock down an adult, 12 inches can carry away a small car, and 24 inches will move an SUV. That’s why FLASH and NWS created the Turn Around, Don’t Drown program in 2003 with lifesaving reminders. Watch this video to learn more, and remember that where it rains, it can flood.

  1. Know Your Zone – Define Evacuation Needs

One of the most critical steps for survival is to identify whether you reside in a storm surge evacuation zone and to develop a plan for where you will be when the waters rise. Once you have your plan in place, heed all evacuation orders, and do so quickly. Remember, making the right decision to either stay or leave on a timely basis will keep you, your family, and your community’s first responders out of harm’s way. Use this updated list from FLASH to Find Your Evacuation Zone today.

  1. Avoid Regrets – Secure Supplies and Build a Kit

You’ll need to plan for two situations—remaining home or evacuating to a different location. Click here for a comprehensive list of supplies that you will need to stay comfortable and safe.

  1. Act Now – Reduce Home and Contents Damage

You still have time to take some meaningful steps to protect your property the storm. Take the following actions to protect from expected flooding:

  • Clean out gutters and ensure downspouts are clear to allow water to flow away from the home.
  • Prepare and place sandbags using these steps to ensure they don’t topple. (Don’t forget to review safe disposal guidelines.)
  • Elevate, wrap, and move valuable carpets, electronics, and furniture to a higher floor or alternate location.
  • Secure cleanup materials (masks, gloves, mops, buckets, bleach, etc.) before the storm.

Click here for a full list of pre-storm flood mitigation options. If you reside in an area where high winds are expected, click on this link to read or watch a video with hurricane prep steps broken into one-hour, one-day, and one-weekend checklists.

  1. Buy Insurance – The Key to Recovery

Homeowners, renters, and flood insurance policies are the most effective financial recovery tools available for storm victims, but often many realize too late that flood insurance is a separate policy that requires a 30-day waiting period. It’s likely that you won’t be able to add a flood policy or change any of your regular policy coverages if a storm is imminent, but you should still contact your agent or company in advance. Understanding your policy limits, co-pays, deductibles, and where to call with any claims will come in handy if you are affected by the storm.

Whether you reside along the coast or well inland, planning now and following the above advice can help you any storm heads your way. For more information, visit www.flash.org, email info@flash.org, follow @FederalAlliance on Twitter, follow FLASH on Facebook, or call (877) 221-SAFE (7233).

Coastal or Inland: Where it Rains – It Can Flood

By John Zarrella – Former CNN Correspondent

The rain had been coming down for days.  By the early morning hours of November 6, 1977, an earthen dam near the North Georgia town of Toccoa couldn’t take it any longer and ruptured. The people at a tiny Bible College downstream were mostly asleep when the flood waters hit.  Thirty-nine perished. Many were children.

At the time, I was working for a local Atlanta television station.  I had only been in the business a couple of years.  Now, nearly forty years later, Toccoa remains the deadliest flood event I was ever involved in covering.

Unless you hatoccoa03d relatives there or were a journalist, Toccoa is one of those largely forgotten moments in history.   But it is, and should be, a tragic reminder of how quickly inland flooding can change or even take your life.

At Toccoa the people never had a chance.  But in most flooding events, people who die didn’t have to. That’s right, they didn’t have to! How many times have you heard this:  “Some of these people on the highway trying to drive through this stuff—they’re very stupid.” That was a quote to CNN from a Missouri flood victim this past December.

If you look at federal statistics, more than half of all flood related deaths come when a car is driven into water.  Bill Read is a former Director of the National Hurricane Center.  Even in hurricanes, inland flooding is the number one killer.  Read told me, “they don’t think it’s as bad as it really is and they drive into it and it’s too late when they finally figure out its going to float their car.”

People who survive always, Read says, have the same refrain, “The people that are rescued or made it out alive they almost invariable say ‘I didn’t think it was going to be that bad.’”

It’s not as if the “stay out of the water” messaging isn’t out there.  The “Turn Around Don’t Drown” program by the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes and the National Weather Service is exactly what it says.  Don’t drive into that water!   The yellow signs are in high risk, low lying areas around the country.  Local meteorologists always get out that message to their audience whenever there’s a flood threat.

Over the course of forty years, Read has seen every kind of flooding imaginable – from hurricanes, flash floods, to riverine.  “The most phenomenal thing to me was just the incredible rate of rainfall. We’ve had events where the hourly rainfall rates approach 4 to 6 inches in an hour. Almost nobody lives in an area that can be designed to handle the runoff from that kind of rain. So it almost invariably leads to rather severe flooding.”

Read’s takeaway from all he’s witnessed, we must be aware of our risk.  And he adds, that risk is not is not isolated to one part of the country or another.  “When you come right down to it there’s no place in the U.S. that’s not vulnerable to inland flooding.”

Just last year major flooding events occurred in Texas, Oklahoma, Illinois, Ohio, South Carolina, Florida.  If you know you are at risk, there are measures you can take to protect your home and property. The most import of which is to get a flood insurance policy.  Consider elevating your air conditioning unit, water heater, and furnace. For more tips and information, go to the FLASH website.

Sometimes there’s just no rhyme or reason. Bad weather “stuff” just happens. It’s fickle, unpredictable, weird, and strange. You can attach all sorts of adjectives to it.

Back in 2008, Tropical Storm Fay set a record-making four landfalls in Florida.  Unpredictable, weird, fickle, strange…you pick the adjective.  As it meandered across the state, it just kept dumping water. In some places more than twenty inches fell.  North of Melbourne the rain gauges swelled to a record twenty-seven inches.

We started chasing Fay on August 17 for CNN in Key West and Key Largo.  The next three days, reporting from Fort Pierce, Port St. Lucie and Melbourne required high water boots. At a place called Lamplighter Village, Florida Wildlife officers used swamp buggies to go in and rescue folks. As always, some wouldn’t leave. All the wildlife officials could say, “If you decide to get out, give us a call.”

In Port St. Lucie, a volunteer rescuer got people out in an airboat, again, those who would leave. His warning to the others, “Just try not to wait too late. It’s easier in the daylight than it is at night.  Everything bad happens at night.”

Tropical Storm Fay is a poster child for all those adjectives, and how it can happen anywhere.  And the message is clear, bad weather “stuff” happens.  Know your risk.

Keep Calm, Be Prepared, and El Niño On

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By John Zarrella – Former CNN Correspondent

El Niño – it means the child or the Christ Child in Spanish. However, the name is a terrible contradiction. El Niño conjures the image of a beautiful, cherubic baby. It is certainly not that. One climatologist describes this weather phenomenon as, “mudslides in Los Angeles and golfing in Minneapolis. And there can be a lot of chaos in between.”

Well, what is an El Niño? An El Niño is a warming of the Equatorial Pacific waters. Fishermen in South America gave it the name El Niño because the waters would get warm around Christmas time and the fish would disappear. These days, everybody seems to be talking about it. You can’t pick up a paper or turn on the news without seeing a story. In fact, as I was writing this, an old friend at CBS was doing a piece on it for Sunday Morning. Clearly, El Niño is already a headline maker, and it hasn’t yet kicked into full throttle.

NASA climatologist Bill Patzert at the Jet Propulsion Lab in California has likened this one to one of the all-time greatest monsters, “It’s truly the Godzilla El Niño,” Patzert told me. If it is not the most powerful yet, he believes it soon will be based on the satellite images and data he’s analyzing. And, this El Niño may have played a role in the recent deadly tornadoes in the South and the short sleeve and shorts winter weather in the Northeast.

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So why so much interest now? In a word: worry. Really intense El Niño events seem to take place about every 15 years give or take: 1982-83, 1997-98, which is the strongest to date. They have profound impacts on the weather, flooding and mudslides in California; wet, turbulent weather in Texas and along the Gulf Coast; and warm conditions in the Northeast. “So all the pieces on the weather board are rearranged and there’s a lot of volatility not just in the U.S. but across the planet,” according to Patzert.

That volatility left 42 people dead and 260 injured in Central Florida in February 1998. Seven tornadoes touched down overnight during the worst outbreak ever in the state.

Is that or something similar going to happen again? No one knows because as Mike Halpert says, “No two El Niño’s are alike.”

Halpert is Deputy Director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.  The scientists there measure El Niño’s strength not only by the ocean’s heat but how the atmosphere is reacting to it.  Halpert said, “What we think is really more important isn’t what the ocean does, it’s what the atmosphere overlying the ocean does because, that’s what kicks off the rest of the impacts globally.”

So far, Harpert says, this El Niño is weaker in the atmosphere than the two previous big El Niño events.  Does that mean the impacts will be less severe? Possibly but, there’s no way to know. Why?  Halpert says there just isn’t enough of an El Niño sample size.  He added, “We don’t have good data that goes back thousands of years. I mean we haven’t seen that many of these kinds of things.”

Frankly, it really does not matter where this occurrence of El Niño lands in the power rankings. It’s all about when the dust settles, how bad was it? We’ve already seen the first glimpses. And even though the sample size is small, there’s enough historical data, scientists say, to tell us we need to be prepared.

There’s still time to get prepared, but don’t put it off any longer. Start by making sure you have a NOAA weather radio, plus a smartphone app like FLASH Weather Alerts that includes “follow me” technology and text-to-speech alerting. You can select alerts for all the different weather hazards, including flood, freeze, and tornadoes.

If you know your area is prone to flooding or mudslides, remember “Turn Around, Don’t Drown”, and never cross a flooded roadway. Keep sandbags on hand, and make sure you have up-to-date flood insurance. Do you have emergency supplies on hand including bottled water? You need to! Have you taken a recent inventory of everything you own? If not, do it now. If you are in a tornado threat area, consider installing a tornado safe room or shelter, but make sure it is either built using FEMA 320 or the ICC 500 standard.

For the U.S., the big “worry” months have just arrived. “Beginning in January and February”, Patzert told me, “we should see a convoy of storms coming straight out of the Western Pacific slamming into California and Southwest Texas and these storms actually get pumped up as they go over the Northern Gulf of Mexico and some of the worst damage may be in Florida.”

For all the misery El Niño can dish out, there are a couple plusses. Scientists say it won’t end the drought in California but it should make a dent, and a warm winter saves the U.S. billions in heating costs.

The experts believe this El Niño will likely last into the late spring and could linger into early summer. What comes next? Halpert says, “It’s a good bet that when this El Niño ends the next thing we have will be a La Niña.” During a La Niña, the waters in the Pacific cool off, and the weather patterns change. Where El Niño events put a lid on Atlantic Hurricanes, La Niña’s are like muscle milk to Atlantic storms! Hurricane Season could become interesting.

Related Links

Flash Weather Alerts App – Mobilize Your Weather Radio

How to Protect Your Home from Flood Damage

Jet Propulsion Lab

“Turn Around, Don’t Drown

Which Tornado Safe Room is Right for You?

Wildfire Safety and Home Protection Reminders

As the threat of wildfire continues, The Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH)® is providing families with critical actions to take before, during, and after wildfires.

Before

  • Create your disaster safety kit to prepare for possible evacuation
  • Know your family’s fire disaster plan
  • Know what is covered in your insurance policy, and what additional coverage you may need
  • Check landscape for fuels that could lead flames to your home or that can become ignited, and take time to create a fire-resistant landscape
  • Clean your gutters, eaves, and roof regularly
  • Install spark arrestors in all chimneys
  • Install metal screening that blocks embers from entering your buildings
  • Identify an emergency water supply within 1,000 feet of your home

During

If under a wildfire threat,

  • Heed the warnings of local officials regarding when to evacuate
  • Only remove dead leaves or vegetation when local garbage collection services will have time to pick up the debris
  • Burn vegetation only while following local requirements to do so

After

When returning to your home after a wildfire, keep the following in mind:

  • Only return when local officials permit you to do so, the area may still be under the threat of wildfire
  • Contact your insurance company regarding any possible damage, and take pictures of any and all damage

21 Affordable Winter Safety Tips for Families

According to the National Weather Service, extreme cold and winter storms in 2013 resulted in 46 deaths and extensive disruptions for thousands of families. Another cold blast this week prompts FLASH to offer 21 winter and power outage safety tips to keep families safe and warm.

Affordable Ways to Protect Your Home

For as little as $1 per 6’ of insulation, you can stop pipes from freezing during winter and even when the power goes out.

1. Insulate pipes exposed to the elements or cold drafts with insulating foam. For as little as $1 per 6’ of insulation, you can stop pipes from freezing and save energy.

2. Place an insulating dome or other covering on outdoor faucets and spigots to reduce the likelihood of the water in your pipes freezing, expanding, and causing a costly leak.

3. Drip faucets to reduce the build-up of pressure in the pipes. Even if the pipes freeze, you have released the pressure from the water system reducing the likelihood of a rupture. If you are going out of town, and suspect that temperatures will drop or a power outage will occur, turn off the water to your home and open all of the taps to drain the water system. This way you won’t return to a frozen, soggy mess.

4. Check for air leaks around windows and doors using a lit incense stick. If the smoke is sucked out of an opening, seal the leak with caulk, spray foam or weather stripping.

Keep Your Family Safe & Warm

5. Keep a supply of flashlights, batteries and a battery-powered radio on hand. Do not use candles as they pose a fire hazard.

6. After the power goes out, make sure to turn off all lights but one, to alert you when power resumes.

7. Resist the temptation to call 911 for information during power outages. Instead use your battery-powered radio for information.

8. Keep your car fuel tank at least half full as gas stations rely on electricity to operate their pumps and may not have back-up power.

9. Keep extra cash on hand since an extended power outage may prevent you from withdrawing money from ATMs or banks.

10. Be a snow angel. Volunteer to check on elderly neighbors, friends, or relatives who may need assistance during the outage.

11. Wear layers of loose fitting, lightweight, warm clothing rather than one layer of heavy clothing. The outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellent. Never burn charcoal for heating or cooking indoors.

12. If you are using a gas heater or fireplace to stay warm, be sure the area is properly ventilated.

13. Arrange ahead of time with family, friends, or neighbors for a place to go if you have an extended outage. If you have nowhere to go, head to a designated public shelter. Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area (example: shelter 12345)

Food

14. Keep a supply of non-perishable foods, medicine, baby supplies, and pet food on hand, and have at least one gallon of water per person per day on hand.

15. Avoid opening the fridge or freezer. Food should be safe as long as the outage lasts no more than four hours.

Generators

16. Do not run a generator inside a home or garage. Use gas-powered generators only in well-ventilated areas.

17. Follow manufacturer’s instructions such as only connect individual appliances to portable generators.

18. Don’t plug emergency generators into electric outlets or hook them directly to your home’s electrical system as they can feed electricity back into the power lines, putting you and line workers in danger.

19. Consider purchasing and installing a permanent home generator with an automatic on switch.

When Power Returns

20. When power comes back on, it may come back with momentary “surges” or “spikes” that can damage equipment such as computers and motors in appliances like the air conditioner, refrigerator, washer or furnace. Be sure to install a system of surge protection that consists of point-of-use devices and whole house surge protection.

21. When power is restored, wait a few minutes before turning on major appliances to help eliminate potential problems caused from sharp increases in demand.

For more information, tips and resources for winter safety visit the Great Winter Weather Party preparedness campaign.

 

Holiday Winter Preparedness Gift Ideas from FLASH

Freezing temperatures and snow arrived earlier than normal this year making it even more important to take steps to prepare for winter conditions during the remainder of the season.

What better way to help your family and friends prepare than giving a gift that keeps them safe, warm, and protected inside their home?

This week, when you begin, or maybe as you finish holiday shopping, consider adding safety gadgets to your shopping list. The list below will get you started if you want to choose gifts for family and friends that will help prepare for weather of all kinds.

Safety and Comfort

  • AM/FM radio with extra batteries
  • Blankets
  • Car power inverters
  • Carbon monoxide detectors
  • External cell phone battery pack
  • Fire extinguisher and fire escape ladder
  • First-aid kits
  • FLASH Weather Alerts app
  • Hand-crank powered appliances such as cell phone chargers, power supplies, radios and weather radio
  • LED flashlights with extra batteries
  • Power generators
    • Portable gasoline-powered generators
    • Permanent LP or natural gas home generators
  • Solar-powered backpack to charge laptops, tablets, and other portable devices
  • Windshield scraper

Home Mitigation

  • Attic insulation
  • Gift certificates for professional home inspections
  • Insulated doors
  • Insulation for hose bibs, exposed plumbing, pool equipment
  • Replacement windows
  • Storm doors
  • Weather stripping

Click here for a complete list of tips on how to stay safe and comfortable during power outages. For more tips and resources on winter safety, visit The Great Winter Weather Party campaign, and for comprehensive information on weather of all kinds, visit FLASH.

Preparedness Tips for Arthur

Now is the time to prepare your family and home for Arthur before the store shelves are empty and conditions are dangerous. FLASH offers the following tips for residents to prepare for severe weather conditions.

Protect Your Home

1. Check your hurricane shutters to make sure they are working properly and fit securely to ensure proper protection.

2. Go Tapeless! Never use tape on windows. If you do not have shutters, install temporary, emergency plywood shutters. Learn how to properly measure and install them.

3. Secure or relocate outdoor items such as trash cans, grills, toys and potted plants.  Remove any dead tree limbs carefully, if time permits.

4. Make sure all doors and windows are properly caulked and/or weather-stripped to reduce potential water intrusion, if time permits.

5. Replace rocks in your landscape with fire treated shredded mulch or other lightweight material, if time permits.

Prepare Your Family

6. Know if you are in a hurricane evacuation zone and have a plan.  Hurricane evacuation boundaries are based on the threat of water, not wind, and nearly all evacuation orders are issued due to threat of inland flooding and storm surge.

7. Make sure your 72-hour emergency kit is complete. Some items you should include:

  • Enough food and water for all members of the family, including pets
  • Extra cash
  • A battery powered NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards or download the FLASH Weather Alerts App
  • First aid kit and toiletries
  • Flashlights and extra batteries
  • Blankets, pillows, extra clothes, toys and games to keep the family comfortable and occupied
  • Special items for babies, pets and family members with special medical needs

8. Gather and store important paperwork like insurance and mortgage documents, and marriage certificates in waterproof containers. You can also scan copies and store them on a USB drive or take a photograph with your smartphone. Include these items in your emergency kit.

9. Fill your gas tank; gas stations rely on electricity to power pumps.

If You Lose Power 

10.  If you have space in your refrigerator or freezer, consider filling plastic containers with water leaving about an inch of space inside each one. This chilled or frozen water will help keep food cold if the power goes out.

11. Never use candles as they pose a fire hazard.

12. Don’t run a gas-powered generator inside a home or a garage – use only in well ventilated areas.

13. Connect only individual appliances to portable generators and never plug a into wall outlets. Plugging generators into the home’s electrical system can feed electricity back into the power lines and endanger both you and line workers.

For more information on protecting your home from hurricanes visit the FLASH hurricane page or Great Hurricane Blowout preparedness campaign.