Question of the Week

May 17, 2003


This past week:

"Severe weather, ranging from tornadoes to hail to flooding, is cutting a wide swath across the United States. A large front that brought unseasonably cold temperatures to the Rockies and northern plains is now producing thunderstorms in the Midwest. Texas and Louisiana have also been hard hit by storms and flooding."

Winter storms may still be trying to show their strength in parts of the country, but we are reminded that the summer storm season is just beginning. While some states have Severe Weather Awareness Weeks in February or March; others have theirs in April as the threats of tornadoes and severe thunderstorms increase. Still others have Lightning Safety Awareness Weeks in June. As for May: "President Bush has declared May 16-22, 2004, to be National Hurricane Preparedness Week."

For access to the Severe Weather Events Calendar by state for 2004, visit:

Winter storms are trying to hang on....
Tornadoes and floods are beginning to claim lives.
It seems as though much of the country is dealing with some form of severe weather this May. To add to that:

"NOAA forecasters are predicting an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season. At a news conference Monday in Houston, Texas, NOAA officials said the season outlook is for 12 to 15 tropical storms, with six to eight systems becoming hurricanes, and two to four of those major hurricanes.... Homeland Security‚s Federal Emergency Management Agency officials joined NOAA in urging Gulf and Atlantic Coast states to be prepared for an active season, which runs from June 1 through November 30."

What does it mean to "be prepared"? What if you don't live in an area that is touched by hurricanes? What is similar about the preparation process (and what is different) when dealing with different types of severe weather? For what forms of severe weather do you need to "be prepared" during these upcoming months?

"History teaches that a lack of hurricane awareness and preparation are common threads among all major hurricane disasters. By knowing your vulnerability and what actions you should take, you can reduce the effects of a hurricane disaster.... Hurricane hazards come in many forms: storm surge, high winds, tornadoes, and flooding. This means it is important for your family to have a plan that includes all of these hazards. Look carefully at the safety actions associated with each type of hurricane hazard and prepare your family disaster plan accordingly. But remember this is only a guide. The first and most important thing anyone should do when facing a hurricane threat is to use common sense."

"By knowing your vulnerability and what actions you should take, you can reduce the effects of a hurricane disaster." This is true for hurricanes. It is also true for floods, tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, and many other possible natural disasters and severe weather conditions.

"Over the last 30 years, more deaths have occurred from a hurricane's freshwater (rain) flooding than any other hurricane hazard. Both Hurricanes AND Tropical Storms are capable of creating this type of flooding. Children must stay out of flood waters. Just six inches of fast-moving flood water can sweep a person off his or her feet. No one should ever play around high water or storm drains. Only a few inches of standing water may hide downed electrical power lines. In summary children should NEVER play in flooded areas where hidden sharp objects, electrocution and sewage are serious hazards."

You may never see a hurricane where you live, but floods can still possible hazards.

"...The best protection during a flood is to leave the area and go to shelter on higher ground.
...Flash flood waters move at very fast speeds and can roll boulders, tear out trees, destroy buildings, and obliterate bridges. Walls of water can reach heights of 10 to 20 feet and generally are accompanied by a deadly cargo of debris. The best response to any signs of flash flooding is to move immediately and quickly to higher ground.
...Floods and flash floods occur within all 50 states. Communities particularly at risk are those located in low-lying areas, near water, or downstream from a dam.
...Flooding has caused the deaths of more than 10,000 people since 1900. Property damage from flooding now totals over $1 billion each year in the United States."

Other severe weather?

"When you think about hurricanes you can not ignore tornadoes. Most (70%) landfalling hurricanes spawn at least one tornado. More than 20 tornadoes were reported during Hurricane David (1979). Most (90%) of the tornadoes that do form, occur on the right front side of the hurricane in the direction of its forward motion. Hurricanes may spawn tornadoes up to three days after landfall, although most of the tornadoes occur on the day of landfall, or on the next day. Being tornado smart means having a safe place go and having the time to get there. Determine the safest place in your home ˜ an interior room, a hallway, but never in a mobile home."

Flooding and tornadoes are associated with hurricanes, but they do not need hurricanes to strike. They are more likely to strike on their own.

"(CBS/AP) Efforts in Utica, Ill., Thursday were turning to cleaning up, after a tornado tore through the small town, killing eight people. When they saw the twister, the town's residents bolted for the safest places they could find. For some, it was the basement of a local tavern, housed in a century-old building.... Several people from a nearby trailer park were among those who sought shelter Tuesday night in the basement of the Milestone, Mayor Fred Esmond said. 'They heard it on the radio. Some of them went to the tavern for safety, and it just so happened ...' Esmond said, his voice trailing off.... The tornado was a category F-3, which typically creates wind speeds of 158 to 206 mph, said Andrew Krein, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. It was one of dozens that smashed through the Midwest. Indiana also was hard hit, and Iowa, Nebraska and Oklahoma reported twisters as well. A lightning storm hit Arkansas on Wednesday, striking a high school junior who died on his way to school."

The following website includes information about what you should--and should not--do when there is lightning.

"Summer is the peak season for one of the nation's deadliest weather phenomena˜ lightning. Safeguarding U.S. residents from dangerous lightning is the goal of this Website. The campaign is designed to lower lightning death and injury rates and America's vulnerability to one of nature's deadliest hazards. In the United States, an average of 73 people are killed each year by lightning. In 2003, there were 44 deaths. That's more than the annual number of people killed by tornadoes or hurricanes. Many more are struck but survive. However, they often report a variety of long-term, debilitating symptoms, including memory loss, attention deficits, sleep disorders, numbness, dizziness, stiffness in joints, irritability, fatigue, weakness, muscle spasms, depression, and an inability to sit for long. Lightning is a serious danger. Through this site we hope you'll learn more about lightning risks and how to protect yourself, your loved ones and your belongings."

What forms of severe weather are you most likely to encounter this summer where you live? What different types of weather might you need to prepare for if you plan to travel?

For every form of severe weather, there is a list available for what you should and should not do. However, no list can account for every detail in each unique situation, and there are often misconceptions about what is the safest choice.

"Myth or Misconception #1 .... The southwest corner of a basement is the safest location during passage of a tornado. The truth is that the part of the home towards the approaching tornado (often, but not always, the southwest) is the least safe part of the basement, not the safest. ...Professor Eagleman's objective study showed that the south side and southwest corners, the direction of approach for the Topeka tornado [1966], were the least safe areas, and the north side of homes were the safest .... both on the first floor and in the basement. He repeated the study after the Lubbock, Texas tornadoof May 11, 1970, and the results were even more striking. The southwest portion of the houses were unsafe in 75% of the damaged homes .... double the percentage of unsafe areas in the northeast part of homes. As a general rule, people in basements will escape injury despite the extreme devastation above them. Being under a stairwell, heavy table, or work bench will afford even more protection."

Questions of the Week:
Where can you find information about severe weather in your area? What do you need to know in order to be prepared and make educated, common sense decisions in the face of possible severe weather? From what reliable resources can you get this information? What do you need to have (in your home and/or in your car) in order to be ready when severe weather comes? What should you know before traveling this summer? How can you prepare and plan without becoming paranoid? When do you need to work around the weather, but go about your life? When do you need to change (or stop) your routine and focus on being safe?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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