By George Wyatt, Installation Safety Office, Fort Campbell, KentuckyApril 10, 2019
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (April 10, 2019) - Adverse weather occurs nationwide, so what can we do to protect ourselves? The answer is be prepared for variable weather emergency scenarios, have an emergency action plan, stay aware of the situation and conditions as they change around you and react (or huddle in place) as necessary.
A number of federal, state and local agencies work to monitor meteorological activity and alert you when hazardous weather is on its way. Communities and installations use a number of ways to get weather alerts out such as local radio and television stations and weather radios. Alerting agencies also can now send voice and digital messages to computers, smartphones and other devices.
When receiving alerts, it's important to know the difference between a WATCH and WARNING. When a watch associated with a weather phenomenon such as a severe thunderstorm is issued, it means severe thunderstorm development is possible for the area described in the alert. People in the alert area should be on heightened readiness in the event a warning follows. A severe thunderstorm warning indicates severe thunderstorm activity is already occurring in the area. It is important that people take precautions to protect against extremely low visibility due to heavy rain, dangerous lightning strikes, large hail and damaging straight-line wind and high-velocity debris.
When weather observers determine an area is subject to potential tornado development, they issue a tornado watch. During a tornado watch, it is necessary to assume a heightened state of awareness of the situation, monitor weather updates and be prepared to respond to deteriorating conditions should a tornado warning be issued. A tornado warning means tornado activity has been sighted in the area.
A flood or flash flood watch issued for a particular area indicates the conditions are favorable for flooding. When it has been raining heavily in an area for several hours or steadily for several days, the potential for flooding is a real threat. People in flood watch areas should be familiar with flood patterns, monitor the situation and be prepared to react logically in the event a warning is issued. A flood warning indicates flooding is occurring in the area or will occur soon. In a flood situation, a warning may be accompanied by an order to evacuate.
Storm systems may be observed making their way across vast areas or states and may be relatively unchanging and give plenty of warning of their arrival. In other circumstances, they may develop rapidly with little or no warning. It is important to understand the general characteristics of storm systems and develop an action plan for both work and home so everyone knows what to do before the dangerous weather arrives. Here are some tips to help keep you and your loved ones safe during adverse weather:
When a severe thunderstorm watch is issued, begin monitoring the situation via whatever media is available. Keep in mind that if you are monitoring television provided by satellite, your service may be interrupted when heavy clouds and rain arrive. A battery-powered radio is preferred because it will continue to broadcast updates even if electricity fails. A weather radio with good batteries is the best choice. If you're at work or home, begin to review your action plan. If traveling by vehicle, consider stopping at a rest stop or town that has public facilities for shelter and wait until the storm has passed. Remember that stopping under an overpass isn't the safest option.
The average single thunderstorm will pass in 30 to 45 minutes. A line of thunderstorms will take significantly longer to pass if they are moving over your area. If in or on the water, head for shore and seek shelter. If a severe thunderstorm watch notification is issued, monitor your alert system or media more vigilantly and be prepared to move to a safe place within your home, office or shelter. A safe place is an interior room, closet or bathroom with no windows. The more walls between you and the building exterior, the safer you are. If a severe thunderstorm warning is issued, move to your safe place and wait there until the warning has expired.
Responding to a tornado watch or warning is similar to that of a severe thunderstorm. After all, it's an unusually giant, rotating thunderstorm that ushers in tornadic activity. For protection against tornadoes, your safe place should be on the lowest level of whatever type of dwelling you are located in at the time. As soon as a tornado watch is issued, take pillows, quilts and blankets to your safe place.
If you have bicycle or motorcycle helmets or sports protective headgear, take these items to your safe place. If a tornado warning is issued, go to your safe place and protect your head with a helmet or pillow. Roll up in blankets or quilts to protect your vital organs. You will know if a tornado is upon you by an unmistakable sound and vibration that has been described by survivors as the sound of a freight train. Stay in your safe place until the warning has expired.
Flooding may be a problem during the storm event and for days afterward, as water continues to drain into streams even after the rain has stopped. It's smart to monitor your specific area for flooding so you can ensure, as much as possible, a means of evacuation and not become trapped. If you do find yourself trapped, immediately call for assistance. Soon after water rises above the first level baseboards of a home or building, the electricity will go off. If flooding is imminent, make the decision to evacuate instead of waiting it out in a flooded building or home. Know in advance where you will evacuate.
When driving in a flood area, never drive through flowing water that has risen above the road surface. Turn around and take a different route. It only takes 18 to 24 inches of flowing water to sweep an average-size car off the road and into the stream. Culverts and bridges may be washed out and camouflaged by the water. You could drive your vehicle right into the stream. Vehicles stall easily in floodwater and cause the driver and occupants to attempt self-evacuation, putting them in grave danger.
Also avoid walking through flooded areas. It only takes about six inches of flowing water to sweep a person off their feet, and a lot less for someone to drown. In addition, remember water is an excellent electrical conductor, so lightning and downed power lines are especially dangerous if you attempt to share the same water.
Natural disasters such as floods, fires, earthquakes, tornadoes and windstorms affect thousands of people every year. Don't wait until adverse weather strikes. Recognizing an impending hazard and knowing what to do to protect yourself and your family will help you take effective steps to prepare beforehand.
Do you have a story to share? Risk Management is always looking for contributors to provide ground, aviation, driving (both private motor vehicle and motorcycle) and off-duty safety articles. Don't worry if you've never written an article for publication. Just write about what you know and our editorial staff will take care of the rest. Your story might just save another Soldier's life. To learn more, visit https://safety.army.mil/MEDIA/Risk-Management-Magazine.