Prepare Now for Severe Spring Weather
While severe weather may occur at any time of the year, there are some types of severe weather that are more commonly thought of as occurring in the spring time. They may seem unlikely to happen and affect you wherever you may be. Please take the time to be prepared for the challenges the current warmer weather is creating.
Flooding is most frequently caused by heavy or persistent rainfall, but can also be caused by naturally melting snow and ice. Improper or blocked drainage systems, as well as ruptured dams and levees, or the release of an ice jam, can cause flooding. Coastal flooding is caused by offshore storms, which drive ocean water further inland than normal tides. Flooding most often occurs in a floodplain, which is the lowland adjacent to a river, stream, lake, or ocean. However, flooding can happen anywhere..
Tips regarding potential flooding:
Before a Flood
Know what flood warnings mean:
- A flood WATCH means a flood is possible in your area. During a flood watch, move your furniture and valuables to higher floors of your home. Fill your vehicle’s gas tank in case you have to evacuate.
- A flood WARNING means flooding is already occurring or will occur soon in your area. If a flood warning is issued, listen to local radio and television stations for information. If told to evacuate, do so as soon as possible.
- A flash flood WATCH means flash flooding is possible in your area. Be alert to signs of flash flooding and be ready to evacuate quickly.
- A flash flood WARNING means a flash flood is occurring or will occur very soon. Evacuate immediately. You may only have seconds to escape. Move to higher ground away from rivers, streams, creeks and storm drains. Do not drive around barricades. If your car stalls in rapidly rising waters, abandon it immediately and climb to higher ground.
- Ask local officials whether your property is in a flood-prone or high-risk area.
- Identify dams in your area and determine if they pose a hazard to you.
- Purchase a NOAA Weather Radio with battery backup and a tone-alert feature.
- Elevate your furnace, water heater, and electric panel to higher floors if they are susceptible to flooding.
- Install ‘check valves’ in sewer traps to prevent floodwater from backing up into the drains in your home.
- Monitor Media reports.
- Ensure your home is ready. Minimize damage from basement flooding by elevating utilities, and materials that could be damaged by limited basement flooding.
- Bring children’s toys, patio and lawn furniture indoors.
During a Flood
- Monitor stream and urban street flooding. For those living in areas that are prone to localized flooding, closely watch small streams and low-lying areas for early flooding. Make sure street catch basins are cleared.
- Heed evacuation requests. Follow recommended evacuation routes, shortcuts may be blocked or dangerous. (See Evacuation)
- Do not walk through flowing water. Drowning is the number one cause of flood deaths. Most of these drownings occur during flash floods. Flash flood waters move at very fast speeds and can roll boulders, sweep away cars, tear out trees, destroy buildings, and obliterate bridges. Six inches of swiftly moving water can knock you off of your feet. If you must walk through a flooded area, use a pole or stick to ensure that the ground is still there and solid, even where the water is not flowing.
- Do not drive through flooded areas. More people drown in their cars than anywhere else. Cars can be swept away in just 2 feet of moving water. Do not drive around road barriers. They are there for a reason. The road or bridge may be washed out or structurally unsound. If your car becomes trapped in floodwaters, abandon it immediately and climb to higher ground. Many deaths have resulted from attempts to move stalled vehicles.
- Avoid power lines and electrical wires. Electrocution is also a major killer in floods. Electrical current can travel through water. Report downed power lines to your utility company or local Emergency Manager.
- Watch for animals, especially snakes. Small wild animals that have been flooded out of their homes may seek shelter in yours. Use a pole or stick to poke and turn items over and scare away small creatures.
- Look before you step. After a flood, the ground and floors are covered with debris, including broken bottles and nails. Floors and stairs that have been covered with mud can be very slippery.
- Be alert for gas leaks. Use a flashlight to inspect for damage. Do not smoke or use candles, lanterns or open flames unless you are sure that the gas has been turned off and the area has been aired out.
- Carbon Monoxide exhaust kills. Only use camping stoves, generators or other gasoline-powered machines outdoors. Fumes from charcoal are especially deadly, so only use outdoors.
After a Flood
- Flood dangers do not end when the water begins to recede. Listen to the media and do not return home until authorities indicate that it is safe to do so.
- Avoid floodwaters. The water may be contaminated by oil, gasoline or raw sewerage.
- Wash hands frequently with soap and clean water if you come in contact with floodwaters.
- Be aware of areas where floodwaters have receded. Roads may have weakened and could collapse under the weight of a car.
- Before returning to a building, inspect for cracks or other damage. When entering, use extreme caution, making sure that the building is not in danger of collapsing.
- Take pictures/video of the damage, both to the house and its contents for insurance claims.
- Look for hazards such as broken or leaking gas lines, flooded electrical circuits, submerged furnaces or electrical appliances and damaged sewage systems.
- Until local authorities proclaim your water supply safe, boil water for drinking and food preparation vigorously for five minutes before using.
- Flooded buildings should be pumped out and disinfected. Pump out basements gradually, about 1/3 per day, to avoid structural damage. After the water is pumped out, solid wastes should be disposed of in a functioning sewage disposal system or sealed in plastic bags for disposal in an approved landfill. All flooded floor and wall surfaces should be washed with a solution of two capfuls of household bleach for each gallon of water. Carpeting, mattresses and upholstered furniture should be disposed of or cleaned and disinfected by a professional cleaner.
- Throw away food that has come in contact with floodwaters.
- Listen to news reports to learn whether the community’s water supply is safe to drink.
- Yards that have been contaminated by flooded sewage systems should be disinfected by a liberal application of lime. Children and animals should be kept away from limed areas until the lime is no longer visible.
- If your home, apartment or business has suffered damage, call your insurance company or agent who handles your flood insurance right away to file a claim. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administers the National Flood Insurance Plan (NFIP) through the Federal Insurance Administration (FIA). The NFIP makes flood insurance available in communities that adopt and enforce ordinances to reduce flood damage.
- Be prepared for a rough time. Recovering from a flood is a big job. It is rough on the body and the spirit. The aftereffects of this type of disaster on you and your family may last a long time. Consult a health professional on how to recognize and care for anxiety, stress and fatigue.
Tornadoes Are No Stranger Here
Tornadoes are nature’s most violent storms, with whirling winds that can reach 300 mph. Spawned from powerful thunderstorms, damage paths can be in excess of one mile wide and 50 miles long. Although a relatively rare occurrence in the Commonwealth, tornadoes are no strangers to Massachusetts, where we may experience a few small tornadoes annually. Ironically, until the recent devastating tornado struck Joplin, MO, the Worcester Tornado, which swept through Central Massachusetts in June of 1953, was the nation’s deadliest single tornado in almost 60 years. It was ‘on the ground’ for 1 hour and 24 minutes, traversing 46 miles and measured almost one mile wide at times. Ninety-four people were killed and over 1,200 were seriously injured. The total cost of damage was estimated at $53,000,000, as 640 homes were destroyed, with an additional 3,700 damaged.
Before a Tornado threatens
- Know the terms used by meteorologists:
- Tornado Watch – Tornadoes are possible. Remain alert for approaching storms. Listen to the Media for updates.
- Tornado Warning – A tornado has been sited or indicated by weather radar. Take shelter immediately.
- Enhanced Fujita Tornado Scale: (3 second gusts)
- EF-0: 65-68mph;chimney damage, tree branches broken
- F-1 86-110mph;mobile homes pushed off foundations/overturned
- F-2: 111-135mph;considerable damage, demolished mobile homes, uprooted trees
- F-3: 136-165mph; roofs/walls torn down, cars thrown, trains overturned
- F-4: 166-200mph;well-constructed walls leveled
- F-5: Over 200mph;homes lifted off foundations/carried considerable distances
- Ask your local Emergency Management Office about the tornado threat in your area, the community warning signals and locations of Public Shelters.
- Purchase a NOAA Weather Radio with a battery backup and tone-alert feature, as well as a battery-powered commercial radio and extra batteries.
- Determine locations to seek shelter, such as a basement or storm cellar. If an underground location is not available, identify an interior room or hallway on the lowest floor.
- Practice going to your shelter with your household.
- Know locations of designated shelters in places where your family spends time such as public buildings, nursing homes, shopping centers and schools.
- Assemble your family’s Disaster Supply Kit.
- Make a record of your personal property, taking photographs/video of your belongings. Store these documents in a safe place.
During a Tornado Watch
- Listen to NOAA Weather Radio or commercial Media for updates.
- Be alert for approaching storm, particularly revolving funnel-shaped cloud. Other tornado danger signs include a dark, almost greenish sky; large hail; a large, dark, low-lying cloud; or a loud roar, similar to a freight train.
- Be warned that sometimes tornadoes develop so rapidly; there is no visible advanced warning.
- Avoid places with wide-span roofs such as an auditorium, cafeteria, supermarket or shopping mall.
- Be prepared to take shelter immediately. Gather household members, pets and Disaster Supplies.
During a Tornado Warning
- In a residence or small building, move to a pre-designated shelter, such as a basement or storm cellar. If there is none, go to an interior room on the lower level (Closet, interior hallway). Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside. Get under a sturdy table and use your arms to cover your head and neck.
- Do not open windows. Use the time to seek shelter.
- Go to the center of the room, avoiding the corners, which attract debris.
- In large public buildings, go to predetermined shelter areas. Interior hallways on the lowest floor are usually safest. Stay away from windows and open spaces.
- In a high-rise building, go to a small interior room or hallway on the lowest possible floor.
- Get out of vehicles, trailers and mobile homes immediately and go to the lowest floor of a sturdy nearby building. Never try to outrun a tornado in a congested area.
- If caught outside with no shelter, lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands. Be aware of the potential of flooding.
- Do not go under a bridge or overpass. You are safer in a low, flat location.
- Watch out for flying debris from tornadoes, the cause of most fatalities and injuries.
After a Tornado
- Listen to the Media for the latest emergency information.
- Be aware of broken glass and downed power lines.
- Help injured or trapped persons. Do not attempt to move seriously injured persons unless they are in immediate danger of death or further injury.
- Stay out of damaged buildings, returning only when authorities deem it safe.
- Use the telephone only in emergencies.
- Leave the area if you smell gas or chemical fumes.
- Take photographs/video of the damage for insurance purposes.
- Remember to help your neighbors, particularly those who may require special assistance.
Thunderstorms are very common in the Spring and Summer months. Despite their small size in comparison to hurricanes and blizzards, all thunderstorms are dangerous. Every thunderstorm produces lightning and has the potential to produce associated dangers such as tornadoes, destructive winds, hail and flash flooding. Of the estimated 100,000 thunderstorms each year in the U.S., about 10% are classified as severe, meaning it produces hail, at least ¾” in diameter, has winds of 58 mph or higher, or produces a tornado. Thunderstorms must be taken very seriously.
Emergency Response Planning offers thunderstorm, and more particularly, lightning safety tips:
Before the Thunderstorm
- Know the terms used by weather forecasters:
- Severe Thunderstorm Watch – Tells where and when severe thunderstorms are likely to occur. Watch the sky and stay tuned to the Media.
- Severe Thunderstorm Warning – Issued when severe weather has been reported by spotters or indicated on radar. Warnings indicate imminent danger to life and property to those in the path of the storm.
- Before a thunderstorm strikes, keep an eye on the sky. Look for darkening skies, flashes of light, or increasing wind.
- Thunderstorms can occur singly, in clusters or in lines. The typical thunderstorm is 15 miles in diameter, producing heavy rain for a brief period from 30 to 60 minutes.
- When a thunderstorm approaches, secure outdoor objects that could be blown away or cause damage. Shutter windows, if possible, and secure outside doors.
- If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to the storm to be affected by lightning, and should go inside to safe shelter immediately.
- Remember that lightning can strike up to 10 miles ahead of or after the arrival of the storm. Listen to weather forecasts on NOAA Weather Radio, or to local radio and television stations for the latest information. Lightning kills an average of 73 people in this country annually, more than tornadoes or hurricanes. In general, lightning will travel the easiest route from the clouds to the ground, which means it often strikes the tallest object.
- During this season people are taking part in activities that place them in locations most vulnerable to being struck by lightning, such as on golf courses, ball fields, beaches and large bodies of water. In the U.S., an average of 300 people are injured and 80 killed each year by lightning.
During the Thunderstorm
- If you are caught outside during a thunderstorm, you should protect yourself from lightning by going to a low-lying, open place away from trees, poles or metal object, which can serve as a natural lightning rod. (Make sure the place you pick is not subject to flooding).
- Make yourself the smallest target possible by squatting low to the ground and by placing your hands on your knees with your head between them. Be as low to the ground as possible, with as little of your body touching the ground as possible. (Don’t lie flat; this will make you a larger target!).
- Do not stand on a hilltop, in an open field, on a beach or in a boat on the water.
- If boating, or swimming, get to land immediately.
- Avoid isolated sheds or small structures in open areas.
- Get away from anything metal such as tractors, farm equipment, motorcycles, golf carts, golf clubs, bicycles, wire fences, clotheslines, metal pipes, rails, and other metallic paths that could carry lightning to you from a distance.
- In a forest, seek shelter in a low area under a growth of smaller trees.
- If indoors, avoid metallic objects and fixtures.
- Avoid showering or bathing. Plumbing and bathroom fixtures can conduct electricity.
- Avoid using a corded telephone, except for emergencies. Cordless or cellular telephones are safe to use.
- Unplug appliances and other electrical items such as computers. Turn off air conditioners. Power surges from lightning can cause serious damage.
- Use your battery operated NOAA Weather Radio for updates from local officials.
- Note that rubber-soled shoes and rubber tires provide NO protection from lightning. However, the steel frame of a hard-topped vehicle provides increased protection, if you are not touching metal. Although you may be injured if lightning strikes you car, you are much safer inside a vehicle than outside.