Severe Weather

Our world is affected, either positively or negatively, by weather. In general, we anticipate types of weather based on our climate and season of the year. Normal weather patterns produce normal weather events. However, it is the abnormal weather events, and the potential for increasing changes, that cause us concern.

Changes in our climate affect our environment and can impact our operations. We have undertaken an effort to proactively plan for our response to such changes. We have identified three main hazards associated with the changing climate and will adjust our severe weather plans accordingly:

  • Flooding from sea level rise, storm surges, and heavy rain events
  • Heat from increased intensity and duration of extreme heat events
  • Severe Weather from high winds to increased intensity of hurricanes, blizzards, snow and ice events, sustained rainstorms, or tornadoes

Most of these events will give us some warning of their onset. The Emergency Management Department monitors weather from a variety of sources and, when necessary, notifies the appropriate University officials to discuss the weather impact and associated response actions.

Boston University has been a StormReady Community since 2010 and is recognized for our commitment to preparedness, our outstanding communication systems, and for keeping Boston University students, faculty, and staff safe.

Preparing for the Seasons:

Summer & Fall


Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE ) is spread to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito. Initial symptoms of EEE are fever (often 103º to 106ºF), stiff neck, headache, and lack of energy, and in severe cases can progress to confusion, disorientation, and coma. EEE is a serious disease in all ages and can even cause death.

West Nile virus (WNV) can infect people of all ages; people over the age of 50 are at higher risk for severe disease. WNV is usually transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito. Most people infected with WNV will have no symptoms. When present, WNV symptoms tend to include fever and flu-like illness. In rare cases, more severe illness can occur.

Zika virus disease is caused by the Zika virus, which is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected mosquito (Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting up to a week, and many people do not have symptoms or will have only mild symptoms. However, Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly and other severe brain defects. A pregnant woman can pass Zika to her fetus during pregnancy or around the time of birth. Also, a person with Zika can pass it to his or her sex partners. We encourage people who have traveled to or live in places with Zika to protect themselves by preventing mosquito bites and sexual transmission of Zika.

For more information about Zika virus disease, visit the Centers for Disease Control Zika section.

People have an important role to play in protecting themselves and their loved ones from illnesses caused by mosquitoes:

Avoid Mosquito Bites
  • Apply insect repellent when outdoors.
  • Be aware of peak mosquito hours (dusk to dawn).
  • Clothing can help reduce mosquito bites. Wearing long sleeves, long pants, and socks when outdoors will help keep mosquitoes away from your skin.

EPA tips on preventing mosquito bites

CDC tips on preventing mosquito bites

Mosquito-Proof Your Home
  • Drain standing water.
  • Install or repair screens.
Protect Your Animals

Animal owners should reduce potential mosquito breeding sites on their property by eliminating standing water from containers such as buckets, tires, troughs, and wading pools—especially after heavy rains.

Horse owners should keep horses in indoor stalls at night to reduce their risk of exposure to mosquitoes. If an animal is diagnosed with WNV or EEE, owners are required to report to the Division of Animal Health (DAR) by calling 617-626-1795 and to the Department of Public Health (DPH) by calling 617-983-6800.

Winter

A winter storm in New England can range from a moderate snowfall over a few hours to a chilling Nor’easter, bringing blizzard conditions with blinding wind-driven snow that lasts several days. People can become stranded in their automobiles or trapped at home without utilities or other services. The aftermath of a winter storm can have an impact on a community or the entire region for days, weeks, or even months. Storm effects, in New England, include large snow accumulation, extremely cold temperatures, heavy, wet snow or icing on trees and power lines, roof collapses, coastal flooding, and beach erosion.

Winter storms are also deceptive killers because most deaths are indirectly related to the actual storm. The major causes are automobile or other transportation accidents, exhaustion and heart attacks caused by overexertion, “freezing to death,” and asphyxiation from improper heating sources. House fires occur more frequently in the winter due to lack of proper safety precautions when using alternate heating sources, like unattended fires and space heaters.

See winter weather safety tips on ready.gov

Get power outage safety tips on ready.gov


Always check with your local police, fire, or park department to ensure that safe ice conditions exist. However, due to the uncertainty and constant changing of ice conditions and the dangers presented, many departments will not endorse the safety of lakes, ponds, streams, or rivers. The strength and thickness of ice should be known before any activity takes place.

See ice safety tips on mass.gov

What Is Extreme Cold?

Extreme cold is generally defined as a prolonged period of excessively cold weather.

Why Prepare?

Winter in Massachusetts almost always includes periods of extreme cold weather. Exposure to cold can cause frostbite or hypothermia and has the potential to become life-threatening. Although anyone can suffer from cold-related health issues, some people are at greater risk than others, such as older adults, young children, those who are sick, and those without adequate shelter. To reduce the risks of extreme cold conditions, take the proper safety precautions to protect yourself and your family.

The National Weather Service issues wind chill advisories and warnings to alert the public of potential extreme temperatures.

Wind Chill Advisory

Wind chill index between -15°F and -24°F for at least three hours.

Wind Chill Warning

Wind chill index below -25°F for at least three hours.

During Extreme Cold Weather
  • Continue to monitor the media for emergency information.
  • Follow instructions from public safety officials.
  • Minimize outdoor activities for the whole family.
  • Dress in several layers of loose-fitting, lightweight clothing instead of a single heavy layer. Outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellent. Wear a hat, mittens (not gloves), and sturdy waterproof boots to protect your extremities. Cover your mouth with a scarf to protect your lungs.
  • Take recommended safety precautions when using space heaters, a fireplace, or a woodstove to heat your home. Keep a fire extinguisher handy.
  • Make sure emergency generators or secondary heating systems are well ventilated.
  • If you lose heating, move into a single room. Seal off unused areas by stuffing towels against the cracks under the doors, and at night cover windows with extra blankets or sheets.
  • Wrap pipes in insulation or layers of newspapers covered in plastic to prevent them from freezing. Let a trickle of warm water run from a faucet to keep water moving through your pipes.
  • If your pipes freeze, remove any insulation, pour hot water over them or wrap them with towels soaked in hot water, and completely open all faucets. You can also use a hair dryer, with caution, to thaw pipes. Never use an open flame to thaw pipes.
  • Know the symptoms of and watch out for cold-related illnesses. Call 9-1-1 to report emergencies.
  • Be a good neighbor. Check on family, friends, and neighbors, especially the elderly, those who live alone, those with medical conditions, and those who may need additional assistance.

Spring

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.

What Are Floods?

Flooding is an overflow of water that can range from a few inches deep to fully submerging entire buildings. Flooding can occur when rivers and lakes cannot contain excessive rain or snow melt, rain cannot be absorbed fully into the ground, waterways overflow due to debris or ice, winds from storms cause storm surge in coastal areas, or water containment systems (such as levees, dams, pipes) break.

Why Prepare?

Flooding is the most common hazard in Massachusetts. Some floods develop slowly, while flash floods can occur within minutes or hours after a storm or containment system breaks.

Flooding is a leading cause of death in many disasters. Learn how to prepare for a flood, stay safe during a flood, and protect your health when you return home after a flood.

The National Weather Service issues flood watches and warnings to alert the public of potential severe weather. It is important to understand the difference between a watch and a warning so you know what to do to stay safe:

Flood Watch or Flash Flood Watch

Flooding or flash flooding in your area is possible. Pay attention to changing weather and flood conditions, and be prepared to move to higher ground.

Flood Warning

Flooding is occurring or about to occur. Avoid low-lying areas and if necessary, evacuate.

Flash Flood Warning

A flash flood is occurring or about to occur. Seek higher ground immediately.

Before a Flood
  • Listen to alerts, warnings, and public safety information before, during, and after emergencies.
  • Find out whether your property is in a flood-prone or high-risk area. Explore the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) flood maps.
  • Create and review your family plan:
    • Have a plan to go to higher ground quickly if necessary.
    • If you live or work in a flood zone or an area that is prone to flooding, you should be prepared to evacuate.
  • Assemble an emergency kit; Rhett tells you how to do this on the Rhett Ready page.
  • Make a record of your personal property by taking photos or videos of your belongings. Store these records in a safe place.
  • Prepare your home for flooding.

See flood safety tips on mass.gov

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. The intensity of a tornado is measured by the Enhanced Fujita Scale (EF Scale).

Although severe tornadoes are rare in Massachusetts, in recent years we have experienced a number of tornadic events, with the 2011 Greater Springfield tornado being the most prominent. Therefore, it is important that all residents of the Commonwealth learn how to take safety precautions to avoid injury and minimize property damage if your area is impacted by a tornado.

See tornado safety tips on mass.gov

A thunderstorm comes from rain-bearing clouds that also produce thunder and lightning. All thunderstorms produce lightning and therefore are dangerous. A thunderstorm is classified as a severe thunderstorm when it contains large (at least one inch) hail and/or winds of 58 mph or greater. If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be affected by lightning, which can strike up to 10 miles ahead of or trailing a storm. Thunderstorms can occur by themselves, in clusters, or in lines. The typical thunderstorm is 15 miles in diameter and produces heavy rain for 30 minutes to an hour.

Thunderstorms are very common in the spring and summer months throughout Massachusetts, with 10–30 days of thunderstorms each year. Thunderstorms can be extremely destructive and can produce lightning, hail, high winds, flash floods, or tornadoes.

See thunderstorm & lightning safety tips on mass.gov

Natural Disasters

Being Prepared for an Earthquake
  • Become aware of fire evacuation and safety plans for all of the buildings you occupy regularly.
  • Pick safe places in each room of your home, workplace, and/or school. A safe place could be under a piece of furniture or against an interior wall away from windows, bookcases, or tall furniture that could fall on you.
  • Practice “drop, cover and hold on” in each safe place. If you do not have sturdy furniture to hold on to, sit on the floor next to an interior wall and cover your head and neck with your arms.
  • Keep a flashlight and sturdy shoes by each person’s bed in case the earthquake strikes in the middle of the night.
  • Bolt bookcases, china cabinets, and other tall furniture to wall studs.
  • Hang heavy items away from commonly occupied areas.
  • Install strong latches or bolts on cabinets. Large or heavy items should be closest to the floor.
  • Keep and maintain an emergency supplies kit. For more information, Click HERE for a complete list of supplies for your emergency kit.
During the Earthquake

If you are inside, stay inside. DO NOT run outside or to other rooms during shaking.

In most situations, you will reduce your chance of injury from falling objects and even building collapse if you immediately:

  • DROP down onto your hands and knees before the earthquake knocks you down. This position protects you from falling but allows you to still move if necessary.
  • COVER your head and neck (and your entire body if possible) under the shelter of a sturdy table, desk, or near an interior wall or next to low-lying furniture that won’t fall on you, and cover your head and neck with your arms and hands.
  • HOLD ON to your shelter (or to your head and neck) until the shaking stops.

Drop cover hold on Earthquake graphic

DO NOT stand in a doorway. You are safer under a table. In most situations doorways are no stronger than any other part of the building. The doorway does not protect you from the most likely source of injury−falling or flying objects. Most earthquake-related injuries and deaths are caused by falling or flying objects (e.g., TVs, lamps, glass, bookcases) or by being knocked to the ground.

Additional Actions to Reduce Risk of Injury
  • If possible, within the few seconds before shaking intensifies, quickly move away from glass and hanging objects, and bookcases, china cabinets, or other large furniture that could fall. Watch for falling objects such as bricks from fireplaces and chimneys, light fixtures, wall hangings, high shelves, and cabinets with doors that could swing open.
  • If available nearby, grab something to shield your head and face from falling debris and broken glass.

Evacuate the building when told to do so by Emergency Personnel. Report to your designated meeting area.

Additional Resources


It is important that laboratories using hazardous materials plan accordingly prior to any type of potential natural disaster. This is not always possible in cases such as earthquakes.

Laboratories should pay attention to alerts and advisories sent out by Environmental Health & Safety (EHS). This procedure outlines basic precautions that labs should take prior, during, and after a natural disaster.

Laboratory Experiments
  • Complete all running experiments and do not begin any new experiments that would require attention during an evacuation period or while a warning is in place. Important Researchers should protect all of their work prior to a natural disaster. Even with emergency generators, there is the chance of a failure in long-term events. Other than electricity, there is also the chance of other utility failures such as HVAC, potable water, sanitary sewer, etc.
Hazardous Materials (chemical, biological, radiological)
  • Ensure all hazardous material and waste containers are clearly labeled and tightly closed. Hazard warning labels may be critical during post-disaster response.
  • Materials that are volatile, toxic, infectious, or pose a respiratory hazard must be
    stored in tightly sealed impervious and impact-resistant containers that are secured.
  • Move all chemicals to appropriate storage locations.
  • Store water-reactive chemicals in tightly sealed, waterproof containers.
  • Place flammable materials in approved flammable cabinets.
  • Remove chemicals from upper shelves and limit storage on bench tops.
  • Ensure gas cylinders are capped and secured to a permanent fixture using a cylinder strap or chain.
  • Do not store any hazardous materials on the floor due to the possibility of flooding.
  • Secure research animals.
  • Secure radioisotopes.
Chemical Fume Hoods and Biosafety Cabinets
  • Remove all hazardous materials from fume hoods and BSCs and secure in appropriate storage areas.
  • Close sashes completely. If the building experiences a complete loss of power, fume hoods and BSCs will become inoperable.
Other Laboratory Equipment
  • Unplug all nonessential equipment.
  • Consider protecting sensitive equipment in the event of a power surge.
  • Move equipment as far from windows as possible.
  • Ensure essential equipment is plugged into emergency power (red outlets).
Data
  • Backup important computer files.
  • Store important documents in water-impenetrable containers, and store away from possible flooding areas.
Laboratory Security
  • Close and lock all laboratory doors.
  • Avoid obstructing egresses and hallways.
  • Ensure you have an up-to-date phone tree of all lab personnel.
  • Ensure emergency contact information is updated and posted on your laboratory door sign.
Post-Natural Disaster
  • Once notified by emergency responders you may enter the building, you should conduct an in-depth walk-through of all lab areas.
  • Report any unsafe findings to EHS.

NOTE: Similar steps should be taken to secure lab prior to vacations or anytime the lab will be vacant for extended periods of time.