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THE ULTIMATE STORM SURVIVAL HANDBOOK
By WARREN FAIDLEY
Rutledge Hill PressCopyright © 2007 Warren Faidley
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBefore the Storm
Before learning how to prepare for when severe weather strikes, one question must be addressed: With today's advances in storm detection and communication, why are there still so many storm casualties?
Hurricane Katrina provides clues to that question. For example, although Katrina's likely strike zone, flooding potential, extreme winds, and STORM SURGE dangers were known days in advance, many Gulf Coast inhabitants ignored evacuation orders and/or safety instructions. Some were unable to evacuate because of physical limitations or lack of transportation. During the height of the storm, others made failed attempts to survive by moving to "safer" locations.
Katrina resulted in the deaths of over thirteen hundred people. Possibly the most troubling aspect of the death toll was the number of victims who relied on someone else's decisions. One New Orleans morgue posted that out of 824 fatalities, a disturbing 64 percent of these were adults over the age of sixty-one-a large number of whom were physically or mentally unable to move themselves.
Katrina is not the only example of imperfect responses to bad weather. The rubble from decades of devastated homes and lives challenges us to better protect ourselves in the future and avoid repeating fatal mistakes. Of course we acknowledge that humanity's best efforts are no guarantee against nature's forces. Even so, it is reasonable to say that death or injury from severe weather generally occurs because of one (or more) of the factors in the following chart.
Why People Become Statistics-The Six Deadly Factors
A person becomes a storm victim most likely because he or she ...
is unaware of the threat, due to negligence or lack of communication.
is aware of the threat, but chooses to ignore it.
does not know what to do and takes inappropriate action.
realizes the threat, but takes action too late.
has little or no control over his or her own safety (this may apply to disabled or hospitalized individuals, children, and the elderly).
takes appropriate and timely actions, but the physics of the threat prevail (otherwise known as "bad luck").
Cruel experience has taught us certain steps you can take to keep you and your family from joining the statistics. You are taking the first one by reading this guide. By arming yourself with the latest information, you can curb the chaotic panic that so often accompanies the critical moments before and during a storm.
To familiarize yourself with standard protocols and safety strategies, study the basic safety guidelines in this chapter. Then read pertinent and seasonal weather-threat chapters before active weather. Keep the book handy so you can glance through the checklists at the back when forecasts are grim.
We must always respect the awesome power of nature. But today's technology provides the knowledge we need to be able to "wait out the storm"-or flee from it-with confidence.
Stay Alert: Storm Warning Systems
To be able to make wise decisions for your family and loved ones during severe weather, you must make sure you will know when and where a situation is developing. The Emergency Alert System (EAS, formerly the Emergency Broadcast System) gives you that knowledge with its capacity to send targeted emergency information to every area of the country. Although EAS was originally designed as a national Warning system to allow the U.S. President to address the nation in the event of a major crisis, its primary use is for the National Weather Service (NWS) and other emergency operation centers to relay critical weather information.
When an agency issues an EAS alert (weather WATCHES, WARNINGS, evacuation instructions, and homeland security threats), the media are required under federal mandates to immediately pass the information to the public. The United States has several sources for relaying severe weather information. It is best that you have access to least two independent WARNING systems to monitor potential alerts.
The radio has been WARNING us of the skies' coming wrath since the first weather and farm report in the 1920s. Even with today's technology, this tried-and-true system is often the most accessible.
When activated, the EAS interrupts television programming with a series of tones to signal the alert. The information will be relayed as a crawl message, usually displayed in a RED BOX at the bottom of the screen. In severe weather prone areas, many TV stations provide valuable help by broadcasting live to give you up-tothe-minute information.
Weather Radios and All-Hazards Alert Receivers
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio is a nationwide network of radio broadcasts, providing weather information directly from National Weather Service offices twenty-four hours a day on specially designated frequencies. Weather radios are pretuned to access these frequencies, transmitting all weather, all the time. (Most AM/FM radios will not be able to access the frequencies.) Many come with an alarm option that will sound if a WATCH, WARNING, or other emergency notice is sent out, and some even include Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) technology, allowing the listener to specify a particular county, parish, or city for localized information. That way, Louisiana citizens do not receive WARNINGS for Vermont. Generally, weather radios are small units that sit quietly on your desk until you press a button to access the audio transcripts of weather conditions and forecasts.
You can also buy special weather alert or all-hazards receivers that pick up EAS alerts and messages, usually transmitted in the 162.000 MHz range. In the reception mode, receivers can be used to obtain everyday NOAA weather forecasts and conditions. Otherwise, receivers can be set on standby, serving as a pager that is silent until activated. When a WARNING or alert is issued, the receiver sounds an audible alarm and then broadcasts the text of the message. (Many scanners, automotive AM/FM radios, citizen band, and specialty radios cover Weather Service frequencies, but not all of them offer the standby alert feature.)
Absolutely every home should have one of these lifesaving devices! Alert radio receivers are available in a variety of sizes, with multiple features, and prices ranging from thirty to nearly two hundred dollars. Most modern alert receivers allow you to enter your location code through SAME technology, and a properly programmed SAME receiver will only activate your alarm if an alert affects your region. The National Weather Service tests the EAS alert system weekly so you can check receivers for adequate reception. When purchasing, be sure to choose one with a battery backup.
Internet & Telecommunication Devices
The Internet is an excellent source for accessing pre-storm data, but do not rely on it completely for WARNINGS. Service may be interrupted because of system failures, overloads, or power failures.
You may also receive warnings via telephone (land lines) and wireless devices such as cell phones, pagers, and handheld units. But their data is dependent upon reception and battery life and vulnerable to system overloads and failures.
New technologies utilizing Global Positioning System (GPS) and satellite systems are currently being incorporated into SAME technology to enhance communication.
Many local emergency management officials activate loud (airraid type) sirens to warn of impending dangers such as TORNADOes, floods, or fires. Some cities have assorted sounds for different types of emergencies, tests, and all-clear signals. It is important to learn the different sounds and meanings of the sirens in your community. Also, remember that sirens are intended to warn people who are outdoors, not penetrate walls. Do not rely on them as your lone warning device.
Despite advances in technology, it takes trained human eyes to confirm that a TORNADO or other hazard is present. Doppler Radar can dissect a storm's composition and detect areas of large hail, high winds, heavy rainfall, and potential tornadic circulation, but it cannot confirm the presence of a TORNADO on the ground. That is why STORM SPOTTERS are a community's first defense against severe storm threats.
The unsung heroes of bad weather, STORM SPOTTERS volunteer their time, risking property and physical injury to perform their work. They are usually trained AMATEUR RADIO operators who relay real-time weather observations to the National Weather Service or an emergency operations center. Law enforcement, fire personnel, scientists, STORM CHASERS, and media crews often serve as SPOTTERS.
UHF and VHF Scanners
These radios scan police, fire, and public service frequencies. Although they can be used to listen in on live local SPOTTER reports, the information is"raw"and not official. I would not suggest that the novice rely on scanners but rather on local AM/FM radio, TV, or NWS radio. There is no other option for listening to live SPOTTER reports except for TV and AM/FM radio crews who make live reports from the field.
Know What's Coming: Forecasting Sources
To know what weather is on the horizon, you have several choices. The most obvious sources for storm forecast information are television, radio, and the Internet.
Local live weather (radio and television) news broadcasts play a significant role in saving lives during storms. As a result, most people feel comfortable keeping track of potentially hazardous weather by tuning in to their local news station. During the May 3, 1999, TORNADO OUTBREAK near (and in) Oklahoma City, live weather broadcasts saved scores of lives by providing constant TORNADO tracking and detailed survival technique information.
As discussed, the National Weather Service broadcasts up-to-date forecasts twenty-four hours a day on the NOAA radio network. During storm season, your local National Weather Service office may broadcast a "Severe Thunderstorm Outlook" in threatened areas several times a day.
The trend today is television via satellite, but it is important to find and watch a local network during severe weather. Since many satellite feeds do not pass through a local provider and will not carry regional emergency information, campers and recreational vehicle owners using satellite feeds should be equipped to access area information through a radio or receiver.
The advent of the Internet has bolstered the ability to access weather data. Hundreds of forecasting and weather data Web sites exist, offering everything from simple daily weather forecasts to complex forecasting tools used by professionals.
For a simple, straightforward weather forecast, using your favorite search engine type in the city nearest you and "NATIONAL Weather Service." It should lead you to the nearest NWS office site. Once there, you can access all kinds of local data (See below for the NWS site with links to all local weather offices.)
If you seek more detailed severe weather forecast information, check into the Storm Prediction Center (SPC), a branch of the National Weather Service, at www.spc.noaa.gov. The SPC produces forecasting guidance in the form of storm outlooks, statements, and watches for the entire United States. It also issues severe weather "CONVECTIVE OUTLOOKS" several times daily. The outlooks contain levels of risk, based on the expected number and intensity of SEVERE THUNDERSTORM reports over a specific area. Areas within risk are drawn on a map of the United States with accompanying text explaining the specific reasoning for the outlook. Extended outlooks are also available.
Learn the Language: Common Storm Prediction Center Terms
Many of us know basic weather terms, but not their exact meaning. For example, do you know the difference between a Severe Weather Watch and a Severe Weather Warning? In addition to specific criteria for individual storms (which we will discuss in the following chapters), the basic difference is this:
A watch means that specific severe weather events (TORNADOES, SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS, HURRICANES, etc.) are possible within an outlined area. This is a signal to be aware. A warning means that a specific severe weather event is occurring in a defined location or area. This is a signal to take immediate action to protect yourself.
As mentioned earlier, the Storm Prediction Center includes risk categories in its severe weather outlooks. Here are some basic definitions regarding risk categories:
Slight risk: A forecast of SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS that are small in number and/or with low coverage. Expected severe weather for the designated area includes five to twenty-nine reports of one-inch or larger hail, and/or three to five TORNADOES, and/or five to twenty-nine wind events. Moderate risk: A forecast of SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS with greater concentration and magnitude. Expected severe weather for the designated area includes at least thirty reports of hail one inch or larger, and/or six to nineteen TORNADOes, and/or numerous wind events. High risk: A forecast for a major severe weather OUTBREAK, with wide coverage of severe weather and the increased probability of extreme weather, including violent TORNADOES or extreme convective wind events over a large area. Expected severe weather for the designated area includes at least twenty TORNADOES with at least two of them rated F3 or more, and/or at least fifty extreme wind events-many with eighty-plus miles-per-hour winds and structural damage reports. (Continues...)
Excerpted from THE ULTIMATE STORM SURVIVAL HANDBOOK by WARREN FAIDLEY Copyright © 2007 by Warren Faidley. Excerpted by permission.
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