With two tropical storms already on the books and several more forecast for the 2007 hurricane season, the American Red Cross continues to encourage the public to prepare—not just for hurricanes, but for more frequent natural disasters such as tornadoes, thunderstorms, wildfires, droughts and flooding.
“The many natural disasters and severe weather events we’ve seen in the recent past drive home the importance of being ready for everything, including hurricanes,” says Darlene Washington, preparedness expert for the American Red Cross.
In case a wildfire threatens your area, meet with your family to decide what to do and where to go. Plan several escape routes from home on car and on foot.
(Photo Credit: Hector Emanuel/American Red Cross)
Statistics from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) show that more than 1,000 tornadoes occur each year in the United States, causing an average of 70 fatalities. Flash floods, the most common natural disaster, cause more than 140 deaths, while lightning kills an average of 66 people. Of the estimated 100,000 thunderstorms that occur each year, about 10 percent are classified as severe, meaning they produce hail at least three-quarters of an inch in diameter, generate winds of 58 miles per hour or higher, or spawn a tornado.
Then there’s drought, which can heighten the risk of wildfires. Rain from Tropical Storm Barry helped bring wildfires in Florida and Georgia under control, but NOAA forecasts that drought conditions in the Southeast and the interior West and California will persist through much of the summer.
Understanding Weather Risks
As drought conditions intensify, risks increase for the growing number of people who are making their homes in or near forests, rural areas, or remote mountains. Homeowners in these settings enjoy the beauty of the environment but face the very real danger of wildfires. Wildfires often begin unnoticed and spread quickly, igniting brush, trees, and homes.
To prepare for wildfires, meet with your family to decide what to do and where to go in case a wildfire threatens your area. Plan several escape routes from your home, both by car and by foot. Most importantly, make sure your disaster supplies kit is ready for use. For more tips, visit the Practice Wildfire Safety section.
Another deadly phenomenon that strikes quickly is lightning, and it’s unfortunate that the seasons for outdoor activities and lightning peak at the same time. Lightning killed 43 people in the United States last year, but by taking some precautions during thunderstorms, you can stay safe from lightning and have fun another day.
Thunderstorms are dangerous not only because they produce lightning but also because they can spawn tornadoes and cause flash flooding. In the United States, tornadoes have occurred in every state and can develop at any time of the year. The Southern states experience their peak tornado season from March through May, while the busiest months in the Northern states are during late spring and summer.
The Red Cross urges those in the path of weather fronts to listen to local TV and radio stations for updated tornado and thunderstorm information and know the difference between a “watch” and a “warning.” A watch means a thunderstorm or tornado is possible in your area, whereas a warning means one has been sighted and may be headed for your area.
In case of a tornado warning, gather your family members in the basement, a center hallway, a bathroom, or a closet on the lowest floor. If you are in a high-rise building, pick a place in a hallway in the center of the building.
In addition to the lightning and tornadoes associated with them, thunderstorms may also cause power outages. Without power, you may not be able to store food or prepare meals.
Finally, waiting out lightning and thunderstorm in close quarters with windows and doors shut can increase stress, making people more anxious and triggering conflicts. Consider planning some fun indoor activities and diversions, such as reading, playing board games or conducting arts and crafts projects, to entertain household members. Remember—your emotional well-being is important, too.
What Can You Do?
If your community is at risk from these and other natural disasters, take time now to prepare:
- Be Informed: Learn about the types of disasters that could strike where you live. Listen to local radio, TV and NOAA radio stations for evacuation instructions. If advised to evacuate, do so immediately.
- Build a Kit: Assemble an emergency supplies kit that includes first aid items, non-perishable food, water, a battery-operated radio, a flashlight, extra batteries and other things you might need in case of an emergency. Follow Red Cross guidelines to build an emergency supplies kit, or purchase one from the Red Cross online store and customize it.
- Make a Plan: Make a personal evacuation plan in advance, and prepare an emergency contact list to keep in touch with loved ones in case you are separated during an evacuation. To learn how to develop your plan, visit the Get Prepared section of RedCross.org.
To learn more about how to prepare yourself and your household for hurricanes and other types of disasters, visit the “Get Prepared” section of RedCross.org. Short on time? You can purchase and customize an American Red Cross emergency supplies kit by visiting the RedCross.org store.
All American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. You can help the victims of thousands of disasters across the country each year by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, which enables the Red Cross to provide shelter, food, counseling and other assistance to victims of disaster. The American Red Cross honors donor intent. If you wish to designate your donation to a specific disaster, please do so at the time of your donation. Call 1-800-REDCROSS or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Contributions to the Disaster Relief Fund may be sent to your local American Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross, P. O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013. Internet users can make a secure online contribution by visiting www.redcross.org.