Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Thunderstorms and Other Natural Disasters: Here’s How to Stay Safe

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How to Stay Safe in a Tornado, Hurricane or Other Natural Disaster

How to Stay Safe in a Tornado, Hurricane or Other Natural Disaster

Protect yourself and others during a natural disaster
Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Thunderstorms and Other Natural Disasters: Here’s How to Stay Safe

RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images

Each season has its share of extreme weather. Winter brings intense cold and snowy conditions. In March, the first day of spring begins a few months worth of rain and wild temperature swings. Still, when you think of extreme weather in the Northern Hemisphere, summer is likely the season that comes to mind — and for good reason.

June to September are prime months for several kinds of devastating natural disasters, from hurricanes and extreme thunderstorms to tornadoes and wildfires. Read on and learn how to stay safe during each of these extreme weather scenarios.

Thunderstorms

Thunderstorms

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When warm air rises into cold air, it cools. Moisture forms small water droplets, which lower in the atmosphere, warm, then rise again, forming a convection cell. Combine a convection cell with large amounts of air and moisture, and a thunderstorm ensues. This complex scientific happening can be explained to your kids at home using a simple science experiment. While more common than other natural disasters, thunderstorms still pose a threat to people’s safety.

‘When thunder roars, go indoors’

‘When thunder roars, go indoors’

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This common weather proverb is true: When thunder roars, go indoors. The best place to be during a storm is indoors, whether that means at home, a shop, office or in your vehicle.

If outdoors, crouch close to the ground

If outdoors, crouch close to the ground

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If you are stuck outdoors when a thunderstorm hits, crouch down. Minimize your contact with the ground by keeping your feet and knees together, head tucked and hands over your ears. Groups should separate and spread out to minimize the risk of injury should lightning strike the ground.

Don’t stand near tall structures or in open spaces

Don’t stand near tall structures or in open spaces

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If you’re outside, stay away from tall structures. Avoid open structures or spaces like gazebos, dugouts, sports arenas, parks and beaches as well.

Avoid electronics and water

Avoid electronics and water

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If you’re inside during a thunderstorm, do not bathe, shower, wash dishes or use electronic devices. Lightning can travel through building plumbing and electrical systems, posing a safety risk. Refrain from using electronics and electrical appliances like computers, laptops, video games, washing machines, dryers or stoves during a storm.

Hurricanes

Hurricanes

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To be classified as a hurricane, a tropical cyclone must have organized thunderstorms and maximum sustained winds of 74 mph or higher. Most frequently, hurricanes originate in the Atlantic basin in the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane season begins on June 1 and ends on Nov. 30 — here’s what you need to know to stay safe if caught in the storm.

Evacuate when told

Evacuate when told

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In the event of hurricane watch or warning, pay attention to emergency information and alerts. If an evacuation seems imminent, keep a full tank of gas to avoid being stranded in your car. When told by local authorities to evacuate, do so immediately. Ideally, you would have already come up with an evacuation plan for yourself and your family. Know where you will evacuate to, how you will get there and how you can keep in touch should your group become separated.

Stay indoors

Stay indoors

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Like during any storm, stay indoors. Ignore a common weather myth and do not waste time or resources taping up your windows during a hurricane. Instead, protect your windows with permanent storm shutters or half-inch marine plywood. Shelter in an interior room, closet or bathroom in your home’s lowest level and stay away from windows or glass doors.

If driving, take shelter

If driving, take shelter

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If you are driving during heavy rain, safely exit the road, stay in your car and turn on your emergency lights. Avoid driving through floodwaters or on any bridges over fast-moving water. If you get caught on a road with rapidly rising waters, abandon your vehicle and quickly move to higher ground.

At home, do not use electrical equipment

At home, do not use electrical equipment

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Just as you would during a thunderstorm, beware of lightning and stay away from electrical equipment, including your phone and computer. If instructed by local authorities, turn off power and water mains.

Use flashlights, not candles

Use flashlights, not candles

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During a power outage, use flashlights instead of candles to avoid an accidental candle fire. Get these flashlights ready ahead of time as you prepare your home for hurricane season.

Don’t be fooled by the calm

Don’t be fooled by the calm

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Once the eye of the hurricane passes over wherever you are taking shelter, a brief period of calm may lead you to believe it’s safe to go outside and assess the damage. Resist the urge and stay indoors. On the other side of the eye are equally powerful hurricane wind speeds. Wait for word from local authorities on when you may safely exit your shelter.

Floods

Floods

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Floods are an unfortunate effect of a hurricane or heavy thunderstorm. Try as you might to predict the weather, flash floods can come seemingly out of nowhere with devastating effect. Lots can lurk beneath the surface of rapidly rising waters — here’s how to stay safe.

Stay out of floodwater

Stay out of floodwater

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Rule No. 1 for floodwaters: Stay out of them. Do not drive, walk or swim in them. Just 6 inches of fast-moving water can knock a person over, and 2 feet of water may float a car. All sorts of dangerous products can lurk under the surface, everything from household, medical or industrial chemical waste to human or animal waste. The hazards can make you and others more vulnerable to infectious disease or injury.

Wash immediately if exposed to floodwater

Wash immediately if exposed to floodwater

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Should you be exposed to floodwaters, wash immediately using soap and water. If you’re without water or soap or if bathing or showering poses a safety hazard, clean the exposed area with alcohol-based wipes and sanitizer.

Look out for insects and animals

Look out for insects and animals

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A natural disaster can displace animals, insects and reptiles. Be aware of your surroundings, and look out for wild or stray animals. High hurricane-like winds can kill adult mosquitos. However, when flooding occurs, mosquito eggs laid in the soil hatch, resulting in a large population of floodwater mosquitoes. These mosquitos will likely not spread viruses until up to two weeks or months after the hurricane.

Avoid chemical or electrical hazards

Avoid chemical or electrical hazards

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Propane tanks or car batteries may crop up in floodwaters — do not move them. Instead, contact first responders. At your own home, shut off all electrical power and natural gas or propane tanks. And never under any circumstances touch a fallen power line.

Tornadoes

Tornadoes

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In the U.S., about 1,200 tornadoes hit each year. In the southern Plains, peak tornado season runs from May to June. For the Gulf Coast, Midwest and northern Plains, peak season lasts from June to July. Here’s what to do in case a tornado touches down near you.

Take shelter, avoid windows

Take shelter, avoid windows

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Take shelter and avoid windows during extreme weather. The safest place to be in your home during a tornado is in an interior part of a basement. Otherwise, stay in an inside room without windows on the lowest level, even if that means a hallway, bathroom or closet. Do not stay in a mobile home as these can easily turn over during strong winds.

If in a car, do not try to outrun the tornado

If in a car, do not try to outrun the tornado

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Not even on its best day will your car or truck outrun a tornado. Instead, if a tornado is approaching, stop your vehicle and get as far away as possible from it. If there is nowhere for you to go, keep your seatbelt on and make sure your head is covered and ducked below windows and the windshield. Remember to never take shelter under an overpass.

Know long-span buildings are not safe

Know long-span buildings are not safe

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The roofs of long-span buildings like shopping malls, gyms and theaters are typically supported by outside walls only. When hit by tornadoes, these buildings cannot withstand the pressure and will collapse. If stuck inside a long-span building, try to take shelter in the lowest level or a basement. Otherwise, find something like a door frame or counter to protect your head.

Earthquakes

Earthquakes

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Neither the United States Geological Survey nor any scientist has ever been able to predict a major earthquake, making this sort of natural disaster extra tricky. These are the quick steps you can take to stay safe.

Drop, cover, hold on

Drop, cover, hold on

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During an earthquake, remember to drop, cover and hold on. First, drop down on your hands and knees to prevent yourself from falling. Next, cover your head and neck under a table, desk or near an interior wall. Lastly, hold on to shelter around you or your own head and neck until shaking stops.

Don’t stand in the doorway

Don’t stand in the doorway

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A doorway does not protect you from falling or flying objects, which are the leading cause of earthquake-related injuries and deaths. During an earthquake, a small action can make a huge impact in your likelihood of injury. Quickly try to move away from anything hanging overhead or large furniture pieces that can fall. Then, grab something to shield your head.

If you are outside, stay outside

If you are outside, stay outside

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If you are outside when an earthquake strikes, stay outside. Move away from buildings, utility wires, sinkholes, and fuel and gas lines. Find an open space and stay low, and remain there until the shaking stops. If you are stuck in your car, stop quickly and safely, then pull over to the side of the road. A car is a good place to be during an earthquake, so stay seated until the shaking stops.

Wildfires

Wildfires

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Staying safe during a wildfire, like many other extreme weather situations, has much to do with staying up to date on information and following instructions from local authorities. Keep the following tips in mind.

Track fires

Track fires

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First, track fires. Routinely check on the National Weather Service’s “Fire Weather” map for fire watches and warnings. Look to local authorities for information on evacuation and safety considerations.

Wear a respirator mask

Wear a respirator mask

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While cloth masks have become everyday wear during the coronavirus pandemic, they will not do the job during a wildfire. Instead, wear a respirator, a mask fit tightly to your face that filters smoke out of the air before you breathe it in. Children should not wear respirators, and people with heart or lung diseases should contact their doctor to find out if it is safe for you to wear one should a disaster strike.

Monitor health symptoms

Monitor health symptoms

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People with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or people who are pregnant should closely monitor wildfire smoke inhalation symptoms. People with known heart diseases should also monitor symptoms.

Choose a room you can close off

Choose a room you can close off

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Try as much as possible to keep smoke outside of the home, or at least a room. Close one room off from outside air. In the chosen room, set up a portable air cleaner or filter. Stay inside — during a disaster is not the time to marvel at a wildfire or storm. Only once danger has passed can you look at the phenomena through insane weather photographs

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