Monday, June 15, 2015

Why Preparing for Hurricanes in North Texas Isn’t Crazy

by Suzanne Wiley, volunteer contributor

“Hurricanes can demolish towns, obliterate coastlines, and devastate families. We cannot eliminate the threats they pose, but with careful planning, we can better protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities. During National Hurricane Preparedness Week, America fortifies our homes and businesses so that we are ready long before these powerful storms make landfall.” -President Barack Obama

It may be difficult for DFW dwellers to image a storm more powerful than a tornado. Many of us know first hand the terrible destruction these whirling winds of chaos can do in a matter of seconds. Even though we are fully aware of the other devastating natural disasters that occur around the world, there probably not that many of us in the Metroplex preparing for earthquakes, volcanoes or tsunamis.

Our geographical differences depend largely on what type of disaster we prepare for. I guarantee no one living in Hawaii is putting chains on their vehicles, stocking up on firewood or rushing to the store to buy a snow shovel. There is one storm that none of us in North Texas probably think about much anymore. This storm is 2,000 times bigger than a tornado and lasts an average of 10 days.

Fortunately, though, unlike a tornado, this storm comes with plenty of warning. If you knew a storm 2,000 times larger than a tornado was coming your way—wouldn’t you want to be ready?

We may be landlocked, but hurricanes off our state’s coast will and do affect us here in North Texas.

A hurricane begins in the area of the world surrounding the Equator called the Tropics. A disturbance in this area forms from a low-pressure system with winds over the warm waters of the oceans in the Tropics. On its way to becoming a hurricane, this tropical disturbance picks up steam and starts a counter clockwise rotation. As winds increase to 39 to 73 miles per hour, the tropical disturbance becomes a storm. This is when the National Hurricane Center will give the tropical storm a name. The storm then officially reaches hurricane status when one-minute winds reach 74 miles per hour.

Hurricanes produce very high damaging winds, heavy rain, tornadoes and flooding. The most damaging part of a hurricane is the storm surge. A storm surge is when the sea creates a wall of water that rushes onto land. This wall of water can reach 20 feet high and extend inland for up to 100 miles.

Hurricanes affect not just coastal areas. The National Weather Service’s National Hurricane Center has maps displaying the high damaging winds from a hurricane off the coast of Texas and Louisiana reaching as far North as Southern Oklahoma and Central Arkansas—hundreds of miles away from the eye of a hurricane. In 1921, a hurricane that hit landfall in Mexico resulted in a record-breaking 36.4-inch rainfall in 18 hours recorded in Thrall, Texas—200 miles off the coast. The flooding killed 215 people throughout Central Texas. During American’s worst hurricane in history, the 1900 Galveston hurricane, Fort Worth recorded 52 mile per hour winds. In 1967, a category 3 hurricane made landfall right at the mouth of the Rio Grande River. Hurricane Beulah directly caused 115 tornadoes throughout Texas—the highest amount of tornadoes to form due to a hurricane.

You can read more about the damage hurricanes have left behind in Central and North Texas on the USA Today and NOAA’s websites.

Texas’ hurricane season runs from June through November with chances slimming as early as September. However, just like tornadoes, hurricanes do and will form outside their designated seasons. Those of us living in Dallas/Fort Worth may not necessarily need to stock pile marine plywood to board up our houses, nor invest in thousands of dollars worth of hurricane shutters, we can learn from our coastal neighbors how to prepare for the worst.

Before Hurricane Season

As with any natural disaster or severe weather event, before hurricane season starts, you need to create a family emergency plan. This includes designating a point of contact—either a family member or family friend—that is within driving distance, but out of the way of the affected area that you can shelter with. Your communications plan will also detail meeting locations in case your family is separated through work or school when disaster strikes.

Because of the high likelihood of downed power lines and contaminated water, store enough bottled water for 10 days for your family. The very minimum recommended amount is one gallon per person per day. If there is not a mandatory evacuation before a hurricane hits, fill containers, bathtubs and sinks full of water. You can use this water for washing up. If worse comes to worse, you may drink it after treating it with bleach, charcoal filters, boiling or water treatment tablets.

Also, stock up on non-perishable food equaling to two cans of food per person, per day.

Trim trees and shrubs surrounding your house for less chance they will fall on the roof or break through glass windows and doors.

During a Hurricane

It is imperative to leave if there is a call for an evacuation. Leaving can save your life. If you live on the coast, you should have a go-bag packed ready to go or in your vehicle at all times.
In this go-bag, you need:
  • Identification for yourself, children and all pets
  • GPS and maps with preplanned safe evacuation routes out of town
  • Copies of insurance documents and other important paperwork
  • Essential medications
  • Cash
  • Sturdy shoes
  • Gas can full of gas
  • Change of clothing
  • Rain gear
  • Cell phone charger
  • Bottled water
  • Non-perishable snacks or protein bars
  • First aid kit
  • Basic toiletries
  • Charged cell phone with the Red Cross shelter app installed

Deciding to stay at home is risky; however, your city might not issue a mandatory evacuation. If you choose to stay at home, make sure you have flashlights, plenty of fresh batteries, a weather alert radio, a first aid kit, enough essential medications, wood, nails, hammer, sturdy shoes, rain gear, plenty of drinking water and non-perishable foods in a designated safe room in your house. Turn off the utilities to your house and bring in all lighter weight items such as garbage cans, lawn furniture and ornaments, toys and the barbeque grill.

Stay inside, away from windows and glass doors while the storm rages. It may be necessary to cut off all electricity and utilities from the main. Turn off and unplug all major appliances. Stay tuned to your weather alert radio for updates.

After a Hurricane

After a hurricane passes, you are eager to get home to assess the damage. However, more deaths and accidents occur after the hurricane has gone due to carelessness in a rush to get home. Only return home when officials have said it is safe. Do not drive through floodwaters or barricaded areas. Stay away from downed power lines and report them to the electric company or your local fire department.

Approach your house with caution; it may be more damaged than it appears. When reentering, wear sturdy shoes and work gloves. If there is standing water that remains in your house, it is best to leave and report the damage to your insurance agent. Standing water may be unsafe and can cause electric shock. Returning to an unlivable home is devastating. Seek out your local Red Cross shelter for help. 

For an easy to follow and keep checklist on hurricane preparedness, visit the Red Cross’ “Returning Home Checklist.”

Hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, home fires or any other disaster, the American Red Cross is there to help people prepare, respond to those in need, and aid the community in recovery. Please consider supporting the Red Cross by making a donation to the Disaster Relief fund.

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