If anyone has spent any period of time in Oklahoma, they know we could experience all four seasons in the matter of one week. As spring approaches we will be facing another one of the most dangerous weather seasons Oklahoma has to offer. In 2014, the United States saw 38 flood related deaths, 26 lightening related deaths and 47 tornado related deaths. While those numbers do not represent every severe weather event, they do reveal a startling number of fatalities. One life lost is too many, preparation helps preserve life. When someone mentions spring weather, what comes to mind first? Thunderstorms, tornadoes, heavy rain or other severe weather events? What about weather preparedness? Being prepared for whatever Oklahoma has to throw at us should be a priority in everyone’s mind. Weather preparedness begins long before the storm arrives.
When preparing for severe weather it is very important to know all of the weather “lingo”. Most importantly it is important to know the difference between a “watch” and a “warning”. A “watch” means that the conditions in the area are favorable to support certain weather events. If a “thunderstorm watch” is issued it means the environment is carrying favorable conditions for development of a thunderstorm. If a “tornado watch” is issued, it means the environment is capable of supporting the development of a tornado, it does not mean there is a tornado at that time. A “warning” is much more sinister. A warning means that a dangerous weather event is happening at that moment. If a tornado warning is issued for an area, it means there is a tornado in or approaching that area. If a tornado warning is issued everyone should move to an underground storm shelter or the lowest, most interior room of their home. If taking shelter in a house, use a mattress or heavy blanket to help protect from flying debris. If occupying a mobile home during a tornado, have a plan in place to get to a secure building preferably with a basement. If shelter is not available find a low lying ditch or ravine and lay flat using your hands to protect your head from flying debris. Residents in mobile home parks could request the owner have a storm shelter installed for all of residents to utilize in an emergency situation. If a person is in a vehicle during a tornado the warning, they should not attempt to outrun the tornado, but rather look for underground shelter or take shelter in a low lying ditch or ravine using their hands to protect their heads. Those taking shelter in a ditch or ravine also need to be aware of the possibility of flash flooding and prepared to react to those threats also.
Families should come together to develop weather response plans for any scenario that could occur whether home or away when the storm strikes. Communication will be a challenge following a damaging storm, cell phone and internet communications many not be functioning properly. These types of challenges need to be discussed and included in the weather response plans. When communications are down, it is sometimes possible to contact people that are out of the state. An emergency communication’s plan may include having all family members contact an out of state relative or friend and check in. That out of state friend can keep a record of who they have accounted for and who is still unaccounted for. Emergency kits also need to be prepared in advance of any storm system. Emergency kits for a person’s home can be useful for more than just severe weather. Make sure the emergency kit is managed and updated throughout the year. Water is a very high priority for any emergency kit. Without water a person will become severely dehydrated and face death within three to four days. When storing water, save enough for each member to have one gallon of water for three days. A family of four would need to have twelve gallons of water in their emergency kit. A person can survive three weeks without food, however without caloric intake the body struggles to produce the energy it needs to make it through a disaster situation. Non-perishable packaged or canned food are great options to utilize for emergency kits. Do not forget the manual can opener! Meals Ready to Eat are also available for purchase online. Infant formula and diapers will also need to be placed in the emergency kit for families with young children. Many people have family pets that will need survival planning. Pet food and additional water supply are needed for our furry friends. Prescription medications will be needed following a disaster. It may be difficult to keep extra medications on hand, keeping medications in an easy to grab bag or container is an option. Each family member will need a complete change of clothes including; long sleeve shirt, long pants, socks, undergarments and sturdy shoes. Feminine products and personal hygiene products will be appreciated in a disaster situation. Sleeping bags or warm blankets for each person need to be added to the emergency kit. Other useful items like a basic tool kit, flashlights, extra batteries and matches are often found in emergency kits. Keep in mind following a disaster natural gas and propane leaks are likely and striking a match could be deadly. A radio is an absolute must for the emergency kit, it will be vital in following weather broadcasts and learning other important information. In a waterproof container keep copies of important documents such as: birth certificates, insurance policies, identification, bank account records, cash or Traveler’s checks and pen and paper. Household chlorine bleach and a medicine dropper are handy tools for the emergency kit. When chlorine bleach is mixed ninety percent water to one percent bleach it can be used as a disinfectant. In an emergency situation, sixteen drops of bleach can be added to a gallon of water to render it safe for consumption. Do not use scented, color safe, or bleach with added cleaners.
Since an emergency can strike at any time being prepared on the go is just as important as being prepared at home. Vehicles need to be mechanically ready to respond to an emergency. Having vehicles regularly inspected and serviced is an excellent way to be prepared on the go. Emergency kits for vehicles will contain many of the same items that are found in the home emergency kits such as; flashlights, extra batteries, food, water, manual can opener, basic tool kit, radio, pet supplies, clothing, blankets and diapers. Items that should be in the vehicle kit that are not commonly found in the home kits such as: jumper cables, flares or reflective triangles, shovel, ice scraper and kitty litter or sand.
Severe weather presents very dangerous circumstances and can be deadly. Weather preparedness begins well before the storm arrives. Staying current and familiar with weather terminology will help a family respond to weather events appropriately. Having a plan and emergency kits packed will help put minds at ease and streamline response to emergency situations. Staying weather alert will allow for adequate time to respond to any weather threat. If you would like to learn more about weather preparedness, weather terminology or if you would like to learn more about storm shelters visit www.ready.gov.