Recognizing that Americans are increasingly vulnerable to extreme weather, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Weather-Ready Nation initiative is helping communities plan for events like violent tornadoes, destructive hurricanes and widespread flooding. As a meteorologist and supporter of this effort, I believe that everyone should understand what kinds of severe weather hazards could affect their family and home and be ready for them. Here are some ways to do it.
For Atlantic and Gulf coast residents, hurricane preparedness has to be a way of life. It means knowing whether you live in a designated evacuation zone. That’s key in the event of storm surge – when a hurricane pushes seawater up onto local beaches and inland areas. Readiness also means having a family and business disaster plan that details preparations, and maintaining a hurricane survival kit.
Another priority is knowing how to protect your home and business from damaging winds. Conducting a home insurance review with your agent and scheduling a wind mitigation inspection will identify what you can do to strengthen and protect vulnerable parts of the building such as windows, entry doors, garage doors and roofs.
Adding metal hurricane shutters or hurricane-resistant windows can help. So can retrofitting the attic or eaves with metal hurricane straps, which connect the rafters to the walls to prevent the roof from blowing off.
Here’s one step to skip: Putting tape onto windows for wind protection from a hurricane. Tape does nothing to reduce wind damage, so this is a waste of time.
Consumers also need to rethink how they shop for a new home in storm-prone areas. It’s OK to want granite countertops, walk-in closets and a safe neighborhood near schools and parks. But buyers should also consider how well a house is built, its age, the materials it contains, the shape and condition of the roof, and building code requirements at the time it was constructed.
And they should ask whether the house is located in a flood-prone area, has wind-resistant features or has been retrofitted against hurricanes. Even residents who don’t live in a zone where it is required should consider taking out flood insurance.
For educational outreach, we host the yearly Wall of Wind Mitigation Challenge, in which teams of local high school students develop innovative wind mitigation concepts and solutions. And the Extreme Events Institute uses a risk equation to help the public understand and support measures to confront the “risk drivers” that lead to major losses.
Flooding can occur almost anywhere across the country, and hazards can develop quickly. In mid-May 2021, over 12 inches of rain fell on the Lake Charles, Louisiana, area in a single day, triggering flash flooding that completely submerged parked cars. Flooded roadways can be deadly, so take heed of NOAA’s “Turn Around Don’t Drown” message and avoid walking or driving in flooded areas – it could save your life.
Apathy and complacency can also be dangerous when it comes to weather-driven disasters. In my view, weather readiness has to become a way of life – something that all Americans see as their responsibility. The best forecasts in the world may be useless if the public doesn’t respond or hasn’t taken the needed actions to protect themselves when extreme weather threatens.
Most importantly, remember to help your neighbors when needed, especially if they are elderly and can’t help themselves. In addition, consider supporting local nonprofits or churches that help residents in your community who have financial or transportation needs to be ready and safe. We are all in this together.
Erik Salna currently leads education and outreach projects funded by the Florida Division of Emergency Management and the Inter-American Teacher Education Network (ITEN) with the Organization of American States (OAS).