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Severe weather preparation shouldn’t end at Memorial Day

  • Washington Post
  • Published Thursday, May 30, 2013, at 11:30 a.m.

Wind-speed damage

39 mph: Gale force; twigs and small branches blown off trees

47 mph: Strong gale; minor structural damage may occur, with shingles blown off roof

55 mph: Storm; trees can be uprooted and structural damage is likely

64 mph: Violent storm; widespread damage to structures

Beaufort Wind Scale, University of North Carolina

Memorial Day marked the start of the long-awaited, laid-back summer stretch. But between the backyard barbecues, family reunions and dips in the pool, danger could be one spark or one bad forecast away.

Do you know where your flashlights are?

We’ve had plenty of close calls with tornadoes already, and there’s no excuse to not be ready for the next one. Experts and safety specialists say that if you prepare ahead of time, you will be less stressed if and when disaster strikes.

So get familiar with your gutters and get over how your hair looks when you’re wearing a headlamp. Trim that dead branch hanging over your neighbor’s deck before it’s too late. Discuss a disaster plan for evacuation and sheltering in place with your family. Prepare more, worry less.

Power outages

To deal with a power outage, stock up on flashlights, batteries, water and food, in addition to any medical supplies you might need. David Botkins, a spokesman for Dominion Virginia Power, also recommends having a battery-operated radio for listening to weather reports and news alerts during an outage.

Have one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, Botkins says. Also stock food for several days for everyone in the family and your pets. Botkins also suggests having a couple of cans of gasoline to fuel your car in case local filling stations lose power.

If you have a well or septic system that runs on electricity, have extra water to flush toilets, says Lance Gregory of the Virginia Health Department. Filling your bathtub in advance is fine for flushing toilets, but if you are going to use that water for washing hands, brushing teeth, cooking or drinking, Gregory says, boil it first to decontaminate it.

Check your battery supplies now, Duracell spokesman Win Sakdinan says. Have plenty of batteries in the sizes you need. Sakdinan says it’s a good idea to have enough to power your radios and flashlights for a week. And make sure you have flashlights or headlamps for every person in the house to have his own, he said.

Fully charge your smartphone, tablet and laptop, and consider getting an Internet router that runs on batteries. Conserve energy in these devices by turning them off when you aren’t using them or putting them in battery conservation modes, Sakdinan said.

And when your power goes out, Botkins said, your first move should be to report the outage to your electric company. Don’t assume your neighbors have already called.

Emergency kit

To be prepared, have these items on hand:

Battery-operated cellphone charger

Fire extinguisher

Flashlight/lantern/headlamp

Radio, battery-operated or hand-crank

First-aid kit

Wet vac

Nonperishable food and can opener

Water

Pet supplies: food, medicine, vet records, carrier

Family medication

Copies of important family documents (insurance policies, identification, bank records) in a waterproof container

Extra glasses or contacts

Family emergency plan details, maps and contact information

Trash bags

Whistle

Rubber gloves

Rain boots

Extra batteries

Cash

For more information, see FEMA’s website www.ready.gov/severe-weather.

Wind damage

When the winds pick up, whether it’s a tornado or a garden-variety summer storm, your house and trees will be vulnerable.

Wind can start to damage small limbs and branches at 39 mph, according to the Beaufort Wind Scale, and at 64 mph, widespread structural damage is possible. The winds in the Moore, Okla., tornado were about 200 mph, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

When there are warnings about tornadoes or high winds, says Mel Pine, an Allstate agency owner in Purcellville, Va., homeowners should take them seriously and find shelter.

Go to the basement if you have one. If not, identify and make room in a room or closet where you will be safer during high winds. It should be an interior room on the lowest level of your house, away from any windows.

“The more walls between you and the outside, the better you will be,” says Adam Polak, a spokesman for Allstate.

Inspect your roof, windows and doors now, Pine says. Repair or replace any loose, damaged or missing shingles, and check the attic for swollen wood or moisture that could indicate a leak in the roof. Make sure the caulking on your windows and door jambs is in good condition, he said.

Pine also suggests upgrading to heavy-duty bolts on your doors to make them less likely to blow off in high winds. He said doors that open out are stronger than doors that open to the inside.

Have a mental checklist of any loose patio furniture, garden umbrellas or outdoor equipment that could blow around in high winds, and secure them before a storm.

Wind is Mother Nature’s way of pruning, says Mark Buscaino, the executive director of Casey Trees, a non-profit dedicated to protecting and restoring trees in Washington. Check your trees now for potential hazards. Any branches more than 6 inches in diameter that hang over your house (or your neighbor’s) should be taken down if they look dead or damaged, Buscaino says.

If you are not sure about a tree or limb, he says, call a certified arborist to get an inspection.

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