Opinion: On being prepared: If you can hear thunder...
When I read about massive earthquakes or devastating forest fires destroying communities, I often comment on how nice it is to live in Pennsylvania, where severe weather is not such a big concern.
The occasional small tornado or earth tremor make the news and cause a stir, but for the most part, we feel safe from Mother Nature's outbursts.
Last year's heavy snow on Halloween weekend set me straight, however, about how severe weather can come anywhere at any time.
In my neighborhood, rarely hit by more than a few hours of darkness, the power failure went on for five very long days.
Our local Panera Bread restaurant was packed with long lines of customers all week, as neighborhood residents sought a hot meal and a wi-fi Internet connection.
Every table and booth was filled, laptop computers sharing space with sandwich plates and coffee cups at each one.
While we were not devastated by the loss of homes or loved ones, we definitely felt like the Power Failure Nation as we crowded into local eateries and shared our powerless lifestyle stories.
At my home, we used up all of our candles, went through flashlight batteries and found an old camping lantern to illuminate the kitchen.
It was the longest power failure we had ever lived through, and felt very fortunate our home is heated with natural gas.
After that experience, when the Red Cross released information in observance of National Preparedness Month last week, I have to say I paid closer attention than I normally do to the advice offered.
Here is some of it, beginning with thunderstorm safety.
· Listen to local news or a NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Weather Radio to stay informed about storm watches and warnings.
· During a thunderstorm, stay away from windows, skylights and glass doors that could be broken by strong winds or hail. Remove pets from vulnerable dog houses and similar small structures.
· Pack a first aid kit and essential medications, canned food and can opener, bottled water, flashlights and a battery-powered radio with extra batteries.
· Heed storm warnings: A severe storm watch means severe thunderstorms are possible. People in a watch area should keep informed and be ready to act if a severe thunderstorm warning is issued.
A severe storm warning means severe weather has been reported by spotters or indicated by radar. Warnings indicate imminent danger to life and property. If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be in danger from lightning. Seek shelter immediately.
The National Weather Service recommends staying inside for at least 30 minutes after the last thunder clap.
· Unplug appliances. Avoid using the telephone or any electrical appliances. Avoid taking a bath or shower, or running water for any other purpose.
· If in a vehicle, keep car windows closed.
· If caught outside, go to a low-lying, open place away from trees, poles or metal objects. Make sure the place you pick is not flooding. Make yourself the smallest target possible. Squat low to the ground. Place your hands on your knees with your head between them.
· In case of a tornado warning, go to a basement, storm cellar or an interior room on the lowest floor with no windows.
Homeowners can increase storm safety on their properties by removing diseased and damaged limbs from trees and securing lawn furniture, trash cans, hanging plants and other items that could become a projectile during high winds.
Instructions for building an emergency plan for your family can be found at redcross.org/npm. An online tutorial, "Be Red Cross Ready," is also available.
As for hurricane preparedness, there's an app for that! The recently release American Red Cross Hurricane App for iPhone and Android smart phones can help you to design a plan and share it with your family members and over social networks
None of us can predict when and where a disaster of some kind will strike, so our best defense is a plan of action. One day, it could help you be ready for Mother Nature's next tantrum.
It could even save your life.