Severe weather can happen any time in any part of the country, leaving behind damage and danger—including electrical safety hazards. Downed power lines are visible, but electrically charged water is not. Both carry the risk of electrocution.
September is National Preparedness Month. Understand, plan and practice for weather-related risks in your area.
Hazardous conditions include thunderstorms with damaging winds, tornadoes, hurricanes, hail, flooding and flash flooding, and winter storms with freezing rain, sleet, snow and strong winds.
The Emergency Alert System and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Weather Radio provide emergency alerts. Some communities also have a warning system.
Floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States. Floods result from rain, snow, hurricanes, tornadoes, storm surges, and overflows of dams and other water systems. They can develop slowly or quickly. Flash floods can come with no warning.
Failing to evacuate flooded areas, entering floodwaters or remaining after a flood can result in injury or death.
Know the flood risk in your area. Visit FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center (https://msc.fema.gov) for information. If flash flooding is a risk in your area, monitor potential signs, such as heavy rain.
Gather supplies in case you have to leave immediately or if services are cut off. Keep in mind each person’s specific needs, including medication, and pets.
Keep important documents in a waterproof container. Create password-protected digital copies. Move valuables to higher levels. Declutter drains and gutters. Install check valves. Consider a sump pump with a battery.
Learn and practice evacuation routes, shelter plans and flash flood response.
If you are under a flood warning, find safe shelter right away. Evacuate if told to do so. Do not walk, swim or drive through floodwaters. Never drive around barricades. Just 6 inches of moving water can knock you down, and 1 foot of moving water can sweep your vehicle away. Stay off bridges over fast-moving water. Fast-moving water can wash bridges away without warning.
Avoid driving, except in an emergency. If your vehicle is trapped in rapidly moving water, stay inside. If water is rising inside the vehicle, seek refuge on the roof.
If trapped in a building, go to its highest level. Do not climb into a closed attic. You may become trapped by rising floodwater. Go on the roof only if necessary. Once there, signal for help.
If evacuated, listen to authorities for information and instructions. Return home only when authorities say it is safe.
Avoid wading in floodwater, which can contain dangerous debris and be contaminated. Snakes and other animals may be in your house. Wear heavy gloves and boots during clean up.
Be aware of the risk of electrocution. Underground or downed power lines can electrically charge the water. Do not touch electrical equipment if it is wet or if you are standing in water.
If it is safe to do so, turn off the electricity to prevent electric shock.
Thunderstorms and Lightning
Thunderstorms often include lightning and powerful winds, sometimes exceeding 50 mph, with the possibility of hail, flash flooding and tornadoes.
Lightning is a leading cause of injury and death from weather-related hazards. Although most victims survive, people struck by lightning often report a variety of long-term debilitating symptoms.
Know your area’s risk. In most places, thunderstorms can occur year-round.
Cut or trim trees that may be in danger of falling on your home. Consider buying surge protectors, lightning rods or a lightning protection system to protect your home, appliances and electronic devices.
Pay attention to alerts and warnings. If under a thunderstorm warning or you hear the roar of thunder, go indoors. A sturdy building is the safest place to be. If boating or swimming, take shelter indoors or stay in a car with a metal top and sides. Do not touch anything metal.
Once indoors, avoid running water or using landline phones. Electricity can travel through plumbing and phone lines.
Unplug appliances and other electric devices. Secure outside furniture.
Avoid flooded roadways, and watch for fallen power lines and trees.
Tornadoes and Hurricanes
Tornadoes are violently rotating columns of air that extend from a thunderstorm to the ground. They can destroy buildings, flip cars and create deadly flying debris with winds exceeding 200 mph.
The Southeast and Midwest have the greatest risk for tornadoes, although they can happen anytime and anywhere.
Know the signs of an impending tornado, including a funnel-shaped cloud, an approaching cloud of debris or a loud roar similar to a freight train.
If your community has sirens, become familiar with the warning tone. Pay attention to weather reports.
If you are under a tornado warning, take shelter right away in a sturdy building. Go to the basement or storm cellar. If in a building with no basement, get to a small interior room on the lowest level. Stay away from windows, doors and outside walls.
If outside, avoid overpasses or bridges. You are safer in a low, flat location. Do not try to outrun a tornado in a vehicle.
Watch for flying debris. Shield your head and neck with your arms and put materials such as furniture and blankets around you. Cover your mouth with a cloth or mask to avoid breathing dust.
After a storm, reserve phone calls for emergencies. Phone systems are often down or busy after a disaster. Use text messaging or social media to communicate with family and friends.
Be careful during cleanup. Wear thick soled shoes, long pants and work gloves. Stay clear of fallen or broken utility lines.
Do not enter damaged buildings until you are told they are safe. As with floods, be aware of electrocution risks.
Be Prepared for Outages
Severe weather often results in interruption to electrical service. To stay safe and more comfortable during a power outage:
- Before an outage, take inventory of the items you need that rely on electricity. If you plan to use a generator, make sure it is properly sized for what you plug into it and that it is not directly connected to household wiring unless a transfer switch has been installed by a licensed electrician. Use generators outdoors, away from windows.
- Put together an emergency kit. Include flashlights with extra batteries, a radio, nonperishable food, water and first-aid supplies.
- Talk to your medical provider about a plan for devices powered by electricity and critical medicines that require refrigeration.
- Keep mobile phones and other electric equipment charged, and gas tanks full ahead of a storm.
- Monitor weather reports.
- During an outage, disconnect appliances and electronics. Power may return with momentary surges or spikes that can cause damage.
- Keep freezers and refrigerators closed. The refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours. A full freezer will keep the temperature for about 48 hours.
- Do not use a gas stove to heat your home. Go to a community location with power if necessary.
- Check on your neighbors. Older adults and young children are especially vulnerable to extreme temperatures.
- After an outage, throw away any food that has been exposed to temperatures 40 degrees or higher for two hours or more, or that has an unusual odor, color or texture. If power is out for more than a day, discard medication that should be refrigerated, unless advised otherwise by a medical professional.