by Kate Evans
Late summer and fall bring cooler weather and a colorful array of autumn leaves, but it can also bring severe thunderstorms, deadly tornadoes and dangerous hurricanes.
Hurricanes, tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and extremely high winds can knock out power, air conditioning and heating and communications to homes and businesses for days.
These kinds of events can leave residents wondering how to prepare. Public safety officials say it’s smart to have two weeks of supplies on hand if you need to shelter in place in the aftermath of a hurricane or tornado. And to be prepared to evacuate if necessary.
NOAA predicts “above normal” season
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) just increased its prediction of the likelihood of an above normal hurricane season this year to 60% in its August 10 update.
NOAA’s update to the 2023 hurricane season calls for 14-21 named storms (winds of 39 miles per hour (mph) or higher), of which 611 storms could become hurricanes (winds 74 mph or greater). Of those hurricanes, 2-5 of them could become major hurricanes with winds 110 mph or more.
The NOAA update includes storms that have already formed this season. The Atlantic basin has had five tropical storms so far, including one hurricane.
NOAA officials are urging everyone to prepare for the continuing hurricane season, which runs from June 1-November 30
Hurricanes can cause devastating property damage from rain, storm surges, high winds, accompanying tornadoes and flooding along with substantial loss of life.
Coastal regions and areas far inland from where a hurricane or tropical storm makes landfall can receive major damage. Hurricane winds can reach 200 miles an hour and heavy rains can damage homes and roadways.
The National Weather Service classifies severe thunderstorms as storms that are capable of producing hail an inch in size or larger or wind gusts over 58 miles per hour. Hail that large can damage plants, roofs and vehicles. Wind of that velocity can break off large branches, knock down trees or structurally damage trees.
Storms earlier this month did drop branches and trees locally, and hail was seen in nearby counties.
Some severe thunderstorms can cause winds over 100 miles per hour or hail the size of softballs. They can also cause tornadoes, dangerous lightning and flash flooding from heavy rains.
The National Weather Service advised that people watch the skies and stay tuned to their NOAA weather radio or local TV or radio station when severe thunderstorms watches and warnings are issued.
Tornadoes can accompany severe thunderstorms. Tornadoes can produce intense winds of up to 200 miles an hour. Tornado signs are a rotating funnel cloud, an approaching cloud of debris and a roar like a freight train. Tornadoes can occur any time of the day or night or year. Tornadoes have been reported in all 50 states.
Treat severe thunderstorm warnings as if they were tornado warnings and take immediate cover and safety precautions, weather officials said.
NOAA officials noted that violent tornadoes can cross rivers of all sizes. Tornadoes have also crossed high elevations in the Appalachians, Rockies and Sierra Nevada Mountains.
What to do
The National Weather Service urges people to take shelter inside a sturdy building or shelter until the severe thunderstorm or tornado is over. This will protect you from large hail, deadly lightning, damaging winds, flooding rains and tornadoes. Usually a thunderstorm will pass your area within an hour.
Stay away from windows and doors and avoid electrical equipment and plumbing. Bring pets inside.
If you can, secure loose outside objects outdoors so they don’t become flying projectiles in high winds.
If you’re caught outdoors in a severe thunderstorm, take shelter in a sturdy enclosed building or hard top vehicle immediately. Avoid open spaces, isolated objects, high ground and metallic objects.
If a tornado is sighted, move quickly to the lowest level or basement of your home or shelter. Being in a vehicle during a tornado is not safe. Drive to the nearest shelter if you can. If you can’t make it to safe shelter, get down in your car and cover your head or leave your car and seek shelter in a low-lying area like a ditch or ravine.
If you hear thunder, lightning is close enough to strike you. Move immediately to a safe shelter. Never stand under an isolated tree or lay flat on the ground.
If indoors, avoid corded telephones, plumbing, computers and other electrical equipment that could put you in direct contact with electricity.
Get out of boats and away from lakes, ponds and bodies
of water. Immediately get off mountain ridges, hills and elevated areas.
Have a battery-powered or hand-cranked portable radio to listen for emergency broadcasts and a NOAA weather radio to stay abreast of approaching severe weather conditions. Sign up for local emergency alerts. Keep your cell phone charged.
Have a safety plan for your family for severe weather and review it periodically with family members.
Flooding, high water
Flooding from rain, hurricanes, coastal storms, storm surges and dams and water systems overflowing can also develop slowly or quickly, along with flash floods.
Never walk, swim or drive through floodwaters. Turn around-don’t drown. Just six inches of fast-moving water can knock you down and one foot of moving water can sweep your vehicle away. Avoid driving, except in emergencies.
Stay off bridges over fast-moving water. Fast-moving water can wash bridges away without warning.