Storm season in Northeast Ohio: Powerful storm teaches lesson in preparedness

By Ryan Lang, American Red Cross volunteer

“The sky would get this grayish, purplish tint to it… And that’s when I’d go out to the front porch to watch the storm.”

That’s how Meghan Fiorina recalled storm season growing up in Northeast Ohio. That distinct smell that came with a rainstorm. The lingering feeling after the clouds rolled through. Soggy lawns. Downed branches. And sometimes worse.

Ryan Lang and Meghan Lang Fiorina

Full disclosure: Meghan is my sister, and as I started writing this story I called her to see if she remembered that one storm. The storm that took down one of those two massive trees in our backyard that then came crashing down right on top of our back porch. It was an unstoppable force that took out what we thought was an immovable object, and we watched it happen from the back family room of our home.

We were scared, but more in awe than anything else. As young children we hadn’t seen anything quite like it. Our grandfather, who was with us at the time, had some experience with Ohio storms and how quickly they can escalate, and he kept us safe. That day was an important lesson on taking inclement weather seriously, but also a lesson in preparedness.

Now, as an American Red Cross volunteer, I’m even more aware of just how prepared I should be for myself and for my family once storm season rolls around.

Photo credit: Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross volunteer

First, knowing the difference between a storm watch and a storm warning is key. A watch essentially means that there is a good possibility of a storm near the area the
alert is being broadcast. A warning, however, means that a storm has been spotted, by either radar or storm spotters, and is on the way. In the case of a warning, it’s time to take action to ensure your safety.

With storms often comes the possibility of flooding, especially in low-lying areas or areas near other bodies of water like creeks, rivers and more. Floods are the most frequent and the most costly natural disasters, as there are a number of things that can cause flooding. In terms of warnings, the same standard applies: a watch means the possibility of flooding exists, while a warning means flash flooding is happening nearby and you should proceed with extreme caution.

Power outages are another residual effect of strong storms. Knowing how to navigate through an outage both inside and outside your home, is crucial information. Have a flashlight and extra batteries, extra cell phone chargers that are fully charged, and more. These small steps can come up big in the event your power is out.

Tornadoes are another very real threat in Ohio. While they are less likely to occur in the Buckeye State than in other parts of the country, it is still very important to be prepared in case the threat of a tornado is imminent. The best way to prepare for a tornado is to have a predetermined safe place inside your home, preferably the basement or an interior room with no windows and thick walls.

Again, while they happen less in Ohio (the state typically sees around 19 tornadoes, on average, per year), forecasters with the National Weather Service are actually calling for a busier-than-normal tornado season in Ohio this year.

In the case of any storm or natural disaster event, it is important to have every tool at your disposal to keep you and your family safe. Download the Red Cross Emergency App FREE from your app store today.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

Be Prepared for Spring Weather

Thunderstorms, Tornadoes, Flooding All Threats

Spring can be a time for devastating weather. It is the peak time of year for tornadoes, flooding, thunderstorms and other severe weather.

The American Red Cross wants everyone to know what steps they can take to stay safe if dangerous weather is predicted for their community.

Prepare

  • Get a Kit. Make a Plan. Be informed.  See the Be Red Cross Ready Checklist
  • If you or a member of your household is an individual with access or functional needs, including a disability, consider developing a comprehensive evacuation plan in advance with family, care providers and care attendants, as appropriate. Complete a personal assessment of functional abilities and possible needs during and after an emergency or disaster situation, and create a personal support network to assist.

Tornado Safety

Southern Tornadoes and Storms 2017

Tornado devastation in Albany, Georgia, January 2017. Photo credit: Daniel Cima for the American Red Cross

Spring can be the peak season for tornado activity. Tornadoes occur mostly on warm spring days between 3:00 and 9:00 p.m. However, tornadoes can occur anywhere, at any time of the year, at any time of the day. The Red Cross has safety steps people should take now to be ready if a tornado warning is issued for someone’s neighborhood:

What should I do to prepare for a tornado?

  • Know the Difference
    • Tornado Watch – Tornadoes are possible in and near the watch area. Review and discuss your emergency plans, and check supplies and your safe room. Be ready to act quickly if a warning is issued or you suspect a tornado is approaching. Acting early helps to save lives!
    • Tornado Warning – A tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. Tornado warnings indicate imminent danger to life and property. Go immediately underground to a basement, storm cellar or an interior room (closet, hallway or bathroom).
  • During any storm, listen to local news or a NOAA Weather Radio to stay informed about tornado watches and warnings.
  • Know your community’s warning system. Communities have different ways of warning residents about tornadoes, with many having sirens intended for outdoor warning purposes.
  • Pick a safe room in your home where household members and pets may gather during a tornado. This should be a basement, storm cellar or an interior room on the lowest floor with no windows.
  • Practice periodic tornado drills so that everyone knows what to do if a tornado is approaching.
  • Consider having your safe room reinforced. Plans for reinforcing an interior room to provide better protection can be found on the FEMA web site
  • Prepare for high winds by removing diseased and damaged limbs from trees.
  • Move or secure lawn furniture, trash cans, hanging plants or anything else that can be picked up by the wind and become a projectile.
  • Watch for tornado danger signs:
    • Dark, often greenish clouds – a phenomenon caused by hail
    • Wall cloud – an isolated lowering of the base of a thunderstorm
    • Cloud of debris
    • Large hail
    • Funnel cloud – a visible rotating extension of the cloud base
    • Roaring noise

What to Do During a Tornado

  • The safest place to be is an underground shelter, basement or safe room.
  • If no underground shelter or safe room is available, a small, windowless interior room or hallway on the lowest level of a sturdy building is the safest alternative.
    • Mobile homes are not safe during tornadoes or other severe winds.
    • Do not seek shelter in a hallway or bathroom of a mobile home.
    • If you have access to a sturdy shelter or a vehicle, abandon your mobile home immediately.
    • Go to the nearest sturdy building or shelter immediately, using your seat belt if driving.
    • Do not wait until you see the tornado.
  • If you are caught outdoors, seek shelter in a basement, shelter or sturdy building. If you cannot quickly walk to a shelter:
    • Immediately get into a vehicle and try to drive to the closest sturdy shelter. Remember to buckle your seat belt and drive at right angles to the storm movement to get out of its path.
    • Stay away from bridge/highway overpasses.
    • If strong winds and flying debris occurs while driving, pull over and park, keeping your seat belt on and engine running. Put your head down below the windows, covering your head with your hands and a blanket (if available).

Thunderstorm Safety

Icon Disaster

Thunderstorms are most likely to happen in the spring and summer, during the afternoon and evening. However, like tornadoes, they can happen anywhere, at any hour of the day. A thunderstorm is considered severe if it produces hail at least 1 inch in diameter or has wind gusts of at least 58 miles per hour. Every thunderstorm produces lightning, which kills more people each year than tornadoes or hurricanes. Heavy rain from thunderstorms can cause flash flooding and high winds can damage homes and blow down trees and utility poles, causing widespread power outages. The Red Cross has steps you can take if a severe thunderstorm is predicted for your area:

  • Listen to local news or NOAA Weather Radio for emergency updates. Watch for signs of a storm, like darkening skies, lightning flashes or increasing wind.
  • Postpone outdoor activities if thunderstorms are likely to occur. Many people struck by lightning are not in the area where rain is occurring.
  • If a severe thunderstorm warning is issued, take shelter in a substantial building or in a vehicle with the windows closed. Get out of mobile homes that can blow over in high winds.
  • If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be in danger from lightning. If thunder roars, go indoors! The National Weather Service recommends staying inside for at least 30 minutes after the last thunder clap.
  • Avoid electrical equipment and telephones. Use battery-powered TVs and radios instead.
  • Shutter windows and close outside doors securely. Keep away from windows.
  • Do not take a bath or shower or use plumbing.
  • If you are driving, try to safely exit the roadway and park. Stay in the vehicle and turn on the emergency flashers until the heavy rain ends. Avoid touching metal or other surfaces that conduct electricity in and outside the vehicle.
  • If you are outside and cannot reach a safe building, avoid high ground, water, tall, isolated trees, and metal objects, such as fences or bleachers. Picnic shelters, dugouts, and sheds are NOT safe.

Flood Safety

dsc_6818

Spring can be a time of year for flooding. Floods are among the most frequent and costly natural disasters. Conditions that cause floods include heavy or steady rain for several hours or days that saturates the ground. Flash floods occur suddenly due to rapidly rising water along a stream or low-lying area. People should be prepared to evacuate at a moment’s notice and head for higher ground when a flood or flash flood warning is issued. Other safety steps include:

  • Listen to area radio and television stations and a NOAA Weather Radio for possible flood warnings and reports of flooding in progress or other critical information from the National Weather Service (NWS).
  • Be prepared to evacuate at a moment’s notice.
  • When a flood or flash flood warning is issued for your area, head for higher ground and stay there.
  • Turn Around, Don’t Drown! Stay away from floodwaters. Just 6 inches of moving water can knock you down, and less than 2 feet of water can sweep your vehicle away.
    • If you come upon a flowing stream where water is above your ankles, stop, turn around and go another way. Six inches of swiftly moving water can sweep you off of your feet.
    • If you come upon a flooded road while driving, turn around and go another way. If you are caught on a flooded road and waters are rising rapidly around you, get out of the car quickly and move to higher ground. Most cars can be swept away by less than two feet of moving water.
  • Keep children out of the water. They are curious and often lack judgment about running water or contaminated water.
  • Be especially cautious at night when it is harder to recognize flood danger.