Severe Weather Awareness

With record-breaking warm weather during February, it certainly appears that Punxsutawney Phil failed with his prognosticating duties this year. However, weather being what it is in Kentucky, things can change at any minute.

For that reason, and because of our state’s history with storms around this time of year, the first week of March was proclaimed as Severe Weather Awareness Week. Therefore, we would do well to use this opportunity to review some important points that deal with severe weather.

First, learn the signs and be aware of approaching thunderstorms or tornados. These include dark, threatening clouds, lightning and thunder, large hail, and loud roaring sounds. Increase your awareness of imminent dangerous weather with a NOAA Weather Radio, local TV stations, or by going online to www.weather.gov. Many smart phone apps are available that sound alarms and send text messages warning of impending storms.

However, information is useless, unless we understand some basic terminology that is frequently confused, such as "watches” and "warnings.” A "watch” simply means "watch out,” conditions are favorable for the weather hazard to develop. Continued monitoring is necessary to determine if and when the conditions get worse. (It does not mean, as one misguided family member insists, to go out on your porch and watch the storm develop.)

A "warning” indicates that dangerous weather is either occurring or about to occur, and it is time to take immediate action. That is, grab the emergency kit and head to safety.

This then, brings up two concerns that should be addressed before a "watch” is even issued. An emergency kit should be pre-assembled and ready to grab at a moment’s notice. At a minimum, the kit should contain flashlights, weather radio, fresh batteries, first aid kit, food, water, and necessary medicines. Extra clothes and blankets for each person would also be preferable. And do not forget the essentials for your pets, including food, water, leashes and pet carriers.

The second concern is identifying a safe indoor shelter, especially with the threat of a tornado. A good rule of thumb is to put as many walls and floors between you and the tornado as possible! Get to an interior room on the lowest floor possible and avoid rooms with windows. If you are in a mobile home, get out and go to a nearby permanent structure.

If caught in a vehicle when there are extreme winds or flying debris, park as quickly and safely as possible – out of the lanes of traffic. Stay in the car with your seatbelt on and put your head down below the windows. Cover your head with your hands, coat, or some other cushioning material. Keep a distance from high profile vehicles such as trucks, buses and vehicles towing trailers. One strong gust of wind can be enough to flip one of these onto its side. If you can safely get to an area noticeably lower than the road, leave your car and lie in that area. Do not seek shelter under bridges.

If you are caught in the open outdoors, and cannot get to a sturdy structure, when there is an approaching tornado, lie flat and face-down on low ground, covering the back of your head with your arms. Get as far away from trees and cars as possible.

After the storms, remain calm and alert, waiting indoors at least 30 minutes, and listen for instructions from authorities by way of radio or TV. Check for any damages and injuries, rendering help and first aid to those in need. Avoid storm damaged areas. And do not use matches or lighters since there may be gas leaks in the area.

Those who remember the 2012 West Liberty tornado storms, will also remember that several inches of snow fell afterward. Therefore, recognize that the potential threat of winter weather still exists.

Since 70% of injuries due to ice and snow are the result of vehicle accidents, drivers must decrease their speed, being alert to the actions of other drivers, and to the unforeseen dangers of black ice.

Your ability to control your vehicle on any slippery surface is enhanced if you have an anti-lock braking system (ABS), standard on most all cars since 2012. Simply put, it prevents the tires from locking-up and skidding. To engage the ABS, many drivers do not realize that you must apply a hard-steady force to the brake pedal. However, for those cars without ABS, the old-school suggestion to "pump” the brake pedal does about the same thing as the ABS, but just not as fast or effectively.

However, nothing is as effective as staying off the road unless absolutely necessary. When necessity does dictate otherwise, drive slowly. Remember, everything takes longer on slippery roads, whether icy or just wet. Therefore, drivers should increase their following distances by 8-10 seconds.

Other precautions for driving in wintry weather include scraping or defrosting all windows and external mirrors before pulling out. And also, driving with your lights on low beam allows you to be seen by other drivers even if you don’t need them to see the road.

No matter what the weather condition (rain, sleet, snow, fog, or night), your safety depends upon others being able to see you at all times.

If you have any questions regarding this information, you may contact Jim Cowan, Clark County Health Department, at 385-4453, or by email at jamesm.cowan@ky.gov.