Tornadoes can strike at anytime, including while you are driving. Here are some tips from the NWS on how to survive a twister if you encounter one while on the road. Stay Safe!
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Summer Safety: What is a Rip Current and Why is it Dangerous?
Summer vacation season is in full swing across the US. As millions of people head to beaches to have fun and beat the heat, it is important to remember that the ocean is a dynamic environment that can pose a number of hazards for swimmers. Chief among these are rip currents.
Rip currents are fast, localized channels of water moving away from the shoreline. According to NOAA, they are a result of “complex interactions between waves, currents, water levels, and nearshore bathymetry.” They can form in several different ways on any beach with breaking waves. That said, they are typically found at breaks in sandbars and along permanent structures that extend out into the water such as jetties or piers.
Moving at speeds up to 8 feet per second – which is faster than an Olympic swimmer – rip currents can easily drag unsuspecting swimmers hundreds of yards out to sea. While they will not pull anyone underwater, they can cause fatigue and panic. According to the U.S. Lifesaving Association, rip currents are responsible for 80% of all surf zone rescues. Nationally, they cause more than one hundred deaths every year.
To spot a rip current, look for a gap in the breaking waves. This is where the water is forcing its way back out to sea. The area also usually appears murky and darker than the surrounding water. On guarded beaches, red flags often indicate hazardous conditions for swimmers.
If caught in a rip current, the Red Cross recommends not trying to swim against it. Instead, they say to swim parallel to the shoreline until you are out of the current. Once free, you can start swimming back toward the beach.
For more information on beach safety, visit: http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/water-safety/beach-safety
Weather Lingo: A 500-Year Flood
Flooding rain events are becoming more common in many parts of the United States. But, the terms used to describe some of them, such as “100-year flood” or “500-year flood”, can be misleading.
While these phrases can make it sound like the flooding is cyclical, only happening once every 100 or 500 years, it is not. Storms are not on a schedule. Rather, these terms refer to statistical probabilities. For example, the “100-year flood” means there is a 1% chance of a flood of that magnitude happening in any given year in a given location. For the 500-year flood, the probability is 0.2%.
Given the right conditions, it is possible to see multiple 100-year or 500-year flood events in a relatively short period of time. Ellicott City, MD, for example, recently saw two 1000-year flood events only two years apart. For more information, watch the video below from the NWS.
Names for the 2019 Atlantic Hurricane Season
Today is the first day of the 2019 Atlantic Hurricane Season. Although one named storm, Andrea, already formed, the season officially runs from June 1 to November 30.
Since 1950, each tropical storm or hurricane to form in the Atlantic has been given a unique name. They come from a set of six rotating lists produced by the World Meteorological Organization. A name is retired only when a storm was particularly noteworthy – causing a large number of fatalities or an extraordinary amount of damage.
Some notable retired names include: Harvey, Irma, Katrina, Maria, Michael, and Sandy. The names for this year’s storms are listed below.
The 2019 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook
The number of hurricanes that develop in the Atlantic basin varies from year to year. For 2019, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a near average season.
Tropical cyclones, known as hurricanes in the United States, develop around the globe at different times of the year. In this country, we are most impacted by the Atlantic hurricane season, which affects the North Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico. It runs from June 1 through November 30.
Overall, NOAA predicts a 70% likelihood of nine to fifteen named storms forming this season, of which four to eight could become hurricanes, including two to four major hurricanes. An average season produces twelve named storms, including six hurricanes and three that become major hurricanes.
A major hurricane is one that is rated category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson scale.
This year’s outlook, according to NOAA, reflects several competing factors. On one side, there are above average sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic to fuel any storms that develop. Additionally, there is an enhanced west African monsoon in place that can initiate disturbances that turn into storms over the Atlantic. On the other hand, there is an ongoing El Niño event. El Niño conditions in the Pacific tend to cause increased wind shear in the Atlantic, which suppresses tropical development in that basin.
Last year, 2018, saw a very destructive hurricane season in the Atlantic. It produced fifteen named storms, including, Florence and Michael.
Regardless of the number of storms that actually form this year, it is important to remember that it only takes one land-falling system to make it an impactful season.
Weather Safety: Flooding and the Power of Water
It is no secret that heavy rain can cause flooding. However, it can be surprising to learn how little water is required to create significant impacts.
As anyone who carries a water bottle knows, water is heavy. In fact, just one cubic foot of fresh water weighs 62.4lbs (28.3kg). Multiplied many times over, raging floodwater can carry away or destroy most things in its path. Moving at just 4-mph, water has enough force to cause structural damage to an average home.
Flowing floodwaters can also pose a danger when hiking or driving. According to NOAA, it only takes six inches of fast moving water to knock a person off their feet. Twelve inches of water can sweep a small car off the road and eighteen to twenty-four inches can float most large vans and SUVs.
Since it is impossible to know how deep water is just by looking at it, it is best to err on the side of caution. As the saying goes, “Turn around, don’t drown!”
Extremely Cold Weather Can Be A Danger to Your Health
An arctic blast is expected to sweep across the northeastern United States this week. With temperatures expected to fall into the single digits, it is important to remember that, like extreme heat, extreme cold can be very dangerous.
Extreme cold causes the body to lose heat faster than it can be generated. Prolonged exposure, according to the CDC, can cause serious health problems, including hypothermia and frostbite.
Hypothermia is a condition of unusually low body temperature – generally below 95°F. It impairs brain functions, limiting a victim’s ability to think and move. Symptoms include severe shivering, drowsiness, confusion, slurred speech, and fumbling. If left untreated, it can be fatal.
Frostbite is a localized injury to the skin and underlying tissues caused by freezing. It can cause permanent damage and extreme cases often require amputation. Areas of the body most often affected include the nose, ears, cheeks, fingers, and toes. Signs of frostbite include, numbness, skin discoloration (white or greyish-yellow), and unusually firm or waxy feeling skin.
While the symptoms of both hypothermia and frostbite can range in severity, victims generally require immediate re-warming and professional medical attention.
To stay safe in cold weather, the American Red Cross recommends:
- Avoid prolonged exposure to extremely low temperatures
- Wear layers of clothing to keep warm
- Use hats and gloves to minimize the loss of body heat
There is No Such Thing as Bad Weather, Only Bad Clothing Choices
There is an old Scandinavian saying: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing choices.” While it can be applied to any season, it seems most relevant in winter.
Since the weather is going to do whatever it is going to do, it is important to be prepared for anything that Mother Nature throws your way. In winter, that means cold temperatures.
Extreme cold causes the body to lose heat faster than it can be generated. Prolonged exposure, according to the CDC, can cause serious health problems such as hypothermia and frostbite.
To stay safe this winter, remember to bundle up in layers and wear hats and gloves to minimize the loss of body heat.
The Deadly Danger of Lightning
Thunderstorms are impressive displays of the power of nature. However, they are also extremely dangerous.
On average, according to NOAA, lightning claims the lives of 47 people every year in the US and seriously injures hundreds more. To date in 2018, lightning has killed 16 people across eight states. The most recent victim was struck this Saturday at Sunken Meadows State Park on Long Island, NY. Local officials say the man was sheltering under a tree during an early evening storm.
Lightning comes in variety of forms, but the cloud to ground variety is the most threatening to people. A typical bolt carries a current of about 300 million volts and can heat the air around it to 50,000°F. That is five times hotter than the surface of the sun.
This type of lightning, NOAA says, strikes the US about 25 million times a year. However, 70% of lightning fatalities occur during the summer months. The season marks not only the peak of thunderstorm activity in the US, but also the time of year when people spend more time outdoors.
According to a NWS report on lightning deaths in the US from 2006 to 2017, the vast majority of victims were men engaged in an outdoor leisure activity. Listing a variety of different pastimes at the time they were struck, fishing topped the list as the most deadly. It accounted for nearly 10% of the lightning fatalities during that period.
To avoid becoming a statistic, follow the advice of the NWS – “When thunder roars, go indoors.”
Lightning: The Five Second Rule
As a thunderstorm moves into an area, lightning illuminates the sky followed by rumbles of thunder. Using this sequence of events and applying some simple math, you can estimate how far away the storm is.
Since lightning travels at approximately the speed of light – 186,000 miles per second – you see it almost instantly. Thunder, on the other hand, travels at the speed of sound – about one mile in five seconds. These different rates of travel allow you to estimate the distance between yourself and the lightning.
To do this, count the seconds between seeing the flash of lightning and hearing the clap of thunder. Divide that number by five and you will know how far away the lightning is. For example, if you count fifteen seconds between seeing lightning and hearing thunder, the lightning is about three miles away.
But, remember, if you can hear thunder, lightning is close enough to strike. So, as NOAA recommends, “When thunder roars, go indoors.”