A severe thunderstorm threatens a city with lightning, heavy rain, and strong, gusty winds. Photo by Bogdan Radu
Winter Lingers into March and April as Spring Storms Bring Familiar Hazards
March 1st marks the start of Meteorological Spring. Depending on where you live, that probably means winter is on the way out, or at least, nearing its end. That doesn’t mean winter weather is over for the year. Some places could see another month or more of snow, ice, and freezing temperatures. March 20th, the start of Astronomical Spring, is a little closer to spring weather for folks up north.
Spring is a season of change for most of the country. As the weather warms, the snowstorms have wetter, heavier snow. Freezing temperatures coupled with mist, rain, or a wintry mix coats trees and burdens power lines with ice. Heavy rains with thunderstorms become more likely and the hazards that go with them are different.
A blizzard or two is still possible in the mountains and northern states. Watch for tornadoes that accompany severe thunderstorms. Heavy rain, especially coupled with snow on the ground, causes rivers and streams to flood. Warmer weather opens beaches and makes parks accessible to everyone.
And as always, have your emergency preparedness plans and kits ready for action. Being prepared ahead of time means you won’t forget anything important. Checklists keep you focused and ease worry.
Each year, more deaths occur because of flooding than any other storm related hazard. Extended periods of rainfall, or the combination of moderate to heavy rain and melting snow, causes rivers, streams, and lakes to rise. Snow melt with rain can also cause floods away from waterways. Ice jams occur during spring breakup. Large chunks of ice create a dam as the ice piles up. The water level can rise several feet in just a few minutes and spill onto roads.
Water on a road can hide other hazards, including a washed-out roadbed and a water depth much deeper than it appears. It doesn’t take a lot of water to stall a car. Moving water can push a car off the road or sweep it downstream. Car occupants can drown when moving water fills a car and they cannot exit.
Never drive through a flooded roadway. Do not pass by barricades. The National Weather Service campaign slogan “Turn Around Don’t Drown” applies. Never drive through flood water on a roadway. Unless you are in imminent danger of drowning, don’t exit a vehicle and enter moving water.
Thunderstorms are relatively short weather disturbances associated with lightning, thunder, heavy rain that might include hail, strong gusty winds, and dense clouds. Thunderstorm can also bring the unstable weather patterns associated with tornadoes.
Lightning, strong winds, and heavy rain are the major hazards associated with thunderstorms. Every home and family should designate a safe place to go during a powerful storm. Basements are usually the best places. Interior rooms without windows make better shelters than rooms with windows.
It’s a good idea to shelter during a strong thunderstorm. Heavy rain can loosen the soil and allow the gusty winds to topple trees, including those near houses.
Move indoors when a thunderstorm approaches to avoid lightning, even if you can’t see the storm. Although the storm clouds may appear far away, they are closer than they appear. If you can see lightning from a cloud, you are too close. Lightning can reach out over thirty miles from a storm out of sight over the horizon as a “bolt from the blue” and strike from a clear sky.
Even if tornadoes are uncommon in your region, they can form in any state over any terrain at any time of year. The cyclones usually form out of strong thunderstorms. The rotating column of air can reach speeds that exceed 200 miles per hour to flip cars and destroy buildings.
It is important to understand the alerts from local and national weather services, or a NOAA Weather Radio.
Tornado Watch: The right conditions exist for a tornado to form during the watch period. Monitor local weather agencies. Be prepared to move to your shelter.
Tornado Warning: A tornado has formed and could move in your direction. Take shelter immediately and stay put until authorities give the all clear.
The flying debris from a tornado is deadly. Small objects turn into missiles. Large objects fly with surprising speed in unpredictable directions. A piece of lumber can impale a person. A sheet of metal or sheet of plywood turns into a knife. Stay away from windows, doors, and outside walls.
Viral videos of people taking shelter under an overpass have given the impression that bridges make good shelters. In fact, the narrow space under a bridge increases wind speed and funnels debris through the small space. Those taking shelter under the bridge can be pulled out and into the storm. You are safer lying in a low, flat location.
Ideally, your tornado shelter is a steel or concrete structure protected on all sides and on top. Lacking a purpose-built shelter, a basement is the next best place. Interior rooms without windows are the next choice.
Stock your tornado shelter with like non-perishable food, water, hygiene products, medical supplies and medication, flashlights, batteries, and first aid kits. Take your NOAA radio into the shelter for up-to-the minute information. Battery operation or backup is a must-have feature, and AM or FM are handy for additional information.
After a long winter of cold, warm weather is a welcome change. However, a spring heat wave can bring on deadly illness after a short period of exposure.
Young children and infants are at risk because their bodies cannot adapt to the heat as easily as adults. Heat can cause older adults with preexisting conditions or those who take certain medications can to have heat-related illness. People with medical conditions are more likely to have health problems related to heat. Pregnant women are also at a greater risk for issues like preterm birth, infant mortality, and low birth weight.
Never leave a child, disabled person, or pet locked in a car. Twenty-five children died in hot cars during 2020. The hazard begins in April and continues through December. Cars become death traps in the sun and heat. At 90 degrees outside, the inside of a car can reach 140 in a short period—hotter than anyplace on earth.
Tropical cyclones form at any time of the year from winter through fall, including the early spring months of March and April. As the hurricane season approaches, early tropical storms often form in May. While most of these storms don’t intensify to hurricane strength, they can cause damage if they come ashore.
Storms that steer away from land can still affect the coast with high seas and dangerous rip currents. Rip currents can pull a swimmer away from the beach and into deep water. Attempting to swim against the current exhausts the swimmer and they may drown. If caught in a rip current, swim parallel to the shore until you escape the current, then swim to shore.
With a high probability for an above average 2022 Atlantic Hurricane Season, expect the season to start early.
Prepare for a Hurricane before the season starts. When it comes to emergency power, generator manufacturers continue to struggle with high demand. Order your generator early. Standby generators can start and run in a hurricane and keep the power on for days or weeks if necessary. Portable generators are an economical choice but lack the capability for automatic starts and stops.
Hurricane Preparedness takes time and planning. Do it now before the season starts.