Sunny days can turn stormy at the drop of a hat. Wind, rain, and snow can cause serious damage, and in the most extreme cases, can even be life threatening. Make sure you’re ready for the worst, if it happens, by following these tips to prepare for severe weather.
Create a Plan
Before you start buying supplies or updating your home and property, sit down and make a list of the weather likely to affect your community. Once you know what you’re up against, you can work out the steps necessary to protect yourself and your family.
Ice storms occur when snow falls through a layer of warm air before passing through a layer of freezing air along the ground, coating everything in ice. Though ice storms aren’t generally violent, their effects can be devastating. Even a small amount of freezing rain is enough to topple trees and knock out power for several days.
Minimize damage by cutting back trees around your property. During an ice storm, overhanging branches are likely to break off and crush anything beneath them. To prevent ice from seeping into your house, seal doors and windows with weatherstripping and caulk.
Burst pipes are another potential danger, so make sure yours are fully winterized. Wrap them in heating tape, fiberglass insulation, or foam rubber sleeves. Drafts, especially in colder parts of the house, like the attic or basement, should be sealed as well.
Ice storms turn steps, sidewalks, and walkways into fall hazards. Prevent them from icing over by sprinkling them with a layer of rock salt before the storm arrives. If you own a garden, cover your plants with blankets, tarps, or foam insulators to prevent their roots from freezing.
Roads are particularly dangerous both during and after an ice storm. If you have to drive, make sure your car is fully equipped with:
- A windshield scraper
- Tire chains
- Tow chains
- Road salt
- Sand (for tire traction)
- Jumper cables
- Emergency flares
- Emergency reflectors
Excessive rain leads to flooding. If you live in a flood zone, make sure your family knows the fastest route to higher ground. Agree on a rendezvous point where you can meet. Also be sure everyone understands the basic guidelines for navigating a flood:
- Don’t drive, swim, or walk through flood waters.
- Never drive around barricades.
- Stay inside your car if it’s trapped by rising waters.
- Avoid bridges over fast moving water.
- If trapped inside a building, climb to the highest level.
To minimize damage to your home, elevate and anchor critical utilities, such as electrical panels, propane tanks, furnaces, and air conditioners. Install a sump pump. Waterproof the walls with epoxy or polyurethane. Store valuables in the attic or on the second floor. Finally, clean your gutters, to prevent water from dribbling down and accumulating around the base of your home.
Snow storms can leave you without power for days on end, out of reach of emergency services. If you live in a cold climate, make sure you have an alternate way of heating your home, such as a fireplace or propane heater. Storms can sometimes move in with little warning, so purchase fuel before the start of snow season. Otherwise, during an emergency, sufficient supplies may not be available.
To minimize the danger of frostbite and hypothermia, stock up on blankets and warm clothing. Every family member needs at least one blanket and a complete set of winter clothes. Choose a back-up location in case your home becomes too cold, such as a neighbor’s house or public library, anyplace you can go to get warm.
Designate one room in your house as a storm shelter. Basements or storm cellars are ideal, but if you don’t have one, anyplace on the ground floor with no windows will do. Be certain everyone in your family knows the signs a tornado’s approaching:
- Funnel-shaped cloud
- Dark, low-lying clouds
- Dark or green-colored sky
- Approaching cloud or debris
- Roaring noise in the distance
- Large hail
Also familiarize them with your city’s tornado warning system, so they know when to take shelter. Choose a rendezvous point, either your home or a nearby community center, where you can regroup after the storm has passed. Parents should ask about dismissal policies for schools in their area, so they know when and where to pick up their children during (or after) a tornado warning.
Gather up any debris in your yard, including branches and twigs. High winds can turn loose objects into missiles. Lawn chairs, propane tanks, barbeques, gardening tools, flower pots, and other belongings should be gathered up as well and brought inside. Cover your windows with storm shutters or plywood.
Locate your main breaker, so you can cut power if you see flooding and downed power lines near your house. Research shelters in your area, in case you’re told to evacuate. Finally, familiarize yourself with the difference between a hurricane watch and hurricane warning.
- Hurricane Watch. The National Weather Service issues a hurricane watch when hurricane conditions (winds of over 74 miles per hour) may occur within 48 hours.
- Hurricane Warning. Issued when hurricane winds will arrive within 36 hours. Knowing the difference will tell you how you ought to prepare.
Assemble an Emergency Kit
In addition to disrupting basic services such as water and power, natural disasters also affect roads, bridges, and stores, stranding people in their homes. In some instances, they may have to survive for up to a week before emergency crews can clear the roads and reconnect their utilities. To survive a severe weather disaster, you’ll need enough supplies to sustain you and your family for several days, until power comes back online and stores reopen. Exactly what you’ll need depends on circumstances, but a basic emergency kit should contain:
- Extra batteries
- Hand-cranked or battery-powered radio
- Can opener
- First aid kit
- Moist towelettes
- Cell phone
- Portable phone charger
- Up to $1,000 in cash
- Duct tape
- Plastic tarps or sheeting
- Wrench and pliers (to open and close gas and water mains)
- Neighborhood maps
- Plastic garbage bags
Every emergency kit should also contain water, one gallon per person per day, as well as plenty of non-perishable food. You’ll need roughly 2,000 calories for women, 2,400 for men, and 1,000-2,000 for children, depending on their age. Foods high in fiber and protein provide the most nutrition. You may also want to include a portable stove, especially if you’re preparing for a blizzard. Warm food is a great way to fight the cold. Just make sure you have a safe space to cook outside. Lighting up a stove indoors can be dangerous and lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Practice Your Emergency Plan
No plan is complete until it’s been tested. There’s rarely a moment to think during a crisis, so prepare for severe weather by running an emergency drill, to check whether everyone in your family knows where they’re supposed to go and what they’re supposed to do. If there’s a chance you’ll have to evacuate the neighborhood, practice loading your car with emergency supplies.
If you have small children or elderly family members, designate someone responsible to help them evacuate safely and run a drill to get them used to working together. Don’t run the same scenario every time either. Throw in an obstacle to test their readiness. What should your family do if the front door is blocked or the hallway is filled with smoke? Hold drills every three to six months, covering each type of disaster you may experience. The more prepared you are, the less danger you’ll be in.
Stay Prepared with Agway
Both time and severe weather can damage your house. But while home insurance protects you from natural disasters, Agway provides repair protection when your home systems fail to work. Our EnergyGuardTM Program covers your heating, cooling, and electrical systems*.
Once you’ve alerted us to the problem, we send a repairman to your home as quickly as possible. There are no service fees or deductibles. We pay for the cost of the visit and all covered parts. Contact us today to sign up and enjoy the benefits of EnergyGuardTM!
*Coverage depends on which commodity you purchase.