A bigger killer than tornadoes

A freightened woman stands on top of her car, which has been mostlyi submerged by a flosh flood
NWS photo.

When it comes to severe weather, not much creates as much fear as a tornado. But believe it or not, flash floods kill more Americans every year than do tornadoes.

Alex Kirchner, chief meteorologist of Rockford, Ill. TV station WREX points out this fact in an excellent article on the station’s website.

Flash flooding has killed an average of 85 people a year over the last 30 years, Kirchner explains. It happens when heavy rain falls faster than the ground can absorb it and/or faster than storm drains can carry it away.

“During a flash flood, remember that flooding does not only occur near rivers. Roads and intersections can be flooded quickly with excess rainfall.”

One of the best points Kirchner makes is that flash floods do not only occur near rivers. Excess rainfall can flood roads and intersections in urban areas quickly.

More than half of all flood deaths are vehicle-related, caused by drivers trying to drive through flood waters, then getting stuck and drowning. This often happens at night, because it’s harder for drivers to see how deep water is.

The National Weather Service activates weather alert radios and wireless emergency alerts on smart phones when it issues a flash flood warning. Avoid adding to the statistics quoted above by heading those warnings and the NWS slogan, “turn around, don’t drown.”

Why they never heard a tornado siren

Tornado siren. Outdoor warning sirens are not intended to be heard indoors.
W9LW photo

People often complain after tornado warnings that they never heard a siren. These people need to stop living in the 1950s and learn that “tornado sirens” aren’t meant to be heard indoors! Additionally, few (if any) jurisdictions have enough sirens to be audible throughout their areas, even outdoors.

“The idea that outdoor warning sirens are meant to alert people indoors is one of the dangerous tornado myths.”

The “Northwest Herald” of the northeastern Illinois city of Crystal Lake recently covered this matter after the National Weather Service issued a couple tornado warnings for its area.

The “Herald” correctly advised its readers that “the idea that outdoor warning sirens are meant to alert people indoors is one of the dangerous tornado myths.”

Let’s hope the people of Crystal Lake and elsewhere follow the article’s advice, stop foolishly relying on outdoor warning sirens and instead enter the 21st century by using weather alert radios and other modern, reliable warning technologies.

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The smoke detector of severe weather

Clip art of a tornado and smoke detector

NOAA weather radio receivers are the smoke detectors of severe weather. Just as every place (especially every home) needs a smoke detector (many jurisdictions now require them), every place needs a radio that will alert occupants to severe weather in their vicinity.

Dennis Mersereau's profile picture

I’ve previously used this blog to advocate the installation and use of weather radios. One of my favorite weather bloggers, Dennis Mersereau, recently used his blog to do the same. The smoke detector analogy is his, and it’s a good one.

Don’t sleep through a tornado warning!

Mersereau is also correct when he writes, “the best argument for a weather radio is that it will help protect you while you’re asleep. ” I made the same point several weeks ago during an interview with a local television station. Weather radios will reliably assure that you’re warned of dangerous weather anytime, day or night, whether you’re awake or asleep, just as a smoke detector will warn you of fire.

“The best argument for a weather radio is that it will help protect you while you’re asleep.”

One of the unfortunate things about weather radios, however, is that unlike a smoke detector, you can easily turn off a radio. My first weather alert radio would remain silent until the National Weather Service sent a warning tone, then it would scream with a siren noise.  Because a single weather radio transmitter usually covers several counties (parishes). my radio would often scream about weather that would never affect my home. The temptation to turn it off was great. I’ve learned that many people did just that.

Modern radios use a technology called Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME). It’s a system that allows weather radios to remain silent until a warning is issued for your own county. This means there’s never any reason to turn off the radio.

My smartphone won’t wake me

Mersereau points out that people who have weather alert smartphone apps often believe they don’t need a weather radio. I have both. The “Weather Radio by WDT” app on my iPhone usually sounds off at about the same time my weather radio does.

But there’s a problem. I have my phone set to go to “do not disturb” mode every night at bedtime. This keeps it from waking me with text messages or phone calls while I’m sleeping (except for calls from a few important people in my “24/7” list). The weather radio app does not override the “do not disturb” setting, so unless I remember to disable “do not disturb” when I go to bed (e.g. because severe weather is in the night’s forecast), the app will not wake me with a weather warning. I’ve heard that this disadvantage is common to all apps on Apple devices, because it’s a “feature” of Apple’s operating system, iOS.

I don’t know if Android apps have the same issue. But you can count on a weather radio to wake you, even when your phone is in “do not disturb” mode, its battery is dead, or it loses its data signal.

Less than $50

You can buy a SAME-equipped weather radio for less than $50. Aren’t the lives of everyone who might ever be in your house when severe weather strikes worth that?

Lightning has killed more than twice as many people so far this year

U.S. Lightning deaths as of July 6, 2015 were more than two times 2014 deaths by the same date. Photo of lightning near Fenway Park.
Photo courtesy National Weather Service

As of July 6, 2015, lightning has killed 17 people in the United States. That’s more than twice the number of people who died from lightning strikes by July 6 of 2014, according to statistics from the National Weather Service (NWS).

Every one of those deaths was preventable!

There are some important facts that you, your family members and friends need to understand to avoid being the next lightning victim.

The first is that you can be struck by lightning even if If it’s not raining or there aren’t clouds overhead! Lightning often strikes more than three miles from the center of the thunderstorm, far outside the rain or thunderstorm cloud., according to the National Weather Service.

You can be struck by lightning even if If it’s not raining or there aren’t clouds overhead!

That’s why the NWS coined the slogan, “When thunder roars, go indoors.” The point is, that because lightning can strike so far from the actual storm, the best way to protect yourself and your family from lightning is to head indoors immediately after you begin hearing thunder.

Probably the second most important thing to know is that no matter what you do, you’re not safe from lightning outdoors. Your only reliable choices are to be inside a substantial building or in a fully enclosed, metal vehicle. Nothing else works; not crouching down, now laying flat, not sitting in a car that has a fiberglass shell and certainly not standing under a tree!

Remember, everyone who lightning killed this year would still be alive today if they’d taken appropriate shelter soon enough. Don’t wait until it’s too late!

For more information, check out the NWS’ lightning safety page.