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Weather safety: making weather emergency preparations.

Summer is a times for swimming, archery, and horseback riding, but it is also a time of severe weather. Anyone living or working in an area that has the potential for severe weather should know what to do before, as well as during, a weather emergency. Storms share several things in common, such as strong winds, heavy precipitation, and the possibility of destruction. However, each is different; it is best to know what to do in all weather situations.

Thunderstorms and lightning

Thunderstorms occur in all fifty of the United States but occur most frequently in the southeastern, midwestern, and the great plains states. Warning signs include dark, threatening clouds, high winds, lightning, and thunder.

To prepare your camp for a thunderstorm:

* Remove dead or weak trees that might suffer damage from high winds.

* Secure outdoor equipment that might blow away.

* Check your camp for questionable structures that might be damaged in a storm.

* Consider installing lightning rods on buildings.

Outdoors is one of the most dangerous places to be in a thunderstorm. Lightning causes nearly 100 deaths each year in the United States, more than hurricanes and tornadoes combined. If you and your campers are outdoors during a storm, take these precautions:

* Take cover in a building or an automobile, if possible.

* If you are in an open field, crouch down and place your hands on your knees. Only the soles of your feet should touch the ground. Do not lie flat or kneel.

* If you are swimming or boating, get out of the water and seek shelter immediately.

* If you are in a wooded area, crouch down near a thick growth of trees.

* Avoid tall structures, such as isolated trees or fire towers; they attract lightning.

* Stay away from golf clubs, fishing rods, bicycles, or camping equipment, which also attract lightning.

* Stay away from rivers and large bodies of water, which could flood.


Tornadoes, the most violent atmospheric phenomenon, form only during thunderstorm activity. Their destructive force comes mainly from the whirling winds, which can exceed 200 miles per hour. Tornadoes give distinct warning signs, including powerful thunderstorms producing haft, still air with little wind, a cloud of debris, a greenish sky with a possible funnel cloud extending from the clouds, and a loud roar similar to a freight train.

Know what to do if a tornado warning has been issued or warning signs are present. An area of camp should be designate as the shelter and tornado drills should be scheduled to practice the appropriate precautions and procedures.

If indoors:

* Go to the basement of a sturdy building; this is the safest place to be in a tornado.

* If no basement is available, go to an interior room, such as a closet or bathroom, on the lowest level of the building.

* Avoid rooms with windows or glass doors.

* Get under a stairwell or sturdy piece of furniture, if possible, and use your arms or pillows and blankets to protect yourself from flying debris.

* Turn on a battery-operated radio and listen for weather updates.

If outdoors,

* Get indoors, if possible.

* Find the closest depression or ditch, lie face down, and cover your head with your hands.


Tornadoes are the most intense of all storms, but hurricanes are the most destructive. Hurricanes often have winds exceeding 150 miles per hour, and the diameter can be several miles across, not including the surrounding thunderstorms. Luckily, meteorologists can easily track hurricanes, so people in the path of the storm are usually given enough time to take precautions and evacuate if necessary. Precautions you can take to protect your camp include:

* Trimming dead branches from trees.

* Securing loose items or bringing them indoors.

* Covering windows with plywood to protect them from flying objects and debris.

* Placing important documents and valuables in durable waterproof containers.

* Turning off major appliances to avoid an electrical surge if power goes out.

* Moving boats to a designated safe place.


Flash floods and floods claim more lives than any other weather-related emergency. You can prevent injuries by determining if your area has a history of flooding or if your camp is in a flood-prone area. If you are in a flood-prone area, you should have emergency supplies, such as shovel, sandbags, lumber, tools, bottled water, and canned food, on hand. By being prepared, you can protect your staff and campers.

Floods can develop quickly following a thunderstorm or hurricane, or take several days to develop. During a flood:

* Flee immediately to higher ground.

* Do not attempt to walk through water more than ankle deep. Water just one foot deep can displace up to 1500 pounds.

* Do not allow campers to play around streams, drainage ditches, or other flooded areas.

* Beware of snakes and other animals that were driven away from their homes by high water.

* Do not attempt to drive through a flooded area.

Inspecting damages

Violent storms can cause immense damage to buildings and the environment. Even if your buildings appear structurally sound, it is important to thoroughly inspect them for potential hazards, including gas leaks, damaged electrical lines, and water and sewer leaks. It is wise to seek the help of a trained professional; however, in many emergency instances, help is limited. Before you begin an inspection, turn off the gas, water, and electric.

To check for a gas leak, listen for a hissing sound and try to detect the odor of gas. If a gas leak is suspected, open a window and leave immediately. Electrical damage is slightly more apparent. Check all breaker boxes and outlets and look for sparks or frayed wires. If a problem exists, wait for the help of a trained professional. If sewage or water problems seem evident, avoid running water and flushing toilets and call a plumber.

Storms are powerful acts of nature. Fortunately we can prepare and lessen our risk of injury and property damage. One of the best ways to prevent needless tragedies is to make sure that staff and campers know-what to do in case of an emergency. Formulating a communication plan between campers and staff will allow you to locate one another other easily and better your chances of survival in an emergency situation.

Be Prepared

Thunderstorms, tornadoes, and hurricanes are dangerous and destructive. In any of these instances, you could be isolated until help arrives. It is wise to keep emergency supplies on hand, including:

* Flashlights with extra batteries

* Battery-operated radios

* A first-aid kit

* Emergency food and water

* Essential medications

Calculating the Distance from a Thunderstorm

Thunderstorms are formed from the rapid heating of air and the strong uplifting of clouds to high elevations. You can judge the distance of an approaching storm by measuring the time between flashes of lightning and thunder claps. Begin by counting the number of seconds between a flash of lightning and the next clap of thunder. Then divide this number by five to estimate how many miles away the storm is.

Experts warn that you are in danger of lightning if you can hear the thunder. Lightning can strike up to several miles away from the thunderstorm.

Tornado Rating Scale

Meteorologists use the Fujita Scale to rate the intensity of a tornado. The scale is based on wind speed and the damage the winds cause. The scale ranges from F-0, a "gale tornado" with winds of 40-72 miles per hour, to F-5, a tornado with winds of 261-318 miles per hour. An F-0 tornado generally causes damage to chimneys and trees, while an F-5 tornado can lift homes off of their foundations and throw automobiles through the air. According to the Tornado Project, nearly three-fourths of the tornadoes that occurred in the United States in the last forty-five years were F-0 and F-1 tornadoes.

Bill Lobe is a junior at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. He wrote this article during his internship with the American Camping Association.
COPYRIGHT 1997 American Camping Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Lobe, Bill
Publication:Camping Magazine
Date:Jul 1, 1997
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