Natural Disasters – Weather Wise fix-it tips and tricks
Basic emergency preparedness measures are easy and inexpensive, and
they can help prevent both injuries and property damage. First, know the
emergencies most likely to occur in your area. Check your home
insurance policy to ensure that you’re covered for these possibilities, and
consider purchasing additional insurance as necessary.
Depending on your situation, and how vulnerable you are to the
effects of a power outage, consider alternative sources of electricity and
heat. These range from generators to solar power, and from wood stoves
to battery backups. Whichever you choose, ensure that it is installed and
maintained properly so that it’s always there when you need it.
You can also prevent damage to your house, garage, or yard by
having a professional arborist inspect trees for signs of rot or disease
once every five years, and by dealing with damaged or weak tree
branches as you see them. It’s better to cut them down under control
than to have them crash down during a storm.
A National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather
Radio can alert you to weather watches or warnings in your area. Your
household should also have a disaster plan, similar to a fire escape
plan, that lets each family member know what to do, how to contact
each other, and where to meet if you’re separated during a disaster.
Ensure that pets are included in planning, as most emergency shelters
can’t take them.
If you need to evacuate your house, and you have sufficient time,
unplug appliances, shut off utility supplies as necessary, lock your doors
and windows, and prepare your house for cold temperatures if necessary.
For detailed information on disaster preparedness, contact the
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at
S1-800-480-2520 or Wwww.fema.gov. Ask for their publication
Are You Ready? A Guide to Citizen Preparedness. They also have a
range of publications about preparing for and dealing with
Because lightning can cause power surges through your home’s
electrical circuits, it’s best to unplug sensitive electronic appliances before
a storm—TVs, microwaves, computers, and stereos, for example. If the
storm has already begun, however, don’t unplug them; you don’t want to
be holding the plug if there is a power surge. Another option is to have
all such appliances plugged into a surge-protected power bar, as are
commonly used for computers. Stay off land-based corded phones during
a storm (cordless or cell phones are okay), and don’t shower or have a
bath (plumbing can conduct electricity).
When lightning strikes a house, it can spark electrical fires within the
walls. Whether or not you can see or smell smoke, evacuate the house,
and call the fire department so that they can check it out.
Major electrical storms, freezing rain, and other weather
phenomena can all cause power outages. If a major storm is in the
forecast, turn up your freezer and fridge to the highest settings. If
the power goes out, the deeply chilled food will last longer before
beginning to thaw.
If the house is going to sit at below-freezing temperatures because of
a power cut for an extended period, unplug your appliances. When the
power is restored, let the appliance warm up a little before plugging it
back in, as most are not designed to operate in freezing temperatures.
To prevent your water supply from freezing, turn off the main water
shutoff. Open all faucets and flush the toilets. If you know the house will
freeze, put nontoxic antifreeze in all traps, such as toilets, sinks, washing
machines, and floor drains.
Limited flooding can be kept from your house by sandbags or other
temporary barrier systems, especially when combined with a sump pump,
but a serious flood may overwhelm these. If you have advance notice of
floodwaters, move all furniture and belongings to the highest floor in the
house, shut off all utilities and appliances such as heating and air-
conditioning systems, and take important papers or items with you when
To limit the damage from contained flooding, such as that coming
into the house from a damaged roof, line the floor with a plastic
tarpaulin or other heavy-duty plastic sheet, taping it partway up the walls.
This should keep the worst of the water from running through the house
and will give you a contained area to either bail or mop. Plastic sheets
can also be stapled to the roof itself, but don’t venture onto the roof
while it’s wet, during a storm, or if it’s so badly damaged that it might no
longer be sound. Think safety first.
Floodwaters can be contaminated with wastewater, sewage, and
pesticides or manure from nearby fields; protect yourself with boots and
gloves, and use the disinfecting solution advised by your local emergency
measures organization. Inspect your house foundation for cracks, and
watch for signs of settling inside the house, in case the flood affected
Remember that water can become electrically charged if it’s in
contact with a live electrical circuit. If your house is flooded and the
electrical panel is still switched on, wait for emergency services
personnel to assist you in shutting it off, even if the area’s
electricity is down (you don’t know when it might be restored, and
you don’t want to be standing in the water when that happens).
Hurricanes and tornadoes can do significant damage, but they differ
in how much warning time you’ll receive. Hurricanes are usually
predicted several days in advance; tornadoes may occur without warn-
ing, although they’re often associated with hot humid weather and
To prevent wind damage, keep trees around the house in good shape,
maintain gutters and downspouts, and ensure that structural elements
such as roofs comply with local building codes. These usually require
some kind of extra strapping or clipping to secure the roof structure in
areas vulnerable to wind storms. In these areas, you should also consider
permanent storm shutters for your windows. If you don’t have them,
board up windows with 5/s-inch marine-grade plywood.
If you have time, store or tie down any objects that could fly around
in a windstorm. Also consider building a wind-safe room within your
house, if the risk of tornadoes is very high in your area.
Help protect your home from wildfires by creating a space between
your house and any vegetation or material that is likely to bring a fire
your way. This space should extend at least 30 feet out from the house
and shouldn’t contain thick brush or trees, firewood, or flammable
materials. In fire-risk areas, investigate fire-resistant plants, and consider
replacing wood-based exterior materials with those that are more resistant
to fire, like brick, stone, or metal.
To lessen the damage an earthquake can cause, inspect your home
for any appliance, furniture, or fixture that could tip or fall. Free-standing
bookshelves, for example, can be fastened to walls, and heating and air-
conditioning units can be bolted down. Also investigate whether your
house fully complies with earthquake safety requirements. Are gas and
water lines protected with flexible joints and do you have an automatic
While an air-conditioning system can prove a lifesaver—quite literally—
during extreme heat, it needs help. Weather-strip or caulk around
windows, vents, and openings in the house, to help keep the cool air
inside. Try to limit the heat building up inside your home. Line windows
with aluminum foil to reflect heat, or shield windows with curtains,
blinds, shutters, or awnings. If the heat eases at night, consider turning
off air conditioners and opening windows.
Depending on where you live and what emergency you’re likely to
face, consider storing the following items in easily accessible, portable
waterproof containers. (Batteries, food, water, and other perishable
supplies should be replaced every six months or as necessary.)
Flashlight and radio with spare batteries
Candles and matches/lighter
Extra car keys and cash
Basic tools, such as a shovel and adjustable wrench
Important papers such as ID and personal documents
One sleeping bag and change of clothing and footwear per person
Toilet paper and personal supplies
At least a three-day supply of water (allow 1 gallon per person per day)
Ready-to-eat foods for at least three days
Manual can/bottle opener
Games and supplies appropriate to children’s ages
Pet food and supplies
Being weather wise around the house will not only help protect you
from natural disasters, but also allows you to identify wear and tear on
the house exterior before it becomes a major problem. This, of course,
creates a much more comfortable interior environment—as do the tips
from Chapter 6, which focus on saving energy but have the added
advantage of making your house a more comfortable place to be.