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Tips on surviving hurricanes and summer storms

On June 9, 2016

The summer storm and hurricane season is here and will last through November. The Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security joins the Maryland Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service (NWS) in urging residents to take necessary precautions to stay safe.

County residents are encouraged to sign up for Alert Montgomery, Montgomery County’s emergency warning system, to receive important notifications of weather watches and warnings, along with information about road and facility closures, traffic signal outages and other emergency information. Go to https://alert.montgomerycountymd.gov to sign up for alerts that can be sent to land-line phones, cell phones or other mobile devices.

The effects of a hurricane or tropical storm can be far-reaching. Areas impacted directly by a hurricane or tropical storm can be affected by high winds and flooding, especially along waterways and in low-lying areas. Fringe areas of these storms are vulnerable to tornadoes and in-land flooding caused by heavy rain.

The National Weather Service has developed a Watch/Warning Advisory system:

Severe thunderstorm “watch” is issued when severe thunderstorms are possible in and near the watch area. It does not mean that they will occur. It only means they are possible.

A severe thunderstorm “warning” is issued when severe thunderstorms are occurring or imminent in the warning area. Severe thunderstorms are defined as winds of 58 mph or higher and/or hail one inch in diameter or larger.

A tropical storm “watch” is issued when a tropical cyclone containing winds of 34 to 63 kt (39 to 73 mph) or higher poses a possible threat, generally within 48 hours. These winds may be accompanied by storm surge, coastal flooding and/or river flooding. The watch does not mean that the tropical storm conditions will occur. It only means that these conditions are possible.

A tropical storm “warning” is issued when sustained winds of 34 to 63 kt (39 to 73 mph) or higher associated with a tropical cyclone are expected in 36 hours or less. These winds may be accompanied by storm surge, coastal flooding, and/or river flooding.

A hurricane “watch” is issued if hurricane conditions are possible within the specified area. Watches are typically issued 48 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical-storm-force winds. Residents are advised to prepare their homes and businesses; review an evacuation plan and listen closely for further condition updates and instructions.

A hurricane “warning” is issued when hurricane conditions are expected within the specified area. Warnings are typically issued 36 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical-storm-force winds. When a Warning has been issued residents should complete storm preparations and seek shelter or evacuate if instructed to do so. 

Storm preparedness tips: 

Before a storm

  • Build an emergency supply kit, which includes such items as non-perishable food, water, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, extra flashlights and batteries.
  • Make a family emergency plan. Your family may not be together when disaster strikes, so it is important to know how you will contact one another, how you will get back together and what you will do in case of an emergency.
  • Continually monitor the media (radio, TV or internet). Be aware of storms which could impact your area.
  • Know how you will be warned in an emergency. Alert Montgomery, (NOAA Weather radios with a tone alert are a good option)
  • Ensure your home is ready. Bring in or secure outdoor items that could become projectiles in high wind.
  • Turn the refrigerator and freezer to the coldest setting in anticipation of a power outage. Open the door only when necessary and close quickly. Frozen food in a half-full freezer should remain safe for up to 24 hours, and in a full freezer, up to 48 hours.

During a Storm

  • Follow instructions and emergency advice from county officials or heed shelter or evacuation requests made through announcements on radio/television.
  • Keep an eye on the sky. Look for darkening skies, flashes of light or increasing wind. Listen for the sound of thunder. If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning.
  • Blowing debris or the sound of an approaching tornado may alert you. Tornado danger signs include a dark, almost greenish sky; large hail; a large, dark, low-lying cloud or a loud roar, similar to a freight train.
  • Gather family members, bring pets indoors and have your emergency supply kit ready.
  • Close outside doors and window blinds, shades or curtains. Close all interior doors. Stay away from doors, windows and exterior walls. Stay in a shelter location (small interior room, closet, or hallway on the lowest level) until the danger has passed.
  • During lightning, do not use wired telephones, touch electrical appliances or use running water. Cordless or cellular telephones are safe to use.
  • During a power outage use flashlights and battery-powered lanterns for light. Avoid using candles which pose a fire risk.
  • Ensure a supply of water for sanitary purposes such as personal cleaning and flushing toilets. Fill a bathtub or other large container with the water. This is particularly important for those whose water runs off of an electrical system.
  • If your residence could flood, store valuable and personal papers in a waterproof container.
  • Do not walk through flowing water. Drowning is the number one cause of flood deaths. Six inches of swiftly moving water can knock you off your feet.
  • Stay indoors and limit travel to only absolutely necessary trips. Listen to radio/television for updates. Do not attempt to drive through a flooded road – you can become stranded or trapped.

After a storm

  • Stay off roads to allow emergency crews to clear roads and provide emergency assistance.
  • Help injured or trapped persons. Do not attempt to move seriously injured persons unless they are in immediate danger of death or further injury.
  • Use the telephone only for emergencies.
  • Use care around downed power lines. Assume a downed wire is a live wire.
  • Watch out for overhead hazards such as broken tree limbs, wires and other debris.
  • Avoid walking into flood waters. The water may be contaminated by oil, gasoline or raw sewerage, contain downed power lines or animals.
  • Look for hazards such as broken/leaking gas lines, damaged sewage systems, flooded electrical circuits, submerged appliances and structural damage. Leave the area if you smell gas or chemical fumes.
  • Clean everything that gets wet. For food, medicines and cosmetics; when in doubt, throw it out.
  • Make sure backup generators are well ventilated. Never use grills, generators or camping stoves indoors.
  • Call 311 or (240) 777-0311 from a cell phone or from a location outside of Montgomery County) to report downed trees on public property and for help with county services, or go to mc311.com. If wires are involved with the downed tree, if anyone is trapped, or the tree is blocking a roadway, call 9-1-1.

For additional emergency information visit the Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security website at: www.montgomerycountymd.gov/oemhs.

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