Wild Weather: Staying Safe amid Danger and Disaster
By KRISTEN STERNBERG | NIE Educational Consultant
You spend approximately one-third of each 24-hour period sleeping. For one-quarter of each year, it is summer. Exactly one-half of every year is labeled in Hurricane Season. From June 1 through November 30, a period of six months, weather systems may feed off warm ocean temperatures to form these powerful storms.
A couple of small sailboats sunk behind a riverfront condo, bob in the waves, Sunday, September 5, 2004 after Hurricane Frances' passing. (Photo: News-Journal/David Tucker)
How big a threat are hurricanes to Central Floridians? In recent years, numerous storms raged through coastal Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida, causing or contributing to the deaths of scores of people. This year, experts have forecast several tropical storms. Many of these will probably become major hurricanes, making this a tough hurricane season.
Hurricanes are classified into categories according to their strength, or intensity. Tropical storms with wind speeds from 74 to 95 miles per hour are designated Category 1. Category 1 hurricanes are considered minimal risk-winds can damage some homes and some flooding may occur, but in general there's not much risk to property or human life. As intensity increases, though, so does the danger. A Category 5 hurricane, for example, contains winds over 155 miles per hour and may be catastrophic. Ocean waves can surge 20 feet or more, buildings may collapse, trees are blown over and major flooding hampers escape routes and rescue efforts.
Even if you're not directly in a hurricane's path, you might experience some of its awesome power. Tornadoes and waterspouts are common occurrences when hurricanes are nearby. Even without an accompanying hurricane, lightning strikes are a danger during Florida's summer storms. How can you stay safe amid all these hazards?
One way is to stay informed. Hurricanes tend to form over oceans and can be tracked for long distances. Newspapers and TV and radio stations publish Hurricane Tracking Charts that you can use to plot hurricanes' paths and try to determine where they might hit land. These media also provide news, so reading, watching and listening are good ways to recognize possible dangers to you, your family and your community.
What if you're ordered to evacuate your home? You can help by being prepared for the worst. Discuss with your family ways to prepare for emergencies. Share with them your knowledge about evacuation routes and preparedness. Remember that in the event of a catastrophic storm, you probably won't have electricity, so flashlights, batteries, blankets, canned foods and plenty of fresh water are essential. You can help by preparing in advance – ask family members if they'd like you to help assemble items you'll need to take with you. Remember, also, that your pets need sufficient shelter, food and water during this time. If you're headed for a public shelter, know that most don't allow pets so you'll have to make other arrangements for their safety. You might want to identify some motels that do take pets and have those phone numbers handy in case you need to make hasty reservations.
Only in extreme instances, though, are people asked to evacuate their residences. Chances are you'll ride out some summer storms in or near your home. Storm-savvy kids like you will know how to minimize the danger from high winds, tornadoes and lightning. You probably already know, for example, that lightning strikes can travel many miles, so that if you've been swimming when a storm occurs, getting out of the water is an absolute must. Did you also know that taking shelter under trees is a bad idea? Almost every year, someone is struck by lightning while on the beach or under a tree. You may even be in danger inside your home. Electronic appliances carry current through which lightning can travel. For this reason, it's best not to talk on the telephone during storms.
It's a good idea to take all summer storms seriously by practicing storm safety. Now that you know some tips, check out the newspaper activities and Web links below to have fun while you learn even more!
Try these interesting activities using The News-Journal
The front of an oceanfront home along south A1A in Flalger Beach is in shambles, Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2004, as a result of high winds from Hurricane Frances. (Photo: News-Journal/Brian Myrick)
- Search your newspaper for articles about natural disasters. As you read, jot down your ideas about how good reading skills might help you stay safe given such a disaster. How many ways can you think of that reading might help? Give yourself a pat on the back if you listed four or more reasons to read! (Sunshine State Standards: LA.A.1.2.1, LA.A.1.2.2, LA.A.2.2.5, LA.A.2.2.8, LA.B.1.2.1)
- Over a period of several weeks, collect newspaper stories about catastrophes. Using a world map, plot their locations. Then, brainstorm some possible reasons for these disasters. Make a list of factors (such as weather conditions or geographic location, for example) that may have contributed to the danger. (Sunshine State Standards: SC.B.1.2.4, SC.D.1.2.3, SC.H.1.2.2, SC.H.2.2.1, SS.B.1.2.1)
- Turn to your newspaper's Weather page and choose five international cities in which rainfall was reported. Of those cities, which had the most rainfall? Which had the least? What was the average amount of rainfall among the five cities? Use the metric system to show your figures in centimeters. Make a colorful chart to show your findings. (Sunshine State Standards: MA.A.1.2.2, MA.A.3.2.2, MA.A.3.2.3, MA.B.1.2.1, MA.B.1.2.2, MA.B.2.2.1, SS.B.1.2.1)
- Imagine a severe storm has made it unsafe to leave your school, and you, your classmates and your teacher are preparing to take shelter there for the night. Assuming the storm has caused a power outage, use your newspaper to find and clip up to 10 non-electric items you think would be essential to your comfort. Keep in mind basic needs such as clothing and food, and limit your total spending to $200.00. Write one or more sentences to defend each item you chose. Discuss your choices with a friend or classmate. (Sunshine State Standards: LA.B.2.2.3, SS.D.1.2.1)
- One way to stay informed about weather predictions is to read the newspaper. Check yours regularly for news about the potential for severe weather in your community. Get the facts as they occur, and pass on important information to classmates, friends and family members. (Sunshine State Standards: SS.B.1.2.1)
A copy of Florida's Sunshine State Standards can be found at intech2000.miamisci.org.
Check out these links to learn more
For up-to-date weather conditions around the nation, visit The Weather Channel Online. Some features to explore are the maps: You can view many types (severe weather maps, for instance) and areas (such as ocean maps). The section containing marine maps is especially interesting.
Nearly 130' of the landmark Flagler Beach Pier peels away falling into the ocean as frantic waves from the slow moving Hurricane Frances crash into it, Sunday, Sept. 5, 2004. (Photo: News-Journal/Brian Myrick)
You can find great photos and lots of cool weather information at the National Severe Storms Laboratory. Find out about current research on tornadoes and other severe weather conditions or learn the language of weather symbols. You can download and print a coloring book about storms and safety, and even find out about careers in weather research and forecasting as well as storm chasing!
NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, offers a site called the Observatorium, at which you can learn about a hurricane's awesome expressions of power. Lightning is another powerful weather phenomenon. How can you stay safe if you're caught in a lightning storm? Check out the National Lightning Safety Institute's site to find out.
The News-Journal maintains online hurricane preparedness pages that can help you keep track of weather conditions locally and worldwide. Take a look at the satellite, infrared and water vapor image maps, follow links to emergency relief organizations such as the American Red Cross and find out what it takes to be a hurricane hunter. Be sure to check out the National Data Buoy Center, where you can click on maps to find wind speed, ocean temperature, wave height and much more at data buoys stationed around the world.
The Newspaper Association of America's web site contains links to many newspapers in the U.S. and around the world. Visit the site and check some of them out, to see if they have recently published any articles about hurricanes and other weather dangers. To access the newspapers at the site, select a state. Click on the "Internationals" button to view choices from other countries.
Published July 2, 2001
Updated July 3, 2007