The United States has some of the world’s most diverse and extreme weather due to its size, varied climates, and topography. We’ve created this guide to help keep you and your families safe during general severe weather events.
What Is Severe Weather?
Before outlining how to prepare for a disruption of daily life, we should address what severe weather is. Severe weather is any meteorological event that presents a danger to human life and is often out of the ordinary in occurrence. Severe weather is a general category that includes some disasters. Typical severe weather includes above-average strength thunderstorms, snowstorms, along with heat waves or drastic drops in temperature.
Disasters that are classified as severe weather include hurricane along with tornadoes. Severe weather includes both disasters and normal weather that happens to be more intense and causes damage. This includes excessive hot or cold weather. While wildfires aren’t a form of severe weather, extreme heat can increase the chance of a wildfire occurring. However, if a fire is large enough it actually can create its own weather. These fire-created weather patterns are called Pyrocumulonimbuses, or fire-clouds. These storms can cause dry lightning and severe winds, both of which can spread the fire and literally fan the existing flames. Fire tornadoes can also be created by these weather patterns, and while not as destructive as a normal tornado, a swirling mass of wind, smoke, and fire is still an incredibly dangerous phenomenon.
The Causes Of Severe Weather
The causes of severe weather are the same forces that create normal weather (heat from the sun and the movement of hot and cold air). However, due to various factors, weather patterns can become more powerful and dangerous. Factors that can increase the likelihood of severe weather include topography, geography, local climate, proximity to the ocean, and seasonal fluctuations in the air.
Where Does Severe Weather Normally Occur?
Severe weather can occur in any state. Natural disasters such as hurricanes usually occur along the southeast coastal regions, while tornadoes primarily affect the central states of the U.S. Severe waves of hot and cold temperatures can affect any state, as was shown by Snowstorm Uri that affected the western United States and Texas in early 2021.
Thunderstorms, if powerful enough, can be classified as severe weather. Thunderstorms are more common in the eastern and southeastern states of the United States but can spring up anywhere depending on the weather conditions.
Generally, every state within the U.S either is at risk of or regularly experiences some form of severe weather.
The Dangers Of Severe Weather
The general dangers of severe weather vary widely on location. As severe weather encompasses natural disasters along with seasonal weather, the list of hazards is extensive. In general, power outages are to be expected during a severe weather event. It is therefore recommended that you have a backup power source and a few days of food while the damage is repaired.
If the severe weather is destructive (flooding, high winds, etc), then a power or utility outage may last longer. You should familiarize yourself with local hazards so you can prepare for the most likely severe weather in your area.
What Severe Weather Can Hurricanes Bring?
Hurricanes are massive, strong storms that can cause severe damage to property and loss of life. They can impact day-to-day life for days or weeks, and so preparing is a must. The hazards associated with a hurricane are powerful winds, flying debris, flooding (including a storm surge), and subsequent power outages.
Keep yourself and your family safe during a hurricane by being prepared; read our article on hurricane preparedness here.
What Severe Weather Can Thunderstorms Bring?
Severe thunderstorms can cause high winds, large hail, and excessive rainfall. Flooding, property damage, and flying debris are common hazards associated with severe thunderstorms. Powerful thunderstorms can bring down trees and power lines; make sure you have supplies to be self-sufficient for a few days.
Large amounts of rain due to a thunderstorm can also cause floods; learn about how to stay safe during a flood here.
What Severe Weather Can Tornadoes Bring?
Tornadoes are a type of severe weather that requires immediate sheltering in place or evacuation. The primary danger of tornadoes is extremely high winds and flying debris. These disasters can destroy homes and communities, so having a safe room or basement is highly recommended. Tornadoes can move quickly and abruptly, so if you have time to get out of the way, don’t delay!
Severe Weather Preparedness
Preparing for severe weather depends largely on what you are most likely to experience. For example, having a grab-and-go bag in case of a wildfire evacuation (read more about wildfire preparedness) is a bit different than being prepared for a week or two of no power after a severe hurricane. However, having enough supplies to be self-sufficient for 72 hours will get you through the majority of severe weather.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends that ideally, individuals and families should store up to 2 weeks of supplies. That amount of supplies is especially important if you live somewhere that experiences hurricanes, tornadoes, ice storms, or other disasters that can affect a large area over an extended length of time.
A general supply list for short-term events should include:
- Food and water supplies for each person to be self-sufficient for 3 days. FEMA recommends at least a gallon of water per person, per day, along with non-perishable food items such as canned goods
- A paper map with clearly-defined evacuation routes including meet-up locations if separated from other family members or friends
- At few days’ supply of essential medications or prescriptions such as high cholesterol medication, anti-seizure prescriptions, insulin, or thyroid medicationChange of clothing
- A change of clothing, along with spare shoes if able
- Spare eyeglasses or contact lenses
- An extra set of car and house keys
- Spare cash (The power may be out so a credit card wouldn’t work)
- First aid kit
- Battery-powered weather radio and spare batteries
- Portable Jackery unit such as theExplorer 500 Power Station to charge both phones and radios
- Sanitation suppliesincluding heavy gloves (for sorting items on returning), and boots
- Copies of essential documents (house deeds, photos, birth certificates, passports, etc.)
Food and water are an essential part of your emergency supplies; be sure to store enough! (For further information, please visit https://www.fema.gov/pdf/library/f&web.pdf) Due to potential road blockages and power outages, having a supply of essential medications is also extremely important.
Larger Jackery units are suitable for most severe weather events not requiring evacuation. In most cases, severe weather events do not require evacuation. Having a Jackery Explorer 500 or Explorer 1000 unit in the home can give vital power to various devices after a severe thunderstorm or ice storm. Disaster-specific situations may necessitate having various supplies packed and ready to go.