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EL NIÑO HAZARDS: Ice Storms

March 11, 2016

 

The hazardous ice storm that swept across the northeast United States and Canada in 1998 is one of the worst on record. Millions were left in the dark for weeks as the weight of the three inches of ice left behind by the storm downed power lines, and frigid temperatures only made matters worse. When the final bill was tallied, the ice storm cost the United States over $3 billion in damage. 

Nearly 20 years later, another super El Niño is swirling over the Pacific. The El Niño phenomenon is marked by a temporary increase in water temperature in the Pacific Ocean, which has profound effects on weather patterns, with increased moisture and altered jet streams. If conditions are right, with just enough moisture, surface temperatures below freezing, and warmer air temperatures, significant ice events can occur. As a result, warming ocean temperatures could deliver more than just heat this winter. 

With that in mind, learn what you can do to be ready and stay safe long before the threat of an ice storm looms in the forecast. 

Planning Is Key 
Ice accumulation on tree branches can increase their weight by 100 times, so it's important to trimming tree branches in advance so they're less likely to fall on your home or car. When the forecast calls for freezing rain or sleet, park your car in the garage or away from trees to avoid a broken windshield in case the weight of branches causes them to snap. 

Autumn is also a good time to fix drafts around windows and doors. Weatherproofing strips and caulking can help seal out cold winter air in the event of a storm. 

Additionally, your house should contain a safety kit with supplies for 2 weeks that includes:

  • A battery powered radio will help keep you in the know. The National Weather Service delivers watches and warnings around the clock.

  • Flashlights

  • Batteries for flashlights and radios

  • Blankets and towels for insulation and warmth.

  • Manual can opener

  • Stock food, including canned vegetables, fruit, and meat, nuts, powdered milk and pet food, along with plenty of bottled water to avoid raiding grocery store shelves at the last minute

  • First Aid Kit

  • Candles (Be sure that you never leave lit candles unattended and always blow them out before you go to sleep.)

During a Storm 

When a storm hits, unplug all major appliances and gather your family into one room. Close the doors to other rooms to help to trap in the heat. Leave blinds closed and use blankets, sleeping bags and towels for warmth and to line the floors as insulation if needed. It's a good idea to power down on your cell phone to conserve battery power. 

It is important to keep yourself dry and hydrated in the event of an ice storm, so be sure to change intro dry clothing as quickly as possible if you get wet and drink plenty of water. If you need shelter or medical care text "SHELTER" and your ZIP code to 4FEMA (43362). 

Remember the best way to stay safe in an ice storm is preparing long before it hits. Get more information about preparing for winter storms Ready.gov and ensure that you and your family are weather ready.

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