Part 3: Tornadoes, blizzards, lightning, drought and extreme heat
Home preparations for tornadoes
Tornadoes are violent wind tunnels that wield enough power to destroy homes and devastate communities. Tornadoes can occur anywhere, but tend to happen more in the Midwest and southeastern parts of the United States, often accompanying thunderstorms.
When tornadoes are possible, the most important things you can do are to have a plan and pay attention to emergency weather alerts. In addition to providing alerts via mobile devices, television or radio, your community may also use tornado sirens. Ready.gov recommends you know the signs of a tornado, “including a rotating, funnel-shaped cloud; an approaching cloud of debris; or a loud roar similar to a freight train.”
Tornadoes can combine some hazards of earthquakes, floods and hurricanes, all borne by winds that can exceed 200 mph. No matter where or what kind of house you live in, you can take several advance measures to make your home safer before a tornado strikes:
- First, reinforce your roof by installing hurricane straps or clips to keep trusses or rafters anchored to load-bearing walls.
- Survey the outer surface of your roof and make repairs to any damaged or loosened areas that might allow leaks.
- Assess the rest of your home’s exterior for weak spots that could be damaged or ripped off by strong winds, including chimneys, brickwork, siding, soffit, fascia, gutters and downspouts. Secure loose items and make repairs as immediately as possible.
- If it’s feasible to replace your windows with ones that feature impact-resistant glass, do so as soon as possible.
- If not, install permanent storm shutters or make removable ones from plywood to protect windows and doors from flying debris.
- Check your yard and secure hazards that could become missiles in high winds, including patio furniture and umbrellas, potted plants and broken or hanging tree branches.
- Regularly trim trees and remove debris from your yard.
- Consider reinforcing your garage door with vertical braces or horizontal trusses.
- Use metal straps, braided wire or flexible cable to secure your water heater and other large appliances to walls or other anchor points.
- Attach bookcases and other large pieces of furniture to walls with straps or anchors.
- Install latches or sliding bolts on cabinet doors to keep them closed and hold contents inside.
- Make sure you know in advance where to access the shut-off points for your utilities and how to do so for each one.
- If you live in a tornado-prone area, you should consider adding a safe room or safe shelter. Some states’ offices of emergency management offer homeowners rebates for adding storm shelters or safe rooms to their homes, according to Kiplinger magazine.
When local alerts tell you a tornado is imminent, there are a few immediate measures to take for greater safety:
- Turning off your utilities can help you avoid gas leaks, fires or flooding during or after a tornado. Shut off electricity at the main electrical panel or breaker box; turn off gas at the main shut-off valve outside; and turn off your water both at the street access point and where the main line enters your house.
- If you do not have a separate shelter, identify the safest place inside your home to gather your family and pets during a tornado. This could be the basement or a small, interior room on the first floor away from windows and objects that could fly around. Bring your emergency kit into this room with you.
See the Red Cross’ Tornado Safety for more tips to prepare your home and family.
Home preparations for blizzards and extreme cold
Extreme winter weather is dangerous for many reasons. When the temperature drops, ice and snow make roads slippery, exposure results in many serious health concerns and power outages present major hazards. But while remaining safe and warm at home sounds ideal for many facing the bitter cold, it’s important to remember that extreme winter weather can damage a home’s pipes, electricity, and even the foundation.
Those living in areas that experience intense winter weather can best prepare by winterizing well in advance. Here are some ways to winterize your home before extreme cold settles in:
- Assess the integrity of your roof, walls, insulation, windows, doors, heating and plumbing systems. If necessary, hire a professional to spot any damage and make needed repairs as soon as possible.
- Make sure your home is insulated properly against cold weather. Insulate inside walls and add extra insulation to the basement, crawl spaces and the attic.
- Use weather stripping to seal around windows and doors and use caulk to seal cracks or holes where utilities and cables enter the home.
- Cover and seal or remove window unit air conditioners.
- Consider replacing your windows with storm windows to ensure that they’ll offer the best insulation and protection from the cold.
- If that’s not feasible, install plastic window sheeting on the insides of windowpanes.
- Have your heating system serviced annually and well before winter weather hits. Inspect the heat exchanger for cracks, install a clean air filter and check the thermostat for proper functioning.
- Move combustible items away from any heat source in or around your home.
- Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on every level of your home.
- Check all water pipes thoroughly for cracks or leaks and make any repairs immediately.
- Insulate all exposed water pipes with foam pipe insulation. Consider using automatic plug-in heating cables anywhere insulating might be difficult.
- When pipes freeze, it creates intense pressure that can lead them to burst. Prevent this and protect your plumbing system by installing emergency pressure release valves.
- Know where and how to shut the water off in case pipes do freeze and burst.
- Drain water from your irrigation system and sprinklers, and blow compressed air through the lines if possible.
- Turn off water to outside faucets if possible and cover them with insulating foam covers.
- If you live in a place that gets a lot of snowfall, melting and runoff could pose flooding hazards. Consider installing plastic coatings for basement walls or a sump pump and purchasing insurance against potential sewer backups.
- Cover or close foundation vents and basement windows.
- Clean out gutters and install gutter guards to prevent debris from creating ice dams, which can let freezing water drip down walls.
- Branches weighed down by snow or ice can harm your roof. Trim trees around your home and remove dead branches promptly.
- Keep tarps and plastic sheeting handy to cover holes and keep out moisture in case falling tree limbs damage your home.
- Repair and keep clear all exterior steps, ramps, walkways and handrails.
- Keep several bags of salt or sand handy to minimize ice buildup on exterior walkways.
You can prepare in advance of extreme winter weather by stocking up on supplies and taking steps to protect your home. Visit the Insurance Information Institute’s website for more info on How to Protect Your Home from Winter Weather.
Home preparations for lightning
Lightning is a leading cause of injury and death from weather-related hazards, according to Ready.gov. Since thunderstorms with lightning can occur anywhere, it is critical that everyone follows and heeds emergency alerts from their local systems.
In addition to the dangers lightning presents alone, it can also come with hazards like thunderstorms, like high winds, heavy rain and flooding. Take appropriate precautions to address these risks ahead of time and prepare your home to ride out the storm.
- Consider installing lightning rods or similar protections on your house to divert lightning strikes harmlessly into the ground. Your local fire department can help you assess whether lightning rods are a good idea for your home.
- Consider installing a whole-house surge protector to protect your electronics and appliances against electrical surges caused by lightning strikes. The expense of this installation can be offset by potential insurance discounts — or by not having to replace thousands of dollars of damaged electronic equipment.
- If a whole-house protector isn’t feasible, take the precaution of powering down and unplugging all your sensitive electronics. The high voltage of a lightning strike will overpower individual plug-in surge protectors and damage your equipment.
- Repair or secure faulty or loose items on or around your home, like doors, window assemblies, chimneys, brickwork, siding, soffit, fascia, gutters and downspouts. Pay special attention to anything metal that could conduct electricity into the wrong places.
- Secure outdoor objects like patio furniture, grills, umbrellas, potted plants, etc.
- Trim trees regularly and remove any dead, loose or hanging branches to prevent them from flying around and causing damage.
- To guard against accompanying flood damage, consider installing a sump pump and/or purchasing sewer backup or flood insurance.
Consult the HomeCity Homeowner’s Guide to Lightning Safety for further information about how to prepare your home and family for a lightning storm.
Home preparations for drought
Every part of the country can experience an extended period of dry weather called a drought, and it can cause water shortages and crop damage. You can visit the United States Drought Monitor for an updated map of current drought conditions.
During periods of drought, follow your state and local restrictions, which often require residents to avoid non-essential water usage like washing cars, watering lawns, etc. To further ease the strain on your home, community and the environment, you should also take precautions before a drought hits.
- Assess your home’s water usage by checking your meter, using no water for 30 minutes, then checking the meter again. If significant usage appears, get busy inspecting your plumbing system for leaks.
- Repair any leaks in your plumbing, including dripping faucets or shower heads, leaks from faucet handles, loose toilet-tank valves, dripping sprinkler heads or leaking pipes.
- Insulate water pipes and check all joints for loose connections or leaks.
- Check your well pump for leaks or inefficient operation.
- Retrofit faucets by installing aerators with flow restrictors.
- Install a separate water heater under your kitchen sink.
- Choose energy- and water-efficient appliances.
- Install a low-volume toilet or a water-displacement device to lessen water use during flushing.
- Replace your shower head with an ultra-low-flow version.
- Outside, install a rainwater catchment system or a water-efficient irrigation system.
- Create a compost pile and reduce the need for watering by up to 60 percent.
- Use mulch in your landscaping to retain moisture in the soil around plants.
Other ways to prepare your home against drought can be found at Ready.gov’s Drought page.
Home preparations for extreme heat
Many places can experience long periods of high heat and humidity with temperatures above 90 degrees. Prolonged periods of extreme heat and humidity can pose serious health hazards, which is why it’s important to prepare your home to keep the heat out and the cool in. The following preparations can help you keep your home safe and comfortable during a heat wave:
- Check your air conditioning system and have repairs made as needed. Have a professional check the functioning of the AC unit’s compressor, grill, blower and system pressure, and inspect the ducts. Also install a new filter on the AC unit.
- If you don’t have a whole-house AC, install window units wherever necessary.
- You can also use an attic-mounted whole-house fan that can circulate air throughout the house. These can cool some houses by 10 degrees even without the use of air conditioning.
- Check the integrity of your roof to make sure there are no shingles or flashing missing, or other apparent leaks that could let cool air out and hot air in.
- Install ceiling fans and make sure the blades are rotating in a counterclockwise direction to create a breeze.
- Make sure your home is insulated adequately. In older homes, consider replacing old insulation with a newer, more effective type such as liquid foam.
- Check for ventilation leaks all around the house using the smoke test. Caulk or weatherstrip around doors, windows and anywhere else you find leaks.
- If it’s feasible, replace your windows with energy-efficient double-paned models that keep heat from transferring through the glass to your home’s cooler insides.
- Think about installing awnings over windows that receive a lot of sun, usually on the south and west sides.
- Add insulated or reflective blinds or drapes to your windows. Close them during the day to shut sunlight out and keep your home cooler.
- Consider using window reflectors or insulating film on the panes.
- Repair or replace screens on windows. Even if you keep your home’s windows closed all summer, insects still try to find ways inside for water and cool air.
- Plant trees and other sun-blocking landscaping on the sunny south side of your home.
Visit the Weather Underground for more tips on fortifying your home against extreme heat.
Disasters happen, but you can take steps to prepare your home against their devastation. Many of the emergency preparedness tips found in this guide take minimal time, effort and money. By making these small improvements to your home well in advance of a catastrophe, you are taking the necessary steps to protect your family and make your home more disaster-resistant. These improvements go a long way towards helping you feel safe.
Ultimately, the best thing you can do is prepare. Don’t panic. By preparing a disaster kit and creating a family disaster plan and subscribing to services that provide emergency alerts, you are already on the way to feeling safer in the event of an emergency. We also encourage you to bookmark the following resources: