Monday, April 14, 2014

Colorado Severe Weather Awareness Week: An Opportunity to Prepare

Understanding the types of severe weather that are possible in your area is an important aspect of preparedness — and that’s the impetus behind Colorado Severe Weather Awareness Week, April 14-20.

With spring in full swing, we’re getting into warmer temperatures and the time when severe weather is more likely to occur. Although tornadoes may be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about  severe weather, Colorado’s threats also include flash floods, wildfires, thunderstorms, hail, lightning and heavy winds.

“We always encourage people to think through what they would do each day during that particular type of severe weather,” said Tom Magnuson, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Pueblo. The Weather Service, an expert that the Red Cross turns to for information on upcoming and current weather threats, will release information focusing on a different weather hazard each day during Severe Weather Awareness Week.

In addition to the information provided by the National Weather Service and organizations like Ready Colorado, the American Red Cross provides tools to aid personal preparedness for severe weather. Among its many resources are mobile apps that put vital information at your fingertips. The FREE American Red Cross apps provide information that can help you plan for, respond to and understand different types of severe weather and scenarios through features like interactive quizzes and preloaded content, so the info can be accessed even when cell towers are down.

A few of our favorite apps are:
  • Tornado App (iTunes/Google Play) — sounds an audible siren when NOAA issues a tornado warning for a location monitored by a user
  • Flood App (iTunes/Google Play) — will sound flood and flash flood watches and warning alerts
  • Wildfire App – shares news about wildfires in a selected area, lists shelter locations and provides advice for safety before, during and after a wildfire
  • First Aid App (iTunes/Google Play/Amazon Marketplace) — provides expert advice for everyday emergencies through videos and step-by-step advice.
Being aware of the weather threats in your area and familiarizing yourself with what to do before they strike could save your life and reduce your potential losses. For example, after using the Tornado App to learn what to do if there’s a tornado in your area, you may want to look around your environment and locate safe places for taking cover. By considering what your response should be to each severe weather scenario, you’ll be better prepared to take the steps necessary to ensure your safety.

It’s especially important to listen for emergency alerts and warnings, because severe weather isn’t limited to a certain season in Colorado. While the peak months for stronger storms are April, May and June, there can be severe weather almost any time of the year from February through early November, Magnuson said.

Coloradans’ love for the outdoors is another reason to be knowledgeable about these weather hazards. Thunderstorms, for example, occur almost on a daily basis throughout the summer, especially in the mountains. “That’s why we tell people to get your hike done and get your fun done in the morning before thunderstorms develop,” Magnuson said.

And with thunderstorms comes lightning and hail, which residents need to be aware of and understand how to respond. Lightning in particular should be taken seriously when people are outside working or doing other activities: It typically kills three people and injures another dozen each year, according to Magnuson. The threat of hail is also important to understand. In fact, Magnuson said, Eastern Colorado gets bigger hail and more of it than most of the U.S.! New residents may be unaccustomed to this type of severe weather and how to respond to it (get yourself and pets indoors during thunderstorms as small hail can suddenly change into large “ice missiles,” according to the National Weather Service).

Just as it’s important to learn about the types of severe weather in Colorado before they strike, users shouldn’t wait until there’s an emergency to use the mobile apps. “The apps have shown that they can save lives but the key is to download it before you need it and to learn how to use the features that it provides,” said Bill Fortune, communications specialist for the Colorado and Wyoming Region of the American Red Cross.

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