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Severe weather - NWS urges preparedness for weather-related emergencies

Written by Natasha Wheeler

“We use Wyoming Severe Weather Awareness Week to talk about our thunderstorm phenomena,” comments Meteorologist Chris Jones with the National Weather Service (NWS).

NWS designated April 20-24 as Wyoming Severe Weather Awareness Week this year to remind state residents about being prepared for tornadoes, flash floods, large hail and other severe weather events.

Stay informed

“One of the things we are trying to stress this year is knowing about the different ways to stay informed about the weather forecast,” Jones notes.

Local media outlets, emergency alert system broadcasts, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) weather radios and smartphone apps are examples of tools that can be used to stay up-to-date about potential weather events.

“There is a new app from the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) that allows users to receive weather updates for up to five different locations across the United States,” he adds.

Users can download the free app on their mobile device and choose areas that they want to receive alerts for.

“It’s a great way to monitor elderly parents or children off at college. We get the alerts through the app, and in turn, we can share the information with our friends and family in the alert area,” he explains.

The app also offers safety tips, disaster resource information and a “disaster reporter” link so users can upload photos of disaster events.

“We find that people want information from multiple sources before they take action. We should be prepared to share watch warning information issued by the NWS,” Jones adds.

Be prepared

Jones encourages Wyomingites to have an action plan at home and at work in case of a severe weather event.

“Take the opportunity to practice,” states Jones.

Valuable time can be saved when a disaster strikes if people already know ahead of time where to go and what to do.

“Figure out where safe shelter locations can be found,” he continues.

In the case of a tornado, it is safer to be toward the interior of a structure, on the lowest floor.

“If there is a flash flood, we won’t want to be on the lowest floor. We will want to find higher ground,” Jones notes.

Lightning strikes are another phenomenon that Wyomingites should be prepared for.

“We can’t issue warnings for lightning because it is impossible to tell where it is going to strike, but lightning is the greatest threat to life in Wyoming directly related to weather,” Jones says.

He mentions that NWS wants people to know what to do when lightning is in the area.

“If we are on a boat, we should head quickly to shore. If we are outside, we should get inside a sturdy shelter,” he comments.

If a solid shelter is not available, being inside a vehicle with the windows rolled-up is safer than staying out in the open.

Wildfire

“Along with all of these thunderstorm related items, we sometimes forget to talk about fire weather,” Jones continues.

In the western United States, fire is another event to be aware of and prepared for.

“We should have shrubs several feet away from the house,” he says. “If we have a cabin or home in the mountains, we should make sure that pine needles and dry leaves are not piled up under the porch or in the gutters.”

He advises people to cut down dead trees and make sure standing trees are adequately spaced out.

“These are things we can do to prepare and mitigate the possibility of wildfire affecting our location,” he notes.

NWS has also been promoting their “Learn Before You Burn” campaign, reminding people who do agricultural burns to stay tuned into the weather.

“We are asking that people call and get an updated weather forecast before they light their fires,” he explains.

Disaster kit

Jones suggests being prepared with a 72-hour disaster kit kept at home and at work.

“Water, food and extra clothing are important in this kind of kit,” he says.

Food items should be non-perishable, and one gallon of water per day per person is suggested.

“If our non-perishable food is in cans, we will want to have a can-opener as well,” advises Jones.

A flashlight with extra batteries, cell phone and charger and a weather radio are other suggested items for a disaster kit.

“Essential medications should also be in the kit. Oftentimes, we may be near the end of a supply or we don’t have our medication with us because we are travelling or at work,” he adds.

Jones suggests keeping a two- or three-day supply of any essential medications on-hand.

Information

“FEMA does a great job of maintaining an active website,” Jones comments.

Pages include information about current U.S. disaster situations, tools for response and recovery in the case of an emergency, tips for planning and mitigation and more.

“People take action once they’ve heard about an event from one or more sources. We want people to have multiple ways to receive warnings and we want them to be willing to share that information with others to increase the opportunity of have a more weather-prepared and weather-ready nation,” states Jones.

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at natasha@wylr.net.