The southwestern corner of the United States is experiencing a scorching heat wave. Temperatures have exceeded 120 degrees in some places, with blistering conditions extending from California to the Colorado Rockies. The extreme temperatures have contributed to multiple wildfires, and four hikers died from heat exposure recently in Arizona.
Meteorologists believe the blazing hot weather the Southwest is experiencing is part of a disturbing pattern fueled by two factors — global warming and demographic shifts, which involves a rising population in the Sun Belt. In fact, weather experts have invoked the term “heat dome” to describe the blisteringly hot conditions that have descended upon the region.
Most climatologists believe that global warming is increasing the likelihood of extreme weather events across the globe. For example, Michael Mann, a professor of climate at Penn State University insists that there’s little doubt that the record-setting heat the Southwest is having is tied to man-made climate change. He argues that if we continue to burn fossil fuels the way we do, then extreme weather events will become the new norm. So, what can you do to prepare for extreme weather conditions.
- Don’t be in denial. Tragically, most people underestimate the probability and severity of severe events. Don’t be one of them. You don’t need to build a bunker or hoard tons of food. But you should have a survival kit and a game plan to deal with the most likely inclement weather events. Planning ahead is the first step you need to take to keep yourself and your family safe. Do you live in a flood zone, a tornado corridor or an area frequently threatened by wildfires? Determining the most likely threats is the first item on your preparedness checklist.
- Survival pack. Every family should have a handy backpack filled with “emergency essentials” that will help you cope for at least several days following a disaster. In order of importance, these items include water, food, matches, blankets, a fully charged cell phone, flashlight, first-aid kit, and transistor radio. You should include at least three days’ water for each person. The Red Cross recommends allocating one gallon per person per day to meet basic hydration and sanitary needs. Energy bars, canned nuts, and dehydrated milk are good energy sources, and they can be stored for long periods without spoiling. Many preparedness experts recommend having a two-week supply of food and water in the event that rescuers have trouble reaching you.
- Game plan. What will you do in the event of an extreme weather event? Wait and see? Sit tight? Or evacuate? Your options, of course, will depend on the type of situation you are likely to face. Hunkering down in a secure room may make sense if you are facing tornadoes, but it would likely prove foolish if you are contending with wildfires, flooding or a hurricane. In any event, you should develop a comprehensive contingency plan that includes evacuation routes, family meet-up locations and other do’s and don’ts.
- Think water purification. Fresh drinking water is absolutely essential to survive for any prolonged period following a disaster. Keep in mind, natural disasters may drastically limit your access to tap water. For instance, ground and well water will frequently be contaminated by raw sewage following a flood. Storing adequate supplies ahead of time may not be feasible. However, water filtration technology has advanced tremendously and can help ensure you have access to safe, clean drinking water.
- Stay informed. Keeping up-to-date before, during and after a disaster is imperative. Where are makeshift shelters located? What advice are authorities recommending? What is the status of relief efforts? In the past, a transistor radio was your best bet at staying informed. Today, you can also download apps from the Red Cross for your smartphone, which will send you news alerts and other helpful information.
- Keep clothing in mind. Inclement weather frequently knocks out power grids. Ensuring you have multiple layers of clothing on hand is essential, particularly if you live in a region that is prone to frigid temperatures.
- Keep your pets safe. Your pets will need fresh food and water too, so make sure you prepare your pets for emergencies as well. Unfortunately, many animals will panic or become disoriented by extreme weather events. So, think ahead by acquiring a travel-safe carrier that’s right for your pet. ID tags and microchips are also a good idea and can help identify or locate your pet in case you are separated from them.
- Stay or evacuate? This decision will depend on the particular weather event and also the advice of officials. Generally speaking, most experts recommend staying in place unless you have adequate time to safely evacuate. However, if the authorities recommend you evacuate, then bear in mind you are not just jeopardizing your own life by staying put, but also the lives of rescuers.
- Don’t let your guard down after an event. Typically, more people are injured during the recovery phase than are hurt by the storm itself. Assume downed power lines are live and should be avoided. Do not try and drive through deep water. And don’t sift through debris; let cleanup crews do their job.
- Educate yourself ahead of time. Every type of extreme weather event presents a unique challenge. During a flood, the higher you are in a building the better. But you are far better off in a basement if you are about to be hit with a tornado. Expert advice is continually being updated as officials learn from the past. Keep abreast of the latest know-how by visiting reputable sources of information on disaster preparedness.
- Keep your composure. Most people get hurt because they panic and make rash decisions. Try to imagine how you would cope during an emergency weather event. Think about the scenarios you are likely to face if you lose power, are cut off from civilization or stranded for several days. Thinking things through ahead of time can help you mentally prepare for a worst-case scenario. Being prepared mentally can be just as important as having an emergency kit and adequate supplies.