In the Rio Grande Valley we experience several weather changes throughout the year that require our preparedness and attention. Barry Goldsmith, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Brownsville, shares his advice and tips on how to be prepared for extreme weather such as hurricanes, hail storms, floods, and heat waves. Even when dangerous weather conditions may surprise us, there is a lot we can do before they occur and throughout the year to be more prepared, feel in control of, and stay safe in such situations.
“A fire warning is issued when a wildfire or structural fire threatens a community, or a significant part of a community. A fire warning could be issued for a neighborhood spanning a few square miles to an entire town or small city,” Goldsmith said. If a fire warning is issued for your location, you should first evacuate. If there is time and you received an order to evacuate, do so immediately. However, if there is not enough time to evacuate safely:
- Call 9-1-1 and provide your location. If it happens during the night, be sure to turn outside lights on so first responders can find your residence more easily.
- Shut off all ventilation into the building.
- Move into the interior of the home, away from windows, and get low to the ground.
- If you own an N95 mask, put it on.
For more information on fire readiness, go to https://ready.gov/wildfires
For more information on Wireless Emergency Alerts, go to https://www.weather.gov/wrn/wea
Hurricane season begins June 1, and lasts through the end of November. Goldsmith recommends to be prepared for hurricane season all year long. Two primary methods he mentions necessary for successful hurricane preparedness are having a home plan, and an evacuation plan. Goldsmith also points out that businesses or government facility owners or managers should also have a plan to protect their structure and ensure the safety of their employees.
A home plan consists of resiliency and supply preparations. Resiliency preparations include checking and strengthening the home, the integrity of the roof and walls, windows, doors, and protection, and checking items outside of the home such as fences or other structures to be sure they are grounded. One should stock up supplies to last at least seven to 10 days following the hurricane. Those supplies may include non-perishable foods, enough water for everyone in the home including pets, basic over-the-counter medicines, cash, flashlights and batteries, transistor radio, cellphone power storage units, and some board games, puzzles, and other non-electronic leisure activities. Goldsmith also recommends checking insurance and inventory items, as residents in Texas should have homeowners, windstorm, and flood insurance. Especially in the Valley, Goldsmith warns, one should purchase flood insurance as soon as possible. Furthermore, take photos of all important home items like heirlooms and artwork, and store them digitally, and keep important documents in watertight containers, as well as digital copies stored in the cloud. Finally, consider purchasing a generator to install outside the house — either one for the entire house or a smaller, more affordable one to run a window A/C unit, a refrigerator, and a few lights.
An evacuation plan consists of several things. First and foremost, have a place to evacuate to with a location that is well away from the coast and on higher ground. Your evacuation location could be a relative or friend’s house who can shelter you and your family, a hotel, or other rental place. Only take essentials with you; pack light and smart. If you evacuate due to an order and disaster has hit your hometown, Goldsmith advises to not return until emergency authorities give the green light to do so.
More information can be found below:
Home strengthening: https://hurricanestrong.org
Additional home preparedness for all types of hazards: https://flash.org
NOAA Hurricane Preparedness: https://hurricanes.gov/prepare
FEMA/DHS Hurricane Preparedness: https://ready.gov/hurricanes
National Flood Insurance Program: https://floodsmart.gov
Texas Windstorm Association: https://twia.org
NWS Brownsville/Rio Grande Valley Hurricane Guide, 2019 version https://www.weather.gov/media/bro/tropical/guide/2019/English.pdf
NWS Brownsville/Rio Grande Valley Hurricane Guide, 2019 version (Spanish)
Floods and Storms
Goldsmith warns that in the Rio Grande Valley, because of our proximity to the tropics, damaging or destructive flooding can occur at any time. The peak months for flooding are between May and October, with seasonal peaks from late May to late June and again from mid-August to early October. In order to stay safe from rapid onset floods, Goldsmith suggests staying tuned to the weather forecasts at all times, but especially more so during the peak periods.
If a flood watch is issued, prepare for potential flooding. Flood watches are typically issued 6 to 24 hours ahead of the event. Stay in place and avoid being on the road, and consider leaving for higher ground if you are in a flood-prone zone. “Be sure to take your waterproof ‘go’ case with important items inside,” Goldsmith said. Also, alert your family and friends of the flood threat, and move larger valuable items to a higher level in your house.
A food warning means that flooding is occurring or imminent in or near your area. Stay home and make sure you and your family are able to step up to higher levels if flood waters reach you. If you are on the road when a flood warning is issued, seek a safe building as soon as possible, and never drive through flooded roads or around barricades. “Turn around, don’t drown; your life is worth more than impatience,” Goldsmith notes.
If a flood advisory is issued, nuisance flooding is occurring or imminent in or near your area. In this case, the best practice is to stay home. If traveling, find alternate routes to your destination.
For dangerous thunderstorms that can produce frequent to excessive lightning, large hail or a large volume of hail, and damaging winds, listen for severe thunderstorm outlooks, watches, and warnings. If there’s a threat for these types of storms, in advance — usually from six hours to two days — there are several things to do to be prepared. Have a defined “safe zone,” such as an interior bathroom or closet, or a nearby school or other safe building. Remember ACES: Awareness (being aware that the weather could become dangerous), Communication (having multiple modes of speaking with family and friends to let them know of your location/movement), Escape Routes (roads that lead you away from danger), and Safe Zones (buildings that can withstand the storm or locations away from the storm).
When a watch is issued, activate your safety plan, including ACES, and be sure to have safety equipment ready, such as bicycle helmets, blankets and pillows, flashlights and batteries, cellphone and power storage, moving items indoors, and be in your safe room away from electrical conduction.
When a warning is issued, go to your safe room, communicate with your family and friends, and wait until the warning has expired or been canceled before leaving your safe room.
Links for flood/severe storm information
https://floodsmart.gov (National Flood Insurance Program)
Heat Waves and Summer
“Heat is a way of life in the Rio Grande Valley,” Goldsmith said. With afternoon temperatures in the mid to upper 90s from late June through early September, which “feel like” temperatures between 100 and 105, it is important to be aware of safety and modify a few everyday activities for energy conservation and to avoid the hottest times of the day outside.
Certain weather patterns can bring even more heat to the Valley, which can become dangerous and life threatening. “The atmospheric pattern known as ‘La Canicula’ brings very hot and rain-free conditions into the Valley, while low level winds from the south keep ample surface humidity for dangerous ‘feels like’ temperatures, day and night,” Goldsmith said. Such heat waves are becoming more frequent across the Valley, and can arrive as soon as mid-May and continue into early October, with peak heat in July and August.
When excessive to extreme heat is forecast for the Rio Grande Valley, you should prepare as follows:
- Spend the hottest time of day in air conditioning.
- Drink plenty of water before, during, and after being outside.
- Avoid being in pure sunshine between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Wear lightweight, light-colored, and loose-fitting clothing if spending time outdoors.
- If working outdoors, plan to take plenty of breaks in shady areas.
- If feeling lightheaded or nauseous, immediately cease activity, find a shady spot or head indoors, apply cool towels to the forehead, and slowly drink cool (not cold) water.
- Save strenuous outdoor exercise for the early morning.
Vehicle heat deaths can occur at any time in the Rio Grande Valley — not just summer or daytime. A child or pet left inside a tightly closed car or truck at 80 degrees can suffer heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and potentially die after 30 minutes.
“Hotter days mean a much greater chance of distress or death in a much shorter time .. .as soon as 10 minutes!” Goldsmith warned.
For more information…
Vehicle safety links:
Staying ahead of these situations by being prepared before they hit is a way of helping us maintain calm during a stressful weather event, act with prudence, and stay safe.