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Baltimore County Now

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Keyword: emergency preparedness

graphic of storm clouds with lightningCaptain Lonnie Ledford, Baltimore County Fire Department

A few weeks ago, in Part 1 of this blog, I covered thunderstorm watches, warnings and a few safety tips. Let’s pick up right where we left off, including some tips that apply just as well to the winter storms that are just around the corner.

Lightning rods attached to structures provide the safest pathway to ground for homes and businesses. If your home does not have one, the current from a lightning strike may travel via the home’s electrical or plumbing systems and could start a fire.  Also, remember to unplug sensitive electrical equipment such as computers and entertainment systems that are susceptible to electrical surges. You should seek shelter when the first rumble of thunder is heard, because if you can hear the thunder, you are close enough to the storm to be struck by lightning.  Also, remain inside for at least one-half hour after the thunder stops. 

Another electrical hazard that may be encountered in a storm is the possibility of downed electrical wires.  DO NOT try to approach or move these wires as there may be a ground current that could be deadly. If in a vehicle, do not try to drive over wires on the ground or under hanging wires near a roadway. Getting within several feet of a downed wire may cause it to arc.  If the 9/18/14wire is arcing or smoking, call 911 to report the hazard.

Downed power lines routinely lead to power outages in an area. Caution should be used when dealing with these situations as well.  Battery powered lights should be used instead of open flame candles and oil lamps due to their inherent fire dangers.  Portable generators produce deadly carbon monoxide gas that can build up and create a toxic atmosphere inside of a structure.  Several fatalities have been attributed to operating portable generators inside or too close to an occupied structure. Also, take care to utilize the proper gauge extension cords with the generator and do not overload them. 

Wind created by a severe thunderstorm can also be deadly.  Loose debris can be blown into the air and cause damage to structures and injure people.  If you do not have permanent mounted and operating shutters on your home, closing the blinds and drapes can provide a slight buffer against debris that may break and enter a window.  A heavy plastic trash bag or a tarp and duct tape should be available as a temporary repair in case of a window being broken during a storm.  Make a list of items that you want to bring inside in case of a severe thunderstorm.  Remember to include items such as plants, pool items, wind-chimes and flags.   Patio furniture, grills and items that are too large to be brought inside or cannot be placed in a garage or shed should be tied down and secured.  If there are large trees on your property they should be trimmed regularly to ensure that there are no dead branches that could be broken and fall in high winds.  Dead trees near a structure should be removed to prevent damage due to being blown over in a storm. 

Flash flooding commonly leads to flooded roadways. NEVER try to drive through standing or moving water. It only takes eighteen inches of water for a vehicle, including trucks and SUV’s, to become buoyant. Moving water can then push the vehicle sideways and it may rollover trapping occupants inside. When in doubt: Turn Around Don’t Drown!

Use easy to understand language to explain the sights and sounds that may be experienced by young children during a thunderstorm.  Once they understand what is making the “loud boom and bright light” outside, it may help reduce their apprehension and anxiety during a storm. 

Lastly, every home should have an emergency plan and an emergency kit that includes at a minimum:

·         enough food and water to last for 72 hours per person

·         a flashlight with spare batteries

·         a battery operated radio or weather radio

Severe weather planning resources can be found at:

·         The National Weather Service

·         Ready.gov

·         Baltimore County’s Emergency Management web site


ThunderstormsCaptain Lonnie Ledford, Baltimore County Fire Department

Summer in the mid-Atlantic means hot, humid days and cooler nights, and there is always a possibility of thunderstorms. Meteorologists use modern Doppler radar and computer models to track and predict the path of weather events that affect our area. However, without individuals reacting properly to these warnings, many structures are damaged, and individuals are put at unnecessary risk.   

How can you prepare for and minimize the potential damages caused by these common weather events? To begin, we have to understand the terminology used by the National Weather Service when they issue notices. The term watch when used in conjunction with a weather event is the less immediately threatening. A watch indicates that the potential for a weather event exists in our area, and preparations should be made; however, the event may not actually occur or it may go around certain areas. Daily activities may continue with a watchful eye on the sky and ear to a radio. A weather event warning, on the other hand, means that conditions are being observed and a weather event is currently happening in the area or is deemed to be imminent within one-half to one hour. Precautions should be taken immediately to secure property and protect yourself and your family. Outdoor activities should be postponed or ceased. 

Another term that needs to be understood is the National Weather Service’s use of the word severe. A thunderstorm is classified as severe when it has the potential for wind gusts of 58 mph or when it produces hail one inch in diameter.  (A good visual gauge  to use is that a US quarter ($0.25) is approximately one inch in diameter.) Hail can damage glass, such as skylights or windows, and it can damage vehicles and hurt or possibly kill animals that are left outside. Bring animals indoors, and place vehicles in garages. 

While all severe thunderstorms have the potential for triggering tornados, hail size is good indicator of the potential of formation of tornados. Stronger cyclonic updrafts create larger hail sizes, and this can be indicative of the increased danger of a potential tornado. Lightening, while dangerous, is not included in the National Weather Service’s definition of severe because even less damaging thunderstorms can still produce significant amounts of lightening and lightning strikes. 

The United States faces approximately 100,000 thunderstorms per year, and only about ten percent of those are classified as “severe thunderstorms” by the National Weather Service.  Severe thunderstorm warnings should be taken seriously, and protective measures should be put into place as soon as possible.

There are several things you can do to prepare for a severe thunderstorm. The first consideration should be finding adequate shelter. Second, there are several life threatening situations that many people do not consider during a severe thunderstorm. The most obvious, and dramatic, is the potential for lightening strikes. Lightning strikes happen in four different ways.

1.  Direct strike – the lightening leader comes down and hits the object or person directly. The person or object becomes part of the discharge pathway to the ground. While this type of pathway is not very common, it usually occurs in large open space areas. If caught outside in one of these areas, make yourself as small as possible by crouching down as low as possible, placing your hands on your knees, ducking your head and raising your heels off of the ground. The only parts of your body that should be in contact with the ground are the balls of your feet and your toes. This position offers the best protection when shelter is not immediately available.

2.  Side flash or side splash strike – lightning strikes a taller object and jumps to an individual or object nearby, essentially creating a shorter pathway to the ground. Care should be taken to avoid being close to taller objects during a storm. Trees and other tall objects may provide some protection from the rain, but they also are prime targets for lightning strikes, so avoid using them as shelter during a storm.

3.  Ground current – lightning strikes a tree or other object and the lightning’s energy is transferred to the ground, where it moves out laterally. If a person or animal is in the area of the lightning strike, they could potentially become a victim of ground current. This type of strike is the most common in the fatalities of livestock and other animals.

4.  Conduction – metal objects such as pipes, landline telephone wires and fences are good conductors of electricity. While the metal does not attract the lightning, it provides a superior pathway for its conduction to ground. Try to avoid contact with any metal objects during a storm. Avoid taking showers and using sinks and other plumbing fixtures during a storm, due to its potential to conduct the current if the structure is struck by lightning.   

In Let’s Talk About the Weather Part Two, I’ll offer several more storm preparation tips to help keep you and your family safe this storm season.


by Mark Hubbard
Baltimore County Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management

For many, September means back-to-school, Fall festivals, and football. For emergency managers, it also means National Emergency Preparedness month or an opportunity to raise awareness about the community-wide threats we face that can make life inconvenient or even a bit dangerous.

As I write this article, we are watching the tropics for the typical hurricane season storms that brew and march across the Atlantic ocean. With a little luck, we hope for a quiet season but we all know that weather is one of our most typical hazards. Just a few months ago, the unexpected derecho storm of June 29 illustrated the impact on our daily lives. Days without power in the middle of Summer heat is not a pleasant situation and can even be deadly.

So what can you do? Preparedness is a team sport consisting of emergency managers and planners, government and volunteer first responders, and businesses and citizens throughout Baltimore County. Weathering the storm can be much easier with some simple steps to plan for prolonged power outages. Generally, having a battery operated portable radio and flashlights as well as storing a gallon of water per person, per day, for three days will help you get through most events. You can lean much more by visiting our web site at: http://www.baltimorecountymd.gov/Agencies/emergency_prep/index.html. Here you will find preparedness tips and access to our Twitter feed for updates during emergencies. Also, links to the Federal Emergency Management Agency provide planning help for citizens and businesses. www.ready.gov When weather or other emergencies do strike, Baltimore County emergency managers provide updates on Twitter @BACOEmergency.

One last thought; Baltimore County officials are actively participating with other Baltimore area governments to work with utility companies to improve storm response to severe power outages and improve communications during the response phase so emergency response teams can better direct efforts to help those communities most severely affected. Please stay tuned for more on this as the meetings progress. And from this emergency manager, thank you for being resilient after the June 29 storms. Despite severe damage and power loss, in my opinion, citizens and communities were better prepared than ever to manage the event. It proves that personal planning works so keep up the good work.


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