Baltimore County Now
Captain 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 wire 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.
· 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:
Bureau of Highways, Department of Public Works
We’re really getting our share of snow this year with 17 official storms so far, (from Deon to Hercules to Pax to Titan!) – and we got our share of potholes too! The intermittent snow-melt, combined with freezing temperatures, damaged road surfaces and caused traffic headaches across the County. And Baltimore County’s Department of Public Works (Bureau of Highways) has been, is, and will be prepared to tackle the problem. In fact, Crews from eleven highway shops work throughout the year filling potholes. We’ve got equipment operators and laborers always on the lookout for potholes, and they schedule repairs as quickly as possible.
Because of our hard winter 2013 - 2014, (which began with a surprise snow on December 8) the number of potholes is certain to spike this spring. Freezing and thawing (plus a lot of water) is a recipe for road damage, and every winter the Bureau of Highways fills about 50,000 potholes on average. As a rule of thumb, the harder the winter, the more potholes need to be filled. For instance, during the winter of 2010 (you remember Snowmageddon?), potholes increased almost 20 percent. It probably won’t be that bad this year, but it’s sure to go up. We’ve already booked 7,374 potholes this January and about 7,500 in February.
While the weather is still cold, and there’s still a chance of freezing, crews will fill holes with a cold mix and then return in better weather for a permanent, hot mix fix. The hot mix isn’t usually available from the plant until mid-March although some crews have done a limited amount of milling and patching with the hot mix already.
Potholes are a road’s number one enemy and taking care of potholes is the “default setting” for Baltimore County’s Bureau of Highways. Whenever crews aren’t pushing snow or taking care of downed trees, they’re on the next pothole. So, when you see a pothole, report it. Call 410 887-3560 and be sure to give the location – a street address or a cross street is enough – and we will get it fixed as soon as possible.
Mark Hubbard, Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management
For as long as I can remember, the weather services used human names for hurricanes. If you are unlucky enough to have one of those names (Agnes, Isabel, Katrina, Floyd, Horatio etc.) you may be branded with the image of tragedy and destruction.
When it came to other severe weather, like tornadoes, we usually refer to the storm by the name of the town most severely impacted and perhaps the severity rating on the Fujita scale. Example: " That F5 tornado that struck Smallville."
Since the inception of 24/7 news coverage that included severe weather television and radio channels devoted purely to weather news, a new phenomena is emerging – the effort to brand other storms, in particular, winter storms, as well. For example, the President's Day storm of.........; the Valentines day storm of....... and so on. Broadcast news also likes to use bold character graphics in the news cast: Blizzard of 2010, etc. If you ask me, this only magnifies the stress we often experience when preparing for and suffering through these storms.
But perhaps there is a purpose to all of this. Consider a system where we used a scientific-like numbering system. So perhaps instead of referring to Hurricane Isabel by name, we instead said Hurricane #2003-6. Somehow, this generic label simply does not seem to fit. So maybe it is not so crazy to now see many other severe weather events given a human name. Branding a storm does somehow seem to add character and identity – almost a personality. In the case of winter storms, The Weather Channel has decided to name this winter’s storms after Greek mythology icons like Atlas, Boreas (Greek god of the cold north wind), Electra, Hercules, Ion, Janus and Titan.
The February 12th storm is called Pax, the Latin word for peace. Let’s hope it’s an appropriate name and that we don’t make it all the way to Zephyr this year!
Take a look at what the Weather Channel had to say about it. And, oh, how we love our brands! So let's just roll with it for now. Otherwise, imagine a world without Coke or Pepsi. It would seem a bit flat (pun intended) if we knew them just as Cola #1 and Cola #2. (You figure out which is which!)
Regardless of what we call them, winter storms are worthy of respect and caution. So, everyone please remember to exercise common sense at home and on the roads, and keep up with Baltimore County’s winter storm operations at www.baltimorecountymd.gov/snow and on Twitter at @BACOemergency.