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:
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.
Baltimore County Chief of Highways
Everybody’s curious about the price tag. How much does it cost to plow the roads and keep them open every winter?
In Baltimore County, when there’s a hint of snow – when the weather person says there’s a chance for precip tomorrow – we, in the Bureau of Highways, Department of Public Works, begin looking very carefully at the bottom line. Because as soon as the word goes out that we’ve got snow duty – that we’re on the clock – we’re on the meter too.
This year we expect that plowing snow (that’s with a staff of 400 employees manning three hundred trucks working from 11 shops) will cost more than $37,000 per hour. And when we put down salt, that price goes up to $108,000 per hour. That’s because salt costs more than $50 a ton and we stock about 50,000 tons at 14 locations across the county.
Sunday’s storm cost the County $1.4 million. We’re still tabulating the expenses related yesterday’s snow and will post the total shortly.
It’s expensive, of course, but the total cost to keep the streets clear and safe varies wildly from year to year. Last year was an economical year for us. Baltimore County spent a little under $4 million to call out crews, to salt and to plow for 13 storms – many of them just dustings. But “Snowmageddon” back in 2010 was more than five times as expensive. The bills came to $20 million. Snow accumulation that winter was estimated at seven feet!
For a complete picture, take a look at our website for a listing of storm costs since Fiscal Year 2001.
During the past 13 years the cost has gone from a low of $2 million (when accumulation was a mere six inches in 2002) to the colossal winter four years ago. The average is about $7 million. But whatever the cost, you can rest assured that Baltimore County's Highway crews will give it our all to keep the streets open this year.