Sunday, June 19, 2011

Choosing a Radio for Your Disaster Kit

"What radio should I buy for my hurricane safety kit?"

When that question came up, I was surprised. I thought buying a radio was a pretty simple thing. Then I realized some of the complications.

A weather radio receives alerts from the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This is great if you want to hear tornado watches or warnings, flood advisories, and statements from the National Hurricane Center. The computerized voice can be a little difficult to understand sometimes; at least it was the last time I listened to my weather radio. I had mine on during the last hurricane and got really irritated with flood warnings out of Mobile, Alabama. It's a really low-lying area. They have major flooding issues every time it rains. A programmable weather radio is supposed to let you receive only the warnings, watches, alerts and advisories relevant to your area, but I thought I had mine set right. The local NWS office is in Mobile, so I don't think there's a way to stop the flood advisories. It was too much for me, so I turned it off until it was time for the next hurricane update. These start at $15 to $20.

The radio stations you like to listen to in your car are either on AM or FM. In my area, when a hurricane is coming, the television stations will go into 24 hour mode -- all hurricane, all the time -- and some of the stations will simulcast the TV signal. That way, if your power and/or cable goes out, you can still get information over any AM or FM radio. You can get a decent AM/FM radio with a small telescoping antenna for $8 to $12 at department stores or online. Try it out at home and make sure you can pick up a variety of local stations loud and clear.

You can get radios that pick up AM/FM stations and NOAA, for about the same price or a little more than buying a weather band radio alone.

Most portable radios are powered by batteries. Always check your batteries at the beginning of hurricane season and make sure you have extras on hand. Never store batteries in the radio. They burst or leak acid over time. Trust me. I know from experience. You can store batteries in the refrigerator and they'll last longer, but be sure to let them warm up to room temperature (and dry off any condensation) before putting them into your electronic device.

Many radios are now available that use alternate sources of power. These are fantastic if you have a long-term power outage. You won't have to worry about replacing or recharging batteries. Here are some of the options:

SOLAR POWER - These usually require several hours of exposure to direct sunlight to recharge. This is perfect if the weather is clear and sunny, and if you have a window that gets full sunlight all day. I was not comfortable leaving my solar radio sitting outside all day while I was at work.

DYNAMO-HAND CRANK - These are the type that you basically wind-up. You can wind for a couple of minutes and get enough power for a weather forecast. You do have to crank for some time to get a full charge.

ALTERNATE SOURCES - Rarer types of battery-free radios (and flashlights) will let you shake the item or use a sort of "squeeze pump" handle to generate power. I have a flashlight with the squeeze handle, and I prefer it over the hand-crank variety. I haven't tried the shake-it-up type.

If you need a cheap radio in a hurry, any battery-operated radio that will pick up AM and/or FM stations in your area should work. Again, be sure to test the radio and make sure you can get clear signals from several local stations or return it to the store and start over. If you can't pick up anything clearly in good weather, you sure won't be able to get important information during heavy wind and rain or after several towers get blown down in the storm.

Finally, check with your local TV and radio stations to find out who will simulcast in an emergency. Around here, several of the TV stations put out hurricane prep guides and they list reliable sources of information. In my area, we have one radio company that is locally owned; they operate two stations, and they provide really good around-the-clock coverage during disasters. The big national-conglomerate-owned stations are typically the ones who'll simulcast one of the local TV stations.

WINNER: Thunder of Time novel

Congratulations to Jim Coyne. Jim has 72 hours to send his postal mailing address, and I'll ship out the prize. Thanks to everyone who visited the blog and posted a comment.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Saving Family Documents

Much of the southern United States is experiencing a really bad wildfire season. Communities near the Mississippi experienced devastating floods this year. Tornado season has been much worse than usual, and hurricane season is just beginning.

If you had to grab your belongings and leave in a matter of minutes - or even with two or three days notice - would you be able to quickly take with you the documents you'd need to prove your identity, file an insurance claim, or have utilities cut off?

It's a good idea to keep copies of those important documents in your disaster kit, so they go with you in an emergency. You can scan them and keep a password protected CD or flash drive with all the files, or just make hard copies (in case you can't get to a computer).

Here's what you need:
  • Property Insurance Policy
  • Auto Insurance Policy
  • Health Insurance Cards
  • Driver's License or ID card for each family member
  • Utility bills - recent statements or a list that includes account numbers and customer service phone numbers
  • Credit card bills - recent statements or a list of account numbers and customer service phone numbers
  • Loan details - including mortgages, personal loans, auto loans, store credit - with account and phone numbers
  • Subscriptions and memberships - for any regular mailings, be sure you know how to change your address

This is just for starters. These are the major things you'll need to file a claim, change your mailing address, cancel or shut off utilities, and make payment arrangements. Consider each individual in your home and determine if you have other documents that may be important. Marriage licenses, legal contracts, medical records - think carefully about what you might need if you were forced to leave your house for weeks or perhaps forever.

Don't wait until you need to leave to assemble these documents. You'll make your life a lot easier if you can grab your emergency kit and know that everything you need is inside.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Are You Ready for a Zombie Apocalypse?

This is pretty funny, but it also makes good sense. The Centers for Disease Control have issued a statement to help you get ready for a Zombie Apocalypse. Why would the CDC do this?

In the 21st century, most zombie apocalypses are caused by a virus. Watch 28 Days Later. The CDC investigates infectious diseases, and they also want people to be prepared for any disease outbreak.

Which would you rather prepare for:

  1. Bird Flu
  2. SARS
  3. Mad Cow Disease
  4. Swine Flu
  5. Zombie Apocalypse
I bet you said #5.

So, the CDC put out a bulletin encouraging everyone to be ready for a Zombie Apocalypse, with reminders that if you're ready for a Zombie Apocalypse, you're also ready for other emergencies and disasters.

Better safe than sorry.

If you're    ready for a zombie apocalypse, then you're ready for any emergency.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Cooking by Candlelight

Ever since hurricane season started on June 1, it seems like there's been some disturbed area being watched by the National Hurricane Center. To be honest, some wet weather (but not a Tropical Storm or Hurricane) would be pretty welcome in our area right now. The Florida Panhandle is down about 8-inches below normal rainfall this year so far.

Today, I thought I'd talk about some things you might be able to cook without power. First, what resources do you have available?
  • Gas Grill? Be sure to have a tank or two of propane on hand before the storm hits.
  • Charcoal Grill? Pick up bags of charcoal and lighter fluid, and be sure you have some way to douse any stray sparks.
  • Natural gas range or oven? In my experience, gas service is usually still available after a hurricane, but of course, if the provider thinks that any lines were damaged or if your home sustains damage, the service may be turned off.
  • Camp stove? If you go camping, you may have something that runs off propane, solar power or batteries. Make sure you have the supplies you need to run the stove.
  • Bonfire? With all the downed trees, it's tempting to kill two birds with one stone and have a weinie roast over an open fire. The big danger is that if the fire gets out of control, firefighters may not be able to get to you and may not have the water pressure to fight it. If you have a way to contain the flames - say a sturdy metal barrel with a grate on top, you'll be safer that way. Set up your barrel at least 25 feet from any structures. If you don't have water running through your hose, have some water on hand (rainwater that's collected, a couple of bucketfuls from the bathtub), so you can make sure the ashes are wet through when you're done. Hot spots in dry ash can smoulder for days and any ember that flies out can set something on fire.
Never burn anything in your house. You wouldn't want to anyway, I'm sure, because of the heat and no air conditioning in the summer, but in addition to fire dangers, smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning can be deadly. Don't risk it.

It's a good plan to always think about the worst possible thing that could happen and how you will respond to it and prevent a worse catastrophe.

The benefit of having a way to cook, of course, is that the food in your freezer can be used instead of thrown away. If you can even just heat water, you can prepare instant foods like macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, grits, oatmeal, soup, coffee, and more. It's a great way to vary your menu when you get to week two or three without electricity.

What do you like to eat when you don't have any power available?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Book Giveaway: Temperal Storms

Imagine a storm blowing in that, instead of tearing things up, it removes everything from the present to the past, and vice versa. One minute, there's a house across the street; the next minute, you're staring at a dinosaur that wants to eat you for lunch.That's what happens in James F. David's novel Thunder of Time. It's actually a sequel to David's Footprints of Thunder, but you can definitely read the second book without having read the first one, because that's what I did.

Thunder of Time begins ten years after the events of the first novel. Everyone thought the time displacements were over, but now they're happening again, and with increasing regularity. A team of experts spans the globe, trying to figure out why the displacements are happening and how to stop them. Their investigations suggest that the displacements are being orchestrated. But who would do that, and why?

I thought the book was really interesting. It has a huge cast of characters, but the author has helpfully included their names and short biographies at the beginning, so if you forget who someone is, you can look them up. For the most part, it has a well thought out plot that comes together pretty nicely at the end. Many times, James David had me wondering how they could possibly get out of things alive.

That said, I think it probably could have been a little shorter and less convoluted. I dislike situations where we are inside the mind of the villain, but we don't know who s/he is or exactly what s/he's up to. I'd rather not meet the villain at all until the heroes lead us to him/her or alternatively, just come out and tell me who he is.

Some of the multiple-time-frames/alternate time lines stuff near the end got a bit tedious, but overall, I thought the author did some clever things as the characters pass from past to present to different time stream.


I purchased this book new, and read it once. It's in good condition from a non-smoking household.
FIRST ENTRY: Comment here with the name of your favorite dinosaur book or movie and why you like it so much.
EXTRA ENTRIES: For each item you complete, leave another comment here and be sure to include a link to your tweets or to the non-giveaway post that you commented on. Make sure that you leave your email address in the comment OR that it’s part of your profile, so I can find it.
*leave a relevant comment on any non-giveaway post on this Hurricane Safety blog (1)
*visit my Crazy Kitty Chick blog and leave a relevant comment on any non-giveaway post (1)
*visit my Rhyme Schemes and Daydreams blog and leave a relevant comment on any non-giveaway post (1)
*follow Auriette on Twitter and tweet about this giveaway (1)
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You can earn a maximum of six entries per household. Eligible comments must be made no later than 11:59pm ET on June 18, 2011. Entrants must be 18 or older, with shipping addresses in the United States or military APO/FPO addresses. One winner will be selected by random drawing on June 19 and notified by email. Winner must respond to this email with mailing address within 72 hours or another winner will be selected. Book will be sent media mail.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Hurricane Season Begins

Another hurricane season is under way, which means that one of the first things I'll do every day is check out the National Hurricane Center website. If there's a full-fledged tropical storm or a hurricane in the Atlantic, Caribbean or Gulf, the NHC will have full details on its strength and projected path.

On days like today, when there are low pressure systems that could develop into a cyclonic system, I'll follow up with a visit to Weather Underground. The more "serious" low pressure systems will be tracked by various forecasting centers, and the computer models will give you an idea of where that system will end up - whether it develops or not.

One note about computer models - the ones mapped out on sites like Weather Underground are typically ensemble models. For each ensemble model, or track,  information from several different forecasting computers has been compiled to project the movement of the storm. Some sites will pictured the spaghetti models, and many of those are forecast tracks from a single computer.

What's the difference between the spaghetti models and the ensemble and the "official" track from the NHC?

The development and movement of a tropical system, or really any storm system, is dependent on a lot of different factors. High and low pressure systems, for example, affect how the storms move. Wind shear may weaken a storm. Warm waters strengthen them. Scientists have been studying hurricanes for years, so they know how all these different atmospheric and oceanic conditions may change the storm.

Once computers came along, they created software that lets them plug in all this data, and then the software analyzes it and says, "This is where the storm could be going and how strong it's likely to get on the way."

The differences in the models come from how the the software applies the knowledge. In one case, the software may not consider the movement of warm and cold ocean currents. Another program may give more weight to those same currents and place a lower priority on wind shear.

Here's an analogy. 

Let's say that you wanted to determine the likelihood that someone can blow out all the candles on his/her birthday cake. The first thing you would do, if you were a forecaster, would be to collect information about past parties. Maybe you find some anecdotal evidence in old diaries ("Aunt Marge took a mighty break - she was a trained opera singer in her youth, after all - and with a great gust, she blew out all 40 of the candles on her cake."). You study birthday videos on YouTube and analyze the age, apparent lungworthiness, number of candles, and angle of approach. You take into consideration the presence of ceiling fans, air vents, and fireplaces. You pay poor college students a dollar a puff to blow out various types of candles in slightly different configurations on simulated cakes in common and unusual settings. You program your computer with all the data. Then, when Sissy's 16th birthday roles around, you plug in her age, the seriousness of her asthma, the brand of candles, the dimensions of the room, and the number of guests. You give it your best guess as to whether her birthday wish will come true.

Then you watch and see what really happens.

Weather forecasting is a guessing game.

To be sure, the guesses are very well educated, and forecasting has come a long way even in the past dozen years. The tools used to collect data are extremely sophisticated, and meteorologists have had a lot of storms to watch and study - 27 systems in 2005 alone. It will never be an exact science, because one little change in a weather system over the Rockies can ricochet down to the Gulf and slow a storm down or cause it to turn.

Why bother?

When a storm forms in the Atlantic off the coast of Africa, and we look at that photo of clouds over the ocean, we can't tell from that snapshot whether it's going to slam into the Gulf Coast of Florida in three weeks (Ivan, 2004) or if it's going to spin off harmlessly into the North Atlantic and dissipate in a week (Karl, 2004) or if it's going to lay waste to the Carolina coast two weeks later (Hugo, 1989). The computer models help narrow down which way the storm is going, giving those of us who live on a coastline advance warning, time to fill up the gas cans, buy extra (non-perishable) groceries, cook up the food in the freezer, and pack a bag (if you have to evacuate).

In an uncertain world, a little extra time to prepare is the best we can hope for.