Severe Weather Safety Tips: What To Watch For After a Storm

Above all, safety first.

Severe Weather Safety Tips iStock

Severe weather poses a threat to your home and car. But even after a severe storm ends, the threat of danger remains. Here are some severe weather safety tips that could help keep you and your family safe, whether you rode out the storm at home or evacuated and returned to assess the damage.

1. Stay informed.

Just because the weather has improved doesn’t mean the storm has completely left your area. Use a weather app on your phone, watch the local news, check out what people are saying on social media, or listen to a weather radio—just be sure it’s safe before you go outside.

2. Beware of hazards.

From flooded roads and downed power lines to the potential for carbon monoxide poisoning, the effects of a severe storm can linger after the storm ends. These severe weather safety tips address the hazards that remain.

Avoid electrical hazards. Look for flooded areas outside your home. If there is flooding, turn off your electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker if you can do so safely and without standing in water—otherwise, call your electric utility. Do not touch electrical equipment such as appliances and TVs—wait for an electrician to examine your home. Here is more advice for staying safe after a flood from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Don’t drive or walk through floodwaters. Standing water can be electrically charged from downed and underground power lines; it can conceal dangerous debris and wildlife; or it can be contaminated with sewage and hazardous chemicals. Water flowing across a road can conceal a washed out roadway. Just 6 inches of flowing water can knock a person off their feet, and just a foot of fast-moving water can destabilize a car.

Stay clear of fallen power lines. Also watch for overhead lines that may be hanging low. Call the electric company to report them.

Beware of natural gas leaks and carbon monoxide. If you smell gas or suspect a leak, don’t do anything that could cause a spark. Turn off the main gas valve, open all windows, leave the house immediately, and call the gas company, police or fire department, or state fire marshal. Equipment such as generators, gas grills and camp stoves create carbon monoxide and shouldn’t be used inside your home, basement or garage. Use them outside and at least 20 feet from any window, door or vent.

If the power is out, use flashlights instead of candles. If you must use candles, keep them away from anything that can catch fire. Always stay near lit candles and keep a fire extinguisher handy.

Protect yourself from animals and pests. Stay away from wild or stray animals after a storm, and use insect repellent with DEET or picaridin.

3. Examine your home for damage.

Some damage may be obvious, but be sure to look for subtle signs (for example, use binoculars to check for missing shingles). When walking through or cleaning up areas of damage from a severe storm, wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and sturdy shoes. And never enter severely damaged buildings.

Document any damage. Contact your insurance company immediately to begin the claims process. You should document the damage as soon as possible. Take photographs and videos for your insurance claim and personal records. The more documentation you have, the easier it is to file your claim.

Prevent further damage. Do only what’s necessary to prevent further damage, such as covering broken windows with plastic or getting a pro to cover the roof with tarps to keep rain out. Don’t hire someone to make permanent repairs until an insurance adjuster has reviewed the damage.

Clean up your home safely. Wear protective clothing, use appropriate face coverings or masks if you’re cleaning up debris, and maintain a physical distance of at least 6 feet while working with someone who isn’t a member of your household. Thorough mold cleanup is best left to the pros. Children should not take part in disaster cleanup work. Here is more advice from the CDC on cleaning up after a disaster.

What to wear when cleaning up debris after severe storm

4. Take care of yourself—and others.

Basic personal hygiene and handwashing are important to help prevent the spread of illness and disease. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds if you have been in floodwater, or use alcohol-based wipes or hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol (note that hand sanitizers are not effective when your hands are visibly dirty). Take care of any wounds or injuries to prevent infection. Also seek advice on attending to your emotional health.

Keep COVID-19 guidelines in mind. If you are in a place with many people—such as a shelter or a community center—follow the latest guidelines from the CDC for protecting yourself and your family from COVID-19.

Let family and close friends know you’re safe. Save phone calls for emergencies, since phone systems are often down or busy after a disaster. Use text messages or social media to communicate with family and friends.

Help your neighbors. Lend a hand to others when you can and remember that these severe weather safety tips apply to them, too.

5. Be wary of unlicensed contractors.

The aftermath of a hurricane or other severe storm creates the opportunity for scammers and unlicensed contractors to take advantage of those who need help. Before you hire someone to make repairs, make sure they’re legitimate and do quality work by looking them up on the Better Business Bureau website and seeking references. Never pay in advance for work to be done, and be wary of any contractor who demands full or half payment up-front. Your best bet is to use a contractor recommended by your insurance company.

6. In cases of extreme damage …

If you evacuated before the storm hit, don’t return to your local area to assess the damage until officials say it is safe to do so. Keep in mind that flash flooding can occur, so roads and bridges may be damaged.

If your home is destroyed or uninhabitable, find a safe place where your family can stay while your home is repaired. The loss-of-use coverage in a standard homeowners insurance policy typically helps pay for your family’s lodging as long as the damage is part of a covered claim. Check your policy or ask your insurance agent to make sure you have this coverage and to determine its monetary value and time limits. If you need help locating temporary housing options, here is more information from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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