Weather Related Emergencies

Having to be aware of potential weather related emergencies is perhaps not high on your list of things to do today. You’ve got enough to do just pulling the work together and making arrangements for your group our class to go smoothly today. But, if you remain in this industry long enough, sooner or later Mother Nature will sneak up on you, and depending on your area, she’ll hit you with an unexpected, flood, snowstorm, or tornado. And there you are with a pile of kids and no way to get them home safely or otherwise into the care of their parents.

Don’t you love this work? Sure you do!

Download FEMA’s excellent Are You Ready? A citizen’s guide to preparing for just about any weather emergency. ( It’s big, at 21 MB, and it’s worth every page.)

Of course you realize now that you should have paid closer attention to the weather this morning before heading off to work. And yes, you really should have gone ahead, as a precaution, and postponed today’s program or outing, just to be on the safe side–but you didn’t! And now the power is out, the roads are blocked and it’s apparent that you and your young charges are going nowhere for the time being.

For our purposes as youth workers, let’s consider weather related emergencies in two broad categories; Severe weather that disrupts, annoys and delays our programming plans or gets us stranded with children, and severe weather that is dangerous and immediately life threatening. The latter should have our attention first, don’t you think?

Life Threatening Weather

Tornadoes –  If you live in an area where tornadoes have been known to happen during any given year, you should, always, be on top of where your nearest approved tornado shelter is located if you’re working directly with young people. That’s an absolute must. Schools have tornado warning and alert systems in place, but many youth serving agencies and faith communities do not. Important terms: Tornado Watch – Tornadoes are possible. Remain alert for approaching storms. Watch the sky and stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio or television for information. Tornado Warning – A tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. Take shelter immediately.

Consider the following resources:

Tornado info from FEMA/Ready.gov: NOAA Storm Prediction Center

Weather Underground-Sever Weather (Offers alerts that you can sign up for to receive on your smart phone, etc.

Hurricanes – Today, hurricanes are forecasted well in advance so heeding the arrival of one should be a no-brainer! Just be sure not to think that the tropical storm moving in won’t rise to hurricane status and that it’s okay to go ahead with a planned program. Cancel programs well in advance…don’t take any chances!

Floods – If your school, program or facility is located in a low area next to a meandering picturesque river or creek, and you know that it has rained heavily recently, then be on alert for rising currents, etc.

Rising streams and rivers that have not risen to emergency status yet pose another risk to the youth you work with. Young people are naturally attracted to  sights and sounds of rushing water and may just want to “check-it-out” or explore it more closely. If I’m out and about with a grandchild on a day off from work, stopping to see mother nature at work in a roaring creek is one thing, because I’m right there. But if I’m working, and have a group or class of youngsters to oversee, no matter how much they may clamor and beg to “go watch it closer,” I do not allow it. There’s just too many kids, not enough of “me’s” and down deep you know that at least two or three will push the limits if you go with your group. So don’t!

Be aware too that once flood waters have receded and the danger has passed that embankments, shoreline boulders and foot bridges may have become unstable and could collapse. Here again, teachers and other youth workers need to remain cautious and be sure to check these areas out in advance before bringing your group or class to the area that was just recently flooded.

Potentially Dangerous and Severe Weather

Thunderstorms and Lightening

TERMS To Know:

Severe Thunderstorm Watch – Tells you when and where severe thunderstorms are likely to occur. Watch the sky and stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio or television for information.

Severe Thunderstorm Warning – Issued when severe weather has been reported by spotters or indicated by radar. Warnings indicate imminent danger to life and property to those in the path of the storm (Terms from FEMA)

If you work with children outside, thunderstorms can be a common occurrence and tricky to assess. Remember, even if you don’t see it, all thunderstorms produce lightning! You might be overseeing a a sports game or other activity in a nearby field and hear a few distant rumbles and don’t see lightning, and figure you’ll watch it closely for now. Some programs require you to clear the field if you even hear thunder off in the distance. This may seem like an overly cautious rule, but the facts regarding lightening support this practice.

Consider these points:

  • Lightening continues to be one of the top-three weather storm related killers in the US.
  • Follow “The 30/30 Lightening Rule:” Go indoors if, after seeing lightning, you cannot count to 30 before hearing thunder. Stay indoors for 30 minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder.
  • When overseeing programs out-of-doors, be aware of where the nearest safe shelter is to get your group into in the event of a severe thunderstorm.
  • Do not stand under trees…any trees.
  • Factor in how long it may take to get your charges off the field and into a safer enclosed building.
  •  Anytime you or others feel the hair on your body go up when you’re caught in a thunderstorm, it means that lightning is about to strike. Stop, squat down, but your hands over your ears and put your head between your knees and stand on the balls of your feet. DO NOT LIE DOWN FLAT ON THE GROUND.
  • FEMA offers an excellent, quick read info sheet on what you need to know about T-storms and lightening that every youth worker should read. Check it out here.

Kevin Lee

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