Severe Weather

Citizens should be prepared for potentially damaging weather in New Hanover County that can strike at any time. Tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, lightning strikes, snow and ice storms have caused power outages, property damage, environmental destruction, and interruptions in food and water supplies.

The best time to assemble a three-day emergency supply kit is well before you will ever need it. Most people already have these items around the house and it is a matter of assembling them now before an evacuation order is issued. Stocking up now on emergency supplies can add to your family’s safety and comfort during and after a disaster.

Use the following Severe Weather Guides to assist your family and/or business in being prepared in case of a disaster.

Earthquakes do not happen very often in North Carolina, but it is wise to be prepared and know what to if one should happen at your home, the workplace, or while you’re driving.

Initially, you would first hear a low rumbling noise followed by the shaking. It could start gently and grow more violent, or you could be jarred by a sudden jolt. The most important thing to remember during an earthquake is not to panic. Most casualties result from falling objects and debris.

Duck, Cover and Hold

DUCK – When the shaking first starts…DUCK or drop to the floor.

COVER – Take COVER under a sturdy desk, table, or other furniture. If there is nothing available to take cover under, crouch against an interior wall and protect your head and neck with your arms. Stay away from windows, hanging objects, mirrors or anything that might fall over.

HOLD – If seeking cover under a piece of furniture, HOLD on to it and be prepared to move with it during the quake.

In modern homes doorways are no stronger than any other parts of the house and the doors could swing and injure you.

Earthquake Supplies

  • Fire extinguisher
  • Adequate supplies of medications that you or family members are taking
  • Crescent and pipe wrenches to turn off gas and water supplies
  • First-aid kit and handbook
  • Flashlights with extra bulbs and batteries
  • Water for each family member for at least two weeks (allow at least 1 gallon per person per day) and purification tablets or chlorine bleach to purify drinking water from other sources
  • Canned and package foods, enough for several days and MECHANICAL can opener. Extra food for pets if necessary
  • Camp stove or barbecue to cook on outdoors (store fuel out of the reach of children)
  • Waterproof, heavy-duty plastic bags for waste disposal.

What to do if an earthquake strikes in these locations:

  • HIGH-RISE BUILDING. Stay near an interior wall. Do not use the elevators.
  • OUTDOORS. Move to a clear area, away from trees, signs, buildings or downed electrical wires and poles.
  • WALKING ALONG THE STREET. Duck into a doorway to protect yourself from falling bricks, glass, plaster and other debris.
  • IN YOUR CAR. Pull over to the side of the road and stop. Avoid overpasses, power lines and other hazards. STAY INSIDE THE VEHICLE UNTIL THE SHAKING IS OVER.
  • IN A CROWDED STORE OR OTHER PUBLIC PLACE. Do not rush for the exits. DO NOT PANIC. Move away from anything that might fall.
  • IN THE KITCHEN. Move away from the refrigerator, stove and overhead cupboards.
  • IN A STADIUM OR THEATER. Stay in your seat and protect your head with your arms. DO NOT try and leave until the shaking is over.

After the Earthquake

Remember, while an earthquake might only last a few seconds, there are often after-shocks that could be as strong as the earthquake occurring for days after the initial shaking.

  • Do not enter partially collapsed or damaged buildings.
  • Avoid electrical wiring, indoors and out.
  • Check your home for signs of structural damage.

Flooding can occur at anytime of the year and just about anywhere in New Hanover County. Many New Hanover County residents remember the record-setting 500-year flood caused by Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Sixty-six of North Carolina’s 100 counties were declared disaster areas.

Whether you are in your home, driving or on foot, flooding is dangerous. Just a few inches of water can knock you off your feet or sweep your car away.

Stay away from flooded roadways and swollen streams and rivers. Floods can cause great damage as well as loss of life.

Flood Watches and Warnings

  • Flood forecasts mean rainfall is heavy enough to cause rivers to overflow their banks.
  • Flood warnings describe the affected river, lake or tidewater, the severity of the flooding, and when and where the flooding will begin.
  • Flash flood watches mean heavy rains or snowmelt is occurring or expected to occur that may cause sudden flash flooding in specified areas. Be alert, you may be asked to take immediate action.
  • Flash flood warnings are announced when flash flooding is occurring or is imminent along certain streams and designated areas. Immediate action to reach a place of safety must be taken by those threatened.

Flood currents can be strong and hazardous. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, keeps a round-the-clock surveillance on the nation’s rivers and is prepared to issue warnings when the threat of flooding occurs. If you live in a flood zone, you may prevent loss if you make advance preparations.

Flood Safety Tips

  • Do not try to swim or dive into the water.
  • Do not canoe or kayak on flooding rivers. Currents are deadly.
  • Never try to cross a flowing stream on foot, not even a small stream. Streams or drainage channels may flood suddenly.
  • Watch for mudslides, broken sewers or water mains, downed electrical wires and fallen objects.
  • Stay away from areas that are already flooded.
  • Learn evacuation routes and shelter locations.
  • Listen to radio and television for information or instructions from New Hanover County Emergency Management.

Do Not Drive in Flood Waters

Do not drive your car through flood waters. Most deaths in flash flooding occur in automobiles. Cars will float in less than one foot of water, and that’s when lives are seriously endangered.

If flooding occurs:

  • Move to higher ground to escape floodwaters.
  • Do not drive your vehicle over bridges, dips in the road, or low spots.
  • Vehicles caught in rising water should be abandoned quickly.
  • If you cannot see the line markings on the road, do not go through the water.
  • Be especially cautious at night when it is harder to recognize the dangers of floods and flash floods.
  • Do not stay in areas subject to flooding when water begins rising.

After The Flood: Getting back into your home safely

A building that has been damaged by rising water can be a dangerous place. This information will help you know what to look out for and how to protect yourself and your family. It will also tell you what you need to know about cleaning up and making your home safe to live in again.

Watch out for these dangers:
Never assume that a water-damaged house is safe. Going into a building that has been flooded, even after the water is gone, can present a wide variety of hazards that can cause injury, illness or even death. Do not allow children in the home after the flood or while it is being cleaned, inspected or repaired.

  • Electrical hazards – Do not enter a flooded or wet building if the power is on. If any electrical circuits have gotten wet, get the poser turned off at the main breaker or fuse box and leave it off until the electrical wiring or equipment has been inspected and repaired by a licensed electrician and approved by your county building inspector.
  • Structural damage – Do not enter a building if the framing or foundation is damaged. Look carefully before you enter. Leave immediately if shifting or unusual noises signal a possible collapse of the building. Contact your local building inspector for a safety inspection.
  • Hazardous materials – Dangerous materials that might be found in flooded homes include pesticides, fuel oil, gasoline, chemicals and other substances that might have been brought in or spilled by the flood. Damaged buildings may also contain asbestos and lead-based paint, which can cause health problems during cleanup. Practically any building material that is not obviously solid wood, metal or glass could contain asbestos. Lead-based paint can be found pre-1978 housing and is still used in commercial and industrial buildings.
  • Injuries – Falling objects, broken or damaged building components and slick surfaces can cause injuries, broken bones, and cuts. Lifting heavy objects can cause back and muscle strains.
  • Biological hazards – Bacteria, viruses, molds and mildew can cause illness when you breath them in or take them into your body through your mouth or through a cut in the skin. Bacteria or viruses may be left indoors by floodwater, while mold and mildew may grow indoors after the floodwater has receded.

New Hanover County is vulnerable to a direct hurricane strike and can be devastated by the high winds and potential tornados, storm surges, flooding and landslides from hurricanes and tropical storms.

Durring hurricane season, from June 1 to November 30, you should have a family emergency plan in place and a family emergency supplies kit assembled.

Also:

  • Know your evacuation routes and locate emergency shelters.
  • Don’t get caught by surprise. There is not enough time to think of everything you need to do when a hurricane gets close.
  • As a hurricane moves closer to our area, begin monitoring the weather reports every hour.
  • Listen for hurricane watches and warnings.
  • Put fuel in all vehicles and withdraw some cash from the bank. Gas stations and banks may be closed after a hurricane.
  • If authorities ask you to evacuate, do so promptly.
  • If you evacuate, be alert to flooded or washed-out roads. Just a few inches of water can float a car. Remember: Turn Around, Don’t Drown.
  • Keep a photo I.D. that shows your home address. This may become important when asking a police officer or National Guard member for permission to re-enter your neighborhood.
  • There is never enough time to get ready for nature’s fiercest weather. Giver yourself and your family a head start.

Categories

  • Tropical Depression – contains winds up to 39 miles per hour.
  • Tropical Storm – contains winds from 39 to 73 mph.
  • Category 1 – hurricanes have winds from 74 to 95 mph.
  • Category 2 – hurricanes have winds from 96 to 100 mph.
  • Category 3 – hurricanes have winds from 111 to 130 mph.
  • Category 4 – hurricanes have winds from 131 to 155 mph.
  • Category 5 – hurricanes have winds 156 mph or greater.

Lightning is a dangerous threat to people in the United States, particularly those outside in the summertime, the peak season for lightning. Across the United States each year an estimated 25 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes occur. Each flash is a potential danger. An average of 73 people are killed each year in the U.S, more than the number of people killed by tornadoes or hurricanes.

Lightning can strike as far as 10 miles away from the rain area in a thunderstorm, or about the distance you can hear thunder. When a storm is 10 miles away, it may even be difficult to tell a storm is coming.

In addition to the visible flash that travels through the air, the current associated with the lightning discharge travels along the ground. Although some victims are struck directly by the main lightning stroke, many victims are struck as the current moves in and along the ground.

The first stroke of lightning is just as deadly as the last. If the sky looks threatening, people should take shelter even before they hear thunder.

Safety Tips

Be aware of developing thunderstorms. IF YOU CAN HEAR THUNDER, YOU ARE WITHIN STRIKING DISTANCE. SEEK SAFE SHELTER IMMEDIATELY.

  • When you see lightning, count the time until you hear thunder. If that time is 30 seconds or less, the thunderstorm is within six miles of you and is dangerous. Seek shelter immediately.
  • Wait at least 30 minutes after the last lightning flash before leaving shelter. Don’t be fooled by sunshine or blue sky. The threat of lightning continues for much longer period than most people realize.
  • Those involved in boating, swimming, fishing, bicycling, golfing, jogging, walking, hiking, camping, or working out of doors need to take shelter quickly when thunderstorms approach.
  • Where organized sports activities are taking place, coaches, umpires, referees, or camp counselors must protect the safety of the participants by stopping the activities before the lightning threat becomes significant so that participants and spectators can get to a safe place.
  • Those in charge of organized outdoor activities should develop and follow a plan to keep participants and spectators safe from lightning.
  • Inside homes, people should stay away from windows and doors and avoid contact with anything that conducts electricity.
  • To protect property within their homes, people should unplug electronic equipment well before the storm.

If lightning strikes

If someone is struck by lightning, medical care may be needed immediately to save his or her life. Call 9-1-1. Cardiac arrest and irregularities, burns, and nerve damage are common in cases where people are struck by lightning.

Tornadoes can occur with little or no warning throughout the year. The peak season, however, is March through May.
If you were to see a tornado approaching, you would only have a short time to make life-or-death decisions. Knowing the basics of tornado safety, planning ahead and holding an annual tornado drill lowers the chance of injury or death if a tornado were to strike in your community.

Identify Safe Areas

At Home
Seek shelter on the lowest possible floor or in the basement. Under the stairs or in a bathroom or closet are good shelter spots. Do not open or close windows, stay away from them. Crouch on the floor in the egg position.

At Work
Seek shelter on the lowest possible floor or a basement, if there is a basement. Stairwells, bathrooms and closets are good spots. Stay away from windows. As a last resort, crawl under your desk.

At School
Seek shelter in interior hallways, small closets and bathrooms. Stay away from windows. Get out of mobile classrooms. Stay out of gymnasiums, auditoriums and other rooms with a large expanse of roof. Bus drivers should be alert for bad weather on their routes.

At The Mall
Seek shelter against an interior wall. An enclosed hallway or fire exit leading away from the main mall concourse is a good spot. Stay away from skylights and large open areas.

Watches & Warnings

  • Watch – conditions are right for tornado formation.
  • Warning – a tornado has actually been sighted.

Danger Signs

  • If there is a watch or warning posted, falling hail should be considered as a real danger sign
  • Before a tornado hits, the wind may die down and the air may become very still.
  • Tornadoes generally occur near the trailing edge of a thunderstorm. It is not uncommon to see clear, sunlit skies behind a tornado.

Safety Tips

  • Learn how to turn off the water, gas and electricity at the main switches.
  • The safest place to be during a tornado is underground in a basement or storm cellar. If you have no basement, go to an inner hallway or smaller inner room without windows, such as a bathroom or closet. Go to the center of the room. Try to find something sturdy you can get under and hold onto to protect you from flying debris and/or a collapsed roof. Use your arms to protect your head and neck.
  • Listen to the radio, local television, weather channel or a NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) radio for information.
  • A watch means conditions are right for tornado formation; a warning means a tornado has actually been sighted.
  • Mobile homes, even those with tie-downs, are particularly vulnerable to damage from high winds. Go to a prearranged shelter when the weather turns bad.

If no shelter is available, go outside and lie on the ground, if possible in a ditch or depression. Use your arms to protect your head and neck and wait for the storm to pass. While waiting, be alert for the flash floods that sometimes accompany tornadoes.
Never try to outrun a tornado in a car. A tornado can toss cars and trucks around like toys. If you see a funnel cloud or hear a tornado warning issued, get out of your vehicle and find safe shelter. If no shelter is available, lie down in a low area using your arms to cover the back of your head and neck. Be sure to stay alert for flooding.

About 85 percent of tsunamis occur in the Pacific Ocean, but North Carolina residents living or vacationing at the beach should be prepared nonetheless.  A tsunami is a huge ocean wave that can hit coastal areas and surge inland 1,000 feet or more. The debris-filled water can cause great destruction and loss of life within minutes. Earthquakes or underwater landslides can trigger a tsunami, which can travel across an entire ocean basin within hours at speeds of 600 mph. The speed of a tsunami wave decreases as it approaches the coast, but its height increases by as much as 100 feet. In the open ocean, tsunamis would not be felt by ships or seen from the air because the wavelength would be hundreds of miles long. During the past four centuries, at least 40 tsunamis have hit the U.S. Atlantic coast, though most of them have been minor. Only one Atlantic-wide tsunami has been documented – one that was generated by an earthquake near Lisbon, Portugal, in 1755.  Although the risk of a tsunami striking the east coast is not great, the N.C. Emergency Management Division has included plans for responding to a tsunami in their training and education programs with local officials.

Safety Tips

If you feel an earthquake or hear a sizable ground rumbling and you see a noticeable rapid rise or fall in coastal waters, those are good warning signs for a tsunami. Seek higher ground immediately. Don’t wait for official evacuation orders.

The International Tsunamis Information Center provides the following helpful information:

Tsunamis can be detected by use of our human senses:

  • TOUCH – Strong local earthquakes may cause tsunamis.
  • FEEL the ground shaking severely? Immediately evacuate low-lying coastal areas and move inland to higher ground.
  • SIGHT – As a tsunami approaches shorelines, water may recede from the coast, exposing the ocean floor and reefs. If you see an unusual disappearance of water, immediately evacuate low-lying coastal areas and move inland to higher ground.
  • SOUND – The abnormal ocean activity, a wall of water, and approaching tsunami waves create a loud “roaring” sound similar to that of a train or jet aircraft.
  • HEAR the roar? Immediately evacuate low-lying coastal areas and move inland to higher ground.

Dressing for the Season

Wear multiple layers of thin clothing instead of a single layer of thick clothing. You’ll be warmer and you can easily remove layers to remain comfortable.

  • Wear a hat; most body heat is lost through the top of the head.
  • Mittens are warmer than gloves.
  • Cover your mouth with scarves to protect lungs from directly inhaling the extremely cold air.

Food and Fuel

Always keep at least a seven day supply of non-perishable food in your home and a gallon of water per person per day.

  • Make sure you have sufficient heating fuel; regular fuel sources may be cut off.
  • NEVER USE A CHARCOAL GRILL OR CAMP STOVE INDOORS FOR EITHER COOKING OR HEATING. THE FUMES CAN BE TOXIC.
  • Have emergency heating equipment and fuel available (a gas fireplace or wood burning stove or fireplace) so at least one room in your house is warm enough to be livable. If your furnace is controlled by a thermostat and your electricity is cut off by a storm, you will need emergency heat.
  • If you have a fireplace, store a good supply of dry, seasoned wood.
  • Conserve fuel by keeping your house cooler than usual and by temporarily “closing off” heat to some rooms.
  • When kerosene heaters are used, maintain ventilation to avoid the build up of toxic fumes. Also, always refuel kerosene heaters outside and keep them at least 3 feet away from flammable objects. Use only approved fuel in these heaters. NEVER burn gasoline.
  • A gas-powered generator can help provide small amounts of electricity to your home until power is restored. Locate the generator outside your home, away from windows and doors. The fumes can be deadly.
  • Keep fire extinguishers on hand, and make sure your family knows how to use them. Know fire prevention rules.
  • Residents should stay tuned to local media for additional weather information.

Winter Driving Tips

If you absolutely must travel, the North Carolina Highway Patrol recommends the following precautions:

  • Reduce your speed. Driving at the regular speed limit will reduce your ability to control the car if you begin to slide.
  • Leave plenty of room between you and other vehicles.
  • Bridges and overpasses accumulate ice first. Approach them with extreme caution and do not apply your brakes while on the bridge.
  • If you do begin to slide, take your foot off the gas and turn the steering wheel IN THE DIRECTION OF THE SLIDE. Do NOT apply the brakes as that will cause further loss of control of the car.

If you become trapped in your car:

  • Pull off the highway; stay calm and remain in your vehicle. At night, turn on the inside dome light, so work and rescue crews can see you.
  • Set your directional lights to “flashing” and hang a cloth or distress flag from the radio aerial or window. In a rural or wilderness area, spread a large cloth over the snow to attract attention of rescue crews who may be surveying the area by airplane.
  • Do not set out on foot unless you can see a building close by where you know you can take shelter.
  • If you run the engine to keep warm, open a window slightly for ventilation. This will protect you from possible carbon monoxide poisoning. Periodically clear away snow from the exhaust pipe.
  • Exercise to maintain body heat, but avoid overexertion. In extreme cold, use road maps, seat covers and floor mats for insulation. Huddle with passengers and use your coat as a blanket.
  • Never let everyone in the car sleep at once. One person should stay awake to look out for rescue crews.
  • Be careful not to use battery power. Balance electrical energy needs – the use of lights, heat and radio – with your supply.
Emergency Management & 911: 230 Government Center Drive, Suite 115 • Wilmington, NC 28403 • Phone 910-798-6900 • Fax 910-798-6904