Living in a beautiful tropical climate such as Florida, with its sparkling beaches, warm weather, and year-round greenery, it is easy to forget just how quickly the weather can turn on you. While relaxing on a mild, sunny day, the potential dangers of mother nature are usually the last thing on most people’s minds.
Unfortunately, just because weather problems are out of sight, that shouldn’t mean that they should be out of mind. As disasters such as the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons prove, there are potential disasters just waiting to strike.
In order to better prepare yourself and your home from such disasters, it is important to know what they are. With that in mind, here is a list of the most common natural disaster hazards to your health and home:
There’s a reason Florida is nicknamed the “Lightning Capitol of the United States.” According to the floridadisaster.org website, our state “experiences thunderstorms on nearly one-third of the days in a year.” This means that there are at least two thunderstorms a week on average in the sunshine state. The lightning from electrical storms alone is responsible for over $6 million worth of damages a year.
To combat this, many homes in Florida have Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupt outlets (GFCI) and lightning rods or have been designed specifically to be lightning-resistant. The GFCI outlets protect people from being electrocuted when the power shorts while they are handling electrical systems, while lightning rods draw the energy surge from lightning strikes away from the home and discharge them harmlessly into the ground. For most electrical storms, this level of protection will be enough to ensure that harm does not come to you or your home.
Unfortunately, severe thunderstorms can still cause damage to your home’s electrical systems despite the best countermeasures. This is why it is especially important to place all high-value electronics on surge protectors to prevent damage to your most expensive, hard-to-replace electronics, such as your computer.
Lightning strikes pose another threat to your safety beyond electrocution. If lightning strikes something flammable, it can ignite and begin a fire, leading us to the next item on our list:
Being a peninsula surrounded by water on three out of four sides, you would think that the state of Florida would be largely immune to the occurrence of wildfires. With all of that moisture in the air, who would think to worry about a random, naturally-occurring fire?
Did you know that the Palmetto is practically evolved to burn, and that Florida is #2 in the nation for wildfires?
Much of Florida is still undeveloped wildlands, but as more people move into the state and new development communities are built, the space between fire-prone wildlands and human habitats is becoming dangerously small.
Forestry officials in Florida actually intentionally ignite burns in order to clear underbrush and low-growing foliage such as palmettos and reduce the risk of an uncontrolled burn happening. Regrettably, despite the best efforts of forestry officials, unexpected blazes still occur. Much of the time, these uncontrolled fires are caused by lightning strikes which ignite some dry leaves or dead grass, which start a blaze. In the middle of a dry forest, there are no witnesses to call the fire department to fight the fire, and no control measures to ensure that the blaze does not go beyond the boundaries of the forest.
If your home is next to an undeveloped area filled with flammable shrubbery, it is imperative that you stay aware of the dry seasons in your area. Should a blaze occur in the area next to your home, EVACUATE IMMEDIATELY. Fire can spread surprisingly fast, and you may find that the far-off blaze you spotted three minutes ago is already lapping at your fence. Find and follow your local evacuation route, and keep a radio tuned to the emergency band to receive updates and instructions.
Very few people who live in Florida will ever forget just how dangerous these huge storm systems can be. Many people will remember the storm seasons of 2004 and 2005 for the rest of their lives. When hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne ripped through the Florida peninsula in ’04, the damage was in the billions, and many thought it couldn’t get any worse, then the ’05 hurricane season arrived with storms such as Hurricane Wilma and the infamous Hurricane Katrina.
These storms cost hundreds of lives and billions of dollars of property damage, destroying roads, homes, and businesses. For many, the road to recovery was a struggle that took years as people tried to mend the damage done to their homes, neighborhoods, livelihoods, and families.
Although many homes in Florida have been designed with hurricane forces in mind, there is no guarantee that any amount of structural reinforcement will prevent damage. When confronted by 70+ mile an hour winds, torrential rains, and flying debris, homes and other property can become severely damaged.
The way to prevent damage to your home during a hurricane is to be prepared for it beforehand. During the hurricane season, stay aware of developing storms by following the news and weather stations. If a hurricane is likely to hit, you can limit the damage to your home by removing loose items from your yard (such as small, light signs, the barbecue grill, and lawn decorations), boarding up your windows, and reinforcing your fence. If you have a garage, you should park your car in it, so that flying debris does not damage it (if the storm is severe enough, your car can actually be slid along the ground if left outside). Applying ply board covers to your windows can drastically reduce the odds that a stray rock or other small piece of debris will shatter your windows.
Hurricanes can also spawn tornadoes, as well as cause flooding.
In some instances, a hurricane can create a tornado, a highly-localized but intense zone of wind, typically appearing in the shape of a tall, narrow funnel to the human eye. A low-intensity tornado may have winds as “slow” as 65 MPH, while the most intense tornadoes can have winds in excess of 166-200 MPH (category 4 and 5 tornadoes). As reported by weather.com, the measurement of a tornado’s intensity is actually done by examining the damage caused by the tornado after-the-fact, because tornadoes “can destroy any weather instruments placed in their path.”
If a tornado watch is issued for your area, it is important to prepare for evacuation. A designated safety shelter may be your only reliable refuge should a tornado form near your home.
The other spawn of a major hurricane is flooding. When a hurricane travels through the peninsula, the force of the winds can carry seawater deep inland, and the sudden, torrential downpour of rain can cause areas with insufficient drainage to flood. Even if your street does not become flooded, your home can still suffer severe water damage during a storm, as the high-speed winds can damage your roof and let water in.
Left alone, this water damage can cause mold to spread throughout a home, and even irreparably damage the home’s structure.
One Last Piece of Advice
Even in a state as seemingly peaceful as Florida, mother nature can be deadly. If your home has been damaged by a recent natural disaster, there can be problems you are not able to see immediately, such as mold in the attic or basement, but still pose a severe risk to your house and family.