by mark k. campbell
Summertime in Texas is like nowhere else.
Accidents happen, even with preplanning. But advanced caution can help – if not in averting trouble, perhaps lessening it.
Certainly the massive storms are on our minds after the devastation left behind in Oklahoma, Cleburne, and Granbury in recent weeks.
Naturally, there is no preventing tornadoes, but you can be prepared.
Taking time for a family drill can save lives, says Roger Edwards of the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.
“Know where you can take shelter in a matter of seconds,” he said and drill everyone in gathering at that predetermined place.
The greatest danger in tornadoes is flying debris. That’s why having protection – mattresses, sleeping bags – near your safe place is vital.
The best “safe rooms” in houses:
• Basements: They are rare in Texas, but if you have one, make sure you are not directly below some heavy object on the floor above, like a piano or refrigerator. They can fall through and crush those below.
• Houses/apartments/condos: Go to the lowest floor, under a stairwell or in a room with no windows. Crouch down, cover yourself with padding, and wear a helmet if you have one.
Office buildings: Choose a windowless area away on the lowest floor possible. Interior stairwells are good. Avoid elevators.
• Mobile homes: Leave! Go to a permanent structure, one you should designate in advance with your preplanning.
• Vehicles: If you have time, drive in right angles away from the tornado. If you can get lower than the roadway, leave your vehicle and go there. Avoid overpasses – nothing stops the violently blowing debris there.
• Outdoors: Lay flat, face down in the lowest possible area, away from trees and cars.
• Shopping mall, church, theater: move to an interior bathroom or hallway and cover your head.
Opening a window to “equalize pressure” is a myth. Tornadoes blast windows.
After the storm passes, beware of downed powerlines, broken glass, nails, and other debris that can injure.
Do not use matches or lighters since gas leaks could be near.
Listen for information from officials.
Be aware that some tornadoes have no funnels so watch for swirling dust or debris on the ground, Edwards said.
Some tornadoes are wrapped in rain and can’t be seen.
Listen for a loud, continuous roar that does not fade in a few seconds like thunder would.
At night, watch for small, bright, blue-green flashes at ground level, a sign that powerlines are being snapped by mighty winds.
Naturally, summer here dries out grass and everyone should be aware of local burn bans.
However, summertime brings another fire threat, outdoor grilling.
Gas grills cause more fires than charcoal fires, noted the National Fire Protection Association.
From 2006-2010, gas grill caused 7,100 home fires while charcoal grills started 1,200.
Most – 56 percent – began on porches, courtyards, or balconies.
The NFPA recommends these tips for avoiding grill fires:
• Propane and charcoal grills are for outdoors only.
• Clean grills regularly.
• Keep children and pets at least three feet away.
• Open the lid before lighting.
• If you smell gas while cooking, get away and call the fire department. Don’t move it.
• If a flame goes out, wait 15 minutes before relighting.
• Use only charcoal fluid starter for charcoal grill fires.
• Let coals cool then dispose of them in a metal container.
It can happen to you; ESPN SportsCenter anchor Hannah Storm was severely burned in a grill fire.
High temperatures can bring high death counts.
Between 1979-99, 8,015 people died in America because of excessive heat exposure, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Those most at risk are the very young, those over 65, obese people, and those with sweat-related illnesses or on certain medications (i.e., some diabetes and heart drugs).
To be safe outside, drink plenty of non-caffeinated beverages; caffeine, sugar, and alcohol can inhibit a body’s cooling process.
Drink before you feel thirsty.
Stay out of the heat if possible, but, if you are outdoors, wear loose, light-colored clothing and wide-brimmed hats.
Heat and humidity can add up to big trouble.
Watch for danger signs of overheating. Three ailments can arise:
• heat cramps – muscle cramps, especially in the legs caused by an imbalance of body salts. Massage, rest, and in-taking salty food and drink usually alleviates heat cramps.
• heat exhaustion – an advanced problem that includes dizziness, weakness, and core temperature rise. Move victims to a cool environment and let them drink something cool and salty if they are able. Raise feet slightly above head level.
• heat stroke – a true medical emergency when the body’s temperature rises above 105 degrees. Immediately call 911 for professional transport and treatment. Get out of the heat and apply cool wet bedding or clothes. Fan the person. Use ice packs at groin, neck, and/or underarms.
Even veterans of the Texas heat should use caution. It can kill you.
With Eagle Mountain Lake an enticement during searing summer days, it’s essential to be aware of your surroundings when on the water.
Swim only in designated areas and have a buddy.
Teach children to always ask for permission to enter the water; never leave them unattended.
Put children or inexperienced swimmers in life jackets.
Discourage “breath holding contests” and hyperventilating before swimming underwater,
Beware of drop-offs and underwater debris.
When boating, everyone should wear a life jacket. Designate a safe driver.
In Texas, boaters born after Sept. 1, 1993 must take a boater’s education course that includes piloting any vessel over 15 horsepower; any wind-blown vessel over 14 feet; and all personal watercraft (PWC).
Children under 13 may not pilot a PWC without an 18-year old-plus on board.
The two most violated laws on Texas waters: not enough life jackets on board and children under 13 not wearing life jackets.
All children under 13 must wear a life jacket in boats that are underway and less than 26 feet in length.
With 600,000 boats registered in Texas, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife, safety is crucial.
Most fatalities on Texas waters occur weekends between noon and 7 p.m. to someone 26-50 years of age who have fallen overboard from an open motorboat.
Alcohol plays a role in 50 percent of all boating fatalities.