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Important phone numbers and websites
Pinellas County Emergency Management: (727) 464-3800 |www.pinellascounty.org/emergency
Find your evacuation level: (727) 453-3150 |www.pinellascounty.org/emergency/knowyourzone.htm
Register for special needs transportation: (727) 464-3800 |www.pinellascounty.org/forms/evac-assist.htm
Follow Pinellas County Emergency Management on Twitter: twitter.com/PinellasEM
Sign up for Pinellas County’s Emergency Notification System Alert Pinellas: (866) 484-3264 | http://tinyurl.com/AlertPinellas
Set your Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) equipped all-hazards alert radio for Pinellas County: Enter code 012103
If you know someone who would like to receive the e-Lert newsletter, have them visitwww.pinellascounty.org/emergency/subscribe.htm
Emergency Weather Information
From the Desk of Pinellas County's Emergency Management Director
The National Weather Service issues a Hurricane Warning 36 hours before a storm is expected to make landfall. Do you know the average warning time before a tornado strikes? 13 minutes. Hurricane season is over, but forecasters predict a strong chance of severe weather in Florida this winter with the threat of powerful thunderstorms, flooding, cold temperatures and tornadoes. A strong El Niño weather pattern could create volatile conditions through springtime, so it’s vital for Pinellas County residents to be prepared for the unexpected.
Warm temperatures in the Pacific Ocean cause El Niño, which can bring a rainy, stormy winter to Florida and other parts of the Southern United States. During the deadly 1998 El Niño season, an outbreak of 12 tornadoes killed 42 people and injured 259 across Central Florida and the state experienced widespread flooding. The National Weather Service sees the potential for an even stronger El Niño this winter and spring.
During the last major El Niño, most tornado-related deaths happened overnight, between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., while people were sleeping. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center will issue a Severe Weather Outlook at 3 p.m. or 8 p.m. when there is a 10 percent or greater probability of significant overnight tornados. If a tornado touches down in your neighborhood, you may not have time to tune into the local news for emergency advice. The best warning system is a NOAA weather radio. These radios remain silent until a weather emergency occurs. Below you will find detailed information about these weather alert devices and other valuable tips to prepare for severe weather this winter. Take time now to prepare.
Emergency Alert Options
The National Weather Service typically issues a tornado warning only 10 to 20 minutes before the storm reaches your area. A weather alert radio or emergency alerts on your mobile device could save your life.
A NOAA Weather Alert Radio can be purchased at hardware stores and other major retailers.
NOAA Weather Alert Radio+
NOAA broadcasts continuous emergency weather information from from offices around the country. When a warning is issued, these radios radios will emit a loud tone that will awaken you to take protective cover. This device is a small investment to protect you and your family and is available at drug stores, home improvement stores and other large retailers.
Weather Emergency Alerts+
NOAA and other private vendors also offer weather alert apps available for smart phones that send out similar alert tones. Many cell phones are also equipped with the Weather Emergency Alert system, which sends weather service alerts to your phone when there’s an imminent threat to your safety. Contact your cell service provider to see if your phone is equipped. For more information on the alert system, visit NOAA’s website.
Pinellas County’s Emergency Notification System, Alert Pinellas, is a free program that allows us to send an automated message to your phone when there’s an emergency in your area. All you have to do is register your contact information and sign up for “weather alerts.” To sign up, visit http://tinyurl.com/AlertPinellas .
El NiÑo Dangers
Threat: Tornadoes can form quickly during thunderstorms and you may only have a few minutes to make life-or-death decisions.
How to prepare:
- Know the difference between a Tornado Watch and a Tornado Warning:
- Tornado Watch: Tornadoes are possible in your area, so stay alert and carefully monitor radio or TV reports for further developments.
- Tornado Warning: A tornado has been sighted in your area. Proceed to safe shelter immediately.
- Designate a tornado safe room in your home’s lowest floor with no windows, such as a bathroom or interior hallway.
- Conduct tornado drills with your family every year so everyone knows where to go if a storm is approaching.
- Develop an emergency communications plan. Designate an adult outside of your community who can be contacted to help your family reconnect after a disaster.
- Mobile homes are not safe in a tornado. Many mobile home communities have a recreation building or laundry room where you can seek shelter. As a last resort, find a ditch or culvert or other low-lying area of ground.
- After a tornado, watch out for downed power lines or broken gas lines and report them to your utility company.
- If you left your home, return only when authorities have advised it is safe to do so.
- For more information on preparing for a tornado, visit www.pinellascounty.org/tornado.
Threat: El Niño seasons are characterized by frequent, heavy rains that can cause major flooding in low-lying areas.
How to prepare:
- Know the difference between a Flood Advisory, Flood Watch and a Flood Warning:
- Flood Advisory: Be Aware. Weather is developing in your area that may become a nuisance, but flooding is not expected to be severe enough to issue a warning.
- Flood Watch: Be Prepared. Conditions are favorable for flooding, but this does not mean flooding will occur.
- Flood Warning: Take Action! Flooding is imminent or occurring.
- Flash Flood Warning: Take Action! A flash flood is imminent or occurring. If you are in a flood prone area, move immediately to high ground. A flash flood is a sudden violent flood that can take minutes to hours to develop and can occur even in an area that isn’t immediately experiencing rain.
- Homeowners insurance policies don’t typically cover flood damage, so talk to your insurance provider about extra flood coverage.
- Know your FEMA Flood Zone by visiting www.pinellascounty.org/flooding/maps.htm.
- Talk to your neighbors and check your FEMA Flood Zone to determine the flood vulnerability of your property.
- If you live in an area prone to flooding, you may want to consider sandbags or another type of barrier for keeping flood water of less than 1 foot out of your home. See below for more information about sandbags.
- Create a plan for what you’ll need to do if you have to leave your home or if you can’t return to your home. Be packed and ready to go if you need to evacuate. In your planning, remember that you may not be able to drive in and out of your neighborhood during a flood.
- Monitor radio, TV and Web reports for developing flood conditions.
- Don’t go into any room if water has submerged electrical outlets or cords.
- Do not drive through standing water and obey “road closed” signs. Turn Around, Don’t Drown!
- Do not walk through flood waters. It only takes six inches of water to knock you off your feet.
- After a flood, stay out of standing water or structures until authorities advise it’s safe. Standing water could contain toxins, chemicals, dangerous debris and wildlife.
- For more tips on preparing for floods, visit www.pinellascounty.org/flooding.
Fast Facts: Turn Around, Don’t Drown!
- 6 inches of water can sweep you off your feet
- 12 inches of water can float a car or small SUV
- 18 inches of water can carry away a large vehicle
Threat: El Niño can bring colder than normal winters even in southwest Florida and high winds or abnormally heavy energy demand can cause power outages.
How to prepare:
- Keep adequate cold weather clothing and blankets on hand.
- Create a disaster supply kit in case of a power outage (see list below)
- If you use a generator, make sure to operate it in a well-ventilated outdoor location and make sure exhaust fumes do not enter your home. Store fuel outside of living areas.
- Exercise caution when using portable heaters in your home.
Portable Heater Safety Tips+
- Never operate a heater you suspect is damaged; inspect heater, cord and plug before use.
- Never leave a heater operating while unattended or sleeping.
- Never place a heater near flammable material such as beds, sofas, clothes and curtains.
- Never run the heater cord under rugs or carpet and keep the unit away from water.
- Never plug the heater into an extension cord or power strip.
Sandbags are made available by the county and municipalities at certain times of emergencies. They are also available at local home improvement stores. Updates about sandbag availability will be provided during an emergency. For more information, visitwww.pinellascounty.org/emergency/sandbags.htm .
While storm surge is not usually a concern during winter storms, prolonged rainfall may prompt Emergency Management to call for evacuations in flooded communities. Shelters may be opened at various locations during a flood event. Sign up for the county’s emergency notification service for updates on whether evacuations are being ordered.
Disaster Supply Kit+
If a storm knocks out your power or you’re forced to evacuate your home, it’s important to have a supply of emergency items to help your family survive. A good practice is to have enough food, water and medications to last for three days. Here’s a list of other critical items:
- Fully charged mobile device with charger
- First aid kit
- Flashlight and candles
- Battery operated emergency radio
- Extra batteries
- Blankets or sleeping bags
- Plastic garbage bags
- Change of clothes
- List of important phone numbers (including family outside the area)
- Copy of insurance policy
- Credit cards and cash
- Extra set of car keys
- Special items for infants, elderly or disabled family members