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More severe weather is coming. Here's how you can be prepared

Amanda Colbert (Groundsource response) 6.jpeg
Amanda Colbert
Grain bins in rural Iowa destroyed by derecho
Courtesy: Judi Hertle
Terry and Judi Hertle's century farm in Benton County was devastated by the derecho. Terry's grandfather built the farmhouse in 1919.

At the beginning of 2020, many Iowans had never even heard the word "derecho" before. Then two hit the state in the span of 18 months.

The derecho that tore through Iowa on Aug. 10, 2020 was, for many in the state, the most severe weather event in a lifetime. Four people died, and it was the costliest thunderstorm event in U.S. history.

Then, on Dec. 15, 2021, another derecho swept through Iowa, the first on record in December. These were events most Iowans weren't prepared for.

Extreme and dangerous weather events became more common in 2021, and climate scientists expect that trend to continue, an effect of the rising global temperature. This makes it all the more important to prepare for severe weather and potential emergencies.

Severe Weather Midwest Derecho
Charlie Riedel
AP File
The National Weather Service declared the series of thunderstorms and tornadoes that swept across the Great Plains and upper Midwest Dec. 15 as a serial derecho, a rare event featuring a very lengthy and wide line of storms. The service said it was the first-ever serial derecho in December in the United States

Planning for severe weather

Meteorologist Chad Hahn, with the National Weather Service in Des Moines, says that people should have multiple ways to receive severe weather alerts, like a weather radio and text alerts. "Have multiple ways and redundancy built into your warning system and think that through now. Prepare ahead of time because you don't want to be thinking through that and wondering whether or not this one's the one that I need to take action for."

It's important to know which types of disasters could affect your area. And families should know how they'll contact one another and reconnect if separated. Establish a family meeting place that’s familiar and easy to find. The Red Cross has templates for family emergency plans in multiple languages.

Eean Crawford is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which emphasizes emergency preparedness. After a severe weather event, it may be a while before the electricity is back on or cell phone towers are working again. "You really need to expect that you are kind of going to be on your own for about 72 hours," he says.

One way to do that is to prepare an emergency kit. Linda Davis, of FEMA Region 7, suggests having one kit for sheltering in place and another, like a backpack, that you can grab and take with you if you need to leave your home. Davis, Crawford and Emily Holley of the regional Red Cross offered advice on what should be in those emergency kits.

What should be in my emergency kit?

  • NOAA weather radio
  • Extra batteries
  • Camping lantern, flashlights, headlamps (each person will probably want their own)
    • Rope/tie for the flashlights for kids to keep track of them
  • 1 week's supply medication
    • "I just set aside a couple of days per month, you know, so that I'm not I'm not behind on on my medication. I'm not breaking any rules. But... I'll just take one day and set it aside per month and so that I'll I'll build up, you know, maybe two or three days, set it in the emergency kit and then I'm good to go for when disaster time occurs." — Holley
  • Nonperishable, grab-and-go food items like protein bars
  • Fresh water - 1 gallon of water per person per day
  • Sturdy shoes
  • Chargers for phones and other devices
  • Emergency phone numbers written down
  • First aid kit
    • Disinfectant, Band-Aids, wrap (to wrap up injured limbs, such as a sprained ankle)
  • Cash
  • Eye glasses or contacts
  • Menstrual hygiene items
  • Pet food and extra water for your pet(s)

While building an emergency kit may seem daunting, or expensive, Davis says it can be inexpensive and is worth a steady investment. "Building up your reserve with a little bit of water, building it a little bit at time, you can do it with a minor impact on your budget, and the knowledge is free for you to gain. You can go online, you can order resources at no cost through ready.gov, and you can take advantage of these opportunities so that you are prepared."

Pat Brown is an insurance agent with State Farm. She emphasizes the importance of renter's insurance for people who don't own their homes. "It's less than the cost of a pizza a month. It's just the most affordable, most important purchase an apartment owner can have."

In addition to the appropriate insurance, Brown offered other tips for preparing homes for emergencies in order to prevent damage.

How can I prepare my home?

  • Check the sump pump every year to make sure it's working when you need it
  • Clean the gutters and make sure rain spouts point away from the house
  • Buy a generator if you can afford one to keep food/medications/etc. cold
  • Know where your safety switch is and test it before you need it
  • Maintain and trim trees throughout the year. Some insurance companies may not cover tree damage if they say it could have been prevented.
  • Secure objects like patio furniture, trampolines, etc. before a storm.

You can find more disaster preparedness resources from ready.gov, and the Red Cross.

Hahn, Crawford, Davis, Holley and Brown made their comments on Talk of Iowa.

Updated: March 4, 2022 at 3:54 PM CST
Caitlin Troutman is a talk show producer at Iowa Public Radio