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Do you have an emergency plan? Hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and other extreme weather events such as wildfires, drought, extreme heat and cold are becoming a fact of life and the destruction from these catastrophic events goes beyond individual homes and health centers; they can completely destroy neighborhoods and entire communities in a few hours or even minutes or they inflict other deadly consequences. Extreme weather warnings are happening with increased frequency – a harsh reminder that emergency planning is more and more critical to survival. The time to Get Ready is Now.

Extreme Weather Season

Extreme weather has become the norm. The science tells us that extreme weather does not create the individual event; it intensifies the events as temperatures increase. The once annual fire season in the U.S. has now become a year-round threat, and the 2022 hurricane season “stormed” through into its final month with a vengeance.

And with hurricane season, major flooding follows. The long track of Hurricane Ida in 2021 gave us a stark experience of the wind and water damage that these extreme storms can generate. Historic floods in Texas, Mississippi, Kentucky have inundated entire communities, with several deaths reported. The worst monsoon in over a decade created epic flooding in Pakistan and led to hundreds of deaths.

The brutal onslaught of tornadoes in the Midwest and South added another dimension to the extreme weather patterns. A storm cell that lasts for a matter of minutes can cause destruction that means years of recovery.

Extreme heat created deadly conditions in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe along with the accompanying wildfire threat. You can check fire activity by clicking on this Wildfire Map link.

Keep an eye on the weather map on this page (it is interactive so you can move to another ocean area). And now the forecasting tools are stronger and more precise. Read more about the “hurricane track cone”.

With each extreme weather event, our Emergency Team is ready to respond wherever and whenever we are needed: in Puerto Rico we responded to the catastrophic flood damage from Hurricane Fiona; in Florida we responded to the frightening power of Hurricane Ian and in other weather disasters around the world. We have learned from decades of experience to Get Ready Now.

The Ramos family returns to the ruins of their home

Hurricanes, Tornadoes…

The 50+ inches of rain that flooded Houston with Hurricane Harvey, the fury of Hurricane Maria devastating Puerto Rico, the path of Hurricane Dorian that struck the Bahamas with such force, the swath of destruction cut by Typhoon Haiyan through the Philippines stand as testimony of the escalating threat from extreme weather events. The tornado outbreak in Kentucky, Tennessee and four other states, destroying entire towns and killing more than 80 people, illustrated another threat level: sudden storm systems. The U.S averages 1150 tornadoes per year with the peak season in the spring. Then the hurricane season follows extending through November. As the hurricanes form in the warming ocean and storm cells produce tornadoes, it’s past time to Get Ready Now.

HURRICANES

While high winds cause great damage, storm surge can be the most deadly threat for coastal areas, along with major flooding from torrential rains. These storms can be tracked for days, however, and preparations can be made that save lives. 

And what about typhoons and cyclones? Physically, they are hurricanes by a different name. They are called hurricanes in the Atlantic and in the Eastern Pacific, typhoons in the West Pacific and cyclones around Australia and India.

TORNADOES

A deadly funnel appears, giving only minutes of warning; the incredible power of the wind vortex can literally tear apart anything above ground.

FLOODS

While major floods are often “slow moving disasters,” flash floods catch people unprepared in cars or at home. Flooding rivers and broken dams can sweep away entire communities particularly in low lying areas. Floods also contaminate water supplies, leading to water borne disease outbreaks, as well creating conditions for deadly mudslides. 

CalFire firefighting team sets a backfire along a dirt road.

Drought & Deadly Wildfires

The fire season has become a year round threat in the U.S. In 2022, wildfires have burned over 7 million acres with nearly 750,000 acres in September alone. Early rains provided relief in California and kept the totals below the previous two years but such deviations from the new normal are considered temporary. These fires, however, resulted in some fatalities, many people being evacuated, and numerous structures damaged or threatened by the fires. Additionally, wildfire smoke has resulted in unhealthy air quality across the western US. Americares has partners in all the affected states and has conducted wildfire response activities annually. Outreach has been ongoing across affected states.

Extreme weather is manifesting itself in record drought conditions that produce famine in some parts of the world.  Here in the U.S. drought followed by high winds and then combined with such phenomena as insect infestations in forest lands and manmade causes including land management and building code practices or electrical accidents have created the worst wildfires on record in California and in parts of the Southwest in the last three years. Check out the U.S. Drought Monitor to see the true extent of current drought conditions.

Extreme heat kills nearly twice as many Americans each year as tornadoes and almost three times more than hurricanes. It is particularly deadly for the elderly and the poor. Climate change continues to intensify the deadly results of extreme weather events. (Photo by David Royal)

aerial view of town completely flooded in brown water showing one story homes and streets flooded

Epic Floods

In 2019 Americares emergency teams responded to major flooding disasters caused by major storms in Africa and the central plains of the U.S. Cyclone Idai followed by Cyclone Kenneth devastated Mozambique and then carried more death and destruction to Zimbabwe and Malawi, putting nearly 1,900 square miles underwater. Record rainfall and continued violent storms, spawning dozens of tornadoes in the U.S. Midwest brought historic flooding to Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma and other surrounding states, covering entire communities and caused massive damage to farms in the region. And in 2021, floods devastated some of the most vulnerable areas in the South. Lake Charles, LA, for example, that was so heavily damaged by Hurricane Laura in 2020, suffered major flooding from heavy rainfall in the region. And the 2022 floods in Pakistan have covered more than one-third of the country, creating an unimaginable humanitarian crisis.

Extreme weather does not spare even the most developed and wealthy regions as evidenced by the deadly and unprecedented floods in Western Europe, particularly in Germany where nearly 200 people died and many more went missing. In China, in what experts described as the heaviest rains in 1,000 years, deadly floods affected more that 1.2 million people. In Tennessee, dozens died as historic rainfall inundated communities with flash floods that swept houses and lives away. In India, the state of Maharashtra was hit by the heaviest July rainfall in four decades. And the remnants of Hurricane Ida in 2021 unleashed historic rainfall levels in the Northeast U.S. where the speed and severity of the flooding killed dozens of people. The effects of flooding are often exacerbated by human activity (i.e. building in flood zones, inadequate infrastructure, loss of wetlands and increasingly climate change). Where is the greatest flood risk in the U.S.? Click here to see a map of areas at risk.  

An aerial view of a flooded Salinas, Puerto Rico after Hurricane Fiona. September 19, 2022. (Photo: Alejandro Granadillo)

Current Threats

As 2022 drew to a close, a massive winter storm in the United States, led to at least 60 deaths and wide spread power outages. Record snow fall, sub-zero temperatures and high winds left parts of the nation paralyzed during the holiday season with some areas reporting “storm of the century” conditions. Such storms remind us that hurricane season is not the only time that historic storms can impact large areas and thus good preparation has never been more important. Most recently, to start the new year “atmospheric rivers” have brought record floods and snow in California to areas already ravaged by drought and wildfires and creating the potential for deadly mudslides. At the same time deadly tornadoes continued in Southern States.

The extreme weather threat also means extreme temperatures. In 2021, the deadly Texas Cold Weather Crisis starkly demonstrated the impact that extreme weather can have on communities and basic infrastructure that have not adequately prepared for potential weather disasters.

Currently, the World Health Organization tells us that heat waves are considered among the most dangerous of natural hazards but rarely receive adequate attention because their death tolls and destruction are not always obvious. From 1998 to 2017, more than 166,000 people around the world died because of heat waves. The early summer deadly heat wave that hammered the Pacific Northwest killed dozens of people with temperatures rising past 120 degrees in some areas, as the extreme heat buckled roads and melted powerlines. A late July heat wave in the U.S. put more than 100 million people in 28 states at risk. Check out the areas of the U.S. most at risk from extreme heat in the New York Times U.S. Heat Tracker. And parts of northern and central India recorded their highest average temperatures for April. Delhi recorded a temperature of 116 degrees Fahrenheit. These record temperatures are especially deadly for the working poor. Read more about the development of “extreme heat belt” in the U.S. And in times of extreme heat, people with respiratory conditions are particular vulnerable to the accompanying reduction in air quality. For a current assessment of air quality in your region visit AirNow.gov.

The 2022 hurricane season began with Hurricane Agatha in the Pacific that made landfall Mexico, followed by named storms in both the Atlantic and Pacific. Forecasts called for a very active season, but several weeks were uncharacteristically quiet. The lull in storms ended in September as conditions became more favorable to storm development. Americares, while responding to the destruction of Hurricane Fiona on Puerto Rico, worked with multiple partners in Florida in response to the deadly impact of Hurricane Ian – a catastrophic storm that made landfall in Cuba and then struck the west coast of Florida with Category 4 strength in late September.

Even after the official season has ended, check in with the National Hurricane Center for regular updates on storm activity. But don’t wait. Get Ready Now.

Recent History of Extreme Weather

In the 2020 Hurricane Season there were 30 named storms – the most active season on record. The 2021 season became only the third in history to use all of the names on the rotating seasonal list. The devastation left in the wake of multiple storms takes months, even years to restore and rebuild, and communities with the least resources are the ones facing the greatest challenges.

Extreme Threats

Extreme weather events create some specific challenges for Americares Emergency Response Team and our health care partners, and good planning provides response solutions. Building Resilience in the health system as the threats from climate change multiply becomes more and more critical. For example:

Abstract graphic of a shelter

Threat:

Wind and subsequent water damage to roof, windows and doors of the facility — destroying equipment, medicine & supplies, rendering the facility inoperable when it is most needed.

Response:

Provide emergency repairs or a temporary facility, restock medicines/supplies, replace equipment and then build back better. And beyond repairs, the next step is to help build Climate Resilient Health Centers.

Abstract graphic of a power loss

Threat:

Loss of power and thus loss of medicines that require refrigeration such as insulin and vaccines.

Response:

Solar Power and/or Generators with fuel to run them along with the rapid resupply of lost medicines. Tetanus and chronic diseases are life threatening without vaccines, medicines and supplies.

Abstract graphic of an map

Threat:

Loss of access to ongoing health care due to remote location and/or infrastructure damage. A particular threat to people with chronic disease, expectant mothers and children.

Response:

Send emergency medical teams to communities and house-to-house if necessary to provide primary health care and referrals for specialized care.

Abstract graphic of an evacuation

Threat:

Evacuations to temporary shelters or to makeshift camps.

Response:

Hygiene kits, emergency medicine and supplies for those who had to flee quickly without their personal belongings or medications. Supplies such as mosquito bed nets, insect repellant, water purification and cleaning materials and tetanus vaccine are also important for those who return to their homes in the aftermath and face possible water and vector borne diseases and cleanup injuries.

Abstract graphic of an hug

Threat:

Trauma and other extreme stress for survivors including health workers in the immediate aftermath of the storm.

Response:

Trained health workers to identify trauma and support programs for those most at risk, and especially support for health workers who are often survivors themselves.

As we get ready for the next super storm, we know that we can’t do it without you.

Please help your neighbors near and far with a gift right now.

Our Work:
Responding to Extreme Weather and other Natural Disasters

A grandmother tends to a hurt child.
Colombia clinic health worker taking blood pressure of young woman
Americares staff member delivering medicines

Protecting the Vulnerable

Americares has expanded and deepened emergency programs to meet the formidable challenges of storm destruction on an ever-larger scale. We actively engage with our partners in regions particularly at risk for these storms to prepare for the next one by building greater resilience and capacity in each local health center and for every health worker. And in storm-prone regions, we often seek out and serve the most vulnerable members of a community – children, elderly, the very poor, single-parent families, expectant mothers and those with chronic disease. A person with diabetes will still need insulin after the storm and a mother about to give birth will still need a safe place to deliver. Emergency teams constantly evaluate and deploy new tools and programs that target local concerns and needs. The growing demand for mental health support in disasters has led to offer more mental health services to meet those needs. Better weather forecasting and tracking of storms allows us to deploy a team early, connect with our local partners and respond more rapidly when the storm strikes.  But even with better technology, we have learned to “expect the unexpected” in each disaster and be ready to adapt to conditions on the ground and respond accordingly.  Beginning in 2020, up to the present time, we have faced the enormous challenges of responding to extreme weather events in the midst of the Global COVID-19 Pandemic. Our commitment remains the same: to respond where help is needed.

We Expect
Extremes

Emergency programs at Americares represent a continuous cycle of ReadyRespondRecover and then get Ready again, only better. Each disaster presents a new set of challenges to lay the foundation for a better response the next time around.  It is a dynamic process, ever changing as more extreme weather and unforeseen crises arise – always demanding that we increase our knowledge and capabilities. In that work, we are ever mindful and incredibly grateful for the ongoing support of our individual and corporate donors along with the presence of local partners who have the ground sense and skill necessary to meet the challenges and often only lack resources to prepare for them.

Mother and Child at a shelter
satellite photo of a hurricane