News Room

How To Survive Extreme Storms

Author: Jason Snyman
Date: 2017-10-11
In light of the recent extreme thunderstorms that decimated KZN and Gauteng, we take a look at weather warnings and how to weather a storm.
According to ClimateWise, weather-related catastrophes such as floods, fires, thunderstorms, droughts and gale-force winds have increased by nearly 600% since the 1950s. Severe weather conditions are the new normal. The recent Cape Storm and Knysna fires resulted in R4 billion in damages. This week saw devastating thunderstorms sweep across Gauteng and KZN, bringing whole cities to a standstill. Roofs were torn off, walls toppled, roads flooded, buildings and trees uprooted. And there was hail, the size of tennis balls, smashing windows and cars to pieces. The South African Weather Service issued severe weather warnings in anticipation of the ensuing chaos, but nobody could have been fully prepared for what followed. The SAWS regularly sends out warnings over their website and various social media platforms. In this article, we will explain the warnings and how to act when you’re caught in a bad situation.

Severe Weather Warnings

The SAWS categorizes their severe weather warnings into four groups.

1. Severe Weather

Classified as an extreme meteorological event or phenomenon. Severe weather represents a real hazard to human life and property and has the potential to cause damage, serious social disruption, or loss of human life.

2. Special Weather Advisory (Be Aware)

These are alerts which raise awareness up to five days in advance. They include warnings of powerful, large scale weather systems such as tropical cyclones or intense cold fronts. Less urgent types include extremely hot conditions, heat waves, strong interior winds, frost or reduced visibility through fog.

3. Severe Weather Watch (Be Prepared)

These alerts call for awareness to weather hazards which will likely occur within 1 to 3 days. These hazards could lead to disruptive and disastrous conditions.

4. Severe Weather Warning (Run For Your Lives)

This is an alert calling for reaction due to a severe weather hazard that is already occurring or imminent within 24 hours. These could include disruptive snowfalls, heavy rain, flash flooding or localised flooding, severe thunderstorms, hail, tornadoes, or an uncommonly high swell of the ocean. Strong, gale force winds – such as those Cape Town faces on a regular basis – also fall under this category. As do disastrous veld fire conditions.
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Monday, 9 October, Gauteng

The storm which hit Johannesburg on Monday has left the city in destruction. Residents have begun to mop up and rebuild after hail, wind and rain tore down their houses. Teachers acted as human shields, protecting children as the storm battered a number of schools. Two schools have been closed due to structural damage. A substation in Jet Park caught fire, leaving large areas without electricity for the remainder of the week. MTN’s infrastructure has been hit hard, resulting in certain areas experiencing connectivity problems. No big change there, then. Cradlestone Mall has been completely wrecked, with parts of the roof ripped off. Reports from the West Rand came in that a tornado had formed between Krugersdorp and Muldersdrift, tearing a path of destruction through the West Rand. This tornado, however, is yet to be confirmed.

Tuesday, 10 October, Durban

South coast towns from Port Shepstone to the Bluff were hit the hardest, as the storm rolled in to Zululand early on Tuesday morning. Durban experienced horrific flooding and thunderstorms. Thousands of households and settlements were flooded or washed away. The Kingsmead stadium has been turned into a large lake. The storm wreaked havoc on Durban harbour, which remains closed, with the SA Maritime Safety Authority spending the last two days refloating a number of ships in distress. The Kwazulu-Natal Metrorail service has been suspended for the remainder of the week as they assess the damage to the infrastructure. Hospitals have been damaged, with walls falling over and killing patients, and many areas are still without power. Toyota SA’s manufacturing plant has been shut down for two days after sustaining significant damage. At the time of writing, eight casualties have been reported, with the number expected to rise.

Weathering the Storm

Previously, we’ve given you Tips On How To Drive In The Snow, What to Do In The Event Of A Fire, How To Storm-Proof Your Home and What To Do If You’re Caught In A Flash Flood. With insurance companies seeing a massive increase of motorists and homeowners claiming after this week’s storm, they’re urging people to use this time to verify what they are covered for. In order to avoid disappointment in the event of a disaster, we also put together a guide to Natural Disaster Insurance. We put together some of the best tips to help you prepare for, and weather, any future storms.

1. Preparing Your Home

Keep emergency numbers and important information handy, as well as a first aid kit. It doesn’t hurt to have emergency supplies ready, such as water, canned food, a can opener, battery-operated radio, flashlight and protective clothing. Turn off all your household electrical devices. Lock all doors and windows. Always leave the area before it’s too late, and get to higher ground.

2. Driving In Heavy Rain

Allow for more time to travel, to avoid having to rush into bad weather. Make sure that your vehicle is prepared for the trip. Check that your lights and windscreen wipers are in good working order. Check that your tyres have sufficient tread. Ensure there are no distractions in the vehicle before you leave. Driving recklessly increases chances of hydroplaning. If you do end up hydroplaning, slowly lift your foot from the accelerator, but do not brake harshly or move your steering wheel violently. This will make it much, much worse. Sudden stops and turns, likewise, may throw the vehicle into a skid. Do not use cruise control and turn on your headlights. Brake earlier than you have to and with more caution. Leave more following room between you and the vehicle in front of you.

3. Driving Through Deep Water

As best you can, avoid large pools of water in the road. If you can’t, try to estimate the depth of the water. Avoid driving through any water that comes up higher than the middle of your tyre. Many drivers will risk driving through a pool of water, but roads which collect water are more vulnerable to collapse and it is easy to underestimate their depth. Try to drive in the middle of the road, where the water is lowest. Pass one car at a time; do not drive through water against oncoming vehicles. Never drive through fast flowing water, and avoid areas prone to flash floods. If floodwaters rise around your car but the water is not moving, abandon the car and move to higher ground. The bottom of most cars is only 15cm from the ground. Any water deeper than this may cause loss of control or stalling. At 30cm, your tyres could lift from the ground and you could be washed away. Stick to your lowest gear if driving automatic and first or second gear in manual. Drive slowly and steadily through the water. Once you’re through, lightly tap your brakes a few times to dry them off.

4. Flash Floods

In an unexpected flash flood, and you are in danger of being swept away, abandon the vehicle if you have the opportunity to do so safely. While in the car, if you suddenly begin to lose grip, it might be because the car is starting to float. Open the car door to let some of the water in, which will weigh the vehicle down and allow the tyres to grip the road again. Doing this will also equalise the pressure on both sides of the door, allowing you to escape your vehicle. This will buy you some time. Be overcautious. If you’re swept away by water upon exiting the car, lift your toes and point them downstream. This will help you manoeuvre yourself around obstacles. Try to grab on to anything which you can use to pull yourself to safety.

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