Severe weather and the healthcare system

When we think about hurricanes, tornadoes and other storms, we consider how they can endanger us. As homeowners and motorists.

Another group frequently affected by severe weather are healthcare workers. Even healthcare facilities themselves can be compromised.

Already busy hospitals can be overwhelmed by natural disasters such as extreme weather. And it’s not just due to people being injured during violent storms.

Emergency situations can set off a chain reaction of medical issues among patients. Which often leads to increased hospitalization rates.

Nurses Commit to the Crisis

A study published by the Annals of Emergency Medicine revealed this. Hospitalizations rose by 4 percent both during a three-day period following a tornado and during a 30-day period after the storm.

Mahshid Abir is an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Michigan. He said, “Many hospitals already function at near or maximum capacity.

“Imagine being hit with a surge of critical patients or those with exacerbation of chronic disease. There’s only so many resources to go around.”  

In February, a snowstorm, ice storm and deep freeze crushed Texas and other states. Some healthcare workers slept nights at hospitals, away from their families.

Jennifer Ferrell is the clinical floor director for Heart Hospital in Tyler, Texas. “When you go into a field like nursing, when there is a crisis you have to commit to that. (We) are all here to serve our community and our patients,” she said.

 La Niña Brings Storm Warnings

Weather forecasters warned us this spring could be a rough one for violent storms. Including tornadoes.

They based their warnings on La Niña. It’s the current climate pattern in the tropical Pacific. This pattern lends itself to tornado formations.

They predicted the U.S. would have an unusually potent tornado season. For the third year in a row.  

Sure enough, in late March at least 20 tornadoes were reported in the Deep South. In Alabama and Mississippi, dozens of homes were damaged or destroyed. A number of people were injured.

4 Die in Nashville Flooding 

A few days later, torrential rainfall produced flash flooding that killed at least four people in Nashville, Tennessee.

It marked the city’s second-highest two-day rainfall ever. It flooded neighborhoods. Some people clung to trees or climbed up to their attics to avoid rising waters.

The Nashville Fire Department rescued at least 130 people from vehicles and homes. As well as from other buildings. And at homeless camps.

Tornadoes were reported 80 miles southwest of Nashville. They damaged or destroyed two houses. Downed trees blocked roads.

Tornadoes Tear Across South

Tennessee wasn’t alone when it came to this powerful storm system. Severe weather raced from Texas to North Carolina.

Eight tornadoes were reported in Arkansas. Plus five in eastern Texas and one in Mississippi. Hail the size of baseballs fell in Arkansas.

Some 30 million Americans were impacted by the storms and flooding.

Including people in Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Raleigh. And other large metropolitan areas.  

Hurricanes Coming Early?

About the only positive thing one can say about this spring’s extreme weather is, at least it’s not hurricane season yet.

Or is it? Hurricane season does not officially begin until June 1. So, we usually don’t start talking about it until May.

But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is considering moving the Atlantic hurricane season start day. From June 1 to May 15 for future seasons.

Why? Because for the past six years, named storms have been forming prior to the start of June. Seven tropical storms have formed between May 15 and June 1 over the past nine Atlantic hurricane seasons. They’ve been responsible for 20 deaths.

Forecast Is a Wakeup Call

In 2020, the National Hurricane Center released 36 tropical weather outlooks prior to June 1.

This should be a wake-up call for residents and businesses in hurricane-prone areas. They should start preparing earlier.

Last year was a record-setting hurricane season. There were so many storms, the World Meteorological Organization ran through its list of 21 prepared names.

They then moved to Greek letter names. Because names like Zeta, Eta and Theta sound similar, they’re doing away with them this year.

16 to 20 Named Storms Predicted

So, are we due for an off-year after last year’s record breaker? Apparently not. Meteorologists predict 2021 could be another overly productive hurricane season.

AccuWeather forecasts 16 to 20 named storms for the 2021 hurricane season. It runs from June 1 to November 30. 

A “normal” season features 12 named storms. With six becoming hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

In addition to an increase in the number of storms, AccuWeather predicts seven to 10 hurricanes. With three to five becoming major. That means Category 3 or higher.

A ‘New Normal’ for Hurricane Season 

These predictions are not arbitrary. Last year, NOAA predicted 13 to 19 named storms. Of which six to 10 could become hurricanes, with three to six major hurricanes.

Those numbers seemed high. But the hurricane season was worse than expected. We ended up with 30 tropical storms including 13 hurricanes. Six were major storms.

At the University of Miami, one weather expert calls this a “new normal.” He’s basing it on the 30-year average (1991-2020).

Dan Kottlowski is a member of the AccuWeather team. He said, “Current indications are this will be another above-normal season. This can translate into high impacts on the United States.” 

As we’ve said too many times to count, the key is to be prepared. Pray for the best, but prepare for the worst. 

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AK Johnny 1 - April 19, 2021

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