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February 26
Standby Generators for Emergency Power


Standby generators are powered by tractors or engines and may be either portable 
or stationary. Engine-driven units available may have an automatic or manual start and are powered by gasoline, LP gas (bottled gas), or diesel fuel.

Generators must provide the same type of power at the same voltage and frequency power lines supply. This is usually 120/240 volt, single phase, 60 cycle alternating current (AC). Two to 2 1/4 hp engine capacity with the proper drive system must be available for each 1,000 watts of generator output.

Size of Generators
A full-load system handles an entire farmstead’s energy needs. An automatic, engine-powered, full-load system begins to furnish power immediately or within 30 seconds after power is off. A smaller, less expensive part-load system may be enough to handle essential equipment during an emergency.

Power take-off (PTO) generators cost about half as much as engine-driven units and can be trailer mounted. A part-load system operates only the most essential equipment at one time. For most farms this is adequate if the generator has the power to start the largest motor.

Consider what you need. For example, the milk cooler of the ventilation fan must operate continuously, but operation of the silo unloader and mechanical feeing system can be delayed until the milking chores are over.

Wiring and equipment must be installed in accordance with the National Electrical Code, local ordinances, and the requirements of the power supplier. It is important to have the proper equipment for disconnecting the generator from public utility lines. Most companies require the installation of a double-pole, double-throw transfer switch or its equivalent for this purpose. Check with your electrician or power company representative for installation instructions and inspection.

Location and Safety Features
Large engine generators are best located in a dry-conditioned building. Inlet and outlet air ducts must be large enough to carry off excess heat. Air inlets and outlets should open at least 1/2 square foot for each 1,000 watts of generator capacity. Combustion fumes must be carried outdoors safely. Exhaust pipes must be at least 6 inches from combustible material.

An automatic standby unit starts automatically when power fails and stops when power is restored. When using an engine-driven generator with manual start or when using a tractor-driven unit, follow this procedure when power fails:

  1. Call your power supplier and advise them of the conditions.
  2. Turn off or disconnect all electrical equipment.
  3. Position the tractor or engine for belt or PTO drive. Check on the direction of exhaust pipes. Be sure there is no danger of fire. Put some distance between the equipment and animals or other humans.
  4. Start the unit, and bring the generator up to proper speed (1,00 or 3,600 rpm). The voltmeter indicates when the generator is ready to carry the load.
  5. Turn the transfer switch to the generator position.
  6. Start the largest electric motor first. Add other loads when each is up to operating speed. Don’t add too many loads too fast. If the generator quits, then repeat steps 2, 4, and 5.
  7. Check voltmeter frequently. If voltage falls below 210 volts for 240-volt service or below 105 volts for 120-volt service, disconnect some equipment to reduce the generator load.
  8. When commercial power is restored, return the transfer switch to the normal power position. Then stop standby unit. Power down, switch loads, then repower equipment.


  1. Keep the unit clean and in good running condition at all times for immediate use. Accumulation of dust and dirt can cause the motor to overheat when operated.
  2. Follow the maintenance instructions in manufacturer’s manual. A short operation at set intervals keeps the engine in good operating condition. Regularly scheduled warm-ups are necessary to keep standby generators in good working order. 
  3. Change fuel every 6 months. Use a fuel stabilizer to keep fuel from becoming stale. 
  4. Inspect for damage from weather and rodents.
Used by permission of the Extension Service at Mississippi State University (

February 25
Trees and Power Lines After the Storm

​The most common reason for storm power outages is tree failure onto power and communications lines. The utilities do their best to clear the lines of branches to prevent this, but this is not always enough.

When a storm passes and we first go outside, it’s important to be aware of trees in contact with power lines. Consider the following safety protocols when approaching storm-damaged trees that may be in contact with power lines or power lines that have fallen due to tree failure.

  • Treat all fallen power lines as live. Just because your power is out, doesn’t mean the line isn’t energized.
  • Never attempt to remove branches or trees from utility lines.
  • The higher on the pole the line is, the more powerful that line is. You can also look at the ceramic insulating discs. The utilities use the bowl-shaped ceramic discs as insulators between the lines and the poles. More discs equals more power.
  • Even television cable and telephone lines are capable of hurting you. 
  • Before approaching a tree that might be in direct contact with utility wires, examine it from more than one direction. Do not approach or touch the tree if you see contact with lines.

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The more powerful the lines the tree is in contact with, the more likely that not just the tree, but the ground around it is energized. Avoid trees in contact with any wires.

This is important. If someone has been injured or rendered unconscious by contact with a utility line or a tree in contact with a utility line, do not approach or touch them. If the person is energized, you will also be shocked and become a second victim. Always call emergency authorities to approach someone harmed by electrical lines. In the case of electrical danger, you are more likely to be harmed yourself in the attempt to rescue the fallen person.

The key objective is avoid the electricity, call the utility company if you see a tree in contact with wires, especially if lines have fallen or been torn off the poles. Treat every wire as live even if the power is out. Don’t come in contact with the line or anything touching the line.

February 25
Managing Snow and Ice in Greenhouses and High Tunnels
Excessive weight of snow and ice can cause damage or even destroy greenhouses and high tunnels. Ice and snow together add significantly more weight than snow alone.

Jeremy Pickens, Alabama Extension horticulturist, points out that greenhouse load capacities differ from structure to structure, so it’s difficult to predict exactly how much is too much. The design, amount of supporting bows, and gauge of metal influence the load capacity of a structure. 

“High tunnels can be especially prone to damage because they are made of inexpensive materials and are unheated. Roofs with greater pitch (Gothic arch or modified Gothic arch) can slough off snow easier than Quonset-roofed structures that have a very slight roof peak.

“Your greenhouse or high tunnel manufacturer may be able to provide additional information on the load capacity of your greenhouse or high tunnel,” Pickens says.

For heated greenhouses, double poly layers can be deflated to allow snow and ice to come in closer contact with heat being lost through conduction. This heat can increase the melting rate of snow on a structure.

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Steve Fellows, owner of Techne Structures in Mobile, suggests turning up the heat in the greenhouse to enhance melting. The cost of the extra heat is less expensive than the cost of damage caused to the structure.

Fellows also recommends gently removing snow that sticks. The morning sun melting just one side of the structure can cause a weight imbalance. Use the extended handle of push brooms and gently pull the snow off the roof.

“A piece of PVC pipe with a tennis ball mounted on the end can also be used to gently knock snow loose on the underside of a structure. This is especially important if your plastic is loose and pockets have formed from sagging. Start early to remove snow before the load is unmanageable,” Pickens notes. 

For unheated structures, Bill Mathis with Atlas Greenhouse in Alapaha, Ga., recommends using 2x4 or 4x4 lumber wedged between the ground and purlins or bows. This gives extra strength to the structure and is a useful technique in high tunnels because they are unheated and designed with less structural support. 

According to Mathis, if support columns are not an option and you face an emergency situation, a last resort is to cut the plastic. Losing the crop is less painful than incurring the cost from damage or destruction of a structure.  You can find more information from Kentucky State University at

“Remember that your safety is more important than any structure. Stay safe and use good judgment when on roads or working around ice and snow.  Do you have additional information or experiences that you would like to share? If so, we would like to hear from you at,” Pickens says.
February 13
How Many Tornadoes?

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​National Weather Service (NWS) in Birmingham says 54. That is, between February 20 and November 23, 2014 there were 54 confirmed tornadoes across Alabama. Using post-event storm survey information from NWS offices in Huntsville, AL, Jackson, MS and Peachtree City, GA, the Birmingham office created a detailed statewide interactive map. You​​ can see the map and study the details of each tornado here

The interactive map is a great reminder that tornadoes can occur in any month, and is just in time for the 2015 statewide severe weather awareness week. During the week of February 15-20, you are encouraged to share information and increase your own knowledge about severe thunderstorms, lightning, tornadoes, flooding and flash flooding, and on Friday wrap up with tips on ways to receive weather alerts

The following links lead to excellent resources for the week or anytime you focus on severe weather preparedness.

Learn as much as you can about the types of disaster you may be at risk of experiencing and

Get a kit. Build a disaster supplies kit tailored for you and your family. Stow a kit at work and in your vehicle. The general rule for your household kit is to have enough supplies on hand for at least three days for each person in your household.

Make a plan. The best thing to do if severe weather is forecast is to stay put, but if you must travel during severe weather be sure someone knows your departure time and expected travel route. Know where you can go to get out of harm’s way if you are outdoors or in public spaces when severe weather strikes. 

Be informed. Learn weather terms. Listen to your local radio and television stations for the most current weather information. Tune your NOAA weather radio to your area​. Participate in Severe Weather Awareness Week.

November 17
Alabama Winter ... Baby it's Cold Outside (or Will be)


The Alabama Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service have declared November 16-21, 2014 to be Winter Weather Awareness Week in Alabama. What should you do?

Alabama doesn’t experience prolonged exposure to snow or ice, but when we do have snow or rain/ice events, we can successfully manage our experiences.  How?

Get a kit. Build a winter weather emergency kit tailored for you and your family. The general rule is to have enough supplies on hand for at least three days for each person in your household. However, if you can manage to include additional water and food, you will be in a better position to take care of yourself and your family. Be sure to have access to adequate warm clothing and blankets.

If you experience an ice storm, you may also experience a power outage.  Remember these important rules when using alternate heat sources.

  1. Never use generators, grills, or camp stoves inside your home, basement, garage or camper, or even outside near an open window.
  2.  Use the proper fuel for the heating appliance.
  3. Cross-ventilate a room if you are using a catalytic or unvented heater. Open a window an inch on each side of the room.

Make a plan. The best thing to do if severe weather is forecast is to stay put, but if you must travel during severe weather, be sure someone knows your departure time and expected travel route. Call when you have reached your destination. Check road conditions before you start. This information is provided by the Alabama Department of Transportation--ibe sure to check road conditions for your entire route, including out of state roads.  

Staying where you are—sheltering in place—is a good idea if the roads are not safe. Plan how you will prepare meals if the power is out for an extended period of time.  In addition to cooking, you should plan how you will keep your food and water safe while the power is out.

Be informed.  Learn weather terms. Listen to your local radio and television stations for the most current weather information.  Tune your NOAA weather radio to your area.

Get a kit. Make a plan. Be informed. It’s that simple.

September 11
USDA Offers Disaster Assistance and Information on Disaster Programs

USDA issued a press release September 2 encouraging livestock producers who suffered eligible disaster-related losses to enroll in the Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP) by October 1. Alabama livestock producers may be eligible for benefits if they experienced grazing losses as far back as October 2011. Losses must be due to qualifying drought or fire-related conditions during the normal grazing period for the county. The LFP is offered through the Farm Service Agency (FSA).

Download USDA's Disaster Program Information brochure for quick reference to LFP and eighteen other disaster-related programs. In addition to the FSA, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Rural Development (RD), and Risk Management Agency (RMA) offer thiese programs to farmers during an emergency or disaster.

April 03
Spring Hazards

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Springtime brings certain weather-related occurrences. Among them are wildfires, tornadoes, and floods

You might not think about wildfires as being a risk for the state, but Alabama’s Southern Wildfire Risk Assessment identified 935 communities at high or very high risk from wildfires and more than 7,000 communities at moderate risk. See the county risk of wildfire maps to help determine your risk level.  

Tornadoes strike Alabama fairly often. Most people remember the very active year of 2011. Since then, tornado activity in the state has been relatively quiet.  Nevertheless and regardless of where you live in Alabama, you should be prepared. The keys to surviving a tornado are knowing you are in danger, knowing where to go, and moving quickly.

The National Weather Service has a great flood safety site. Included is a section dedicated to floods in Alabama. If you live near a river, you probably know your level of risk. However, if you live in other areas of the state, you may not realize that you can also be susceptible to flooding. Regardless of where you live, you can develop an evacuation plan and know alternate routes if you encounter a flooded road.

In all disasters, it pays to have a plan for getting in touch with family members and others. Finally and ahead of the season, here are 15 Questions for Hurricane Preparation.

When was the last time you checked and practiced your disaster preparedness plan? If you haven’t pulled it out lately, now is a good time!

Additional preparedness resources include Preparedness for Livestock (LSU) and 




March 13
Spring Weather Can Be Severe

This year, the calendar indicates that spring will arrive with the vernal equinox on March 20. When I think of spring, I think beautiful flowers, sunshine, and warming temperatures. When I think of March, I visualize blustery days and bumpy airplane rides. During the second week of March this year, we experienced both – sunshine, flowers, and warm temperatures that took a nosedive when a cold front blew through the state. At least we didn’t have snow to go with the wind and dropping temperatures!

March is typically a month of changing weather for us. That weather can be pretty severe when warm and cold fronts collide. To help you be better prepared for severe weather, and especially for tornadoes, we have recently revised and published Tornado Safety in PDF and HTML formats. You can download the PDF (high- or low-resolution) or order a printed version.

While you’re thinking about tornado safety, visit this United States Tornadoes blog post by Katie Wheatley. She’s created an animated map of how tornadoes progress across the country throughout the year.

October 21
Battery, Don't Fail Me Now!
The story begins with fire, three-legged races, and football.


It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon with a chill in the air, and we had a church festival to attend. Arriving in fine time, we discovered that football was not the main attraction. The host was actually broadcasting music over the speakers even though there was a major football game being played! And someone—who will remain anonymous—forgot to bring her smart phone.


84628726.jpgSo, to the car we went every so often to check the score and listen to just a few minutes of the exciting game. Between those times, we enjoyed watching three-legged races, an egg toss, and pumpkin carving. Those who weren’t watching the games enjoyed the fire and conversations.


After dark and the football game’s final score, we decided that it was time to head home. That funny clicking sound and stutter-blinking the car had made at the end of the game was not a good sign. In fact, it meant the battery was dead.


Up with the hood and out with the jumper cables! Two perfectly capable men stood there scratching their heads. Where is the battery? They found part of it (the positive pole), but could still not see the battery.


The young woman who had parked just in front of us was ready to jump-start our vehicle. She had two small children in the car, and they were patiently waiting to go home. But the men were still trying to figure out how the cables were supposed to be connected, because they couldn’t see the battery. The young woman made a suggestion, but the men still weren’t sure. Instead, they decided it was time to pull out the book and see what the manufacturer had to say. And behold, she was correct. Jumper cables put in place—the car started.


I actually have two points I want to make. Do you know how old your car battery is? Like batteries in your smoke detectors and flashlights, car batteries have a definite lifetime. The average life of a traditional car battery is three to five years. The battery in this vehicle is older than that, so we’ve been driving on the edge of disaster.


The second point is to be open to finding answers in unexpected quarters. You never know who might have the information you need.

July 10
How Hot is it?

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Air conditioning is a welcome respite from the heat and humidity we experience in Alabama. Even so, it’s hard to stay in the cool all the time.  Whether or not  you have air conditioning, be aware of the hazards of excessive heat.

According to the National Weather Service (NWS), one or more parts of the United States will experience a heat wave each summer. Heat waves in our part of the country tend to combine high temperatures with high humidity.

Three types of heat alerts are issued by the NWS Forecast office. 
  • Excessive Heat Outlooks are issued when there is potential for an excessive heat event in the next 3-7 days.  The outlook is based on the combination of temperature and humidity over the specified period of days.
  • Excessive Heat Watches are issued when conditions are favorable in the next 24 to 72 hours.
  • Excessive Heat Warning/Advisories are issued when an excessive heat even is occurring, is imminent or has a very high probability of occurring. A warning is used when conditions pose a threat to life. An advisory is issued for less serious conditions that can cause significant discomfort that may lead to life-threatening conditions if precautionary measures aren’t taken.
All three types of alert are based on Heat Index (HI) values. The Heat Index is a measure of how hot it feels when relative humidity (RH) is added to the actual air temperature.  For example, if the air temperature is 80° F and the relative humidity is 70%, the Heat Index (how it feels) is 83° F, and if the air temperature is 90° F and the relative humidity is 70%, the Heat Index is 105° F. If you’re in the sun, these temperatures may feel up 15 degrees hotter. For another explanation, see the July 8, 2013 Capital Weather Gang blog, Weather weenies prefer dew point over relative humidity, and you should too!
As hot as it might be outside, car interiors and other unventilated spaces get even hotter. Dark dashboards and car seats contribute to the heating of cars. The sun on an 80° F day can heat the interior of a car to 123° F in one hour.  Interior surfaces directly exposed to the sun can be even hotter.
Keep children safe
  • Make sure safety seats and safety belt buckles are not too hot before securing children in the car.
  • Never leave children unattended in a vehicle, even with the windows down.
  • Teach children not to play in, on, or around vehicles.
  • Always lock car doors and trunks—even at home. Keep keys out of children’s reach.
  • Always make sure all children have left the car when you reach your destination. Don’t ever leave sleeping children in the car.
Extremely hot and humid weather affects our bodies’ ability to cool. Young children and older adults are very susceptible to heat illnesses. Other conditions that can make some people more susceptible to heat are obesity, fever, heart disease, mental illness, poor circulation, prescription drug and alcohol use, and sunburn. Heat-related illnesses include heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke (sunstroke). Heat stroke can result in death.
Heat safety tips
  • Reduce, eliminate or reschedule strenuous activities until the coolest part of the day. Anyone with health problems should stay in the coolest available place.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing to reflect heat and sunlight.
  • Eat foods such as vegetables, fruits and salads. Meat and other proteins increase body heat and water loss.
  • Drink plenty of water, non-alcoholic and decaffeinated drinks.  Even if you don’t feel thirsty, drink plenty of fluids—they help your body keep cool.
  • Don’t get too much sun. Sunburn reduces your body’s ability to lose heat.
  • Don’t take salt tablets unless specified by your physician.
  • Spend more time in air-conditioned places. If you don’t have an air-conditioner, go to a library, store or other location with air conditioning for part of the day.
Source: Heat: A Major Killer (NWS)
Additional resources
·         Heat Wave Safety (American Red Cross)
·         Heat Wave: A Major Summer Killer (NOAA)

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