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April 20
What's Your Plan if the Power is Out?


I don’t know about you, but I depend on electricity for nearly everything I do. It powers all sorts of appliances around the house, from the electric fan that blows cooled or heated air throughout the house to the oven used to roast vegetables. Electricity is the power I use to operate the television, charge batteries for laptops and cell phones, and to turn on the lights. Electricity is also the power supply for any special medical equipment. Away from home, we also depend on electricity. Traffic lights, fuel pumps, ATM machines, restaurant kitchens, and store registers operate on electricity.

 Power outages may occur following storms, but they may also be planned (utility work) or a result of an accident. They may be short- or long-term. What will you do if the power is out? Here are a few tips from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).


  • Build your emergency kit and make a family communications plan.
  • Keep your car tank at least half full.
  • Know where the manual release lever of your electric garage opener is located and how to operate it. Will you need help lifting it?
  • Keep a key to your house with you if you regularly use the garage as the primary means of entering your home.
  • Keep an extra propane tank if you have a gas grill. Never use the gas grill indoors.
  • Call your power company if you use a battery-operated wheelchair, life-support system, or other power-dependent medical equipment to learn what options are available to you.
  • Keep a battery-operated talking or Braille clock or oversized timepiece with extra batteries if you have visual disability.
  • Consider a small portable battery-operated television set if you are deaf or have a hearing loss. Emergency broadcasts may give information in American Sign Language (ASL) or open captioning.
  • Plan alternate ways to evacuate if you live in a multi-story apartment building or condominium. Elevators will not work if the power is out.

  • Use flashlights for emergency lighting. Do NOT use candles; they raise your risk of fire.
  • Follow energy conservation measures.
  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. For extended power outages, consider using coolers to store food you will need during the day. Refill the cooler from the refrigerator or freezer at night when the air temperatures are cooler.
  • Fill plastic containers with water and place them in the refrigerator and freezer if there’s room. Leave about an inch of headroom in each one, because water expands as it freezes. Chilled or frozen water will help keep food cold during a temporary power outage.
  • Turn off or disconnect appliances, equipment, or electronics in use when the power went out. Power may return in momentary surges that can damage computers as well as motors in appliances like the air conditioner, refrigerator, washer or furnace.
  • Do not run a generator inside a home or garage. Be sure the generator is adequately ventilated away from the house. Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning can result if the generator is not adequately ventilated. CO is colorless and odorless. It may be hard to gauge your level of exposure. Symptoms typically begin with headaches at about a 10 percent level of CO in your bloodstream. Levels of 50 percent to 70 percent may result in seizure, coma, and death. If you know you have been exposed to CO, have a headache or feel sick, turn off the source, warn others, and consider going to the hospital.
  • Take steps to remain cool or warm, depending on the outside temperatures. Consider going to another location to stay cool or warm.
  • Eliminate unnecessary travel, especially by car. Traffic signals will stop working during an outage.


  • Throw out unsafe food: any refrigerated or frozen food that has been exposed to temperatures 400 for two hours or more or that has an unusual odor, color or texture. When in doubt, throw it out!
  • Decide what you needed that you didn’t have during the blackout and plan for it for the next time the power is out.

We’re well-connected to the power grid most of the time. Plan to conserve energy to help avoid blackouts and be prepared for those times when there is a power outage.


For more information

March 24
Do One Thing to Prepare for Disaster

America's PrepareAthon!℠ was launched in 2013 as a national, grassroots campaign for action to increase community preparedness and resilience through hazard-specific drills, group discussions, and exercises. The goals of the campaign are to increase the number of individuals who:

  • Understand which disasters could happen in the community;
  • Know what to do to be safe and mitigate damage;
  • Take action to increase their preparedness; and
  • Participate in community resilience planning.

It takes three easy steps to participate in America's PrepareAthon!:

  1. Choose your hazard and preparedness activity,
  2. Create an account and register your activity on, and
  3. Download materials designed to help you plan and promote your day of acction.

Visit the website to find free, easy to use, customizable hazard-specific guides and resources designed to help you plan and conduct preparedness activities.

Why should you get involved? Did you know that nearly 70 percent of Americans have not participated in a preparedness drill or exercise at their workplace, school or home in the past year? Participating in drills and exercises helps build and reinforce what you should do when a disaster strikes. Knowing what to do is critical, especially when seconds count. Practicing what to do, where to go, and how to stay safe during an emergency empowers individuals and the entire community.

February 26
Standby Generators for Emergency Power

generator 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 & 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.

snow trees road.jpg

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.

greenhouse snow.jpg

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?

little girls in a row.jpg

​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.

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