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Rain rain, go away

Five Examples of Extreme Weather in the U.S. Plus How to Prepare for Each

Steve Hansen
November 20, 2023

It’s not your imagination. Thanks to its geography, the United States experiences more than its share of extreme weather. “Two oceans, the Gulf of Mexico, the Rocky Mountains, jutting peninsulas like Florida, clashing storm fronts and the jet stream combine to naturally brew the nastiest of weather,” according to this PBS article. In fact, the U.S. actually gets more of the worst weather on the planet than other countries. We were dealt a bad hand, weatherwise.

That shows up as the severe weather patterns that seem to come through every few weeks, such as blizzards and snowstorms, heatwaves, hurricanes, severe thunderstorms, and tornadoes. Those weather events are becoming more extreme and more common, too.

“One of the most visible consequences of a warming world is an increase in the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events. The National Climate Assessment finds that the number of heat waves, heavy downpours, and major hurricanes has increased in the United States, and the strength of these events has increased, too,” said the nonprofit Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (formerly known as the Pew Center on Global Climate Change).

While we can and should take action to halt climate change so the weather doesn’t get too much worse, we also must accept the reality that our weather is changing. In other words, no matter what, nasty weather is headed our way—and we need to prepare in advance for what lies ahead. Each weather event may require different preparations, though, so let’s look at what you can do to be ready in the event of these emergencies. For all of these events, though, I’d repeat one thing: if you own a car, keep the car full of fuel. Running out of fuel could be disastrous.

Blizzards and snowstorms

A blizzard

Technically (according to the National Weather Service), a blizzard is a storm with large amounts of snow, winds greater than 35 mph, and visibility of less than ¼ mile. Practically, it’s a severe snowstorm with potentially life-threatening conditions due to high winds, extreme cold, and poor visibility. The best thing to do in a snowstorm is to get to shelter and wait it out. If you’re home, so much the better. Then, you have the benefit of all the prep work you’ve done.

Here’s what the National Weather Service recommends for your winter storm preparations:

  • Consider backup heating, such as a space heater or wood stove.
  • Make sure you have enough heating fuel if that’s what you heat with.
  • Acquire emergency lighting, including flashlights and extra batteries
  • Have a battery-powered NOAA weather radio on hand, as you may have no internet or cell service.
  • Have extra food and water on hand, including food that doesn’t require cooking. Camping meals like MREs work great for this.
  • Make sure you have prescription medications on hand.
  • Have plenty of baby items such as formula and diapers.
  • Maintain a well-stocked first-aid kit.
  • Have at least one working fire extinguisher.
  • Have food and shelter for pets.
  • Make sure your carbon monoxide detector is working properly.
  • Consider a backup power source.

For your vehicle kit, here’s what they recommend:

  • Blankets and/or sleeping bags.
  • Battery booster cables; I’d say a jumper pack is better, but you have to keep it charged.
  • A compass and road maps, as you don't want to depend on your cell phone with its limited battery life or if cell towers are down
  • Drinking water (buy canned as plastic can leech into the water over time and when a car sits in the hot sun)
  • Extra warm clothing.
  • A good first-aid kit.
  • Flashlight with extra batteries.
  • High-calorie, non-perishable food such as nuts and granola bars.
  • A sturdy knife.
  • A large empty can to use as an emergency toilet, tissues, toilet paper and paper towels.
  • Your mobile phone, charger, and an extra battery, if your phone allows that. iPhones don’t, but you can charge a few times with a device like this.
  • A sack of sand or cat litter for traction.
  • A folding shovel.
  • A small can and waterproof matches to melt snow for drinking water.
  • A tool kit, but I think an emergency kit is better. This one has quite a few items like a first aid kit and tow strap so you won’t need to buy them separately.
  • A basic tow rope.
  • Windshield scraper and brush.

Heat waves

Heat wave

The National Weather Service defines a heat wave as a period of abnormally hot weather lasting more than two days. In just the last couple of years the U.S. has seen heat waves in all the 48 contiguous states, even the typically cool Pacific Northwest. Like a snowstorm, we generally have some warning so we can prepare, and like a snowstorm, heat waves can linger for a while.

We all know that heat waves can be deadly, especially for people whose health is compromised in some way. In fact, extreme heat is responsible for more deaths than any other weather-related cause. But any of us can succumb to extreme heat, especially when it’s combined with high humidity. Dealing with a heat wave involves a few basic behavior changes and preparation, including the following tips:

  • Install window air conditioners; don’t rely on fans as your primary cooling device.
  • Keep drapes or blinds closed on the south and west sides of your home during the day.
  • Add awnings to windows and doors on the south side of your home.
  • Add tinted or reflective window film to windows and doors.
  • Air seal your home to keep conditioned air inside.
  • Add insulation if possible.
  • Learn to recognize the signs of heat illness.
  • Make sure your attic is properly ventilated and allows hot air to escape as necessary.
  • Contact the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) for help if you are unable to afford your cooling costs, weatherization or energy-related home repairs.
  • Go to local cooling centers or other places in your community where you can be during the hottest parts of the day.



These massive storms tend to be full of surprises, but we know they can be deadly and destructive. Oftentimes, the best option when a hurricane is bearing down is just to leave. For that, you’ll need to know your evacuation route and have your evacuation plan ready. This page from by the Department of Homeland Security has comprehensive information about preparing for evacuation and dealing with an evacuation, but here are some tips for preparation:

  • Make your evacuation plans in advance; where will you go in the event of a hurricane?
  • Learn where local shelters are located.
  • Identify other places you could go, including friends’ homes in other towns or hotels. Choose destinations in several directions so you have several options.
  • Most shelters only accept service animals, so if you have pets, make a plan for a place that accepts your pets.
  • Map several routes you can use during your evacuation.
  • Assemble your supplies in a “go-bag” that you can carry if you’re traveling on foot or on public transportation. Keep another kit in the car.
  • Keep the car full of fuel.
  • If you don’t have a car, make your plan for public transportation, family, or friends so you can evacuate if necessary.
  • Rehearse a family/friends communication plan so you can stay in touch and later regroup if you become separated.

Your Hurricane Kit

Because you might have to be away from home for many days after a hurricane, your disaster kit may need to be more extensive. Here’s a big list to go over from and the following is your basic disaster kit so you’ll be ready for most emergency situations. You may want to store your kit in a waterproof plastic bin. A lot of this is the same as for the snowstorm kit, but some is unique.

  • Water; one gallon per person per day for several days, for drinking and sanitation.
  • A several-day supply of non-perishable food that you don’t need to cook.
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
  • A flashlight and extra batteries.
  • A comprehensive first aid kit.
  • A whistle to signal for help.
  • Several dust masks to help filter contaminated air.
  • A roll of plastic sheeting and duct tape in case you shelter in place.
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags, and plastic ties for personal sanitation.
  • A wrench or pliers to turn off utilities.
  • A manual can opener for food.
  • Your local maps.
  • Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery.
  • Pet food.

I would also add to create your emergency plan checklist so you can go through it step by step at that stressful time. It should include tasks like charging cell phones in advance, checking in on people you know who may need help, reminders to turn off the gas supply, and so on. Whatever applies to your situation.

Severe thunderstorms


Major thunderstorms carry major risk from heavy rain, hail, high winds, and especially from lighting. Lighting is a major cause of death from storms, but heavy rain can cause dangerous flash flooding, as well. Your major preparation for dealing with severe thunderstorms is to build your emergency kit for both home and car. Those listed above for snowstorms and hurricanes have all the necessary items to see you through if your power at home is out for a day or more, which does happen with downed power lines from high winds. A battery-powered NOAA weather radio is always good to have on hand, in particular.

During a storm nothing is as crucial as seeking shelter. Stay home if possible, or get inside another sturdy building. If you’re out and about, drive away from tall trees if you can and stay in your car until the storm has passed. Do not try to drive through standing or moving water; just wait it out in your car.



What makes tornadoes so wicked and deadly is their speed of formation and intensity. Tornadoes may have winds over 200 miles per hour and have destroyed entire towns and cities in just moments. Preparation involves, again, having a battery-powered NOAA weather radio on hand, and identifying your safe space(s) in the event of a tornado. If you have a basement, that’s typically your best bet. If not, an interior space in your home, preferably windowless, is the next-best choice. If that’s a closet, so be it.

You can also assemble an emergency kit so you’re ready for whatever you and your family face after the tornado, so the lists above will do just fine for that. Again, putting together a checklist would be helpful so you’ll remember to handle certain tasks if there’s time, but that’s the thing about a tornado: they tend to come on so fast that there’s no time to waste. You need to grab the kids and get to the safe space at once, and that reinforces why you put together your emergency kit with food, water, lighting, blankets, and all the rest in advance.

It’s Good To Be Prepared

Knowledge is power, and maybe you will have a bit more peace of mind as well with some preparation. We know that major weather events are not going away, but we can certainly do our best to be ready.

Editor’s note: If you make a purchase through our affiliate partner links, we may receive a commission. This does not impact the recommendations we make.

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