Featured Column, Headline


Radiation is a form of energy that we are exposed to – in varying quantities – all of the time. Some of this exposure is from natural sources like elements in the soil, and others from man-made sources, such as medical X-rays and building materials. Releases of radiation from concentrated sources, such as the Japanese nuclear facilities, can have a significant impact on humans, animals and other life in the immediate area.

Despite fears in the mainland United States that radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi plant could have a strong negative effect on daily life, these fears are largely unfounded. The U.S. West Coast is 5,000 miles away from Japan and dangerous levels of radiation from the Fukushima plant would dissipate before reaching domestic sources of food and water. Air quality is also not at risk for significant negative impact.


After initial news reports about the nuclear plant meltdown, sales of potassium iodide (KI) pills skyrocketed. As a result, health department officials across the country have issued warnings that Americans do not need to buy or take KI pills in response to the radiation from the Japanese plant.

Officials have warned that taking KI pills can cause side effects that can be harmful to a person’s health and sometimes cause life-threatening allergic reactions.

For more information about radiation and other potential health threats, contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at (800) CDC-INFO (800-232-4636), which is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For information for threats to food quality, visit www.fda.gov.

Food and U.S. Agriculture
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not currently have concerns with the safety of imported food products from Japan currently available in the United States. Officials said the FDA has a strict screening process in place to inspect products that come into ports and prevent unsafe products from entering our food supply. The FDA also collects information about where Japanese food products are grown, harvested and manufactured so that they can keep U.S. consumers safe. The most commonly consumed products imported from Japan include seafood, snack food and processed fruits and vegetables.


In the United States, agricultural production is not currently at risk since there is no indication that harmful levels of radiation will reach American food sources. Generally, produce is washed at various stages of production and processing. Individuals who grow their own food should always wash produce before eating.

This safety determination extends to, but is not limited to, all meat, poultry and dairy products. The FDA is working closely with the Japanese government and other U.S. agencies to ensure that the American food supply remains safe.

Additionally, water sources, even on the U.S. West Coast, will not experience a significant increase of radioactive material in ocean water. Any radioactive particles in the ocean water near the damaged nuclear plants in Japan will dilute to extremely low levels before arriving in U.S. coastal ocean water and are not a health concern to surfers, bathers or pets at beaches.

Preparing for disaster
While radiation from the Japanese disaster is not a threat, concerns over potential impacts underscores the importance of pre-event disaster planning. Emergency plans help you maintain contact with family, friends and emergency service providers during and after an emergency, and simple kits should be prepared at home, in the workplace and in the car.

The following items should be part of any emergency kit:

  • Water
  • Food
  • Flashlight
  • Radio
  • First aid kit
  • Medications
  • Personal documents
  • Maps
  • Extra change of clothes
  • Multi-purpose tool kit
  • Personal hygiene items
  • Cell phone (with charger)
  • Emergency contacts
  • Cash
  • Blankets
  • Baby supplies
  • Pet supplies
  • Extra set of car/home keys
  • Rain gear
  • Insect repellent and sunscreen
  • Camera

Another important step to take before a disaster is to build relationships with your neighbors, community organizers and other agencies in your area. Knowing those who can help most immediately during a disaster is an important step, as well as learning more about shelters in your area.


Miami – PLAN!T NOW has awarded three Miami Dade College students with scholarship to continue their education in the first year of its new scholarship program.

Through the PLAN!T NOW Dreamkeepers scholarship program, PLAN!T NOW has given four $2,500 awards in the 2010-2011 school year to students who would otherwise face difficulty affording to continue pursuing their higher education goals. The PLAN!T NOW Dreamkeepers program, facilitated through Scholarship America, is part of PLAN!T NOW’s commitment to aiding students from storm-affected communities and helping them achieve their educational and career goals.

The winning students are Wilcie Bellier, Jean Joseph, Desiree S. Pierre and Marie Lunie William. PLAN!T NOW chose to provide aid to students at Miami Dade College because of the highly international student population, particularly students from Haiti. Because of the plight of Haiti in the wake of the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake and the nation’s needs during the subsequent rebuilding process, students chosen for the 2010 Dreamkeepers Scholarship are of Haitian descent.

“In a rapidly changing workforce environment, completing college is an essential step in a young person’s life,” said Eduardo J. Padrόn, President of Miami Dade College. “The P!N/Dreamkeepers scholarship will ensure that our Miami Dade College recipients have a chance at an American dream of prosperity and meaningful contributions to their community.”

PLAN!T NOW aids students in storm-sensitive regions, as well as those who hope to pursue weather science or preparedness careers beyond school, through two scholarship programs: PLAN!T NOW Dreamkeepers Scholarships and the PLAN!T NOW Hurricane Relief Scholarships. Hurricane Relief Scholarships are given to students in four-year universities, while Dreamkeepers Scholarships are given to students from community colleges.

In 2011, PLAN!T NOW will continue its aid to community college students, and will offer a scholarship in partnership with the American Meteorological Society. PLAN!T NOW works to connect people in storm zones with information and expertise to help them prepare for a wide range of disasters – from hurricanes and floods to tornadoes and winter storms, and more.

“We are thrilled to be helping these deserving students with their education goals by helping alleviate some of the cost burdens in their day-to-day life,” said Donna Lee, president of PLAN!T NOW.

The PLAN!T NOW Dreamkeepers Scholarship will be offered again in the 2011-2012 school year. For more information, check back at www.planitnow.org.

(Image is from Miami Dade College)


As the saying goes, April is known wet and windy weather, and is a common time for consistent thunderstorms. Last month, however, the Southeast United States saw a departure from the norm when dozens of tornadoes struck cities across the area, leading to considerable damage and loss of life. Tornadoes also made news across the Midwest and Northeast as well.

According to analysis by the The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang blog on April 28, “Thanks to the 139 tornadoes reported (this number will change as the National Weather Service conducts their damage assessments), April 2011 has now almost certainly seen more tornadoes than any other April on record since 1954 when an estimated 407 tornadoes descended from the heavens.”

On April 27-28, historic storms struck across the Deep South. This system created more tornadoes in a single day than any recorded in U.S. history. According to varying measures appearing in news reports, as many as 300 tornadoes formed during the outbreak across Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Georgia between April 27-28. The previous record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was 148 tornadoes formed over April 3-4, 1974.

The month was notable not only for the frequency of tornadoes, but in the severity of tornadoes hitting states from Missouri to North Carolina. They included, on April 27, “rare, mile-wide plus beasts, causing hideous damage, including denuded trees, flattened buildings, and pancaked cars,” according to the Post.

The April 27-28 storms were also the most deadly in a single day in more than 85 years. Last month’s storms led to more than 320 deaths from one system, compared to a storm system in March 1925 that led to 747 fatalities across seven states. The previous weeks showed further evidence of an unusually high rate of tornadic activity.

On April 22, the St. Louis area was struck by a series of tornadoes, including one that tore the roof off the main terminal of the Lambert-Saint Louis International Airport, shutting it down for two days. The storm was so strong, it shattered plate glass at the terminal and rocked airplanes on the ground, causing a few non-fatal injuries. A tornado warning for the storm was issued about 35 minutes before the tornadic supercell struck the airport. The storm was reported to have reached level EF4 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, on which EF5 is the most powerful rating. According to the EF4 rating, the tornado struck with winds of up to 200 miles per hour.

On April 16, more than 70 sightings and 28 confirmed touchdowns were reported as a major storm cell struck in 19 North Carolina counties, concentrated mostly in the eastern part of the state. Twenty-four North Carolinians perished in the storms, many of whom lived in mobile homes. The 28 confirmed tornadoes were the most recorded in the state in one storm, according to National Weather Service forecasters.

Experts have considered several explanations for the outbreak of tornado activity. The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang blog speculated that the perfect combination of a warm and humid atmosphere, strong jet stream winds and “atmospheric wind shear” – winds that vary in speed and direction with height. Combined with a cold front, these factors may have led to the high incidence of severe storms that left millions of dollars of damage across several states.

For other perspectives on these record tornadoes, you can read more here and here. For more information about how tornadoes form, visit the National Weather Service’s informative guide here.


The 2010 Atlantic hurricane season earned notoriety for its high level of activity, which included a stretch of 36 days with a named storm moving through the Caribbean or near the U.S. East Coast. This year’s hurricane season, which begins June 1, is expected to meet the relatively high activity of seasons across the past decade, though it isn’t expected to reach the levels of activity or destruction seen in 2005 or 2010.

In late April, Weather Services International updated its forecast for 2011 to predict a total of 15 named storms, eight hurricanes and four classified as major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Scale). This was adjusted downward from the original prediction in December of 17 named storms, nine hurricanes and five major hurricanes. Cooling Atlantic sea surface temperatures and a weakening of a La Nina event caused the deduction in the number of storms predicted.

Colorado State University’s annual December forecast predicted 16 named storms, nine hurricanes and five major hurricanes. Forecasts deal with the predicted level of activity of tropical storms and hurricanes, not their exact paths and impacts.

CSU’s forecast makes predictions about the likelihood of a major hurricane making landfall in any U.S. coastal area (73 percent), the East Coast and eastern Florida (49 percent) and the Gulf Coast (48 percent). The latter two predictions are significant departures for the landfall frequency in the last century (31 percent and 30 percent, respectively). The study’s authors predict that the chance of a major hurricane tracking into the Caribbean is 62 percent.

In 2010, the Atlantic basin saw 19 named storms, 12 of which became hurricanes (five of those were major hurricanes). This is a notable increase from the averages over the last 40 years – according to the Weather Channel, between 1966 and 2009, the average Atlantic hurricane season had 11 named storms, six of which were hurricanes (two of those being major hurricanes).

Of the 2010 storms, none of the hurricanes made landfall in the United States, though Tropical Storm Nicole led to deaths in North Carolina.

While the number of predicted storms is fewer than those experienced in 2010, this year’s storms are expected to have a greater impact on the U.S. coastline. Because no hurricanes have made landfall in the United States since 2008, Weather Services International predicts landfall will occur more often this year, with two or three along the Gulf Coast of the United States.

Sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean are warmer than usual this year, contrasting with Atlantic waters. According to the WSI report, more hurricanes are expected in the Gulf and Caribbean than along the U.S. East Coast as a result of the temperature difference. Storms in 2011 will likely develop closer to South America than near Africa, resulting in a greater chance of landfall in the southern United States.

WSI compares this season to 2008, which was the third costliest on record and included Hurricanes Gustav, Hanna and Ike.

For more information, read predictions and forecasts here:

"Surviving Disaster deconstructs how the brain responds to life-or-death events—so that we can all learn to do better. The documentary includes many characters from my book, in addition to other survivors of all kinds of trauma, from tsunami to car crashes. One young survivor describes in unflinching detail exactly what it felt like to get out of a house fire as a little girl in Texas. It is the kind of story you will never forget once you see it, and it is told with a purpose—to help the rest of us become smarter and stronger in our own homes and communities." - Amanda Ripley, author of THE UNTHINKABLE, Who Survives When Disaster Strikes.

It's been just over five years since this revolutionary book was first published and we urge you to celebrate by buying a copy of THE UNTHINKABLE. It's essential mantra is ours : practice makes perfect where preparedness is concerned. Go to PBS.com to purchase the companion documentary that will change your life and perspective about emergency preparedness, based on the book by the insightfully, plain-spoken Amanda Ripley. Click here and buy it on AMAZON!


You may already know that our Owlie Skywarn is a severe weather prep hero! Now, THE YMP WEATHERFEST RALLIES are being held in cities all over the country, in cooperation with The National Weather Service, to help prepare the nation's kids as well as their parents and teachers for flash floods, climate change, storms and tornadoes, and more.

These events include appearances by OWLIE SKYWARN, the mascot and lots of participation by community first responders and other stakeholders! Go to www.youngmeteorologist.org/wrn for more information. And GO TO www.youngmeteorologist.org to PLAY THE GAME!


You can help protect low-income and disadvantaged families in Mexico and the U.S.!

PLAN!T NOW, in collaboration with Estes Mexico and other corporate partners, is working to provide life-saving weather survival kits--including water, storage-ready food, flashlights, batteries, first-aid kits and other critical supplies--and emergency family plans for residents in two severe-weather vulnerable towns in Mexico and the U.S.

Your tax-deductible donation today helps save lives tomorrow--give now.

For more information and the metric for this project, click here.