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Do You Know How to Survive Extreme Weather?

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Best-selling author, latest, National Geographic Extreme Weather Survival Guide and National Geographic Kids Extreme Weather (2014)



Co-author of The Green Book

Former global columnist for The Wall Street Journal Digital Network and editor at Bloomberg News

Contributes regularly to National Geographic.com, Discover, Men’s Health, and The Wall Street Journal

Graduated from Emerson College

In many places summers are hotter, winters are colder and new weather records are frequently set. The news is filled with catastrophic events – Hurricane Sandy brought epic destruction to New York and New Jersey in 2012; monster Typhoon Haiyan wrought havoc in the Philippines in 2013; and a dip in the polar vortex in 2014 made Chicago colder than the South Pole’s summer temperature. “There are many arguments as to what may be causing these dramatic changes in weather patterns around the globe, but it is essential we be prepared to deal with extreme weather conditions in order to survive and recover,” shares Thomas.

Everyone can take three actions to remain safe during any extreme weather event: get informed, make an emergency kit and have a plan. Thomas says an emergency kit is useful no matter what kind of weather conditions you experience. Some of the items your emergency kit should include:

  • Dry food and water for every person in your household. One gallon of water per person per day. Keep a two week supply in case you are confined to your home.
  • One flashlight and an extra supply of batteries
  • Battery powered radio or one that can be powered by a hand crank
  • A first aid kit
  • A map of your location and the surrounding area
  • Multipurpose tool (ex. Swiss army knife)
  • Mobile phone with extra charger and backup battery

“Good solid preparation will allow you to maintain control over your emotions when a disaster hits,” shares Thomas. Sit down with your family and establish a basic action plan for how to prepare and respond to emergency situations. Identify tasks for each member of the household. For example, if there is a flood who’s in charge of moving furniture to a higher, drier place? By assigning responsibility ahead of time to a specific family member it makes for a well-organized response to disasters. Be sure you have emergency contacts saved on your cell phone as ICE or “in case of emergency.” Finally, have an evaluation plan. It is important to know which route to take and how to get to your agreed upon meeting place. Practice your evacuation procedures twice a year.

With cold weather fast approaching, Thomas offers the following suggestions to help you prepare, survive and recover from the harsh elements that are often associated with winter:


  • Learn How to Layer – Layers allow you to adjust for temperature much more easily.
  • A base layer helps you manage moisture – moisture wicking thermals send the moisture out to a middle layer of clothing, while keeping dry air in. Materials that wick are wool, silk, or synthetics.
  • A middle layer helps to keep you warm - sweaters or fleece are good insulators
  • An outer layer protects you from the wind – this layer should be resilient against rain, snow, and harsh elements. Use heavy outer fabrics for stationary activities and single-ply or lighter fabrics when you are exerting yourself and your body produces more heat.
  • Protect Your Extremities - When it gets cold, your body draws blood from the extremities to protect more vital organs such as the heart and lungs. Fingers and toes are the most susceptible to frostbite, so take special care of them. Between gloves or mittens, choose mittens. Four fingers together produce more body heat.
  • Protect Your Pets – Check dogs’ paws during and after winter walks. The skin can crack or they can accumulate ice balls. Clipping hair between toe pads may help keep ice from accumulating. After a walk, wipe down paws and low bellies so your dog does not lick off the chemicals such as de-icers, antifreeze, or other winter chemicals that are potentially toxic. Don’t leave your pets in cold cars. Do not let your dog off the leash after a heavy snowfall they can easily lose their scent during winter storms and become lost.
  • Be Informed – Download a weather app to your cell phone which can keep you up-to-date on current conditions and weather predictions. Thomas suggests: Wind Chill Widget, Thermometer Widget, and Wind Speed Meter App.
  • Prepare Your House – Insulate your water pipes where they are exposed. If subfreezing cold is coming allow a steady drip to keep from freezing. Know how to shut your water valves off. Clean your gutters and make roof repairs. Use caulking and weather stripping for doors and windows in your home.


  • Regulate your Body Temperature. Eat higher protein and well balanced meals before going out in the cold. Your body uses more energy to digest protein, and therefore your body heat will rise. Drink plenty of water. When your body is dehydrated, it is more susceptible to cold weather. Drink warm nonalcoholic beverages. Alcohol constricts blood vessels and minimizes blood flow to your skin. Hot tea is preferred over coffee.
  • Driving in Snow or Ice – If you must travel, do so during the day and stay on main roads. Do not slam on your brakes. Slow down to a stop instead. Do not change lanes or try to pass other drivers. Do not keep your engine running with the windows closed; carbon monoxide poisoning can result. Do not mistake black ice for pavement. Bridges and overpasses are particularly susceptible to black ice forming.


  • Proper Way to Shovel Snow – Do not overexert yourself. Heart attacks are frequent, especially in males, in extreme cold weather. Before you begin shoveling snow: warm up by stretching; wear shoes with good treads, shovel in the day and make use of sunshine, pace yourself by removing small amounts over time and take a break every 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Warm Up Your Body – Gradually warm up your body heat. Do not get immediately into a hot tub or sauna this can cause dizziness or unconsciousness. Drink warm liquids such as hot herbal tea instead of coffee which is high in caffeine.

Thomas is a New York Times bestselling author and journalist. He has reported from war zones to the world’s wonders across five continents. He has appeared regularly as a guest in the media on such shows as the Today Show, CNN’s Erin Burnett, Entertainment Tonight, and Fox News.

Thomas became interested in extreme weather while on a trip to Ethiopia where he was being escorted by World Vision. There he encountered people in need and embarked upon educating through books and journalism, prescriptive advice to adapt and prepare for the new normal of environmental hazards facing us today.

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