With the drought that has been affecting a large portion of the Southwest of the United States, there isn’t much to keep the dirt in place should the wind decide to blow. Knowing how to care for yourself and others, should you get caught in one, is vital to your health. Not only does it bring dust and debris, but it can also carry viruses and bacteria that can make anyone ill.
Before the Storm – Preparing at Home
If you are lucky enough to know that there is a dust storm headed your way, or maybe you can even see the wall of dirt traveling toward you, there are some things you can do to help minimize your exposure. If you are at home, close and lock the windows, close the doors, and turn off any fans that may bring the outside air in. Bring your pets inside as they can be equally if not more affected by blowing dust than you can. If your home does not have good seals around the doors and windows, you may want to tape them off so dust can get in. Remember that the wind is really going to fire up and will push the dirt through any opening or crevice that it can find. A dust mask is always a good idea. Don’t forget to secure anything that could blow away to prevent damage to your home and vehicles or even your neighbor’s property.
Before and During the Storm If You are Driving
If you are in your car, turn your headlights on and fog lights if you have them. Roll up your windows, turn off your air conditioning, vents, or heater to keep outside air from coming in. If you have a dust mask in your car, put it on. When you find yourself in the storm, if you cannot see far enough ahead of you to comfortably continue to drive, find a safe place to pull over and ride the storm out. If you have to park in a ditch, be aware that grasses under your car are very dry and could ignite from the heat of your muffler. Try to find a place to park that is as far out of the traffic lane as possible without dry grasses. If you can continue to drive safely, do so until you find shelter.
Best Masks To Keep On Hand
Due to the very nature of the storm, the wind will pick up a wide variety of dust and particulates including dried chemicals, bacteria, mold and mildew spores, and even viruses. They can also cause fires which can add ash and smoke to the air. Anyone who has trouble breathing or is susceptible to lung problems should have a properly fitted chemical cartridge/gas mask respirator. For the general public, though, an N95 particulate respirator is generally adequate for short periods of time. If no mask is available, T-Shirt material, doubled over is surprisingly good at keeping most of the damaging components out. The Center for Disease Control has a list of approved masks that goes into detail on their particular purpose to help you make the right choice.
After The Storm
Even though the wind has finally died down, don’t go outside for at least an hour. It takes time for all the dust and dirt that was disturbed to settle. If you must go out, wear your mask. You may need to wash items down around your home if you have people with allergies or lung conditions such as asthma before they go outside. If you have had any damage, contact your insurance provider. Check with your neighbors to make sure they are also doing well. Completely inspect your property for anything that may cause problems later, such as tree limbs, power lines, anything that simply isn’t in its proper place. In general, take care to act cautiously until you know all is clear and safe.
Finally, if anyone is coughing excessively, has a sore throat, rough voice, or even just feels unwell, take them to a medical professional and let them know any precautions you took to help them make an accurate diagnosis.