Storm Tools for Journalists


This is the NOLA Flood page-first hand reports of flooding around New Orleans.
This is where people are reporting power outages from TS Lee

Get smarter. You can take classes from FEMA to get certified in storm coverage.

The Crisis page.

National Weather Service – National Hurricane Center
Weather Underground
2011 Hurricane Season


FUN: Download Hurricane Bingo cards.  Play along as you watch live storm coverage.

Saffir-Simpson Scale

Forecasting Models

Cruise Ships have to schedule around storms.

3 Step Guide for Assistance
Apply Online or at
– Call (800) 621-3362 / TTY (800) 462-7585

Report disaster fraud / Recovery and rebuilding tips

Find a Disaster Recovery Center

Your local forecast

National Hurricane Center updates

Get prepared for a tropical storm/hurricane

State emergency management agencies

Floods and Flood Insurance

Flood-hazard maps have been created to show different degrees of risk for your community, which help determine the cost of flood insurance. The lower the degree of risk, the lower the flood insurance premium.

Check to see when new flood maps will be finished by zip code


  • Floods and flash floods happen in all 50 states.
  • Everyone lives in a flood zone. (For more information, visit our Flood Zones FAQs.)
  • Most homeowners insurance does not cover flood damage.
  • If you live in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) or high-risk area and have a Federally backed mortgage, your mortgage lender requires you to have flood insurance. (To find your flood risk, fill out the Flood Risk Profile.)
  • Just an inch of water can cause costly damage to your property.
  • Flash floods often bring walls of water 10 to 20 feet high.
  • A car can easily be carried away by just two feet of floodwater.
  • Hurricanes, winter storms and snowmelt are common (but often overlooked) causes of flooding.
  • New land development can increase flood risk, especially if the construction changes natural runoff paths.
  • Federal disaster assistance is usually a loan that must be paid back with interest. For a $50,000 loan at 4% interest, your monthly payment would be around $240 a month ($2,880 a year) for 30 years. Compare that to a $100,000 flood insurance premium, which is about $400 a year ($33 a month).
  • If you live in a moderate-to-low risk area and are eligible for the Preferred Risk Policy, your flood insurance premium may be as low as $129 a year, including coverage for your property’s contents.
  • You are eligible to purchase flood insurance as long as your community participates in the National Flood Insurance Program. Check the Community Status Book to see if your community is already an NFIP partner.
  • It takes 30 days after purchase for a policy to take effect, so it’s important to buy insurance before the floodwaters start to rise.
  • In a high-risk area, your home is more than twice as likely to be damaged by flood than by fire.
  • Anyone can be financially vulnerable to floods. People outside of high-risk areas file over 20% of NFIP claims and receive one-third of disaster assistance for flooding.
  • The average annual U.S. flood losses in the past 10 years (2001-2010) were more than $2.7 billion.
  • When your community participates in the Community Rating System (CRS), you can qualify for an insurance premium discount of up to 45%. Read more about CRS Ratings.
  • Since 1978, the NFIP has paid over $36.9 billion for flood insurance claims and related costs (as of 12/31/10).
  • Over 5.5 million people currently hold flood insurance policies in more than 21,000 communities across the U.S.

For more policy and claim statistics, visit the National Flood Insurance Program.

See What Causes Flooding

ThumbnailLevee Simulator The FloodSmart Levee Simulator is an animated tool that demonstrates how levees work. Learn More

ThumbnailThe Cost of Flooding The cost of flooding can vary drastically. See inch-by-inch how much flooding will cost you. Measure This

From FEMA-After the Storm:

There is, of course, a lot more to covering a hurricane than standing in the wind. Here are some tips and ideas to keep in mind.

Some quick advice for traveling crews:

    • Take a satellite phone. Cell phones may be out for days.   Be sure you have a power cord that you can plug into your car to recharge.  I am amazed by how many reporters still don’t do this.
    • You need a GPS with updated maps. You will be drving roads you don’t know. Some familiar roads will close.  Download the latest versions before you go.
    • You need some essential apps.  Among them are Vlingo to help you get info or file to social networks without typing.  Get UBroadcaster (by Ustream) so you can go live from your phone. Load weather radar apps on your phone so you can see live movement. Download hurricane checklist app from Red Cross
    • Take extra charged laptop batteries.
    • Make sure you know how to use jumper cables.  If you are drawing off your car battery to charge your electronics, you may drain your battery.  Use them wrong and blow up your car.
    • Practice using your generator BEFORE you get into the field. Make sure you only use a generator in a well-ventilated area. Store gasoline to fuel the generator in safe containers and NOT inside your car.
    • Take cash. Lots of cash. ATMs will be out of power, credit card machines won’t work. Cash is the ticket out of a lot of tight spots. I would take $200 per person per day.
    • Be self-sufficient. You won’t be able to buy food, water, ice, or other things you will need. Even if you could, the locals need it more than you do. Take enough food and water to feed your crew for 48 hours.
    • Every chance you get, top off your gas tank. You never know when gas pumps
      will stop running.
    • Carry several cans of Fix-a-Flat. You will have flat tires in hurricanes. You will run over debris. Be sure you have a spare (or two) and be sure you have a jack that works.
    • Buy expensive professional rain gear. Do not try to save money on this. If your station won’t buy good rain gear, it may say something about how serious they are about covering this story. Forget ponchos, they are terrible in the wind. Wear tight-fitting rain gear.
    • Have an up-to-date tetanus shot. If you cover a storm aftermath long enough, you will step on something sharp. Wear boots. Nails are everywhere after a storm.
    • Do not take safety risks. Even if you are willing to do something stupid for a picture, you will force rescue crews to risk their lives to save you. The problem is not the wind or the rain, even though being pelted by 140 per mile rain hurts — it hurts a LOT. The problem is flying debris. Photojournalists can’t see it coming since they are staring into a viewfinder.

Involve your audience.
Crowdsourcing can be extremely useful.  CNN is asking iReporters to help track the storm.

After a disaster, letting your family and friends know that you are safe and well can bring your loved ones great peace of mind. This website is designed to help make that communication easier.

Register Yourself as “Safe and Well”
Click on the “List Myself as Safe and Well” button to register yourself on the site.

Search for Loved Ones
Concerned family and friends can search the list of those who have registered themselves as “safe and well” by clicking on the “Search Registrants” button. The results of a successful search will display a loved one’s first name, last name and a brief message.

Field Work

Baby your equipment
Hip waders are the best at keeping you as dry as possible. The key is to keep your socks dry. Squishy socks make for a miserable day.

If the camera gets wet, you are done. Take along a blow dryer that you can operate with a cigarette lighter. You’ll need to dry out the electronics occasionally. Rich Murphy, veteran storm photographer asays, “Baby her. Talk nice to her and she’ll treat you right. My camera’s name was Cecilia. Wrap it tight. Especially around the viewfinder and battery. Water will find those little openings. Take off your clear filter. Condensation builds up in that small space between that and your lens. Wrap your wireless cube with a balloon up past where you mic connects. Don’t run the air conditioner in your car. Your camera hates to go from extreme cold to wet and humid. You are asking for a head clog. Try to keep the environment stable for your camera.”

Former CNN photojournalist Andre Jones says he used condoms on his shotgun microphone, then covers the latex with the windscreen. The key is to keep the electronics of the mic dry and the condom will not block much sound. (It can be a challenge explaining the expense to the accounting department, however.)

Here is some advice from, ”Try using a garbage bag and gaffer tape. Cut the plastic bag into long strips and place them over any and all connections on your camera. If you have a dockable camera, try putting plastic where the camera and deck meet. Wrap the viewfinder completely and cover all cracks and seams. Make sure you tape the strips down and on the smallest cracks, just use gaff tape. Make sure you finish the job with a sturdy rain cover.”


Murphy says, “Try not to shoot out in the open. Use building walls and other things to block the wind.”

You cannot cover a direct hit from a category 4 or 5 hurricane from the beach or a low-lying area. Your crews need to drop back to a safe, approved shelter. Make sure your truck is parked against a building and away from the wind as much as possible.”

Andre Jones says he uses condoms on his shotgun microphone, then covers the latex with the windscreen. CNN photojournalist Andre Jones advises, “Look for an overhead shelter. Sometimes photojournalists can shoot from a hallway that leads to the beach. Put the reporter out in the wind and rain while the photographer stands in the sheltered area. I tell my reporters, ‘Look, we can have one shot in the rain or we can cover the whole storm if I stay dry. Which do you want?’”

Jones says shooting out the window of the news car is safer than walking around during the storm. He also says if you have a hotel room, it is a good idea to fill the bathtub with water. In case you lose power, you will still have water to flush toilets or wash up.

Richard Adkins, Chief photojournalist at WRAL in Raleigh describes for, the “Jack Pack,”  named after a veteran photographer at his station who covered many hurricanes. The Jack Pack became standard issue for crews covering storms.

It includes:

    • Compact Shovel
    • Hatchet
    • Fix-a-Flat
    • WD-40
    • Insect Repellent
    • 1 roll Garbage Bags
    • 1 Box Waterproof Matches
    • 1″ Dust Brush
    • First Aid Kit
    • 4 Cleaning Rags
    • Flashlight
    • Duct Tape
    • 9 pack, Assorted Chips
    • 4 cans, Beanie Weenies
    • 1 box, Boxed Drinks
    • 2 packs, Bubble Gum
    • 1 Can Opener
    • 4 packs, canned Chicken
    • 2 packs, canned Fruit
    • 4 packs, canned Tuna
    • 1 can, Cheese-Whiz
    • 1 pack, Hot Beverage Packs
    • 1 box, Saltines
    • 2 boxes, Granola Bars
    • 2 packs, Knives, Forks, Spoons
    • 12 packs, Nabs
    • 1 jar, Peanut Butter
    • 8 packs, peanuts
    • 2 packs, Pop-Tarts
    • 2 packs, Raisins
    • 10 packs, Mayonnaise
    • 2 packs Trail Mix

I would also add to the list: a map book of the area you are covering.

CNN’s Jones says crews should have the ability to charge camera batteries, cell phone batteries, and laptop batteries with a car charger. Most live trucks also have charger outlets. Jones also always carries a chamois cloth to absorb lens moisture. Keep it in a dry place, like inside your pants or tucked deep inside your raincoat, he says.

Tips for Coverage
Take care of your family FIRST. Make sure they have a hurricane plan and will be safe BEFORE you head out for storm coverage. Make sure the entire staff knows what their role will be before the storm hits. Don’t burn out your crews leading up to the storm. Implement a 12-hour on, 12-hour off shift and stick to it. In Hurricanes Andrew, Hugo, and Fran the coverage continued for several weeks.”

Don’t get tied to a Live Truck doing generic live shots. Go to where the best tape is and tell stories. Satisfy your station with walk & talks on tape of real activity instead of standing in one spot.”

Consider opening Internet drive-ins where … people could come by to check e-mail or send e-mail to loved ones in the event of a large-scale outage.

Rely on partnerships. TV stations should have radio station partners in place. Use the crawl on the bottom of the screen for emergency help. Assign somebody to keep it updated. Don’t forget to constantly update your wesite. People who have evacuated or who have family outside the coverage area want specific information about damage.

Don’t exaggerate. CNN’s Jones says he has seen reporters overstate the danger and the level of concern. ”I remember seeing one reporter for a local station report that people were ‘hunkering down’ while in the background a guy was walking his dog on the beach.”

Watch the tone of your coverage. When the storm has passed, do all you can to give your community the hope and energy it needs to rebuild.

Story Ideas
Here are some of my favorite story angles in a big storm and afterward.

    • Look for heroes. After Andrew I met some Miami businessmen who took it upon themselves to set up a huge relief center in front of a blown-out liquor store. They were amazing in their efficiency and tireless work. Home Depot, some drug stores, and pizza chains were big heroes after Andrew for their unselfish service to the community in time of crisis. The pizza places just started shoveling free pies out the window of makeshift stores.
    • The rolling kitchens. The Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Mormons all have impressive emergency relief works after major events. Never underestimate the value of a hot meal to restore a person’s spirit. It is not unusual to see these folks, who hit emergency after emergency, to be set up and cooking within hours of the storm.
    • Shadow the adjusters. An insurance friend of mine tells me that people who have some sort of faith in something do better surviving the loss caused by a disaster. It would be an interesting angle to follow, the story of what one insurance adjuster sees on the day after a storm. What do they see, what do they hear? The key will be to find a great insurance agent BEFORE the storm hits.
    • Follow the water. Before the storm, keep an eye on low-lying areas that you know will flood. Be alert to cars that will be flooded then resold. WRAL Consumer Reporter Monica Laliberte landed an Edward R. Murrow Award for her coverage of flood cars. She said, “I came up with it when we were out covering Hurricane Floyds’ floods. Seeing all those cars floating, I realized it was an incredibly opportunity to find out what really happens to ‘flood cars.’ In those first few days, we gathered the Vehicle Identification Numbers and took video of every late model ‘flood car’ we could find. Then we spent the next year tracking the cars through insurance records, DMV offices and computer databases to find out where they landed. We found they went all over the country and even OUT of the country. Many ended up with so called ‘clean’ titles, which would make it almost impossible for future buyers to find out about the vehicles’ flood history. Our story was instrumental in convincing Senator John Edwards to co-sponsor federal legislation aimed at making it easier for consumers to find out about that history. Among other things, it also prompted the Attorney General’s office to post on its website the VIN numbers of more than 10,000 vehicles known to be flooded during Floyd. The AG also took action against the dealers who knowingly sold flood cars to two families featured in our stories. Most of all, the stories greatly increased public awareness of the issue.”
    • Find kids. I remember a child we interviewed after Hurricane Andrew. She lived out the storm in a big plastic trash can. She thought the storm was a person named Andrew who was going to come back. Talk to kids. They are always great.
    • Old folks run out of medicine. Often pharmacies can’t help because they have no power.
    • The scams. Watch for them. Roofers will arrive by the truckload. Freelance photojournalist James Stem remembers the trail of roofers who moved in after Hurricane Andrew devastated South Florida. “The homeowners had checks in their hands from the insurance companies and they were desperate to get their roofs patched up. The roofers came in and did a
      lousy job, or left the work unfinished and left. In lots of cases, people had to have the work done over again.”
    • Price gouging.You will also see people arrive selling chainsaws for twice the retail price.  After Andrew we saw people trying to sell ice, gasoline, and windows for sky-high prices.
    • What worked? Assess whether police radios, evacuation plans, building codes, insurance regulations, contractor licensing, fraud investigations worked. What new planning and zoning laws are needed around beach communities?

After the Storm
Consider producing a documentary of the special coverage. Most victims will not have seen what you did on the air or read what you publish. They will be without power and living in shelters. Donate the proceeds to charity.

One last piece of advice from Jim Stem, “Never take your own car into a storm area. Use rental cars and buy all the insurance you can!”

Storm Surge and Storm Tide

One of the biggest threats in a hurricane is not straight wind but storm surge.  The National Hurricane Center explains:

The National Hurricane Center explains:

“Storm surge is an abnormal rise of water generated by a storm, over and above the predicted astronomical tides. Storm surge should not be confused with storm tide, which is defined as the water level rise due to the combination of storm surge and the astronomical tide. This rise in water level can cause extreme flooding in coastal areas particularly when storm surge coincides with normal high tide, resulting in storm tides reaching up to 20 feet or more in some cases.”

Storm Surge vs. Storm Tide

The NHC explains:

“Storm surge is produced by water being pushed toward the shore by the force of the winds moving cyclonically around the storm. The impact on surge of the low pressure associated with intense storms is minimal in comparison to the water being forced toward the shore by the wind.”

NHC says, “Wind and Pressure Components of Hurricane Storm SurgeThe maximum potential storm surge for a particular location depends on a number of different factors. Storm surge is a very complex phenomenon because it is sensitive to the slightest changes in storm intensity, forward speed, size (radius of maximum winds-RMW), angle of approach to the coast, central pressure (minimal contribution in comparison to the wind), and the shape and characteristics of coastal features such as bays and estuaries.”

Click on Image to Play Video

The National Hurricane Center says, “Other factors which can impact storm surge are the width and slope of the continental shelf. A shallow slope will potentially produce a greater storm surge than a steep shelf. For example, a Category 4 storm hitting the Louisiana coastline, which has a very wide and shallow continental shelf, may produce a 20-foot storm surge, while the same hurricane in a place like Miami Beach, Florida, where the continental shelf drops off very quickly, might see an 8 or 9-foot surge. More information regarding storm surge impacts and their associated generalizations can be found in the FAQ section.”

This is what the National Hurricane Center says households need:

Disaster Supply Kit

Check boxWater – at least 1 gallon daily per person for 3 to 7 days

Check boxFood – at least enough for 3 to 7 days
— non-perishable packaged or canned food / juices
— foods for infants or the elderly
— snack foods
— non-electric can opener
— cooking tools / fuel
— paper plates / plastic utensils

Check boxBlankets / Pillows, etc.

Check boxClothing – seasonal / rain gear/ sturdy shoes

Check boxFirst Aid Kit / Medicines / Prescription Drugs

Check boxSpecial Items – for babies and the elderly

Check boxToiletries / Hygiene items / Moisture wipes

Check boxFlashlight / Batteries

Check boxRadio – Battery operated and NOAA weather radio

Check boxTelephones – Fully charged cell phone with extra battery and a traditional (not cordless) telephone set

Check boxCash (with some small bills) and Credit Cards – Banks and ATMs may not be available for extended periods

Check boxKeys

Check boxToys, Books and Games

Check boxImportant documents – in a waterproof container or watertight resealable plastic bag
— insurance, medical records, bank account numbers, Social Security card, etc.

Check boxTools – keep a set with you during the storm

Check boxVehicle fuel tanks filled

Check boxPet care items
— proper identification / immunization records / medications
— ample supply of food and water
— a carrier or cage
— muzzle and leash


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