Severe Weather

Severe Weather

Rachel Correa


Like human attacks, natural catastrophes can have damaging affects on information systems. Some areas impacted by such events are communication systems, power grids, and the electrical systems, as well as other components of our infrastructure. The direct and indirect damages from severe weather can result in the loss of millions to billions of dollars. This paper will focus on the impacts of thunderstorms, tropical storms, hurricanes, ice storms, and snowstorms. Mitigation devices will also be mentioned.


Injuries, fatalities, and the costs of damages are topics often seen in headlines after a natural disaster occurs. These misfortunes are not the only result of a natural disaster. Critical infrastructures can be disrupted from such events. Natural disasters, for example, can be earthquakes and severe weather. Severe weather can be further divided into thunderstorms, tropical storms, hurricanes, snowstorms, and ice storms.

Hurricanes and Tropical Storms

When a storm hits an area, a domino affect of destruction may be seen. Substantial amounts of rain can lead to flooding. If wires, computers, and other electrical equipment are exposed, then a short circuit in the system may occur. A plethora of information on hard drives and written documents could be lost forever. An interruption within a computer system may also be life threatening.

Hurricanes are known for their destructive capabilities. This type of storm can have an enormous impact on information systems. One example is of hurricane Camille in1969. Camille had high tides that were measured at a height of 7.5m. [1] Near the shore, the waves knocked down telephone lines and flooded any buildings near the shore. Hurricane Andrew (1992), hurricane Iniki (1992), hurricane Opal (1995), and hurricane Floyd (1999) are just a few of the many hurricanes that have caused severe damages in recent years. Damages to infrastructures were caused by power outages and flooding from strong winds, tornadoes, and heavy downpours. With hurricane Andrew, homes and businesses were destroyed due to powerful winds. In Hawaii, hurricane Iniki caused a halt on telephone service and electrical power for several months. This is extremely devastating to people since we rely so much on electricity and communication by use of telephones. Hurricane Opal knocked out the power to a staggering 2 million Florida residents. [2] My neighbor’s brother and fiancé own a car dealership. When hurricane Floyd came to New Jersey, heavy rain caused a disruption in their computer systems. The location of the car dealership is in an area prone to flooding. There were a few feet of water that damaged their hard drives as well as over a hundred cars on the lot. Luckily there was not a substantial amount of information lost, but the damages did dent their finances.

When a hurricane enervates to a tropical storm, the impact of the storm can still be devastating. Tropical storm Allison hit the Texas, in 2001, causing more than $5 billion in economic losses. [3] Because of heavy rainfall produced by Allison, Houston was severely damaged. Any hospital's worst nightmare is having a power failure and to have back up generators fail as well. This unfortunately happened at eight hospitals within the Texas Medical Center. The basements of the facilities were the homes of computer systems and generators of the hospitals. The basement also housed a research laboratory, important documents pertaining to research, patient documents, and medical equipment. Flooding in this area caused power failures throughout the hospitals. Patients who relied on life support equipment had to be quickly transported to other medical complexes to provide care. All of the research material was destroyed, along with expensive medical equipments, such as electron microscopes, machines and tool used for radiology, and diagnostic machines. The array of damages caused two hospitals to close for several months. The storm also caused a delay in medical testing because of the lack of equipment. [4]


Severe thunderstorms can cause disruption in information systems from intense rainfall, tornadoes, lightning, and hail. The large amounts of rain can cause an area to have possible flooding. The flooding will then cause physical damage to power grids and other electrical wiring. Tornadoes will destroy anything in its path. Strong winds will knock down power lines and telephone poles, thus putting a halt in any forms of communication and ceasing power flow. Lightning will cause damaging results to information systems when a building is struck, thus causing power fluctuations. [5] A hailstorm may cause damage by breaking windows to homes and businesses, leaving electrical wiring and computers vulnerable to rain damage.

A severe thunderstorm including all of these destructive examples was seen in April 2001, across the Unites States. Missouri was the most severely affected state during this period of severe weather. There were many recorded tornadoes. In St. Louis there was a hailstorm that caused great damage to businesses and home. The hail was recorded to have a diameter of 1 to 3 inches. The total economic lost due to this string of storms was about $1.9 billion. [6]

Ice Storms and Snowstorms

When the cold weather hits our communities, damages to infrastructures are caused by ice storms and snowstorms. Communication systems and power systems are usually affected the most. In ice storms, the weight of ice on wires will become too heavy. This causes the wire to break, thus causing a disruption in the systems. In January 1998, an ice storm hit states from Maine down to New York. The ice on the wires added 10-20 pounds per foot to the hanging wire cables. [7]

In 1997, an ice storm caused 120,000 residents of East Texas to be without power. The ice storm exposed a flaw within the Entergy Corporation. This utility company did not keep up with maintenance and it was found that one in five power poles had structural decay. [8] Kansas City experienced an ice storm in the beginning of 2002. Frozen branches knocked down power lines. Transformers also blew out. The electrical company responsible for storing the power again was Tann Electric. They even had problems with electricity and lost power. Luckily the computers were on a backup system that was not affected and the phone systems were not down. [9]

An ice storm that occurred in Arkansas in 2000 had an enormous impact on the state’s infrastructure. Two storms within the month of December caused $547 million worth of damages. Key elements that are required for disaster management were disrupted. These elements were the communication, transportation, and electrical systems. Power was out for several weeks for some people and over half the state did not have power. [10]

Like ice storms, snowstorms have the same affects. The weight of snow can become extremely heavy on power lines and telephone lines. The Blizzard of 1888 damaged the only forms of communication that existed during this time. The electric lines and telegraph poles were knocked down. The blizzard started in Maryland and ended its destruction in the New York area. [11]

In 1932, heavy wet snow, along with windy conditions, knocked down power and telephone lines. Frederick County, Maryland was isolated due to the lack of communication. “Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company estimated one million dollars in damages to replace 21,400 poles, 10,000 miles of open wire lines, and 60 miles of cable in Maryland, Virginia, and eastern West Virginia.” [12] This is a considerable amount of money for the 1930s.

From January to February of 1994, eastern United States area had freezing weather. Residents jacked up their heating systems because it was so cold. This resulted in power companies to have rolling blackouts. This happened so the power grid would not shut down. [13]

Summary, Conclusions, and Further Work

Severe weather can cause a substantial amount of damage on our information systems. Power failures can occur, communication systems can fail, critical data can be lost, and other components of our infrastructures can be disrupted. What makes it difficult to protect these systems is that we don’t know when the storms are going to happen until we see the weather broadcasted. Even then, the meteorologists may not be accurate. We also don’t know exactly how strong the storms impact will have on us. There still are ways to protect information systems. Generators need to be secured and extra fuel should be handy; critical documents can be sealed in plastic bags; if computers are near windows, protect the windows with wood; data stored on hard drives should also be stored on floppy disks. [14]

When an area is susceptible to flooding, drainage systems and water pumps should be considered. “Other flood mitigation devices include waterproof walls and doors, designed to keep water out even if adjacent rooms are totally flooded…These rooms can be effective at protecting critical systems, such as backup power generators and other types of expensive equipment.” [15] The unfortunate thing is that some aspects of protecting information systems are overlooked. This may not become obvious until another severe storm strikes.


  1. Robert H. Sompson and Herbert Riehl. “The Hurricanes and Its Impact.” Louisiana State University Press. 1981.
  2. Patrick J. Fitzpatrick. “Natural Disasters: Hurricanes.” ABC-CLIO, Inc. 1999.
  3. Brian Basinger. “2001 Hurricane Season Very Costly Despite No U.S. Landfalls.” Morris News Service. 2001.
  4. American Re. “Annual Review of North American Natural Catastrophes 2001.” American Re-Insurance Company. 2002. p 29.
  5. Fred Cohen. “Protection and Security on the Information Super Highway.” Wiley and Sons. 1995.
  6. Ibid 4, p 62.
  7. University of Nebraska. “Ice Storm Damage.” 2002.
  8. Violet S. Law. “Icy Weather Bares Flaws of Systems.” The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. 2001.
  9. Amy Fischbach, Mike Harrington, and Brendan O’Bryhim. “Ice Storm Freezes Kansas City.” CEE News. 2002.
  10. Amy Schlesing. “2000 Ice Storms Still Give Arkansas Chills.” The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. 2001.
  11. Barbara Mc Naught Watson. “Maryland Winters.” National Weather Service Forecast Office. 2002.
  12. Ibid 11.
  13. Ibid 11.
  14. Ibid 2.
  15. Ibid 4.