Extreme temperatures are extremely difficult for special needs populations, for example the elderly and persons who cannot otherwise take care of themselves. Both heat and cold are a recurring threat in Tennessee based upon the time of the year. Extreme cold becomes a serious threat when power goes out and extreme heat becomes deadly when the power goes out. There are periods of temperatures in Tennessee above 100 degrees and as low as 20 degrees below zero in the winter. These broad swings of temperature threaten the lives of some citizens.
Heat Wave of 1988 - Summer of 1988
A year-long drought that had ravaged the agricultural economy was further exacerbated by the heat wave of 1988. Damage to the agricultural economy surpassed $61 billion as total rainfall along the Great Plains region from April through June was even lower than during the Dust Bowl years. Drought conditions seeded wildfires that raged across Yellowstone National Park and Mount Rushmore that summer. Between 5,000 and 10,000 people succumbed to health complications stemming from the sweltering heat. Tennessee got its share.
Heat Wave of 1980 - Summer of 1980
The heat wave of 1980 proved to be one of the nation's most catastrophic prolonged weather events. A high-pressure ridge pushed temperatures across the central and southern United States above 90 degrees Fahrenheit for most of the summer. Agricultural damage tallied an estimated $48 billion due to a massive drought, and 10,000 people died from heat and heat stress-related ailments.
Dust Bowl - Early 1930's
Prior to the early 1930's, the Great Plains was a farmer's paradise. Rising demands for wheat spurred settlers to plow much of the southern plains' grassy soil to meet this need. The land was eventually exposed to erosion, since grass and tree roots that had held the moist soil in place during dry times were replaced by cash crops. A decade-long drought transformed the loose topsoil into dust, which windstorms swept up and blew eastward, darkening skies as far away as the Atlantic Coast. With most of the area's crops decimated, a third of the farmers turned to government aid, while around half a million Americans were left homeless.
Tennessee weather is a challenge year-round, but it is especially troubling in the winter since any wet areas freeze and become a hazard to transportation. The freezing conditions may take place suddenly without much warning and not be visible to drivers, called "black ice." This may surprise drivers from drier climates who do not often experience ice under snow which nearly always accompanies cold weather in Tennessee. Even Tennessee drivers are surprised by the sudden changes. Traffic snarls are normal when snows arrive in the state's communities. This state is usually very wet and rain precedes any change in temperature. When storms arrive and the rain freezes, the result is not only a hazard to the transportation network, the power grid is often affected too. For hospitals, nursing homes, shut-ins, schools and other special needs groups, the loss of power, heat and medical equipment operation may be life-threatening. In cold weather the icing conditions could last for weeks which interferes with the return of power.
To prepare for cold extremes takes some careful thought since the typical survival kit will not provide everything that is required. Stocking up on water and food for an extended period takes advance planning. Keeping a portable generator and becoming familiar with how to hook it up and safely operate it are essential steps to survival. Making sure you have plenty of blankets and quilts or heating and cooking oil are considerations. Often, buying extra wood may be an option for homes with fireplaces. Do not overlook stocks of prescriptions and pet foods.