By Ty Johnson for the Brownsville Herald, Texas
The high winds and floods associated with hurricanes are dangers commonly associated with the tropical storms, and Brownsville residents aren’t strangers to the damage hurricanes can bring.
Vendors at the city’s Hurricane Awareness Fair on Friday offered tips and guidance on how to minimize damage to property and loss of life during hurricane season, which runs from Sunday until the end of November.
Led by Leo the Lineman, Brownsville Public Utilities Board workers took the opportunity to educate the public about safety concerns surrounding utilities, with a special emphasis on downed power lines, which are common during high winds.
Toby Mares has been working with the Brownsville Public Utilities Board for 15 years as the utility’s safety-conscious mascot.
“I’m one of the original Leos,” Mares explained in between demonstrations that showed how people, trees and even birds could be seriously injured or killed by power lines, whether they are down or not.
Mares said he received many questions from interested children at the fair, ranging from how to help a sibling if he’s made contact with a downed line to why birds sitting on power lines don’t get electrocuted.
Mares, as Leo, explained how birds on lines assume the same energy as the line they are sitting on. Once a connection is made between those lines and something at a different energy level — like a kite making contact with a line — the energy is transferred through the connection, sending electricity into whoever is holding the kite’s string.
Downed power lines provide still more dangers, Mares said, as if live wires make contact with standing water, it can cause anyone and anything in that water to be jolted.
Underground transformers can pose the same risks, he told 8-year-old Keyla Ramirez, who asked him about puddle-jumping during storms.
Keyla said she learned not to go into water during storms unless necessary, and even then only in rubber boots to protect her feet from electricity.
Other vendors at the fair included the National Weather Service, which discussed the Rio Grande Valley’s hurricane history and important tips for how to stay informed before, during and after a tropical storm.
For more information about hurricane preparedness and other summer weather advisories, visit the National Hurricane Center online at nhc.noaa.gov.