Understanding What Sunscreen Does and Doesn’t Do

I don’t know about the weather where you live but here in Western Washington where I live we’ve seen record high temperatures and more than enough sun to last us all summer (yes, there are plenty of us here in Washington bemoaning the lack of rain). With all this sun, we’ve already seen our fair share of sunburn and this is because many people still don’t understand what sunscreen is and what it does.

Let’s start with the basics. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. The Sun Protection Factor number is telling you how much longer you can stay out in the sun than you could if you weren’t wearing any sunscreen at all. An SPF of 15, for example, is letting you know that, if you normally can stay out in the sun for 30 minutes without sunburn or damage to your skin, with SPF 15 sunscreen you will be able to stay out 15 times longer, that is to say 7.5 hours. Increase the SPF to 30 and you should be okay for 15 hours. SPF 15 blocks 93% of the UVB rays which means that out of every 100 photon bombarding your skin 93 will be blocked while 7 will get through. SPF 30 blocks 97%.


Sounds pretty logical and straightforward, right? Not really! The problem is that most of us don’t really apply the sunscreen properly. Most of us, according to a numerous studies, only apply 1/5 to 1/2 of the amount that the manufacturer recommends (After all, we reason, of course they want me to apply lots of sunscreen, that way they can sell more!). If you apply only 1/5 of the amount of sunscreen with a protection factor of 15, you end up with a protection of only 3 rather than 15 so that now, instead of being able to stay out in the sun for 7.5 hours you will now begin to suffer damage to your skin after only 1.5 hours.

Additionally, while you may not suffer sunburn which happens because of UVB, your skin can still suffer damage (which can cause skin cancer, aging, leathering, sagging and more) if the sunscreen doesn’t protect from UVA as well. Make sure that your sunscreen contains zinc oxide, avobenzone, titanium dioxide, ecamsule and oxybenzone for maximum protection.

Three more items of note… First, don’t rely on sunscreen if you don’t have to. Short exposures to the sun are best. Sun does provide our bodies with Vitamin D which is necessary for health so try to get some exposure but keep it under 30 minutes. If you absolutely must stay out in the sun, apply sunscreen. Secondly, be aware of the fact that sunscreen does deteriorate over time and that the sunscreen you purchased last year isn’t going to protect you as well this year and certainly not as well next year. Thirdly, don’t go tanning. Tanning will prematurely age your skin and expose you to harmful UV rays. A tan, which most people associate with health is actually the opposite. Brown skin is skin that is already damaged.


Hail Safety


Hail is one of the most common and costly weather hazards in the United States, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to buildings, vehicles, and crops every year. Help guard against the damaging effect of a hailstorm by following the steps below.

Make A Plan

A hailstorm can disrupt electrical service and is often accompanied by other severe weather events, such as hurricanes and tornadoes. Prepare your family for the hazards and inconveniences of a hailstorm by creating a disaster preparedness plan, including a disaster survival kit and an emergency evacuation plan.

Stay Informed

Hail often occurs during severe weather patterns, such as strong thunderstorms. When severe weather threatens, tune in to a battery-powered radio for updates. A severe thunderstorm watch means that conditions are right for thunderstorms to become severe. A severe thunderstorm warning means that a storm poses an immediate threat to the people and property in its path. This warning may be accompanied by a siren or other community alert system.

How does hail form?

  • Inside of a thunderstorm are strong updrafts of warm air and downdrafts of cold air.
  • If a water droplet is picked up by the updrafts…it can be carried well above the freezing level. With temperatures below 32F…our water droplet freezes.
  • As the frozen droplet begins to fall…carried by cold downdrafts…it may thaw as it moves into warmer air toward the bottom of the thunderstorm
  • But…our little half-frozen droplet may also get picked up again by another updraft…carrying it back into very cold air and re-freezing it. With each trip above and below the freezing level our frozen droplet adds another layer of ice.
  • Finally…our frozen water droplet…with many layers of ice – much like the rings in a tree…falls to the ground – as hail!

What to do if you are caught in a hail storm while in an automobile:

  • Most importantly, stop driving. If you see a safe place close-by (like inside a garage, under a highway overpass or under a service station awning), drive to it as soon as you can. Make sure you pull completely off the highway.
  • Do NOT leave the vehicle until it stops hailing. Your car might get dented, but unlike you, the car won’t get a concussion.
  • Stay away from car windows. Cover your eyes with something, like a piece of clothing. If possible, get onto the floor faced down or lay down on the seat with your back to the windows.
  • Put very small children under you and cover their eyes.

What to do if you are caught in a hail storm while in a building:

  • Stay inside until the hail stops.
  • Stay away from windows, especially those being struck by hail.
  • Account for all family members, building occupants, pets, etc.
  • Do not go outside for any reason. Large hail can cause serious or even fatal injuries.
  • To avoid the danger of electrocution from lightning, avoid using phones and electrical appliances during a severe storm

What to do if you are caught in a hail storm while outdoors:

  • Seek shelter immediately. If you can’t find something to protect your entire body, find something to protect your head.
  • Stay out of culverts and lowland areas that may suddenly fill with water.
  • Seeking shelter under trees should be a last resort. It is common during severe storms for trees to lose branches. Also, large isolated trees attract lightning.

Facts about Hail

  • The hail season varies around the United States. Generally, it runs March through October, with the majority of hail storms occurring May through August.
  • Hail is primarily an afternoon or evening phenomenon. Most severe hailstorms occur between 1:00 P.M. and 9:00 P.M.
  • Hailstorms rarely last more than 15 minutes. The median duration is 6 minutes.
  • The most common size for damaging hail is 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. The most common size for hail in New Mexico is 1/4 inches.
Is there a way to estimate hail size…or do I have to go outside and measure it?

  • It’s often difficult to get an accurate measurement of hail diameter – especially when it’s falling
  • The table to the right helps observers estimate the size of hail based on average diameters of common items
  • When in doubt – play it safe and wait until the thunderstorm has moved away before going outside to measure the size of hail
Estimating Hail Size

  • Pea = 1/4 inch diameter
  • Marble/mothball = 1/2 inch diameter
  • Dime/Penny = 3/4 inch diameter – hail penny size or larger is considered severe
  • Nickel = 7/8 inch
  • Quarter = 1 inch
  • Ping-Pong Ball = 1 1/2 inch
  • Golf Ball = 1 3/4 inches
  • Tennis Ball = 2 1/2 inches
  • Baseball = 2 3/4 inches
  • Tea cup = 3 inches
  • Grapefruit = 4 inches
  • Softball = 4 1/2 inches

Hail indicators and Tornados. The presence of large hail certainly indicates a very strong, rotating updraft coincident with a strong downdraft within a super cell thunderstorm. These are classic indicators of increased tornadic potential as very large/giant hail is often observed immediately north of a tornado track. However, the presence of large hail doesn’t always mean a tornado. Conversely, the absence of large hail doesn’t always mean there isn’t a risk of tornadoes.:

Dime size hail 5-10 % chance of a tornado forming in this storm

Quarter size hail 20-25% chance of a tornado forming in this storm

Golf ball size hail 40-50% chance of a tornado forming in this storm (RED FLAG You should start watching for any rotation with these storms)

Baseball or larger size hail 80-90% chance of a tornado forming in this storm (EXTREME CAUTION tornados are VERY PROBABLE with these storms)

Move Inside, Stay Inside

Hailstones vary greatly in size, but even small ones – driven by gravity and strong winds – pose a danger to anything or anyone caught in a storm. As a storm approaches, put vehicles in the garage and bring pets inside. If you are outdoors, go indoors immediately.

Once you’re indoors, close all drapes, blinds, or shades to prevent broken window glass and hailstones from entering your home. If possible, move to a basement, cellar, or other level of the building not directly below the roof. Stay indoors until the storm has passed.

If you’re on the road during a hailstorm, stay in your vehicle and slow down or stop, as roads may become slippery. Once you have pulled over safely, turn your back to windows or cover yourself with a blanket to protect yourself from broken glass.

Hail Storms Safety Tips:

  • Tune in to your radio to stay informed of approaching storms.
  • If you see a tornado or hear a tornado warning, don’t try to outrun it.
  • Turn on your headlights (low beams) and slow down. Many states require the use of headlights during rain.
  • Allow extra distance for braking.
  • Do not drive unless necessary.
  • Pull safely onto the shoulder of the road away from any trees that could fall on the vehicle.
  • If at all possible, pull into a sturdy garage, parking garage, or under a shelter to minimize hail damage.
  • Stay in the car and turn on the emergency flashers until the heavy rains subside.
  • Avoid downed power lines.
  • Approach intersections with caution
  • Treat traffic lights at intersections as stop signs
  • After the storm, thoroughly evaluate your vehicle for damage.
  • If you find glass damage, carefully remove any glass from the interior of your vehicle, and cover the damaged area to prevent further water damage to your interior.

Treat Hail storms in much the same way you would handle a thunderstorm or tornado. Safety First, Safety Always!

Information from NOAA, Weather.Com, NWS Kerry Jones and KVII Channel 7 Amarillo Steve Kersh

Today’s blog post comes to us courtesy of

Ken Oswald, Safety and Security Manager for Plateau

Smoking Can Rot your Brain

A new study published in the Age and Ageing journal has found that, as if lung cancer and rotting teeth weren’t enough to get you to quit smoking, smoking “rots” your brain. The study measured cognitive function in some 8,800 people over the age of 50 and concluded that they was a measurable decline in cognitive ability in smokers.

We’ve known for years, of course, that smoking was bad for your body but the study now gives weight to the theory that it’s bad for your brain as well.

The obvious hypotheses for why this might be has to do with how smoking affects the cardiovascular system, restricting blood vessels and impairing circulation to the brain.

The study is not a medical study and further testing and exploration will have to be done. It would be interesting, for example, to find out how many of the patients with Alzheimers were smokers before they started to suffer the effects of this debilitating disease.

For those of you who are into numbers, the study will give you all the numbers you can chew on but the bottom line for the rest of us is that if you needed another excuse to quit smoking this year, this might be it.