What is a hurricane?
There is a hierarchy of tropical cyclonic low-pressure weather phenomenon. The weakest tropical weather event is called a tropical depression. A tropical depression has maximum sustained surface winds of less than 39 miles per hour (mph). If those surface winds reach a maximum sustained force of between 39 mph to 73 mph it is referred to as a tropical storm. When winds reach a sustained force of 74 mph or greater, it is referred to as a hurricane. The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale rates hurricanes on a 1-5 scale (category) based on the hurricane’s maximum sustained wind speed, and associated potential for property damage.
|Hurricane Category||Anticipated Property and Structure Damage|
Sustained Winds: 74-95 mph
|Winds will produce some damage: well-constructed homes could sustain damage to roof, shingles, vinyl siding, and gutters. Large tree branches may break, and shallow rooted trees may uproot. Significant number of downed power lines with power outages lasting for a few to several days.|
Sustained Winds: 96-110 mph
|Winds will cause extensive damage: well-constructed homes could sustain significant roof and siding damage. Many shallow rooted trees will be toppled, and near-total power outages are probable with power outages lasting from several days to weeks.|
Sustained Winds: 111-129 mph
|Winds will cause devastating damage: well-constructed homes may sustain major damage with likely removal of roof decking and gable ends. Wide-spread uprooting of trees. Electrical power and water will be unavailable for several days to weeks.|
Sustained Winds: 130-156 mph
|Winds will cause catastrophic damage: we—constructed homes may sustain severe damage including loss of most of the roof structure and possibility of some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted, and powerlines downed. Power outages and loss of water availability will possibly last for months making the area uninhabitable during that time.|
Sustained Winds: >157 mph
|Winds will cause catastrophic damage: A high percentage of well-constructed homes will be destroyed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate the area, and power outages will last for months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks to months.|
Of course, these hurricanes also bring the potential of massive flooding from moisture that is picked up from the ocean and dropped inland, as well as ocean surge along the shorelines. The unique demographics of the terrain in which the rainfall occurs, to a great degree, determines the extent of flooding and associated property damage.
Where and when is a hurricane more likely to occur? Hurricanes originate in the Atlantic basin, which includes the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and eastern North Pacific Ocean. In the United States, the Atlantic Coast, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Hawaiian Islands are the areas most likely to experience a hurricane. The state of Florida tops the list for most hurricanes. The United States ranks fifth of the top 10 countries in which hurricanes strike. In the United States, the official hurricane season begins June 1 and ends November 30, but hurricanes have and do occur outside of this time frame.
How to prepare for a hurricane?
When you consider the anticipated property and structure damage that can occur with the various categories of hurricanes as listed by the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, it is obvious that if you live in an area where hurricanes can occur, you should be well prepared for a large-scale event. The following recommendations are made to help you be better prepared for a good outcome should a catastrophic hurricane come your way.
Prior Preparation for the Hurricane Season
Hurricanes bring fierce winds and lots of rain, both of which can cause extensive property and structural damage. Your home should be as protected as possible and risk factors minimized to reduce damage. This means that various landscaping materials, weak tree branches, less than optimal home exterior items can actually lead to home damage. Consider the following:
- Landscaping: Gravel, small rock, and other hard landscaping components should be replaced with something much lighter, such as bark, so that if tossed around it won’t produce near the damage to the structures it collides with.
- Trees and shrubbery: Weak branches that could more easily be broken and fall on your home or other structures, or thrown around should be cut, and shrubbery should be kept trimmed to reduce the likelihood of becoming little projectiles in the winds.
- Tempered glass: If your home has sliding glass doors, they should be made of tempered glass.
- Storm shutters: Windows can be fragile and more easily broken. Shutters will help protect them from breakage.
- Secure exterior doors: Some doors are listed as hurricane proof. All exterior doors should have at least 3 hinges, a deep dead bolt lock that is secured with longer than normal screws.
When a Hurricane Warning Has Been Issued
When a hurricane warning has been given, you have approximately 36 hours before the anticipated tropical storm force winds reach the designated area of the warning. This is precious preparation time for some very important activities. Consider the following:
- Implement strategies to protect your home. Exterior items such as garbage cans, outdoor play structures, water hoses, ornamental features, or any item that could be caught up in the fierce winds and made to be a type of battering ram against your home should be taken down or stored in the secure area. Securely apply plywood to cover windows or any other venerable sites on your home. When possible, arrange furniture and other pricy items to try and avoid damage.
- Communicate with family. Let family members know your plans for evacuation and other details that may prove helpful for them to know during and after the hurricane.
- Know your anticipated evacuation route. While the direction the hurricane is traveling, and the magnitude of the storm can affect your evacuation plan, you should have a pre-determined route based on past historical events. Government agencies may recommend an evacuation route for your area and may even direct that route. So, understand that your evacuation plans may need to be altered based on these directives.
- Have a portable NOAA radio that allows you to receive ongoing information regarding the hurricane. Thank goodness the National Hurricane Center and the National Weather Service (departments within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – NOAA) track hurricanes and provide real time information about the hurricane’s strength and direction as well as calculated predictions. Knowing these pertinent points of information may prove essential to your survival of a hurricane. Use your radio to listen for updates and use your phones to check your city/county website on a continual basis for weather updates and emergency instructions.
- Have an already prepared Grab & Go Bag for each family member. Each family member’s grab and go bag will no doubt vary in its content. Here are some basic elements that should be considered for family members. These include:
- Clothing: pack enough clothing for 3 days. Articles of clothing should include layers for easy add and removal, warmth, rain gear, and waterproof boots.
- Personal Supplies: depending on the family member, these may include toiletries, grooming tools, eyewear, baby wipes and diapers, medications, cell phone, batteries, toys, etc.
- Prescription Drugs: some medical conditions that require medications can become life-threatening in the absence of their availability. The aftermath of a significant hurricane could result in the inability to obtain key medications for a prolonged period of time.
- Food and Water: three days’ worth of bottled water and food items. Select items that are convenient and very practical to place in your bag. Granola bars, apples, some candy items are good sources of energy, or simply helpful in keeping kids satisfied.
- Electronics and Batteries: your phones, portable phone chargers, portable battery pack, batteries, all things necessary to be able to communicate with others, learn of details taking place regarding the storm, and to help keep kids occupied during the possible stressful times of evacuation.
- Cash and Coins: this should include a sufficient amount of cash for your needs for at least three days, and several dollars’ worth of coins for vending machines.
- Emergency Tool Kit: Each car should have an emergency took kit as part of its travel preparedness. Be prepared with jumper cables, flashlights, batteries, wrench, screwdriver, pliers, knife, flares, duct tape, etc. The ability to make minor repairs on the go may prove essential in your evacuation efforts.
- First Aid Kit: Each vehicle should have a first aid kit. Accidents happen and may be more likely to occur when moving at an accelerated pace to prepare to evacuate, or in dealing with the potential consequences of the storm.
- Cherished Items: There are undoubtedly some very important (expensive or cherished) items that if small enough could be transported with you should you evacuate. These should be readily accessible (probably in their own carrier) so they can be grabbed quickly without causing an undesired delay.
A Final Note
Any natural disaster poses the risk for devastating loss. Because of that reality, you should always have an updated list of everything in your home. This list should be accompanied by photos of all items for insurance verification purposes.