hurricane is a type of tropical cyclone, the generic term for a low pressure
system that generally forms in the tropics. The ingredients for a hurricane
include a pre-existing weather disturbance, warm tropical oceans, moisture, and
relatively light winds aloft. A typical cyclone is accompanied by thunderstorms,
and in the Northern Hemisphere, a counterclockwise circulation of winds near the
All Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico
coastal areas are subject to hurricanes or tropical storms. Although rarely
struck by hurricanes, parts of the Southwest United States and the Pacific Coast
experience heavy rains and floods each year from hurricanes spawned off Mexico.
The Atlantic hurricane season lasts from June to November with the peak season
from mid-August to late October.
Hurricanes can cause catastrophic
damage to coastlines and several hundred miles inland. Winds can exceed 155
miles-per-hour. Hurricanes and tropical storms can also spawn tornadoes and
microbursts, create surge along the coast, and cause extensive damage due to
inland flooding from trapped water.
Tornadoes most often occur in
thunderstorms embedded in rain bands well away from the center of the hurricane;
however, they also occur near the eye-wall. Typically, tornadoes produced by
tropical cyclones are relatively weak and short-lived but still pose a threat.
A storm surge is a huge dome of
water pushed on-shore by hurricane and tropical storm winds. Storm surges can
reach 25 feet high and be 50-100 miles wide. Storm tide is a combination of the
storm surge and the normal tide (i.e., a 15 foot storm surge combined with a 2
foot normal high tide over the mean sea level creates a 17 foot storm tide).
These phenomena cause severe erosion and extensive damage to coastal areas.
Despite improved warnings and a
decrease in the loss of life, property damage continues to rise because an
increasing number of people are living or vacationing near coastlines. Those in
hurricane-prone areas need to be prepared for hurricanes and tropical storms.
Hurricanes are classified into five
categories based on their wind speed, central pressure and damage potential (see
chart on p.34). Category Three and higher are considered major hurricanes,
though Category One and Two are still extremely dangerous and warrant your full
Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale
Unanchored mobile homes,
vegetation and signs.
All mobile homes, roofs,
small crafts, flooding.
Small buildings, low-lying
roads cut off.
Roofs destroyed, trees
down, roads cut off, mobile homes
destroyed. Beach homes flooded.
Catastrophic: Most buildings
destroyed. Vegetation destroyed.
Major roads cut off. Homes flooded.
flooding from hurricanes.
Hurricanes can produce widespread
torrential rains. Floods are the deadly and destructive result. Excessive rain
can also trigger landslides or mud slides, especially in mountainous regions.
Flash flooding can occur due to the intense rainfall. Flooding on rivers and
streams may persist for several days or more after the storm.
The speed of the storm and the
geography beneath the storm are the primary factors regarding the amount of rain
produced. Slow moving storms and tropical storms moving into mountainous regions
tend to produce more rain.
Between 1970 and 1999, more people
lost their lives from freshwater flooding associated with landfalling tropical
cyclones than from any other weather hazard related to tropical cyclones.
See the “Floods” chapter for more
specific information on flood related emergencies.
Create a household disaster
plan. Plan to meet your family in case you are separated. Choose an out-oftown
contact for everyone to call to say they are safe.
What to do before a
Learn the terns used by weather
Depression. An organized system of clouds and thunderstorms with a
defined surface circulation and maximum sustained winds of 38 mph (33 knots)
or less. Sustained winds are defined as one-minute average wind measured at
about 33 ft (10 meters) above the surface.
Storm. An organized system of strong thunderstorms with a defined
surface circulation and maximum sustained winds of 39-73 mph (34-63 knots).
An intense tropical weather system of strong thunderstorms with a
well-defined surface circulation and maximum sustained winds of 74 mph (64
knots) or higher.
Surge. A dome of water pushed on shore by hurricane and tropical
A combination of storm surge and the normal tide (e.g., a 15- foot storm
surge combined with a 2-foot normal tide over the mean sea level creates a
17-foot storm tide.)
Know the difference between
“Watches” and “Warnings.”
Hurricane/Tropical Storm Watch -- Hurricane/tropical storm conditions
are possible in the specified area, usually within 324 hours.
Hurricane/Tropical Storm Warning -- Hurricane/tropical storm
conditions are expected in the specified area, usually within 24 hours.
Watches and Warnings -- These warnings provide detailed information
on specific hurricane threats, such as flash floods and tornadoes.
Listen for local radio or
television weather forecasts. Purchase a NOAA Weather Radio with battery
backup and a tone-alert feature that automatically alerts you when a Watch or
Warning is issued (tone alert is not available in some areas). Purchase a
battery-powered commercial radio and extra batteries as well because
information on other events will be broadcast by the media.
Ask your local emergency
management office about community evacuation plans relating to your
neighborhood. Learn evacuation routes. Determine where you would go and how
you would get there if you needed to evacuate. Sometimes alternate routes are
Talk to your household about
hurricane issues. Create a household disaster plan. Plan to meet at a place
away from your residence in case you are separated. Choose an out-of-town
contact for everyone to call to say they are safe.
Determine the needs of your
household members who may live elsewhere but need your help in a hurricane.
Consider the special needs of neighbors, such as people that are disabled or
those with limited sight or vision problems.
Prepare to survive on your own for
at least three days. Assemble a disaster supplies kit. Keep a stock of food
and extra drinking water. See the “Emergency Planning and Disaster Supplies”
and “Evacuation” chapters for more information.
Make plans to secure your
property. Permanent storm shutters offer the best protection for windows. A
second option is to board up windows with 5/8" marine plywood, cut to fit and
ready to install. Tape does not prevent windows from breaking.
Learn how to shut off utilities
and where gas and water shutoffs are located. Do not actually shut off the gas
to see how it works or to show others. Only the gas comapny can safely turn it
Have your home inspected for
compliance with local building codes. Many of the roofs destroyed by
hurricanes were not constructed or retrofitted according to building codes.
Installing straps or additional clips to securely fasten your roof to the
frame structure will substantially reduce roof damage.
Be sure trees and shrubs around
your home are well trimmed. Dead limbs or trees could cause personal injury or
property damage. Clear loose and clogged rain gutters and downspouts.
If you have a boat, determine
where to secure it in an emergency.
Consider flood insurance. Purchase
insurance well in advance—there is a 30-day waiting period before flood
insurance takes effect.
Make a record of your personal
property. Take photographs or videotapes of the exterior and interior of your
home, including personal belongings. Store these documents in a safe place,
such as a safe deposit box.
Alcoholic beverages and
weapons are prohibited within shelters. Also, pets are not allowed in
public shelters for health reasons.
What to do during a
Listen to radio or television
newscasts. If a hurricane “Watch” is issued, you typically have 24 to 324 hours
before the hurricane hits land.
Talk with household members. Make
sure everyone knows where to meet and who to call, in case you are separated.
Consider the needs of relatives and neighbors with special needs.
Secure your home. Close storm
shutters. Secure outdoor objects or bring them indoors. Moor your boat if time
Gather several days’ supply of
water and food for each household member. Water systems may become
contaminated or damaged. After sterilizing the bathtub and other containers
with a diluted bleach solution of one part bleach to ten parts water, fill
them with water to ensure a safe supply in case you are unable or told not to
evacuate. Refer to the “Shelter and Emergency Planning” and “Disaster
Supplies” chapters for important information.
If you are evacuating, take your
disaster supplies kit with you to the shelter. Remember that alcoholic
beverages and weapons are prohibited within shelters. Also, pets are not
allowed in a public shelter due to health reasons. See the “Animals in
Disaster” chapter and contact your local humane society for additional
Prepare to evacuate. Fuel your car
- service stations may be closed after the storm. If you do not have a car,
make arrangements for transportation with a friend or relative. Review
evacuation routes. If instructed, turn off utilities at the main valves or
Evacuate to an inland location,
Local authorities announce an
evacuation and you live in an evacuation zone.
You live in a mobile home or
temporary structure - they are particularly hazardous during hurricanes no
matter how well fastened to the ground.
You live in a high-rise.
Hurricane winds are stronger at higher elevations.
You live on the coast, on a
floodplain near a river or inland waterway.
You feel you are in danger.
When authorities order an
Follow evacuation routes
announced by local officials.
Stay away from coastal areas,
riverbanks and streams.
Tell others where you are going.
If you are not required or are
unable to evacuate, stay indoors during the hurricane and away from windows
and glass doors. Keep curtains and blinds closed. Do not be fooled if there is
a lull, it could be the eye of the storm - winds will pick up again.
In strong winds, follow these
Take refuge in a small interior
room, closet or hallway.
Close all interior doors. Secure
and brace external doors.
In a two-story residence, go to
an interior first-floor room, such as a bathroom or closet.
In a multiple-story building, go
to the first or second floors and stay in interior rooms away from windows.
Lie on the floor under a table
or another sturdy object.
Avoid using the phone except for
serious emergencies. Local authorities need first priority on telephone lines.
See the “Evacuation” chapter for
Consider your household’s
health and safety needs and be aware of symptoms of stress and fatigue.
Seek crisis counseling if you have need.
What to do after a
Stay where you are if you are in a
safe location until local authorities say it is safe to leave. If you
evacuated the community, do not return to the area until authorities say it is
safe to return.
Keep tuned to local radio or
television stations for information about caring for your household, where to
find medical help, how to apply for financial assistance, etc.
Drive only when necessary. Streets
will be filled with debris. Roads will have weakened and could collapse. Do
not drive on flooded or barricaded roads or bridges. Roads are closed for your
protection. As little as six inches of water may cause you to lose control of
your vehicle—two feet of water will carry most cars away.
Do not drink or prepare food with
tap water until notified by officials that it is safe to do so.
Consider your family’s health and
safety needs. Be aware of symptoms of stress and fatigue. Keep your household
together and seek crisis counseling if you have need. See the “Mental Health
and Crisis Counseling” section of the “Recovering from Disaster” chapter for
Talk with your children about what
has happened and how they can help during the recovery. Being involved will
help them deal with the situation. Consider the needs of your neighbors.
People often become isolated during hurricanes.
Stay away from disaster areas
unless local authorities request volunteers. If you are needed, bring your own
drinking water, food and sleeping gear.
Stay away from riverbanks and
streams until potential flooding has passed. Do not allow children to play in
flooded areas. There is a high risk of injury or drowning in areas that may
Stay away from moving water.
Moving water only six inches deep can sweep you off your feet. Standing water
may be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines.
Stay away from downed power lines
and report them to the power company. Report broken gas, sewer or water mains
to local officials.
Don't use candles or other open
flames indoors. Use a flashlight to inspect damage.
Set up a manageable schedule to
Contact your insurance agent. An
adjuster will be assigned to visit your home. To prepare:
Take photos or videotapes of
your damaged property.
Separate damaged and undamaged
belongings. • Locate your financial records.
Keep detailed records of cleanup
Consider building a “Safe Room or
Shelter” to protect your household. See the “Thunderstorms” chapter for
additional information in the “Tornadoes” section.
See the “Recovering From Disaster”
chapter for more important information.
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