We are halfway through hurricane season in North America (June 1 – November 30), so let’s talk about what you can do to survive one.
Hurricanes (also known as typhoons and cyclones, depending on what part of the world you are in) are large storms that form over warm ocean waters. They are noted for their immense size, rotation, and high wind speeds.
They have three distinct parts. The “eye” of the storm is at the center, the “eyewall” is a ring of thunderstorms spinning around the eye, and the “rain bands” are bands of clouds and winds stretching for hundreds of miles beyond the eye.
Hurricane Preparedness – Be Ready
How do hurricanes form?
Hurricanes begin as thunderstorms over the ocean. If the water is warm enough (around 80° F) the rising warm air climbs to approximately ten miles over the surface, where it cools and falls again.
This creates a low pressure, which pulls up more warm air, and the cycle continues. At the same time, trade winds that are moving in opposite directions start spinning the column of air.
This kind of self-sustaining storm is called a “tropical disturbance.”
The high temperature of the water is the key element, which is why most North American hurricanes form towards the end of the summer season.
From here on out, it’s all based on wind speeds.
If the winds of a tropical disturbance grow to 23-39 miles per hour, the storm is reclassified as a “tropical depression.” If the winds reach 40-73 miles per hour, it is called a “tropical storm.” Anything above 73 miles per hour, and it is officially a hurricane.
Hurricanes, like tornadoes, are divided into categories. And again, these are based on wind speed.
- Category 1 – 74-95 m.p.h.
- Category 2 – 96-110 m.p.h.
- Category 3 – 111-129 m.p.h.
- Category 4 – 130-156 m.p.h.
- Category 5 – 157 m.p.h. or higher
Government officials generally do not order evacuations for any hurricane below a category 3, but all hurricanes should be treated seriously. Not only do they, themselves, cause localized flooding and wind damage, they can also spawn massive thunderstorms and tornadoes within their rain bands, which compounds the threat.
The damage a hurricane causes depends on its strength, if and where it makes landfall, and how long it takes to dissipate. Hurricane Katrina was one of the deadliest hurricanes to ever hit the United States, causing over 1200 deaths and doing more than $108 billion worth of damage. And it had weakened from a category 5 to a category 3 when it landed in Louisiana.
What does it mean when a watch is issued for a hurricane?
How do you know when a hurricane is coming?
Fortunately, hurricanes are one disaster we get plenty of warning for. Not only do they have a regular season, but their immense size and slow movements make them easy to spot and track with satellites and radar systems.
If a tropical storm or hurricane seems likely to impact a particular area within 36 hours, a watch will be issued. If the storm stays on the same course and closes to 24 hours away, the watch becomes a warning.
This is the absolute minimum amount of time you will have to prepare, and you can’t adequately prepare for one day, so don’t wait until a watch or warning is issued to start getting ready. Besides, evacuation orders can be issued several days ahead of expected landfall.
If you pay attention to news bulletins, you should have plenty of advanced notice to be able to get out of the area safely.
How to prepare for an evacuation
If it starts to seem likely that your area will be hit by a hurricane, start making arrangements for travel and lodging outside of the projected landfall zone. Keep your car’s gas tank full, and have your emergency kit either in the car or right by the door.
Most hurricane-prone municipalities have designated evacuation routes, which are designed to get as many people out of the area as quickly and safely as possible.
Know these routes. Even if the weather is clear, evacuate as soon as possible once the order has been issued. You don’t want to be stuck in a massive traffic jam with all of the other last-minute evacuees.
How to survive a Hurricane Tips
What if you can’t evacuate?
There may be many reasons why you can’t evacuate, such as having medical issues which prevent travel, not having access to reliable transportation, or waiting too long and getting cut off from evacuation routes.
You might just be stubborn, too. Whatever the reason you are staying put, there are steps you should take to maximize your chances of survival.
Hurricane safety tips before during and after
Before the Storm
- Store or tie down all lawn furniture, toys, decorations, flowerpots, wind chimes, etc. These can become missiles under the high winds of a hurricane.
- Remove dead branches from trees and from your yard.
- Clean your gutters and make sure they are securely fastened to the house.
- Protect your windows and doors, either with storm shutters or plywood (not optimal, but better than nothing). These take a while to fit, so it’s best to have them installed in the off-season. NOTE: Taping your windows will not protect them from breaking (though it may prevent shards from flying into the room).
- Move your car into a garage, if available. If not, move it away from trees.
- Shut off external gas lines.
- If you have a pool, shut off all pumps and power. Shock it with extra chlorine to prevent contamination. A pool cover is not recommended, as it can be ripped away. It’s cheaper to clean the pool afterward.
- If you have a generator, make sure it is safely anchored or stored. Have extra fuel for it.
- Stock up on non-perishable food and clean water. Recovery after a hurricane can take weeks.
- Have ways to treat water. Flooding can contaminate groundwater, wells, and city water infrastructure. Wash anything solid (including canned food) that comes in contact with suspect water. If fresh food contacts suspect water, throw it away.
- Keep emergency radios and flashlights charged. Stock extra batteries.
- Have extra gas canisters if used for cooking. Be cautious of possibly ruptured gas lines.
During the Storm
- Close and brace all doors.
- Stay in the lowest level of your house. Storm cellars are not useful unless they are flood-proof.
- Keep to interior rooms or hallways with no windows, on the downwind side of the home if possible (remember, the winds will shift direction once the eye passes you).
- If safe to do so, check your house and attic to ensure there is no damage or leaking. Note: do not go into attic entirely; just poke your head up.
- If the power goes out, use flashlights or glowsticks for light, not open flames. There may be ruptured gas lines.
- Keep the radio on for updates.
- Wear sturdy clothing, including work boots and gloves, to protect yourself from debris.
Here’s What You Need for Your Hurricane Survival Kit
After the Storm
- Get medical attention if necessary.
- Examine your home for damage.
- Check your roof for missing shingles.
- Garage doors may be jammed in place.
- Anything below ground level may be flooded.
- Check utility runs for breaks or exposed wiring. Shut off damaged utilities until they can be repaired.
- Contact your insurance company.
We hope this information was useful to you. Tomorrow, we will be talking about survival apps for your portable devices. See you then!