History teaches that a lack of hurricane awareness and preparation are common threads among all major hurricane disasters. By knowing your vulnerability and what actions you should take, you can reduce the effects of a hurricane disaster. Hurricane Preparedness Week during 2011 runs from May 22nd through May 28th.
Hurricane hazards come in many forms, including storm surge, high winds, tornadoes, and flooding. This means it is important for your family to have a plan that includes all of these hazards. The first and most important thing anyone should do when facing a hurricane threat is to use common sense.
The ingredients for a hurricane include a pre-existing weather disturbance, warm tropical oceans, moisture, and relatively light winds aloft. If the right conditions persist long enough, they can combine to produce the violent winds, incredible waves, torrential rains, and floods we associate with this phenomenon. The Atlantic and Caribbean hurricane season is from June 1 to November 30 with peak season mid-August to late October.
Each year, an average of eleven tropical storms develop over the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico. Many of these remain over the ocean and never impact the U.S. coastline. Six of these storms become hurricanes each year. In an average 3-year period, roughly five hurricanes strike the US coastline, killing approximately 50 to 100 people anywhere from Texas to Maine. Of these, two are typically “major” or “intense” hurricanes (a category 3 or higher storm on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale).
What is a Hurricane?
A hurricane is a type of tropical cyclone, which is a generic term for a low pressure system that generally forms in the tropics. The cyclone is accompanied by thunderstorms and, in the Northern Hemisphere, a counterclockwise circulation of winds near the earth's surface. Tropical cyclones are classified as follows:
- Tropical Depression – An organized system of clouds and thunderstorms with a defined surface circulation and maximum sustained winds* of 38 mph (33 kt**) or less
- Tropical Storm – An organized system of strong thunderstorms with a defined surface circulation and maximum sustained winds of 39-73 mph (34-63 kt)
- Hurricane – An intense tropical weather system of strong thunderstorms with a well-defined surface circulation and maximum sustained winds of 74 mph (64 kt) or higher.
Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale
The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale is a 1 to 5 rating based on a hurricane’s sustained wind speed. This scale estimates potential property damage. Hurricanes reaching Category 3 and higher are considered major hurricanes because of their potential for significant loss of life and damage. Category 1 and 2 storms are still dangerous, however, and require preventative measures.
A Category 1 hurricane has sustained winds of 74-95 MPH. Very dangerous winds will produce some damage to even well-constructed homes. Large branches will snap and shallow rooted plans may be toppled. Extensive damage to power lines and poles likely will result in power outages. A storm of this strength was Dolly (2008, South Padre Island, Texas). Category 2 hurricanes have winds of 96-110 MPH. Extremely dangerous winds will cause extensive damage, including major roof and siding damage. many shallow rooted trees will be snapped/uprooted. Near-total power loss can be expected up to several weeks. An example is Frances (2004, St. Lucie, Florida). A category 3 storm has winds of 111-130 MPH, causing devastating damage to occur. Roofs may be removed, trees will be uprooted, and electricity and water will be unavailable for weeks afterward. Ivan (2004, Gulf Shores, Alabama) is an example of this strong of a storm. A Category 4 hurricane has winds of 131-155 MPH, causing catastrophic damage. Homes will lose roofs and exterior walls, fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages linger for months and the area will be inhabitable for weeks to months. Hurricane Charley (2004, coastal Punta Gorda, Florida) is an example. The strongest category, Category 5, boasts winds of over 155 MPH. Most homes will be totally destroyed with roof failure and wall collapse. Andrew (1992, Cutler Ridge, Florida) is an example.
Disaster Prevention should include Developing a Family Plan, Creating a Disaster Supply Kit, Having a Place to Go, Securing your Home, and Having a Pet Plan.
One of the most important decisions you will have to make is “Should I Evacuate?” If you are asked to evacuate, you should do so without delay. But unless you live in a coastal or low-lying area, an area that floods frequently, or in manufactured housing, it is unlikely that emergency managers will ask you to evacuate. That means that it is important for you and your family to have a plan that makes you as safe as possible in your home.
For more information about hurricanes and how to be prepared and safe, please visit NOAA’s National Hurricane Center at www.nhc.noaa.gov/outreach/prepared_week.shtml