Talk About Hurricanes?
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are no other storms like hurricanes on
Views of hurricanes from satellites located thousands of miles above
Earth show how these powerful, tightly coiled weather systems are
year, on average, 10 tropical storms (of which six become hurricanes)
over the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, or Gulf of Mexico.
these storms remain over the ocean. However, an
strike the United States coastline every three years. Of these five,
will be major hurricanes, which
are storms of category 3 or
on the Saffir-Simpson scale, which corresponds to hurricanes with winds
at or above 111 miles per hour.
warnings have greatly diminished
in the United States. In spite of this, property damage continues to
There is little we can do about the hurricanes themselves. However, the
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA's)
Prediction Center and National
Service (NWS) field offices team
up with other federal,
local agencies; rescue and relief organizations; the private sector;
the news media in a huge warning and preparedness effort.
What Are Hurricanes, and What Causes Them?
- Hurricanes and tropical
storms are cyclones with tropical
cyclones). When the winds of a
tropical storm (winds 39 to 73
per hour) reach a constant speed of 74 miles per hour or more, it is
a hurricane. Hurricane winds
blow in a large spiral around a
calm center known as the "eye." The "eye" is generally 20 to 30 miles
and the storm may have a diameter of 400 miles across. As a hurricane
the skies will begin to darken and winds will grow in strength. A
can bring torrential rains, high winds, and storm surge as it nears
A single hurricane can last more than two weeks over open waters and
run a path across the entire length of the eastern seaboard.
dangerous than the high winds of a
hurricane is the
- a dome of ocean water that can be 20 feet high at its peak and 50 to
100 miles wide. The surge can
devastate coastal communities
as it sweeps
ashore. In recent years, the fatalities associated with storm surge
been greatly reduced as a result of better warning and preparedness
deaths due to tropical cyclones are
is a common occurrence with hurricanes and tropical storms. Torrential
rains from decaying hurricanes and tropical storms can produce
urban and river flooding. Winds from these storms located offshore can
drive ocean water up the mouth of rivers, compounding the severity of
flooding. Inland streams and rivers can flood and trigger landslides.
can occur in mountainous regions. In addition, hurricanes can spawn
which add to the destructiveness of the storm.
about hurricane risk in your community by
local emergency management office, National Weather Service office, or American
Red Cross chapter.
National Weather Service WATCH
indicating that conditions
the occurrence of a certain type of hazardous weather. For example, a
thunderstorm watch means that a severe thunderstorm is expected in the
next six hours or so within an area approximately 120 to 150 miles wide
and 300 to 400 miles long (36,000 to 60,000 square miles). The NWS
Prediction Center issues such watches. Local NWS forecast offices issue
other watches (flash flood, winter weather, etc.) 12 to 36 hours in
of a possible hazardous-weather or flooding event. Each local forecast
office usually covers a state or a portion of a state.
NWS WARNING indicates that a
is occurring or
is imminent in about 30 minutes to an hour. Local NWS forecast offices
issue warnings on a county-by-county basis.
hurricane WATCH is issued when
threat of hurricane
conditions within 24 to 36 hours.
hurricane WARNING is issued when
conditions are expected
in 24 hours or less.
Many people do not realize
the threat of hurricanes as
each one is different. Over the
past several years, U.S.
warning systems have provided adequate time for people on barrier
and the immediate coastline to move inland when hurricanes threaten. However,
due to rapid population growth, it is becoming more difficult to
people from the barrier islands and other coastal areas because roads
not kept pace with the expansion. The
problem is further
by the fact that 80 to 90
percent of the population now
living in hurricane-prone
areas have never experienced the core of a "major" hurricane. Many
of these people have been through weaker storms. The result is a false
impression of a hurricane's damage potential. This often leads to
and delayed actions, which could result in the loss of many lives.
Plan for a Hurricane
Develop a Family Disaster Plan.
Please see the "Family
Disaster Plan" section for
general family planning
planning should include the following:
about your community's risk from
local emergency management office, local National Weather Service
or local chapter of the American Red Cross for more information on
and how to prepare for them.
your community is at risk from hurricanes,
management office or planning and zoning office to find out if you live
in an area that could flood during a hurricane or heavy rains.
live in a risk area, learn what types of supplies should be stored to
your home from flood waters. Knowing the elevation of your property in
relation to nearby streams and dams will let you know if forecasted
levels will affect your home.
If you are at risk from hurricanes:
to your insurance agent.
policies do not cover
flooding from hurricanes. Ask about the National
Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
about your community's hurricane
emergency management office or local chapter of the American Red Cross
should be able to provide you with details of this plan, including
on the safest evacuation routes, nearby shelters, advice on when
would be closed and what conditions are necessary for recommended
of certain areas.
an evacuation plan. (See "Evacuation
in the "Family Disaster Plan" section.) Everyone in your family should
know where to go if they have to leave. Trying to make plans at the
minute can be upsetting and create confusion.
where to move your boat in an
Marinas and other
storage facilities may fill up quickly. Some locations may have less
of damage than others. You may be required to secure your boat well in
advance of approaching hurricanes.
hurricanes with your family.
should know what to
do in case all family members are not together. Discussing hurricanes
of time will help reduce fear and anxiety, and lets everyone know how
respond. Review flood safety and preparedness measures with your family.
Assemble a Disaster
Please see the section "Disaster
for general supplies kit information. Hurricane-specific supplies
include the following:
week's supply of food and water (to be kept at
the recommended three-day supply for your evacuation kit).
Suplies Kit basics.
How to Protect Your Property
a list of items to bring inside in the
event of a
list will help you remember anything that can be broken or picked up by
strong winds. Hurricane winds, often in excess of 100 miles per hour,
turn unanchored items into deadly missiles, causing damage or injury
trees and shrubbery trimmed.
more wind resistant
by removing diseased or damaged limbs, then strategically remove
so that wind can blow through. Hurricane winds frequently break weak
and hurl them at great speed, causing great damage when they hit
Debris collection services may not be operating just before a storm, so
it is best to do this well in advance of approaching storms.
any debris or loose items in your yard.
Hurricane winds can
pick up anything unsecured, creating damage to property when the debris
loose and clogged rain gutters and
often bring long periods of heavy rain. Providing clear drainage will
prevent misdirected flooding.
permanent hurricane shutters.
the best protection for your windows and doors. Taping windows could
critical time from more effective preparedness measures. All tape does
is help prevent glass from broken windows from scattering all over
Tape does not prevent windows from breaking. Cover the outside of
with shutters or plywood.
you do not have permanent hurricane shutters,
plywood (marine plywood is best) and predrill holes in precut half-inch
outdoor plywood boards so that you can cover the windows of your home
Mark which board fits which window. Note: Tape does not prevent windows
from breaking, so taping windows is not recommended. Most homes
during recent hurricanes had no window protection. When wind enters a
through broken windows, the pressure builds against the walls and can
roofs, followed by collapsing walls.
protection to the outside areas of
Glass doors are as vulnerable as windows to breakage by wind-driven
ahead of time, buy any other items needed
to board up
protect your home. When a
hurricane threatens, supplies are
sold out at many stores. Stock may not be replenished until after the
garage doors. Many houses
destroyed by hurricane
winds that enter through damaged garage doors, lifting roofs, and
the remainder of the house.
an engineer check your home and advise
about ways to
make it more
resistant to hurricane winds.
There are a variety of ways to
your home. Professionals can advise you of engineering requirements,
permits or requirements of local planning and zoning departments to
the most effective protection.
coastal homes. Raising houses
certain height will make
them more resistant to hurricane-driven waters. There may be many local
codes affecting how and where homes can be elevated. Meet with your
manager or planning and zoning official for a description of the
to have your home elevated. There may also be community funds available
for such measures.
you live in a flood plain or are prone to
also follow flood
Hurricanes can bring great amounts
and frequently cause floods. Some hurricanes have dropped more than 10
inches of rain in just a few hours.
Media and Community Education Ideas
- Publish a special section in
your local newspaper with
on hurricanes. Localize the information by printing the phone number of
local emergency services offices, the American Red Cross chapter, and
- Provide hurricane tracking
charts to local schools.
- Work with local emergency
services and American
Red Cross officials to prepare
special reports to people
impairments on what to do if an evacuation is ordered.
- At the beginning of each
hurricane season, encourage the
organizations to review community hurricane disaster plans.
- Publicize and promote a
hurricane awareness week.
- Stage a simulated evacuation
to show your community what
- Periodically inform your
community of local public warning
- Publish emergency evacuation
What to Do During a Hurricane WATCH
listening regularly to a NOAA Weather
or television stations for updated information.
direction, intensity, and speed very suddenly. What was a minor threat
several hours ago can quickly escalate to a major threat.
to the advice of local officials, and
they tell you
to do so. Avoid flooded roads
and watch for washed-out
an area that may be affected will help keep your family safe. Local
may call for evacuation in specific areas at greatest risk in your
Following the advice of local authorities is your safest protection.
officials may close down certain roads, especially near the coast, when
the outer effects of increasing wind and rain from a hurricane reach
your property for high winds.
winds can blow large,
heavy objects and send them crashing into homes. Anything not secured
become a deadly or damaging projectile.
- Bring lawn furniture
inside, as well as outdoor
trash cans, hanging plants, or anything else that can be picked up by
- Make trees more wind
resistant by removing diseased and
then strategically remove branches so that wind can blow through.
- Secure building by closing
and boarding up each window of
- Moor boat securely or move
it to a designated safe place.
Use rope or
to secure boat to trailer. Use tie-downs to anchor trailer to the
your car's gas tank. If advised
evacuate, you may have to
travel long distances or be caught in traffic, idling for long periods
of time. Gas stations along the route may be closed.
up on prescription medications.
be closed after the storm.
manufactured home tie-downs.
Manufactured homes may not
be as affected by strong winds if they are tied down according to the
instructions. Properly tied down homes are more likely to stay fixed to
may need to be replaced or restocked.
refrigerator and freezer to coldest
only when absolutely
necessary and close quickly.
Keeping the coldest air in will
last much longer in the event of a power failure.
valuables and personal papers in a safety
box in a waterproof
container on the highest level of your home.
water damage inside homes. Historically, it is shown that protecting
in this manner will provide the best security.
off utilities if told to do so by
may ask you to turn off water or electric utilities to prevent damage
your home or within the community. Most of the time they will tell you
to leave the gas on because a professional is required to turn your gas
back on, and it may be several weeks before you receive service.
off propane tanks. Propane tanks
damaged or dislodged
by strong winds or water. Turning them off reduces the fire potential
they are damaged by the storm.
small appliances. Small
appliances may be
affected by electrical
power surges that may occur as the storm approaches. Unplugging them
evacuation plan. Make sure your
route is the same
as the currently recommended route. Sometimes roads may be closed or
requiring a different route.
away from flood waters. If you
come upon a
flooded road, turn
around and go another way. When you are caught on a flooded road and
are rising rapidly around you, if you can do so safely, get out of your
vehicle and climb to higher ground. Most hurricane-related deaths are
by floods, and most flood fatalities are caused by people attempting to
drive through water. The depth of water is not always obvious. The
may be washed out under the water, and you could be stranded or
Rapidly rising water may stall the engine, engulf the vehicle and its
and sweep them away. Two feet of water will carry away most automobiles.
What to Do During a Hurricane WARNING
to a NOAA
or portable, battery- powered radio or television for updated
and official instructions.
Hurricanes can change direction,
and speed very suddenly. Continue listening for local information.
officials announce a hurricane warning, they
you to leave
your home as soon as possible to be safe. Take your Disaster Supplies
and go to a shelter or your family contact's home. Call your check-in
so someone will know where you are going.
only if they truly believe your location is in danger. It is important
to follow their instructions as soon as possible. Roads may become
and the storm can worsen, preventing safe escape. Having your disaster
supplies will make you more comfortable while you are away from home.
you are not advised to evacuate, stay
indoors, on the
away from windows, skylights and glass doors, even if they are covered.
Stay on the floor least likely to be affected by strong winds and flood
waters. A small interior room without windows on the first floor is
the safest place. Have as many walls between you and the outside winds
as possible. Sometimes strong winds and projectiles may tear hurricane
shutters off, so stay away from windows even if they are covered. Lie
the floor under a table or other sturdy object. Being under a sturdy
will offer greater protection from falling objects.
all interior doors. Secure and brace
doors will help prevent damaging hurricane winds from entering
a supply of flashlights and extra batteries
open flames (candles and kerosene lamps) as a source of light.
provide the safest emergency lighting source. Between
candle-related deaths from home fires following hurricanes were three
greater than the number of deaths related to the direct impact of the
Kerosene lamps require a great deal of ventilation and are not designed
for indoor use.
drinking water in clean bathtubs, sinks,
cooking utensils. Public water
supplies and wells may become
or electric pumps may be inoperative if power is lost. Survivors of
disasters have said the individual's greatest need following the
power is lost, turn off major appliances to
when electricity is restored.
When electricity is restored,
from many major appliances starting at the same time may cause damage
destroy the appliances. Turning off or unplugging major appliances will
allow you to decide when it is best to turn them back on.
in a mobile home, check tie-downs and
manufactured homes suffer the greatest amount of damage during
Prior to 1994, most manufactured homes were not designed to withstand
aware that the calm "eye" is deceptive; the
The worst part of the storm will happen once the eye passes over and
winds blow from the opposite direction. Trees, shrubs, buildings, and
objects damaged by the first winds can be broken or destroyed by the
winds. The opposing winds begin suddenly, and have surprised and
many people who ventured out during the eye.
out for flooding. Hurricanes and
storms often drop
large amounts of rainfall and cause severe flooding, even when they are
weakening or are no longer a named storm. "Weak" tropical storms are
as capable of producing heavy rainfall and flooding as major hurricanes.
alert for tornadoes. Tornadoes
during and after a
hurricane passes over. Remain indoors on a lower level, in the center
your home, in a closet or bathroom without windows. Going below ground,
such as to a basement or storm cellar, increases your risk from flood.
What to Do if Evacuation Is Necessary
as soon as possible (if possible, in
roads and watch for washed-out bridges. Roads and bridges frequently
crowded and traffic moves slow. Evacuation will probably take longer
expected. Give yourself plenty of time.
your home by unplugging appliances and
and the main water valve. This
will reduce potential damage
appliances (from power surges) and to your home.
someone outside of the storm area where you
and friends will be concerned about your safety. Letting someone know
travel plans will help relieve their fear and anxiety.
time permits, and you live in an identified
or area prone
to flooding, move furniture to a higher floor.
helps reduce potential damage.
preassembled emergency supplies and warm
People frequently arrive at shelters or hotels with nothing. Having
items will make you more comfortable in other locations.
shelters provide a safe place to stay and
for infants and individuals on restricted diets may not be available.
It may take several days until permission is given by local authorities
to re-enter an evacuated area. Bring
these items with you to
aid kit, manual, and prescription
food and diapers.
radio and extra batteries.
(one per person) and extra
or sleeping bags.
papers (copies of insurance papers,
and other essential
up your home and leave. There
after you, or returning before you. Police may be busy with
emergencies and not able to patrol neighborhoods as usual. Lock your
as you normally would when leaving home.
What to Do After a Hurricane
Use the telephone only for
Telephone lines are
frequently overwhelmed in disaster situations. They need to be clear
emergency calls to get through.
the National Disaster
Education Coalition: American
Red Cross, FEMA,
formating By the
listening to local radio or television
or a NOAA Weather
Radio for information and instructions.
Access may be limited
parts of the community, or roads may be blocked.
you evacuated, return home when local
you it is safe.
Local officials on the scene are your best source of information on
areas and passable roads.
alert for extended rainfall and subsequent
the hurricane or tropical storm has weakened.
or change direction when they make landfall, or they may bring a lot of
rain upriver, causing additional flood hazards for hours or days after
away from flood waters. Drive
and avoid flooded roads and washed-out bridges. Continue to follow all
flood safety messages. Flood waters may last for days following a
If you come upon a flooded road, turn around and go another way. When
you are caught on a flooded road and waters are rising rapidly around
if you can safely get out of the car, do so immediately and climb to
ground. Never try to walk, swim, or drive through such swift water.
flood fatalities are caused by people attempting to drive through water
or people playing in high water. If it is moving swiftly, even water
inches deep can sweep you off your feet, and two feet can carry away
you come upon a barricade, follow detour
signs or turn
go another way. Barricades are
put up by local officials to
people from unsafe roads. Driving around them can be a serious risk.
on firm ground. Moving water
inches deep can sweep
you off your feet. Standing water may be electrically charged from
or downed power lines.
injured or trapped persons. Give
Do not move seriously injured persons unless they are in immediate
of further injury. Call for help.
a neighbor who may require special
people and people with disabilities.
Elderly people and
disabilities may require additional assistance. People who care for
or who have large families may need additional assistance in emergency
disaster areas. Your presence
rescue and other
emergency operations, and put you at further risk from the residual
of floods, such as contaminated waters, crumbled roads, landslides,
and other hazards.
loose or dangling power lines; immediately
them to the
power company, police, or fire department.
will get the utilities turned off as quickly as possible, preventing
hazard and injury.
equipment should be checked and dried
to service. Call an electrician
for advice before using
which may have received water damage.
out of the building if water remains around
waters often undermine foundations, causing buildings to sink, floors
crack, or walls to collapse.
entering buildings, use extreme caution.
flood waters may have damaged buildings where you least expect it.
watch every step you take.
sturdy shoes. The most common
following a disaster is
battery-powered lanterns or flashlights
Battery-powered lighting is the safest and easiest, preventing fire
for the user, occupants, and building.
walls, floors, doors, staircases, and
make sure that
the building is not in danger of collapsing.
foundations for cracks or other damage.
Cracks and damage
to a foundation can render a building uninhabitable.
for fire hazards. There may be
leaking gas lines,
flooded electrical circuits, or submerged furnaces or electrical
Flammable or explosive materials may come from upstream. Fire is the
frequent hazard following floods.
for gas leaks. If you smell
gas or hear
a blowing or hissing
noise, open a window and quickly leave the building. Turn off the gas,
using the outside main valve if you can, and call the gas company from
a neighbor's home. If you turn off the gas for any reason, it must be
back on by a professional.
for electrical system damage.
If you see
sparks or broken or
frayed wires, or if you smell burning insulation, turn off the
at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you have to step in water
get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call an electrician first for
Electrical equipment should be checked and dried before being returned
for sewage and water line damage.
suspect sewage lines
are damaged, avoid using the toilets and call a plumber. If water pipes
are damaged, contact the water company, and avoid using water from the
tap. You can obtain safe water from undamaged water heaters or by
out for animals, especially poisonous
may have come
into buildings with the flood waters. Use a stick to poke through
Flood waters flush many animals and snakes out of their homes.
for loose plaster, drywall, and ceilings
pictures of the damage, both of the
for insurance claims.
windows and doors to ventilate and dry
refrigerated food for spoilage.
was lost, some foods
may be spoiled.
drinking or preparing food with tap
you are certain
it is not contaminated.
Hurricane-driven flood waters may
public water supplies or wells. Local officials should advise you on
safety of the drinking water. Undamaged water heaters or melted ice
can provide good sources of fresh drinking water.
out flooded basements gradually (about
the water per
day) to avoid structural damage.
If the water is pumped out
in a short period of time, pressure from water on the outside could
basement walls to collapse.
damaged septic tanks, cesspools, pits,
as soon as possible. Damaged
sewage systems are health
About Disaster: Guide for Standard
by the National Disaster Education Coalition, Washington, D.C., 1999.
For information pertaining to emergency planning and response in your
own state, please see our state pages:
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