This is a great topic as I just checked on the progression of Hurricane Dorian, a dangerous Atlantic hurricane projected to hit land somewhere on the eastern coast the middle of this week. We are fortunate to live inland, but the wind and heavy rains-effects can still result in some damage.
A hurricane is a massive storm that starts and strengthens over water where temperature variances create strong airflow activity moving from around what is referred to as the center or “eye” of the hurricane. All hurricanes vary in strength, speed in their travels, their trajectories, the extent of storm surge, and amount of rain they produce. Hurricane season generally will run from June through November.
Terms you will hear bantered about with hurricanes are Tropical Depression (wind speeds less than 39 mph), Tropical Storm (wind speed up to 73 mph), Hurricane (wind speeds of 74+ mph), Major Hurricane (wind speeds 110 mph or higher), Hurricane Watch (winds of 74 mph or higher expected in 48 hours), Hurricane Warning (winds of 74 mph or higher expected within 36 hours), Rain Bands (bands of showers characterized by strong gusty winds and heavy rains), Outflow (the high-level clouds moving clockwise away from the hurricane), Eye Wall (dense clouds that contain the strongest winds in the storm), Eye (calm, clear area that can be 20-40 miles across), Storm Surge (water pushed ahead of the storm that exceeds the normal level of the sea), The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale (The category 1-5 levels on sustained mph winds – it estimates the level of damage, with hurricanes of category 3 or higher with sustained winds of 111-129 mph and considered major hurricanes due to the potential for significant losses of life and damage).
The first recorded hurricane in Florida was in 1523 that hit the gulf coast sinking two ships and their crews. Labor Day 1935 in the Florida Keys, the most “intense” hurricane occurred (892 millibars pressure) in Florida history. Hurricane Charley in 2004 caused almost $15 billion in damages in the Southwest Florida region. The strongest hurricane in a century hit the panhandle of Florida as a category 5 storm (sustained winds of 157 mph or higher) – only the third category 5 storm in Florida’s history. Hurricane Irma in September 2017 crossed our community, The Villages, as less than a category 1 but dropped 16 inches of rain causing low areas to flood (no Villages homes were involved). The deadliest natural disaster in United States history was the August 1900 hurricane that hit Galveston, Texas (145 mph winds and 936 millibars of pressure), resulting in some estimates of over 12,000 fatalities.
While these can be one of nature’s most potent disasters, we all know there are many other types that can also cause great damage and loss of life. Among the other major types of natural disasters are earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, tsunamis, snow/ice storms, and extreme heat and cold. One of the aspects of hurricanes (or typhoons in the Indian or Pacific Oceans) is that in this modern age, a general warning can be provided prior to the actual landfall of the storm. This may not always be the case with other natural disasters. The fact is, however, our actions on each involves some of the same procedures to prepare for, react to, and deal with the natural disaster after it has passed.
Even before any notice of a hurricane is given, a person in coastal areas where hurricanes may strike should take a number of precautionary actions to prepare should a hurricane develop:
– Research the area’s risk of hurricanes and their intensity.
– Obtain a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radio.
– Check if the area has a Community Warning System – go to www.ready.gov/alerts.
– Make a quick list of things to get (i.e., a fully charged cell phone) when the
hurricane/alert is received.
– Become aware of evacuation routes should evacuation be required.
– Research where the local storm shelters are located. Identify the details about the shelters, such as accepting pets, sleeping details, food availability, etc.
– Identify a safe place in your residence, or residence area. This could be a small, interior, windowless room on the lowest level not subject to flooding.
– Make lists of contacts and have them readily available for easy access.
– Develop emergency food, water, and sanitary stores that may last for 3-4 days, at least 3-4 days of medications, a radio, a means to alert someone of your location (horn), and lights capability.
– Create a safe place for important documents and computers that have data and passwords.
– Obtain guidance from your insurance agent about what to do if you have damage, and how to file a claim.
– Remember, preparation relates to prevention and safety for you and the family.
Here are a number of generally recommended actions to take in reacting to an active hurricane warning by the National Hurricane Center and local and State authorities, and when you are in the hurricane’s path:
– Evacuate if told to do so.
– Turn the refrigerator or freezer to the coldest temperature.
– Find a safe shelter and do not linger.
– Listen for weather alerts and advisory guidance.
– Be very aware of your surroundings. If lights are out be alert for downed power lines and trees. Do not walk, swim or drive through high water.
– Be aware of all warnings of storm surge levels which can cause extreme coastal flooding and can quickly be pushed inland endangering lives.
– Secure items in the house, such as bookcases, the refrigerator, TV, pictures, etc.
– Make sure gutters are clear, loose outdoor furniture is secured, shutter or board windows, and remove any hanging items, such as wind chimes.
– Communicate with relatives and friends.
– Make sure your vehicle is in ready condition, a ready-to-go suitcase is prepared, and that you have a copy of your insurance policy, birth certificates, and listings of telephone numbers, medications, and medical doctors.
– Stay away from windows and do not get trapped by rising storm waters.
– Stay inside in a protected location – do not go outside.
How to remain safe after the hurricane has passed:
– Make sure all members of the household are safe and unharmed.
– Obey all guidance from authorities – law enforcement, public safety, or emergency responder personnel.
– Contact family and friends to advise them of your status.
– Stay tuned to medical notices related to water quality, diseases, and where medical attention can be received if needed.
– Be very cautious during cleanup: 1) wear protective clothing; 2) be cautious of any live electrical equipment or wires, even after electrical is turned off at the main breaker; and 3) avoid water pools, and hazardous items that might be hidden in it.
– Prepare a list of actions needed to accomplish – from cleanup routine, to repair/construction, to company notices, and filing for assistance if needed.
Below is a list of other sources for information on hurricanes and what to do to survive the storm:
– Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) www.ready.gov/hurricanes
– Following hurricanes (NOAA) www.nhc.noaa.gov
– Red Cross Guide in a Hurricane www.RedCross.com
– Your State and local government sites
This primarily addresses hurricanes; however, in most cases these can also overlap to apply to the other forms of natural disasters. If you are in a disaster-prone area – and most of us are – do your research and be knowledgeable of the safety cautions and procedures that apply.