Hazards of Hurricanes
The hurricane is a critical tropical cyclone that carries a sustained wind traveling at least 74 miles per hour (mph). They generally occur along the Gulf Coast, the Atlantic Coast, the Caribbean, and the Pacific along the west coast of California and Mexico.
Hurricanes are bad enough on their own. Unfortunately, they don’t come alone. There are several subsequent hazards that come along with them. Even though hurricanes can happen in any month of the year, the Hurricane Season typically starts from June 1 and runs till the end of November.
It is always a good time as any for residents of hurricane-prone areas to be armed with all they need. Knowing the hazards of hurricanes should be at the top of this list for any prepper located in a hurricane prone area. This knowledge will help you to properly prepare for hurricanes as well as seamlessly deal with the aftermath of hurricanes.
Categories of a Hurricane
All hurricanes are not created equal. Some are more severe than others. Using the Saffir-Simpson scale - a universally accepted practical tool - experts have been able to estimate the degrees of hurricanes.
This scale classifies hurricanes into 5 distinct categories according to wind speed. Each category has its respective hazards resulting from storm surges, wind, and waves.
- 74 - 95 mph
- 96 - 110 mph
- 111 - 129 mph
- 130 - 156 mph
- 156 mph and above
Hazards of a Hurricane
Subsequent hazards accompany all hurricanes. Hurricane hazards can come before, during, or after a tropical storm. The level of destruction depends on the category of the hurricane and the particular hazard(s) in question.
~Tornadoes top the list of hurricane hazards. Some hurricanes spawn multiple tornadoes with-in their storms. The Central Pacific Hurricane Center reported that at least one tornado resulted from every hurricane that traveled over land.
~Typically, hurricanes produce tornadoes the same day they make landfall. However, studies have shown that tornadoes can form up to 48 hours before and 72 hours after a hurricane touches land.
~Hurricane-generated tornadoes are generally short-lived and relatively mild. This is not to say that they can’t be just as dangerous as a tornado you would see in Tornado Alley.
~~Preparing for a Tornado
~~Start by setting up a tornado shelter plan. If you live in an area where basements or storm cellars are the norm, then you will be set. However, if you live in a place like Florida where basements are almost impossible to have, pick an inner room, preferably without windows, and on the lowest level in your house. You and your loved ones should take shelter here in the event of a wayward tornado.
~~Seek shelter in a nearby building if a tornado catches you in your car. However, there are two things you can do if there are no buildings nearby. First, safely exit your car and take cover in a nearby ditch with a noticeable depth. If you can’t find a ditch or can’t safely exit your car, stay inside with your seatbelt on. Make sure to keep your head below the windshield and the windows.
~~Note: Read our Being Prepared for a Tornado Article to learn more.
~Storm Surges & Storm Tides
~A storm surge is an unusual rise of water caused by the high winds that accompany hurricanes. These storm surges can get as high as 40 feet at the center of a Category 5 hurricane and can cover hundreds of miles of coastline, resulting in inland flooding for tens of miles away from the shore. On the other hand, a storm tide occurs when the water level rises beyond normal levels following the dangerous combination of a storm surge and an astronomical tide.
~In both cases, a strong wind sweeps coastal water inland. The approaching force is enough to take the lives of residents as well as sweep away coastal settlements; pulling them out to the ocean, pushing them inland, or dismantling them completely.
~~Surviving Storm Surges & Tides
~~According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), most of the 1,500 people that died in Hurricane Katrina were killed, directly and indirectly, by storm surges and storm tides, many from drowning in the moving water.
~~These 2 hurricane hazards are the primary reasons the people in coastal areas are advised to evacuate before a tropical storm hits. It is always recommended to adhere to evacuation directives like this from your local authorities, especially when in a known flood zone.
~Heavy Rain & Inland Flooding
~It’s common for hurricanes to produce torrential rain that often leads to inland flooding. Heavy downpours and flash flooding go hand-in-hand. Rivers can also overflow, consequently causing flooding to nearby dwellings. Powerful storm surges can also push the ocean waters inland, causing additional flooding dangers.
~The National Hurricane Center reported that the resultant flooding from 2005 Hurricane Katrina went as deep as 10-15 ft.
~~Surviving a Flood
~~The first step to surviving a flood is always to evacuate or move to higher ground. Avoid driving or walking through flood water. As little as 6 and 12 inches of moving water can sweep you and your car off your feet or swiftly off the road. Additionally flood water is often contaminated and have downed powerlines floating within. Infection from dirty water or a jolt from electrical currents can kill you.
~~Note: Read our article on How to Survive a Flood to learn more.
~High Winds & Projectiles
~High winds resulting from hurricanes can cause significant and costly damage. The most vulnerable structures in this respect are those in the Coastal areas. This is because no obstacle stands in the way to break the wind as it blows over water. Over land, for instance, some buildings and trees can reduce the wind speed up to a certain point.
~The high wind, which is often above 74 mph, tends to carry debris and turns them into dangerous projectiles.
~To survive high wind and projectiles associated with a hurricane, you should take the following precautions:
- You can either install impact-resistant windows or permanent storm shutters.
- Recheck your downspouts and gutters and see if they are still solid. Fix them if they have come loose.
- Brace the doors of your garage to dial-down on the wind's impact.
- Take care of the trees on your property. Prune remove damaged branches. Remove any hollowed-out trees to avoid collapses onto your roof.
~The term “rip current” describes a hurricane hazard where currents of water swirl around and go back out to sea rather than coming landing to the shore. They are also known as rip tides or undertows. Hurricanes have the capacity to produce rip currents near shore even when it sits several hundreds of miles from land. These currents can be potentially dangerous to even the strongest of swimmers.
~For instance, 2008 Hurricane Bertha created a rip current that killed 3 people along the New Jersey coast even though it occurred over a thousand miles offshore. While Ocean City, Maryland saw over 1500 ocean rescues within 7 days due to Bertha’s rip tide.
~The following are what you can do to stay safe:
- When in season, always look up the forecast of your local beach before going into the water.
- Make sure to only swim in waters that have lifeguards on duty.
- Never head directly to shore when caught in a current. If you’re ever caught in a rip tide, try to swim parallel to the shore. Only start swimming to the beach once you have got out of the current.
~Landslides and Mudslides
~A landslide happens when a collection of debris, earth, or rock sweeps down a slope. It’s caused by alterations in the natural form of a slope. Meanwhile, mudslides are a type of landslide, they are fast-moving and tend to travel in channels. They occur when water accumulates in one place or swamps loose ground, and the torrential rainfall that accompanies hurricanes is a catalyst.
~Landslides and mudslides are responsible for between 25 to 50 deaths annually.
~Power is one of the first things that is affected when a hurricane happens. The high winds, tornadoes, and flooding can all easily cut power. One of the hacks of surviving a hurricane is preparing for power outages.
~~Preparing for an Outage
~~First, stock up on the most important safety concerns such as clean water, and shelf stable food that can be eaten without the use of power. If you are well prepared, canned food that can be cooked on a propane or charcoal grill is also welcomed.
~~Up next, keeping your home lit. It is recommended to use flashlights and battery-operated lamps. Avoid candles and other open flames - one disaster at a time. Do not run fuel powered generators inside or run your car for air for extended periods of time, these can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. Use alternative power sources like power banks, batteries, and re-chargeable generators to keep your phone, small fridges, radio, etc. operational.
~~You can also do our 24-Hour No Power Challenge as a way of testing how prepared you are to deal with an electrical outage.
~Contaminated Water Lines
~Strong hurricanes can wreak a level of havoc that can lead to the contamination of water lines, making the water coming through your tap non-potable. This is why residents of hurricane-prone areas are advised to stock up on safe, clean drinking water. It tops the list of items needed to survive a hurricane.
~In the case where you’re out of clean drinking water and left with tap water that might be contaminated, you can boil water to purify it. If the water is contaminated stay tuned to your local news station. They will either provide areas to pick up clean water or release a boil water notice. A boil water notice recognizes that the water has been contaminated but is healthy enough that when boiled it will kill anything dangerous and will become safe to consume.
~As a way to prepare yourself for water shortage during the hurricane season you can embark on our 1-day No Water Challenge.
~Dam & Levee Failures
~Hurricanes can cause the failure of damaged or weakened dams and levees. For example, 1994 Hurricane Alberto devastated Georgia destroying a couple of dams in the state and 2005 Hurricane Katrina broke the levees, flooding New Orleans and surrounding areas. Compromised dams and levees can send tons of water into residential areas; effectively flooding them and necessitating urgent evacuations.
Hurricanes always come with a number of safety risks. There’s no way you can stop hurricanes from making landfall, especially in coastal areas. But the good thing is that they are often highly predictable. This leaves you with about 3-5 days of warning, which is generally enough time to gather last minute supplies and evacuate before the tropical storm arrives.
In any event, your best bet against hurricane hazards is to always be prepared by taking life-saving precautions. Often, this can be the difference between surviving a hurricane or not.