Each year in the United States, hurricanes cause millions – sometimes even billions – of dollars worth of property damage. From flooding to roof damage to broken windows and doors, strong hurricanes are capable of wreaking havoc on your home and you quality of life. Being prepared could mean the difference between life and death in a dangerous situation. In Part 1 of this post, learn what causes a hurricane to form and some interesting storm related facts. Then, read on for 7 helpful steps to prepare for a hurricane so that you don’t get caught off guard!
Part 1: Hurricane Facts
What is a Hurricane?
A hurricane is a powerful storm system with a large low pressure center that produces intense winds and heavy rainfall.
How Do Hurricanes Form?
Hurricanes form over a large mass of warm ocean water during the warmer months. Air from surrounding areas with higher air pressure pushes in to the low pressure area. Then that “new” air becomes warm and moist and rises, too. As the warm air continues to rise, the surrounding air swirls in to take its place. As the warmed, moist air rises and cools off, the water in the air forms clouds. The whole system of clouds and wind spins and grows, fed by the ocean’s heat and water evaporating from the surface.
In the beginning, the ocean storm is called a “tropical disturbance”, which is like a bunch of thunderstorms with very little wind circulation. When wind speeds up to 20 to 34 miles per hour, the ocean storm becomes a tropical depression. A tropical depression can quickly become a tropical storm if the wind speeds reach 35-64 miles per hour. Once the whirling mass of air grows and continues to spin around a center of low pressure, wind speeds increase. When wind speeds reach 74 miles per hour or greater, the storm is considered a hurricane and given an official name.
How Much Destruction Can a Hurricane Cause?
Hurricanes can cause billions of dollars worth of property damage in a matter of hours to man-made fixtures as well as to natural surroundings such as trees and shrubbery. These storms can also change an area’s landscape; resulting in hills, roads and trails washing away.
- Hurricanes may have a diameter of 400 to 500 miles (640-800 kilometers).
- The “eye” (center) of a hurricane can be up to 20 miles (32 km) across. The weather in the “eye” is calm with low winds and clear skies.
- Hurricanes hit land with tremendous force, bringing huge waves and heavy rain.
- Many hurricanes cause severe flooding.
- About 90 percent of the deaths that occur during hurricanes result from drowning in floods.
- The world’s worst hurricane (for loss of life) took place in 1970 in Bangladesh. That hurricane created a flood that killed more than one million people.
- Thunderstorms often form within hurricanes and produce tornadoes.
- A hurricane typically weakens rapidly after it strikes land.
- Most hurricanes in North America hit areas near the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. The warm water of the West Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico create more favorable conditions for hurricanes.
- The words hurricane, cyclone and typhoon are all names for the same type of storm. The name tells you where the storm occurred. Hurricanes are defined as storms over the North Atlantic or the Caribbean. In the western Pacific Ocean, hurricanes are known as typhoons. Cyclones are hurricanes over the Indian Ocean.
- For a hurricane to survive, the water temperature must be at least 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit and the surface winds must converge.
- Cold water off North America’s West Coast prevents hurricanes from surviving there.
- Because hurricanes need warm, moist air, they usually begin in late summer or early fall.
- In 1992, Hurricane Andrew blew across southern Florida at speeds of 140-160 mph (225-258 kph). In terms of property loss, Andrew was one of the worst hurricanes to ever hit North America. The property devastation was massive. Entire communities were wiped out and had to be rebuilt. Hurricane Andrew left 50 people dead and caused over $25 billion in damages.
- Hurricanes were first given names in the 19th century by Clement Wragge, an Australian weatherman. Nicknamed “Wet Wragge”, he named very violent storms after people he disliked.
- Today, an alphabetical list of names is drawn up each year for the coming year’s hurricanes.
- The United States Weather Bureau calls a wind a hurricane when it blows as fast as 74 miles an hour.
- A hurricane spins very fast when it moves across warm water, but it slows down and dies away if its path takes it over land. A hurricane that turns out to sea will die out when it reaches colder water or cooler air.
- The intensity of a hurricane is measured on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. This scale measures the wind speed and air pressure of the storm. Based on these characteristics, a hurricane is ranked with a number between 1 and 5. Category 3, 4, or 5 hurricanes are considered intense and extremely dangerous.
Part 2: Hurricane Prep Tips
Hurricane Prep Tip #1: Stay informed – Be sure that you have access to local weather reports and alerts. Knowing what to expect and how to respond could be the difference between life and death. Be sure to keep cell phones and computers fully charged in the event of a power outage and always have a backup solution such as a battery operated radio with plenty of spare batteries. If television updates are not possible, use your phone to download local radar weather tracking apps so that you can stay up to date with current information. In addition, I highly recommend that you follow local emergency management associations on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter since they regularly post critical updates on their sites.
Hurricane Prep Tip #2: Create an Emergency Supplies Kit – Use a box or plastic container and stock it with essential storm supplies such as flashlights, first aid kit, 3 day supply of food (including pets), medications, etc. For a full list of supplies check out http://rdcrss.org/1qQ7PZn.
Consider adding a few of your child’s favorite activities to your kit. Children will appreciate the distraction during what will most likely be a stressful time for them. Board games, card, activity books and other items that do not require electricity to operate are generally a good idea.
Hurricane Prep Tip #3: Be sure you have the proper insurance in place – In the event of a serious storm you will want to make sure that you renter’s or homeowner’s insurance policy is up to date and that you are covered for flooding and wind damage. Speak to your insurance broker BEFORE any forecasted storm so that there is time to amend the policy if necessary. It’s always better to be prepared and not need it then the other way around!
Hurricane Prep Tip #4: Heed all public safety warnings – Evacuation orders are typically called when the threat to public safety is imminent. If your area is evacuated, make arrangements to leave the area (if possible) within the time frame that has been suggested by the local authorities. If for some reason, you are not able to leave your home, be sure to prepare your home (tip #5) to withstand extreme winds and rain.
Hurricane Prep Tip #5: Prepare your home – Cover all of your home’s windows. Be sure trees and shrubs around your home are well trimmed. And clear loose or clogged rain gutters and downspouts. Perform these tasks even if you plan on evacuating to prevent significant damage to your home. For a complete list of home preparation tasks, read further here http://1.usa.gov/1oB5srI
Hurricane Prep Tip #6: Prepare your Pets – Remember if it isn’t safe for you, it isn’t safe for your pets! Remember pet supplies such as food, bottled water, and medications when preparing an emergency supplies kit. Also, if evacuation is necessary, be sure to take your pets with you. If not possible, then locate a kennel of boarding facility in a safe location.
Hurricane Prep Tip #7: Complete a home inventory. Doing a home inventory can save you time and make filing a claim easier, ensuring you don’t forget anything. This can be accomplished fairly easily with a digital camera and pen and paper. Or you may even elect to use a home inventory app such as SureSafe. Keep receipts for valuable items and consider separate or additional coverage for these things.