The Ultimate Hurricane Safety Guide
Few weather systems can beat hurricanes for demonstrating the sheer power of Mother Nature. Because they can be deadly, it is important to understand hurricanes and know how to get ready for them. Here is a basic guide for hurricane safety.
What Is a Hurricane?
Hurricanes are strong weather systems that form over oceans and that have sustained winds that are greater than 74 miles an hour. They usually form over warm tropical waters as the seawater evaporates and rises into the air causing a lower atmospheric pressure in the area that remains under the rising warm and wet air. Because of the pressure differential, winds form and the earth's rotation causes the winds to swirl, creating the familiar image of a swirling hurricane with a calm eye in the center.
The temperature of surface water must be at least 80 degrees for a hurricane to form, and the speed and direction between winds at the upper and lower parts of the storm must be relatively the same. Storms get stronger the longer they are over warm waters because more seawater can evaporate and create a greater difference in air pressure, which leads to more intense winds.
Hurricane strength is measured on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, which indicates a storm's intensity from 1 to 5. A storm labeled category 1 has sustained winds between 74 and 95 miles per hour and causes only very minor damage. Category 5 hurricanes have winds in excess of 156 miles per hour and cause catastrophic damage.
- Discovery Channel: Learn About Hurricanes - defines hurricanes and explains how they form
- How Hurricanes Form - basic information on hurricane formation, with a diagram
What Do I Do Before Hurricane Season?
The images of damage from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 show that hurricanes must be taken seriously. Those who live in coastal areas should pay special attention to hurricanes and prepare themselves for the hurricane season long before it starts, as anywhere between 50 to 100 people die in the United States as a result of hurricanes in any three-year period. Such preparation involves making sure the family has a potential evacuation plan in place and knows where people will go to wait out the storm in case an evacuation is ordered. This plan must also include pets, for not every hurricane shelter will allow pets, and no one wants to show up at a shelter with a cat or dog and find that it cannot stay there with the family.
Hurricane preparedness also involves making sure that there are enough supplies to survive a period of time without electricity and water should the hurricane be devastating enough. Families should have about a week's supply of canned food and bottled water. Other essential materials include batteries and flashlights, a first-aid kit, and copies of important documents like birth certificates and insurance plans.
- Unleashing Natures Fury - A National Weather Service hurricane preparedness guide(.pdf file).
- Hurricane Safety Checklist - a checklist on hurricane safety from the American Red Cross
What Is the Difference Between a Hurricane Watch & a Hurricane Warning?
Fortunately, in this day and age hurricanes no longer take most people off guard. Government officials monitor conditions and issue hurricane watches and warnings if there is a real possibility of a hurricane making landfall. A hurricane watch is issued for a given area when there is a real possibility of hurricane conditions within 36 hours. Hurricane warnings are given when actual hurricane conditions are expected within a 24-hour period.
- Hurricane Watches and Warnings - explains the difference between hurricane watches and warning
What Do I Do During a Hurricane Watch/Warning?
Those who have planned ahead need not worry too much once a hurricane watch or warning is issued. During a hurricane watch, outside items such as pool furniture, potted plants, and more should be secured or brought inside. This is also the time to begin boarding up windows or hanging hurricane shutters. It is also the last chance to make sure the family has enough supplies on hand to last through the hurricane and its immediate aftermath. This will also be the time to begin evacuating if an evacuation order is issued.
In a hurricane warning it is important to fill empty containers with water (for drinking) and turn the refrigerator and freezer to their coldest settings. This latter step will help keep perishable food longer once the power goes out. It is also important to pay attention to any government updates via battery-powered radios.
- Florida Highway Patrol: Hurricane Safety - evacuation and other hurricane safety tips from the Florida Highway Patrol
- NOAA: Hurricane Awareness - National Weather Service page on hurricanes
What Do I Do During a Hurricane?
During a hurricane people, should stay away from doors and windows and continue listening to the radio for any updates. It is not safe to leave a building during the storm until the official all clear has been issued, so individuals must not be tempted to go outside if the winds have seemed to die down and no evacuation has been ordered. This may be the eye passing over, after which the winds will resume and be more powerful than before. Should a repair be necessary to preserve life, it should be attempted during the eye of the storm. Again, it must be a real emergency for a person to leave a building to make the repair.
- CDC: Hurricanes - The Centers for Disease Control gives tips for how to stay healthy during a hurricane
- Safety of Your Pets During Hurricanes - Massachusetts' guide to pet safety during hurricanes can be applied nearly anywhere in the United States
What Do I Do After a Hurricane?
Once the all clear has been officially issued, people may exit buildings and begin to take stock of the damage. No one should touch downed power lines as they may be live, and people can start to clear debris as long as it is not touching one of the lines. People will want to contact friends and family as soon as possible to let them know everyone has survived, and it will also be important to help neighbors. Contact the insurance company and take pictures of any damage to help with claim processing. Continue to pay attention to any governmental updates, as there will be advice on clean up and sometimes curfews are even declared.
- Before and After a Hurricane - Louisiana's guide for what to do before and after a hurricane is applicable across the United States
- How to File for Post-Hurricane Financial Aid - Bankrate.com offers helpful advice for getting financial help after hurricanes
Hurricanes and other extreme weather can't be controlled but the damage they cause can be limited. By utilizing this guide and planning ahead you could ensure your family's safety during even the most disastrous weather event.