- Hurricane definition and facts
- How do hurricanes form?
- How are hurricanes categorized?
- How dangerous are hurricanes?
- What is the National Hurricane Center's role?
- How are hurricanes named and tracked?
- How do you prepare for a hurricane?
- Have a family plan for a hurricane
- What supplies do I need for a hurricane supply kit?
- Where can I go to be safe during a hurricane?
- How do I secure my home during a hurricane?
- What about my pets during a hurricane?
- What to do after a hurricane (hurricane aftermath health concerns)
- How can I make sure our water is safe?
- How do I perform first aid for injuries?
- What can I do to cope with mental stress after a hurricane?
- How can I prevent injuries after a hurricane?
- How do I deal with wild and domestic animals in a disaster?
Hurricane definition and facts
- The definition of a hurricane is a type of tropical cyclone (a circulating weather system) over Atlantic and northeastern Pacific tropical waters that has well-defined circulation, and sustained winds of 74 mph or higher. These same types of storms are called typhoons in the western Pacific, and cyclones in the Indian Ocean.
- All Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coastal areas are subject to hurricanes. An reliable estimate of expected annual property loss due to hurricanes is $5 billion.
- The Atlantic hurricane season lasts from June to November, with the peak season from min-August to late October. People living in these areas need to prepare for these events.
- Hurricanes are categorized according to wind speeds based on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, from 1 to 5.
- In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf coast as a Category 3 storm, with sustained winds up to 140 mph. Katrina was the costliest natural disaster in the U.S, and the third-most deadly, with 1,245 deaths related to the storm. In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy was a Category 3 storm when it made landfall in Cuba, and by the time it reached the northeastern U.S. where it made landfall, it was a Category 1 with winds of 80 mph. It was the second-costliest hurricane in U.S history. In October 2016 Hurricane Matthew made landfall in the Caribbean and the southeastern U.S. Matthew was a Category 4 storm when it hit Haiti with 145 mph winds. It briefly strengthened to a Category 5 out at sea before making its way over the Bahamas as a Category 3, and hitting the U.S. mainland in just north of Charleston, SC as a Category 1 with wind gusts up to 75 mph.
- The National Hurricane Center (NHC), a division of The U.S. National Weather Service (NWS) and The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), predicts, names, and tracks tropical weather systems.
- The National Hurricane Center suggests having a family disaster plan that is written down and discussed with all family members before a storm approaches. Create a checklist for all the things you will need to do in the event of an approaching storm. Include pets in your plans.
- Part of your hurricane preparedness plan should include where to go in the event you need to evacuate your home. Follow instructions of local authorities and evacuate if required.
- Secure your home, and make sure you have enough supplies for several days in case you lose power or cannot get out of the area due to floods or blocked roads.
- Take locally offered or Internet based First Aid, CPR, and disaster preparedness classes.
- After the storm, make sure food and water is safe to eat and drink. Be careful of downed power lines, and make sure you wear protective gear during storm cleanup.
How do hurricanes form?
A hurricane is an intense low-pressure weather system with winds of 74 or more miles per hour. It is a type of cyclone that generally forms in the tropics. Thunderstorms accumulate into a tropical depression which begins to rotate as it gets bigger over warm tropical water. The tropical depression grows bigger and gains strength, eventually turning into a hurricane. These storms are defined by high wind speeds, with accompanying rain, possible storm surges, flooding and tornadoes.
How are hurricanes categorized?
Hurricanes are categorized according to wind speeds based on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. The weakest hurricanes are Category 1, defined by wind speeds starting at 74 miles per hour and storm surges of 4 to 6 feet. The scale ranges to a Category 5 where wind speeds are in excess of 155 miles per hour, and storm surges can reach 18 feet or more.
|1||75-95 mph||Very dangerous winds will produce some damage. Roofs, siding, shingles, and gutters damaged. Large tree branches will snap. Damage to power lines will result in power outages.|
|2||96-110 mpg||Extremely dangerous winds will cause extensive damage. Major roof and siding damage. Shallowly rooted trees will snap or uproot and block roads. Near-total power loss is expected with outages that could last weeks.|
|3||111-129 mph||Devastating damage will occur. Well-built framed homes may see major damage or removal of roof decking and gable ends. Many trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking roads. Electricity and water will be unavailable for up to weeks after the storm.|
|4 (major)||130-156 mph||Catastrophic damage will occur. Well-built framed homes may have loss of most of the roof and some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages could months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.|
|5 (major)||157 mph or higher||Catastrophic damage will occur. A large number of framed homes will be destroyed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.|
What is the National Hurricane Center's role?
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) is a division of The U.S. National Weather Service (NWS) and The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that predicts, names, and tracks tropical weather systems. They issue watches and warnings during the Atlantic and northeast Pacific hurricane seasons, and make predictions on tropical weather outlooks for those areas.
When a tropical storm or hurricane is possible within 48 hours, the National Hurricane Center issues a watch, indicating that storm conditions may occur in the area. When a tropical storm or hurricane is expected within 36 hours, the NHC issues a warning, indicating storm conditions are expected for the area. Watches and warnings are given by The National Weather Service and on NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards (NWR).
How are hurricanes named and tracked?
A tropical storm that may become a hurricane is a type of weather system that is tracked to help minimize loss of life. When wind speeds reach 39 miles per hour (tropical storm wind speed), these weather systems are named. Naming helps facilitate warning and tracking services communicate storm information to the public, and reduces confusion when there is more than one storm occurring at the same time. If the named tropical storm reaches 74 or more miles per hour, the tropical storm is reclassified as a hurricane.
In 1953, the National Hurricane Center originated a naming list, which is now maintained by an international committee of the World Meteorological Organization. The lists are alphabetical, alternating between men's and women's names. The lists rotate every 6 years. If a hurricane results in significant damage or death, the name is usually retired and not used again. A complete list of hurricane names is available at the National Weather Service National Hurricane Center.
Hurricanes are tracked by the National Hurricane Center. There are many factors that go into tracking a hurricane, including atmospheric conditions, water temperatures, and even historical information. Computer models use this data to predict what track a storm will take. Tracking has become more precise over the years and usually predictions are relatively accurate 24 hours prior to the storm. Many computer-generated models attempt to predict a hurricane's path up to five days prior. However, beyond a day or two, these predictions become less accurate. Individuals living in an area that may be impacted by a hurricane should heed all local warnings.
How do you prepare for a hurricane?
The best way to prepare for a hurricane is to have a plan before hurricane season starts, so you will know what your family needs to have, where to go if you need to evacuate, and what you need to do to protect your home. Below are suggestions for your family hurricane plan and supplies.
Have a family plan for a hurricane
The National Hurricane Center suggests having a family disaster plan that is written down and discussed with all family members before a storm approaches. Create a checklist for all the things you will need to do in the event of an approaching storm.
- Know how vulnerable your home may be to storm surge, flooding and winds.
- Make sure you have flood insurance.
- Know your Zone. In areas that can be affected by hurricanes, local emergency management assigns Zones (areas of a city or county, often based on zip codes) in the event evacuation is suggested (or required). Usually the first to evacuate are those closest to the water (storm surge susceptible: for example, Zone A) and those in mobile homes.
- If you are not required to evacuate, know which rooms in your house are safest to weather out the storm (usually interior rooms without windows).
- If you must evacuate, determine in advance your evacuation route and where you will go.
- If you need to evacuate, plan ahead in regard to what to do with your pets. If you need to evacuate, most hurricane shelters do not permit animals, and those that do often require advance registration.
- Have a family emergency communication plan if your family separates. The Office of Homeland Security has a communication plan outline.
- If you are not in an evacuation zone and you decide to stay in your home, make sure you have enough food, medications, pet supplies, water, and other items you will need for at least three days in case you lose power and water and you are unable to leave your area due to blocked roads or flooding.
- Consider purchasing a portable generator you can use in the event of power loss.
- Prepare your home: trim or remove tree limbs, secure rain gutters, reinforce your roof and doors, and put up shutters over the windows or install hurricane-proof windows.
- Stock non-perishable emergency supplies and a Disaster Supply Kit (see Supply Kit information).
- Use a NOAA weather radio and make sure you have extra batteries (preferably fresh or new ones still in the package).
- Take locally offered or Internet based First Aid, CPR, and disaster preparedness classes.
What supplies do I need for a hurricane supply kit?
A hurricane supply kit should be prepared in advance of the storm season, should be easily accessible in case you need to evacuate, and should contain items you will need to ride out a storm, no matter where you are.
The National Hurricane Center suggests the following:
- Water: at least 1 gallon daily per person for 3 to 7 days
- Food: for 3 to 7 days. Include non-perishable items, food for infants
- Blankets and pillows
- First Aid Kit
- Prescription drugs: (enough for at least one to two weeks)
- Toiletries (toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, soap, etc.)
- Flashlight, radio, fresh batteries
- Telephones: Fully charge cell phones before the storm in case of power outage, with an extra battery if you have one
- Cash (including small bills) and credit cards: Banks and ATMs may not be available for extended periods of time after the storm
- Keys to the home, vehicles, sheds
- Toys, books, and games for children to keep them occupied
- Important documents in a waterproof container or watertight resealable plastic bag
- Tools: keep a set of tools with you during the storm
- Vehicle fuel tanks filled
- Pet care items (see list in this article)
Where can I go to be safe during a hurricane?
Part of your hurricane preparedness plan should include where to go in the event you need to evacuate your home. Follow instructions of local authorities and evacuate if required. If possible, leave the area before officials issue an order to evacuate, to avoid traffic delays. Ideally, safe places are out of the storm's predicted path, in a structure certified safe against hurricane-force winds (in case the storm path shifts), and are not susceptible to the high tides and storm surges associated with hurricanes; the structure should have emergency food, water, and a backup power source available.
Make sure your vehicle's gas tank is filled beforehand as traffic jams are common, and in the past people have abandoned their vehicles because they ran out of gas and no available gas stations were open for business.
If you plan to stay in a hotel (see above requirements for safe places to stay), keep in mind those closest to your area may fill up quickly. Book ahead and leave early, before the storm begins or before the hotel assigns the booking to someone else because you were late for check-in.
If you plan to stay with friends or family, discuss plans ahead of time, before hurricane season starts.
As a last resort, go to a hurricane shelter. Remember, shelters will be crowded and are not designed for comfort. Bring your disaster kit supplies with you. Most shelters do not accept pets.
During a storm, it is never safe to leave a protective shelter because of the high probability of being hit by flying debris or being knocked off your feet by winds or water surges; continue to listen to the emergency radio broadcasts as they will indicate when it is safe to go outside. Although venturing outside is tempting if the storm's "eye" or center passes over (the eye contains much calmer wind conditions), the storm's furious conditions can be back in a matter of minutes as the eye moves away from your location and you could be cut off from returning to your shelter.
How do I secure my home during a hurricane?
The best thing you can do to reduce damage to home and property is to protect areas where wind can enter. If you have hurricane shutters, install them before the storm. Never go outside during a storm to put up shutters.
Reinforce roofs, straps, shutters, doors, and garage doors. If possible, you can reinforce these areas when doing other home improvement or renovation. Check local building codes. For more information on retrofitting your home, visit The National Hurricane Center.
Flood damage is usually not covered by homeowners insurance in some areas. Check with your homeowner policy's agent to find out if you have flood insurance coverage. Flood insurance usually has to be purchased far in advance of any impending storms. For more information on the National Flood Insurance Program call 1-888-CALL-FLOOD ext. 445, TDD# 1-800-427-5593.
What about my pets during a hurricane?
Plans need to be made for the entire family prior to a hurricane, and that includes pets. If you must evacuate, plan to take your pets with you. Your pet should wear an ID tag with your current contact information. Make sure you have a cell phone and even an out-of-town contact listed in case you are not reachable and you become separated from your animals.
- Friends and family outside the area are usually the easiest places to bring pets.
- Most hotels do not accept pets, so research ahead of time for pet-friendly locations in the event you need to evacuate.
- Most shelters also do not accept pets, and those that do usually require pre-registration. Know in advance where your local pet-friendly shelters are and how you can register ahead of time if needed.
Just as you need a hurricane kit for your human family, you should also have one for your pets. Your pet's kit should include:
- Food, water, and medications for the pets for 3 – 5 days
- Leashes, harnesses, collars
- Cat litter and litter boxes
- Plastic bags and newspaper
- Crates (it is a good idea to crate-train your animals prior to a storm – during a storm they may need to be crated for hours at a time, and pet-friendly shelters require it).
- Pet beds and toys if there is space
- Current photos and descriptions of your pets to help identify them if you become separated
- Information on feeding, medications, behavior, and your veterinarian's contact information in case you need to board your animal(s)
For more information on preparing for a storm and keeping your pets safe, visit the Humane Society of the United States.
What to do after a hurricane (hurricane aftermath health concerns)
How can I store food safely?
A refrigerator will keep foods cool for about 4 hours without power if it is unopened.
Thawed food can usually be eaten if it is still "refrigerator cold," or re-frozen if it still contains ice crystals. Discard any food that has been at temperatures greater than 40 F (4.44 C) for 2 hours or more, and any food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture. Eat foods that are likely to spoil first, such as meats and dairy, to minimize waste; however it is better to dispose of foods if there is any question about its safety or contamination status.
If the power is out for longer than 4 hours, follow the guidelines below:
- Use dry ice, if available: 25 pounds of dry ice (solid carbon dioxide or CO2) will keep a ten-cubic-foot freezer below freezing for 3 to 4 days. Use care when handling dry ice, do not allow it to touch skin because it can cause frostbite and do not it in confine areas where CO2 gas can accumulate.
- For the freezer section: A freezer that is half full will hold food safely for up to 24 hours. A full freezer will hold food safely for 48 hours. Do not open the freezer door unless it is absolutely necessary. Before the storm, you can fill water bottles or empty soda bottles with water and freeze them to help keep the freezer full and cold.
- For the refrigerated section: Pack dairy products, meat, fish, eggs, gravy, and spoilable leftovers into a cooler surrounded by ice. Discard this food if it seems spoiled.
- Use a digital quick-response thermometer to check the temperature of the food right before you cook or eat it.
How can I make sure our water is safe?
Hurricanes, especially if accompanied by a tidal surge or flooding, can contaminate the public water supply, which can cause illness. Do not assume water in a hurricane-affected area is safe to drink.
Listen for public announcements about the safety of the municipal water supply. Use bottled water for eating or drinking. If you do not have bottled water, and are not sure that your tap water is safe, follow these directions to purify tap water published by the government for public information:
- Filter the water using a piece of cloth or coffee filter to remove solid particles.
- Disinfect using one of the following methods:
- Boiling: Boil water vigorously for 1 minute. To improve taste, pour from one clean container to another several times to aerate. Allow water to cool for 30 minutes before using.
- Purification tablets: Purification tablets are available at most drugstores or camping supply stores. Follow directions supplied on the packaging.
- Filters: Use a "backpacking" type filter and follow the directions on the filter.
- Bleach purification: Liquid household bleach can be used for water disinfection. The only active ingredient in the bleach should be sodium hypochlorite of the concentration of 5.25% to 6%. There should not be any added soap or fragrances. (A major bleach manufacturer has also added sodium hydroxide as an active ingredient, which they state does not pose a health risk for water treatment.) Add bleach to the water according to the amounts listed in the table below. Stir to mix and let stand 30 minutes prior to using.
|Amount of Water||Clear Water||Cloudy Water*|
|1 quart||2 drops of bleach||4 drops of bleach|
|1 gallon||8 drops of bleach||16 drops of bleach|
|5 gallons||1/2 teaspoon of bleach||1 teaspoon of bleach|
|*Excessive turbidity (cloudiness) will greatly reduce the effectiveness of the bleach.|
The bleach method may not kill all parasites and the filter methods must be followed carefully; people need to read the directions carefully to produce the safest possible drinking water.
If there is flooding along with a hurricane, local waterways may become polluted with waste. There is risk of disease from eating or drinking anything contaminated with floodwater.
Do not allow children to play in floodwater areas. Wash children's hands frequently and disinfect any toys that have come into contact with flood waters, using a solution of one cup of bleach in five gallons of water.
How do I perform first aid for injuries?
First aid is extremely important when someone is exposed to waters potentially contaminated with human, animal, or toxic wastes.
- If you live in a hurricane-prone area, take a community-based first aid course, such as those offered by the American Red Cross.
- If you are injured, contact a physician if possible to determine the necessary type of treatment (for example, need for tetanus shot).
- Immediately clean out all open wounds and cuts with soap and clean water.
- Apply an antibiotic ointment to wounds and cuts if available to discourage infection. Take care to assure the affected individual is not allergic to the compound.
- If a wound develops redness, swelling, or drainage, seek immediate medical attention.
- If you are not sure what to do for yourself or someone else, seek help immediately.
What can I do to cope with mental stress after a hurricane?
The days and weeks after a hurricane may be emotionally difficult. In addition to an individual's physical health, the mental health of those affected by the hurricane need to be considered. If you or someone you know has been affected by a hurricane feel any of these symptoms acutely (suddenly), seek counseling. Otherwise, some sleeplessness, anxiety, anger, hyperactivity, mild depression, or lethargy are normal, and may resolve with time.
State and local health departments will help you find local resources, including hospitals or health care practitioners that you or someone you know may need.
Individual responses to a threatening or potentially traumatic event vary from person to person. Emotional reactions may include feelings of fear, grief, and depression. Physical and behavioral responses might include nausea, dizziness, changes in appetite and sleep patterns, as well as withdrawal from daily activities. Responses to trauma can last for weeks to months before people start to feel normal again.
Seek medical care if you or someone you know becomes injured, feels sick, or experiences stress and anxiety.
There are many things that can be done to cope with traumatic events including:
- Keep as many elements of a normal routine incorporated into the disaster plans as possible, including activities to allay children's fears.
- Be aware that there may be a lack of resources to resolve daily emotional conflicts. Try to resolve any major emotional conflicts ahead of time if possible.
- Turn to family, friends, and important social or religious contacts to set-up support networks to help deal with the potential stressors.
- Let children know that it is okay to feel upset when something bad or scary happens.
- Encourage children to express their feelings and thoughts, without making judgments.
How can I prevent injuries after a hurricane?
When the wind and waters recede, people in the areas affected by a hurricane will continue to face a number of hazards associated with cleanup activities. Follow these guidelines to prevent injury.
Prevent fatigue-related injuries
Long hours of work, combined with exhaustion, can create a highly stressful situation during cleanup. People working on hurricane and flood cleanup can reduce their risks of injury and illness in several ways:
- Set priorities for cleanup tasks and pace the work. Avoid physical exhaustion.
- Resume a normal sleep schedule as quickly as possible.
- Be alert to emotional exhaustion or strain. Consult family members, friends, or professionals for emotional support.
Wear protective gear
For most work in flooded areas, wear hard hats, goggles, heavy work gloves, and watertight boots with steel toe and insole (not just steel shank).
Wear earplugs or protective headphones to reduce noise induced hearing risk from equipment noise. Equipment such as chain saws, backhoes, and professional dryers may cause ringing in the ears (tinnitus) and subsequent hearing damage.
Beware of electrical hazards
- If water has been present anywhere near electrical circuits and electrical equipment, turn off the power at the main breaker or fuse on the service panel. Do not turn the power back on until electrical equipment has been inspected by a qualified electrician.
- Never enter any area with standing water or touch electrical equipment if the ground is wet, unless you are certain that the power is off. NEVER handle a downed power line.
- When using gasoline and diesel generators to supply power to a building, switch the main breaker or fuse on the service panel to the "off" position prior to starting the generator.
- If clearing debris or other work must be performed near a downed power line, contact the utility company before entering the area to do work. Extreme caution is necessary when moving ladders and other equipment near overhead power lines to avoid inadvertent contact.
Avoid carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that is poisonous to breathe. During flood cleanup, operate all gasoline-powered devices such as pumps, generators, and pressure washers outdoors and never bring them inside a building or home. This will help to ensure the safety from carbon monoxide poisoning for everyone.
Beware of structural instability
Never assume that water-damaged structures or the ground are stable. Buildings that have been submerged or have withstood rushing flood waters may have suffered structural damage and could be dangerous.
- Don't work in or around any flood-damaged building until it has been examined and certified as safe for work by a registered professional engineer or architect.
- Assume all stairs, floors, and roofs are unsafe until they are inspected.
- Leave immediately if shifting or unusual noises are heard if you are in an area as they may signal a possible collapse.
Avoid hazardous materials
Flood waters can dislodge tanks, drums, pipes, and equipment which may contain hazardous materials such as pesticides or propane.
- Do not attempt to move unidentified dislodged containers without first contacting the local fire department or hazardous materials team.
- If working in potentially contaminated areas, avoid skin contact or inhalation of vapors by wearing appropriate protective clothing and respirators.
- Frequently and thoroughly wash areas of skin that may have been exposed to pesticides and other hazardous chemicals.
- Contact the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Be prepared for fires
Fire can pose a major threat to an already badly damaged flood area. Fire protection systems may be inoperative, the fire department response may be hampered and water supplies may be inoperable.
Make sure you have at least one working fire extinguisher in your home. Natural gas lines may be disrupted; leave any area that has an unusual smell, notify the gas and fire departments, and do not use power equipment in the area as any sparks could cause fire or explosions if a gas line is broken and leaking.
Use care operating a home powered generator, and always follow the manufacturer's instructions including operating the generator outdoors.
When entering moving water, you are at risk for drowning regardless of your ability to swim. Individuals in vehicles are at the greatest risk of drowning, so it is important to comply with all hazard warnings on roadways and to avoid driving vehicles or heavy equipment into water of an unknown depth. NIOSH recommends you avoid working alone and wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket when working in or near flood waters.
Never walk into standing water after a storm, as you do not know how deep the water may be, or if there are active electrical lines hidden underneath.
Reduce the risk of thermal stress
While cleaning up after the hurricane, you are at risk for developing heat-related illness from working in hot environments where hurricanes form.
To reduce heat-related illness risks:
- drink a glass of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes
- wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing
- take frequent rest breaks
- work during the cooler hours of the day
How do I deal with wild and domestic animals in a disaster?
Be cautious of wild or stray animals. They may be disoriented and dangerous following a hurricane or flood. Try to confine the animal without putting yourself at risk of being bitten. Call the Animal Control agency in your county if you find or come across a wild or domestic animal. Rising water in hurricanes displace snakes which may seek the same higher drier ground that people, pets and other animals may occupy. Be aware of this hazard and avoid any reptiles.
Wild and domestic animals may escape or be killed in disasters. Escaped animals may wander onto land where they may:
- contaminate water supplies
- cause a build-up of manure
- overgraze sensitive ecosystems
- cause damage to crops
Decaying carcasses create biologic waste, may contaminate groundwater, cause foul odors, and attract flies and rodents, which can spread disease. Animal carcasses should be disposed of as soon as possible to avoid creating a health hazard to animals or humans. Contact your local animal control department or local health department for specific disposal guidance.
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