Published on September 12th, 2018 | by Andrea Bertoli
Hurricane Season is Upon Us: Learning More and Preparing for Hurricanes from NEEF
It’s been a pretty active Pacific and Atlantic hurricane season, and as Olivia is dumping rain on Hawaii and Florence is on a path to crash into the Eastern seaboard, it’s important to know why hurricanes are so intense, and some tips to prepare yourself. The following comes from National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF); used with permission.
There are many environmental factors that contribute to development of a tropical cyclone. These include, but are not limited to, ocean water temperatures, atmospheric temperatures, air moisture levels, distance from the equator, and wind speeds and directions. Whether or not a tropical cyclone is categorized as a tropical storm or hurricane depends on its maximum sustained wind speed.
The intensity of North Atlantic hurricanes and the number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes have increased since the 1980s.These increases are due in part to warmer sea surface temperaturesin the areas where Atlantic hurricanes form and pass through. An active area of research involves determining how much of this sea surface temperature increase can be attributed to natural causes versus human causes and whether the frequency and duration of hurricanes will continue to increase in the future.
While there is uncertainty as to whether the frequency and duration of hurricanes will increase, scientists project that storm intensity and rainfall rates will increase in the future. Hurricane-related impacts can be magnified by other environmental factors such as increasing sea levels. Additionally, a growing concentration of people and properties in coastal areas where hurricanes strike can result in increased damages when these storms make landfall. For example, sea levels rose a foot over the last century off the coast of New York City. As a result, the storm surge, flooding, and associated damages to infrastructure and communities were more severe when Hurricane Sandy hit than they would have been a few decades ago.
- From 1980-2018, tropical cyclones have caused the most damage, have the highest average event cost, and are responsible for more deaths than any other billion-dollar weather and climate disaster type in the US.
- In a warmer climate, hurricane precipitation is projected to increase by about 20% near the eye of the storm and the average storm intensity is expected to increase 2-11%.
Hurricane Preparedness: Before, During, and After
Hurricane Florence is heading towards the East Coast, currently as a Category 4 storm, but may make landfall at Category 3. Evacuations have been ordered in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, as the Mid-Atlantic hurries to prepare for the storm’s devastating impact. Of course, the US is no stranger to these deadly storms—last year, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria left thousands of people dead in their wake, and many more were faced with injuries, damaged and flooded homes and vehicles, and a lack of cell service and electricity.
In the days surrounding one of these storms, there are important steps that people in affected areas need to take to help protect themselves and their families—that includes before, during, and after the storm. Read on for safety instructions at each step of the storm’s timeline. More information can be found here.
- If you live on the Gulf or Atlantic Coasts, determine if you live in a hurricane evacuation area. If the answer is yes, plan your route—and make a plan for your pets. In the event of an emergency, not all storm shelters can accommodate animals. Plan for evacuation.
- After you leave, where will you go? Make a shelter plan.
- If the storm hit, how would you keep in contact with your family? If someone was separated from the group, where would you all meet? Make a communications plan.
- In the event that you are unable to get to a store, would you have enough food, water, medical supplies, personal prescriptions, and lighting to get by for at least three days? Find out how much you need and what you should gather in your emergency kit.
- Are you covered? Check your insurance policies to make sure you have adequate coverage for your home and personal property in the event of a hurricane. Document your property in the event that it is damaged or destroyed. Check your insurance.
- How will you know if a storm is coming? Learn more about the different National Weather Service alerts.
- After you know the storm is coming, but before the storm hits, secure your home. Cover all of the windows with storm shutters.
- Check the websites of your local National Weather Service officeto get the latest information on the storm and learn how you should respond.
- Follow the instructions of emergency officials, and leave if ordered to.
- If you are not ordered to evacuate, take steps to shelter in place. Here is guidance from the National Weather Service on how to shelter in place from a hurricane, and here is more detailed instruction from Ready.gov (at the bottom of the page). Don’t forget—if the eyewall of the hurricane passes over you, the following period of calm is not safe to emerge. The other eyewall is coming.
Just because the storm has passed doesn’t mean that the danger is over. Read on for safety instructions for returning to a damaged or flooded home and neighborhood.
- Only return home when the proper authorities have given the all-clear.
- When walking or driving around your neighborhood, be on the lookout for places where the roads or walkways may have been eroded by floodwaters, or blocked by debris.
- Do not walk or stand in standing water, as it may be electrically charged from nearby downed power lines. If you see any of these downed power lines, contact the power company’s emergency number.
- If possible, turn off electricity at the main breaker or the fuse box before entering your home. Contact your local power company or a qualified electrician to help if you are unfamiliar with this process.
- Photograph all damage to your property for insurance purposes before you begin your repairs. If it’s possible to take precautions to prevent further damage (i.e. placing a tarp over a damaged roof) try to do that as soon as possible, as your insurance may not cover damages that occur after the storm.
- If you are using a generator or other gasoline-powered machine at your home, DO NOT allow it to run inside of the building, including your garage. This equipment can generate carbon monoxide, which is deadly. Use this equipment outside, and far away from any windows.
For a more complete list of how to protect yourself, your home, and your family after a flood, please refer to pages 10-11 of this resource from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Unfortunately, there are those who take the opportunity immediately after a storm to try and prey on the confusion and vulnerability of affected communities. To learn more about scams to be on the lookout for immediately after a storm, please refer to FEMA’s Rumor Control website.