A lot of people who are watching hurricane Sandy are hurricane newbies. The news is filled with bits and pieces of great prepping information but there is no beginning or end to the preparing story. I am writing this to give you a more comprehensive understanding of hurricanes and how to prepare for them.
What is a Hurricane
A hurricane is defined as a tropical system of strong thunderstorms with a well defined surface circulation and maximum sustained winds of 74 mph or higher. They are categorized according to the strength of their winds by the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. The scale was originally developed by wind engineer Herb Saffir and meteorologist Bob Simpson. Each category has differing severity of wind damage predictions. It does not predict other potentially dangerous hurricane impacts such as storm surge, rainfall-induced floods or tornadoes.
Category 1 Hurricanes have 74-95 mph sustained winds, described as “very dangerous winds will produce some damage” as per the Saffir-Simpson Team.
Category 2 Hurricanes have 96-110 mph and are described by the Saffir-Simpson Team as ” extremely dangerous winds will cause extensive damage”.
Category 3 Hurricanes have sustained winds of 111-130 mph, and the Saffir-Simpson Teams says, ” devastating damage will occur”.
Category 4 Hurricanes have sustained winds of 131-155 mph, “catastrophic damage will occur” according to the Saffir-Simpson Team.
Category 5 Hurricanes have sustained winds of greater than 155 mph and also have a warning by the Saffir-Simpson Team that ” catastrophic damage will occur”.
When is a Hurricane Watch Issued?
A hurricane watch is issued if POSSIBLE hurricane conditions may occur. It is announced 48 hours in advance of anticipated onset of tropical storm force winds. A hurricane warning is issued if hurricane conditions are expected, and is issued 36 hours in advance of anticipated tropical force winds.
Know your area. Are you within a flood zone? How well-built is your home structure? Are you within an evacuation area? Here’s a link to find flood maps:
Make a written plan for your family with alternatives, as Dr Bones said, have a plan A, B and C!! A family disaster plan includes:
1. Your vulnerability/hazard level, including flood zone/home structure
2. A safe room
3. Escape routes, safe evacuation locations and places to meet if separated
4. A CONTACT person who resides outside of the path of destruction/damage
5. Food, water and supply lists, buy non-perishables now
6. Your Insurance policy review and a flood policy
7. Medical supplies and how to learn some first aid
8. Items or flying object hazards including trees/branches to remove/secure/bring inside
9. How to secure/protect your house, including doors, windows, roof and garage door; and cars/boats
10. Copying all important documents and storing them in waterproof containers in more then one location. Consider flash drives, different computers, a safe box at the bank, a heavy-duty water and fire proof safe, relatives’ homes, computer back-up virtual storage, any other place you can think of!
DO NOT PUT TAPE on your windows, it will not help.
Monitor NOAA weather radio for real-time weather information and warnings. Execute your family plan as soon as possible. If a storm threatens, use your common sense and evacuate even if you are not ordered. Evacuate if your local authorities has issued an order, do not attempt to ride out a storm in a vulnerable or hazardous area! If you are in a non-evacuation area remain within your safe
Coastal areas are threatened the greatest by storm surge. According to The Hurricane Center (THC) ,” storm surge is produced by water being pushed toward the shore by the force of the winds moving cyclically around the storm.” Think about a large lifting up of water, like a wet-vac sucking up spilt liquid. This water is moved over the coastal/beach area and shoved inland. What can you do to be safe? Evacuate and follow instructions of your local authorities if ordered to leave. Secure your house, if possible, before you leave and follow your family plan to a safe evacuation location.
In highly flood prone areas, THC recommends to keep materials on hand like: sandbags, plywood, plastic sheeting, plastic garbage bags, lumber, shovels, work boots and gloves. Remember TADD, “turn around don’t drown” when driving after a hurricane. If you cannot see whats under the water turn around. At least 23% of hurricane deaths in the US occur to people who drown in or attempt to abandon their cars. Water as little as 6 inches deep may cause you to lose control of the car. Do not leave your house until local authorities have announced it is safe.
Inland flooding from intense rainfall causes the most fatalities during and after a hurricane. According to THC, 63% of deaths attributed to hurricanes are due to INLAND FLOODING, not a storm surge. This is freshwater flooding, not salt water storm surges. It can affect communities hundreds of miles from coastal areas, which means you should not consider yourself safe just because you live a few miles away from the beach or coast.
At least 23% of hurricane deaths in the US occur to people who drown in or attempt to abandon their cars. Know your area and evacuation routes, including streams, lakes, drainage channels and any other body of water. Move to your safe evacuation area very early so you do not get stuck in a car during a hurricane. Do not drive around after the hurricane has passed until it is announced that it is safe. Monitor NOAA and official weather stations for announcements.
Post inland flood water is usually polluted. Do not walk around in, drink nor bathe in this water. Do not eat fresh food that has come in contact with floodwater and if cans have been exposed to the water, wash them off with soap and clean hot water before opening. Watch for downed power lines!
Your family plan includes assessing your vulnerability which includes thinking about your home and whether it is in a high-rise building. If you must be inside a high-rise building recent research has concluded you are safest above the flood level and below the 10th floor. Blown windows are a big risk within these buildings and areas around them may be subject to flying glass. Make sure you always have a safe room and back up plans.
Some areas who have never experienced a hurricane before may have had tornadoes. Tornadoes formed during a hurricane are unlike those formed at other times. Tornadoes are likely to occur in the right-front quadrant of the hurricane and also embedded in the rain bands, according to THC.Also, as per THC, when associated with hurricanes, they are not usually accompanied by hail or a lot of lightning and can occur for days after hurricane landfall. Take shelter in an interior hallway on a lower floor, closet or small room, unless you are already in your safest room. If caught unaware and unable to do the above, get under heavy furniture and away from windows, advises THC.
There are several great sites for a list of hurricane and evacuation supplies. Do some research now. Remember the MOST important rule is safety first. You should already have all the water, food and supplies you need. Don’t run to the grocery store at the last second for ANY supply, it isn’t worth it. The winds get strong really fast, trust me I’ve lived through many of them. I’ve been in South Florida since the early 1970’s, including Hurricane Andrew in 1992. This is a serious issue and I want you to be safe and prepared.