SURVIVAL SITUATIONS: HURRICANES
There are a virtually infinite number of possible survival situations that one could experience. It can be overwhelming trying to understand and prepare for them. In an effort to index and provide information about the most common survival situations, NoMoreDependence.com has prepared a series of articles which are entitled: Survival Situation. Each article provides high level information about a specific, common survival situation, and various ways to prepare and overcome them should they happen to you.
Hurricanes, although not as common as other survival situations such as flooding or tornadoes, are a serious threat that can easily cost billions of dollars in damages and loss of human life. Each year, an average of approximately ten storms develop over the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, or the Caribbean Sea. Of these roughly ten storm systems, about six will gather enough strength to become hurricanes. Fortunately, many of these storm systems will have little to no impact on the continental US. On average, every three years five to six hurricanes will become strong enough to have an effect on the US coastline. Upon further examination of historical hurricane statistics, approximately three of these five to six hurricanes will be powerful enough to measure a category three or higher on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Most of us have seen the dramatic pictures and videos of wide scale damage and disaster caused by recent hurricanes that have made landfall (Sandy, Katrina, Andrew, or Hugo in recent years).
High Level Overview
Clearly, hurricanes, although infrequent, are an extremely powerful and deadly force of nature. So just how exactly are hurricanes formed? Hurricanes are byproducts of the atmosphere and tropical oceans. The heat from the sea powers these monstrous storms and are guided by the easterly trade winds and temperate westerly winds. Although the brunt of these storms are absorbed by US coastal communities, hurricanes also are commonly responsible for spawning floods, extreme thunderstorms, tornadoes, high wind-speeds, and torrential rains that can potentially extend hundreds of miles inland.
For the Atlantic, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico, hurricane season begins June 1st of each year, and ends November 30th. For the Easter Pacific coastal regions, hurricane season lasts from May 15th and also ends November 30th. It’s important to note that although most hurricanes occur within these dates, it’s not impossible for a hurricane to occur outside these dates.
There’s several key terms to familiarize yourself with that will help in understanding forecasts.
Tropical Depression – An organized system of clouds and thunderstorms with a defined surface circulation and maximum sustained winds of 38 MPH (33 knots) or less. Sustained winds are defined as one-minute average wind measured at about 33 ft (10 meters) above the surface.
Tropical Storm – An organized system of strong thunderstorms with a defined surface circulation and maximum sustained winds of 39–73 mph.
Storm Surge – A dome of water pushed onshore by hurricane and tropical storm winds. Generally, storm surges can reach 25 feet high and be anywhere from 50 to 1,000 miles wide.
Storm Tide – A combination of storm surge and the normal tide (an example would be a 20-foot storm surge combined with a 3 foot normal high tide over the mean sea level created a 17-foot storm tide).
Hurricane/Tropical Storm Watch – Conditions are favorable for a hurricane or tropical storm system to have an impact on your region, generally within 36 hours.
Hurricane/Tropical Storm Warning – Hurricane/tropical storm conditions are expected in the impacted area, usually within 24 hours.
As mentioned earlier in the article, the strength of a hurricane system is gauged using the Saffir-Simpson scale. The scale uses categories ranging from 1-5 to measure the strength of the storm.
Category 1 – Wind speeds of 74-95 mph. Generally these storms are capable of producing some damage to less secure structures such as mobile homes, poorly constructed frame homes and miscellaneous damage caused by flying debris. Power outages and broken windows/roof damage are commonly brought about by category 1 storms.
Category 2 – Wind speeds of 96-110 mph. Category 2 storms that make landfall are capable of causing extensive damage to infrastructure and also pose a serious risk of injury and death. Power outages and drinkable water shortages are common byproducts caused by storms of this intensity.
Category 3 – Wind speeds of 111-130 mph. These storms are very powerful and if they make landfall, will cause devastating damage. Power outages, infrastructure damage, and loss of human life are common with these powerful storms.
Category 4 – Wind speeds of 131-155 mph. The second strongest category of hurricanes will produce catastrophic damage to infrastructure and human life. Generally, access to clean water and/or electricity is unavailable for several weeks or even months following these storms. Flooding and extreme wind damage are common with storms of this caliber.
Category 5 – Wind speeds > 155 mph. The most powerful of all hurricanes, category 5 storms will result in extreme catastrophic damage to impacted regions and certainly a loss of human life. Infrastructure damage will be extreme and often, regions directly impacted by the hurricane making landfall will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.
What to do
If ordered or capable of doing so, evacuating your region prior to a hurricane at risk of making landfall is the best way to avoid injury or death. There are also basic precautions you could take in an attempt to avoid property damage. It’s important to stay abreast of the latest information about a potential storm by listening to radio, TV, internet, or some other news source. Several forecasting resources are in place by various government agencies and include the following organizations:
- National Hurricane Center
- National Weather Service
- Storm Prediction Center
- Hydrometeorological Prediction Center
- Climate Prediction Centers
Hopefully you already have some sort of food and water stocked up to last at least a week for each member of your household. If not, it may be impractical, or difficult to acquire these basic necessities in the days leading up to a hurricane making landfall. Do you and your family a favor and get at least 1 week’s worth of food and water as soon as your able to afford it to stock away in case of an emergency such as a hurricane.
If the authorities in your region advise or direct an evacuation, you should do so if able your able to. For those who are unable to evacuate or make the decision to stay and weather the storm, having a solid supply of food and water is a must. Even those who have planned ahead and stocked up on the basics may find their stock destroyed in the aftermath of the storm. In hurricane Katrina, some individuals learned the hard way they had inadequately prepared in the aftermath and ran out of food and water. It’s not like they could just go to the store and get more at that point. The main threat is that no one knows for certain just how extensive the damage will be and what, if any, critical infrastructures such as power plants and water sanitation facilities will be able to operate in the days and weeks after the storm.
If you remain in your region, be sure to stay indoors and away from windows and glass doors/entrances during the actual storm. The extreme wind-speeds often cause windows and glass doors to shatter leaving the structure more vulnerable to flooding and other storm related debris. Close all interior doors and if possible, secure and brace external doors. Keep any curtains or blinds closed during the storm. If there’s a break in the wind and rain, it’s generally just the eye of the storm and soon enough the high-speed winds and powerful rain will resume. Like earthquakes, many injuries and fatalities are caused by falling debris. Roofs can be easily ripped off even the most modern of structures and debris can fall on top of you. Take cover under a solid table or desk if one is available. Wait until you have confirmation from local authorities before venturing outside. A hand or battery powered weather radio is another essential piece of gear to have if you choose to stay behind (or in general).
If you decide to get out of town for the duration of the storm, make sure you disconnect basic utilities such as gas or propane. Ensure all windows and doors are locked and secured. If you have one, set your refrigerator and freezer to their lowest settings and ensure the doors are thoroughly sealed shut. The reason for doing this is in the event the power is knocked out, hopefully your food will remain fresh until it’s restored. In very powerful storms, this is unrealistic as power is often out for several weeks or even months in certain hard-hit areas. If you live in a mobile home or trailer, find other sleeping arrangements such as a hotel or friend/family member’s house as you ride out the storm. Mobile homes, trailers, and other less secure structures are extremely vulnerable to the high-speed winds of a hurricane and aren’t safe to take shelter in.
To reiterate, the best way to mitigate the risks posed by hurricanes and the storms they spawn is to simply leave town for a few days until it either makes landfall or dissipates. For some, this may not be practical and anyone living in a coastal area that could potentially be impacted by hurricanes should have a plan whether or not to evacuate should the need arise. This plan should be thought out and provisions stocked up on ahead of the actual storm otherwise, it’ll be useless. Even if you decide to evacuate should the need arise, you should have a vehicle survival kit to ensure you’ll have basic necessities such as food and water even if you get stuck or your plans need to change to adapt to the storm.