If you live near the coast, you understand the impact a hurricane can have on a community. Producing violent winds, heavy rainfall, flooding and storm surges, hurricanes can cause a great deal of damage to your property, and put friends and family in harm’s way.
Whether you’re a hurricane newbie or have experienced a Category 5 storm, the prospect of a hurricane making landfall in your area can be frightening. But understanding the dangers that come along with these powerful storms can help you prepare, plan and protect what’s important to you.
Heavy Rainfall and Inland Flooding
Hurricanes and tropical cyclones usually produce widespread, torrential rains of six inches or more. This rainfall often comes in a short amount of time, causing destructive and even deadly inland flooding and landslides. Flooding can impact areas 100 miles or more inland and can last for several days following a hurricane.
Know Your Evacuation Zone, Designate a Planned Shelter
FEMA’s website allows you to search for your evacuation zone by address. Most counties have four evacuation zones – A, B, C and D – that indicate areas where flooding may occur. Zone A is nearest to water and is usually the first zone to be evacuated.
Local authorities may order evacuations when a hurricane or flood hits your zone. If needed, you can find emergency shelters near you. Or, if you have an emergency evacuation plan already in place for your family, it’s important to contact your planned evacuation shelter to ensure they’ll be open. Many of the traditional public shelters are located in schools that are now closed due to COVID-19.
Local officials may relocate shelters to hotels, dorms or other alternate public spaces. They’ve also instituted new guidelines to protect the community from further spread of the virus. These guidelines include spacing cots further apart, taking temperature checks and disinfecting common areas.
If you must leave home to evacuate, make sure you pack your disaster supplies kit, which should now also include face masks and hand sanitizer.
Hurricanes are rated using the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale based on sustained wind speed. There are five categories ranging from Category 1 (least amount of damage likely) to Category 5 (catastrophic damage likely).
While high winds can cause massive property damage, there are some things you can do before a hurricane hits to safeguard your home, including:
Boarding up your windows and glass patio doors
Checking your roof for loose or missing shingles/tiles
Installing tie-downs on your outdoor sheds or playhouses
Securing loose objects outdoors such as umbrellas, chairs, tables, pool equipment, trampolines, metal swing sets, grills, etc.
Taking valuable objects indoors or to a sturdy structure
Trimming trees and branches near your house
When hurricane winds increase in strength, your family will be safest in a lower level interior room. Select the room with the fewest windows and take cover under heavy furniture whenever possible. Be sure to bring your battery-powered radio to keep up with weather alerts.
Rip currents, which you should consider dangerous even if you’re an expert swimmer, are narrow channels of water moving quickly away from shore and running perpendicular to the beach. They usually develop after tropical storm activity, near the shoreline and beyond the line of breaking waves — and can pull even the strongest of us out from shore.
If you do get caught in a rip current, do not swim directly to shore. Swim along the shore until you escape the pull of the rip current, then swim at an angle away from the current towards the coast. If you can’t reach the beach, try to relax, face the shore and call or wave for help.
Storm Surges and Tides
Coastal storm surges are one of the biggest threats to life and property during a hurricane. These surges — created by water being forced toward the shore by the cyclonic winds around the storm — damage buildings and structures along the coast, undermine foundations, erode beaches, and in confined areas such as marinas, cause massive destruction.
Storm tides can raise the water level and cause extreme coastal flooding, reaching 20 feet or more above normal levels.
Tornadoes are a major danger during a hurricane and can happen with little warning. Stay connected with the most current information through local media outlets and NOAA Weather Radio. Planning now will mean that your family is ready to move to safety quickly.
An ideal place to ride out a tornado is an underground storm shelter. However, areas near the coast usually don’t have these structures. If you don’t have one, select a room in the interior, lower level of your house away from windows, doors with glass panes, sliding glass doors and skylights. If you live in a mobile home, trailer or camper, locate a sturdy building or storm shelter that’s quickly accessible to your family.
The Aftermath Presents Dangers of Its Own
Once the hurricane has passed and your family is safe, you may want to go outside to observe the damage and begin the cleanup process. Just remember there are still dangers. Follow these tips to ensure your safety:
Avoid electrical equipment that’s near water
Do not drive on flooded streets or over downed power lines
Do not enter damaged structures
Do not go around barricades
Do not walk, swim or drive through floodwaters
Stay clear of downed lines and report to your power company or local authorities
Stay off of bridges with fast-moving water below
Turn off power to your home at the main breaker
Watch for debris and sharp objects
Wear sturdy shoes, long pants, long-sleeved shirt and work gloves when checking your property
Stay Informed, Act Quickly
The good news is, since hurricanes develop first at sea and are generally slow-moving, we usually have some warning before they come ashore. Working with your family to put a hurricane plan in place can help reduce fear and anxiety, especially in younger children. It can also keep your family safe.
Make every second count. If storm alerts are issued, don’t hesitate. Your response time can have a significant impact on your family’s safety.
Learn more about preparing for the 2020 hurricane season.