Don't wait until your radio blares out a hurricane warning. There's a lot
you can do to protect yourself, your family, your pets, and your home -- if you
act in time.
The devastation from Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita has made more
Americans appreciate the wrath of Mother Nature. The effects of that disaster
brought home the message that these storms touch everyone's lives.
One in six Americans live in a county on the Atlantic or Gulf coasts where
hurricanes pose yearly threats. Even if we don't live in these areas, many of
us vacation in areas of the U.S., the Caribbean, or Mexico where hurricanes
Unfortunately, it may have taken the impact of Katrina and Rita to make
people realize that riding out a hurricane is always a big mistake.
U.S. hurricane season runs from June through November. Mid-August to late
October is peak season.
How Hurricanes Harm
By definition, hurricanes pack sustained high winds of 74 mph or
more. Gusts can be much faster. Hurricane Camille in 1969 set the record for
the highest wind speed ever to hit the Western hemisphere. It had sustained
winds of 190 mph at landfall.
It's not just the wind that's a worry. Items such as toys left in the yard,
signs, and construction materials become deadly missiles in hurricane-force
Storm Surge and Storm Tide
A storm surge is a dome of water -- topped by battering waves -- that
sweeps the coastline when a hurricane hits the shore. At the water's edge, it's
the greatest threat to life and property. Storm surges can be 50 or even 100
miles wide. A 15-foot storm surge is not unusual for a major storm.
Katrina's storm surge was 20-30 feet, but the real clincher in New Orleans
was that the system of levees was overwhelmed.
The storm tide is the storm surge combined with the normal tide. If it's
high tide when a hurricane hits, the storm surge adds to the water's height. In
1989, Hurricane Hugo caused a 20-foot storm tide in South Carolina.
Hurricanes often spawn tornadoes far from the center of the storm.
Hurricanes often spawn tornadoes far from the center of the
Hurricanes carry rain -- lots of rain. These rains often cause flash
floods, landslides, and mud slides.
Slow-moving hurricanes cause the most flooding.
Flooding is the major threat to people and property not directly on the
coast. Hurricanes often cause catastrophic flooding hundreds of miles from the
In 1969, Hurricane Camille dropped 27 inches of rain on Virginia. Severe
flash floods killed 150 people.
What to Do, and When
Get a weather radio and keep its batteries fresh. The National Weather
Service suggests that people have a weather radio equipped with a Specific Area
Message Encoder (SAME) feature. This automatically broadcasts an alert when
there's hurricane information for your area.
People with hearing or visual impairments can get weather radios that
connect to strobe lights, pagers, bed-shakers, home computers, and
If you don't have a special weather radio, keep a battery-operated radio
handy. Know how to tune it to a local station that broadcasts
Know what to listen for: A hurricane WATCH means that conditions are right
for a hurricane to hit. It's time to check your hurricane preparations and
review your evacuation plan.
A hurricane WARNING means a hurricane is expected to hit your area within
24 hours. Leave the area if local officials say to do so.
Put together a disaster supplies kit. It should contain: 1) A first-aid
kit. 2) Canned food and a can opener. 3) Three gallons of water per person. 4).
Clothing, rain gear, and bedding or sleeping bags. 5) One flashlight per
person, with extra batteries. 6) Any special items or medicines needed for
infants or people with disabilities.
Learn whether you live in a flood zone. Call your local emergency
management or planning/zoning office to find out. If you are in a flood zone,
it's a good idea to buy flood insurance -- normal homeowners' policies don't
cover floods. Remember, most policies don't take effect for 30 days.
Learn how to turn off your home's water, electricity, and gas. Don't turn
the gas back on without professional help.
If you live in a county near the coast, make sure your house is hurricane
resistant. If you're not sure, have a licensed engineer check it.