I seem to be doing an informative thread about hurricanes at least once a year, so keeping with tradition it’s once again time for the Hurricane Blog.
I’m probably the last person that should be grilling anyone on safety during the storms, but then again, I’m a Florida girl. At this very moment I’m lounging on my patio and enjoying the lovely breeze from Debby as the storm begins to flood the streets in her 16th hour. Growing up around this stuff, I can give some advice for those not in a state built around the possibility of hurricanes that may make your experiences this year a little more comfortable.
Let’s start with the basics. Vocabulary.
Feeder Bands: A feeder band is what fuels the hurricane so to speak. The outer bands of the storm are what commonly hits more than the storm itself, and these bands ‘suck up’ the moisture from the ocean. Most flooding comes from feeder bands, not the center of a storm! It’s important to keep up to date with your local weather, as the bands can cause much more problems than a direct hit.
Tropical Storm/Tropical Depression: Sure, we call it hurricane season, but most of the time a tropical storm is what you’ll see. What’s the difference? Well, when a tropical depression becomes strong enough (winds 39-73 mph) it gets a name! That’s the official point in which it is considered a tropical storm! While a depression is simply a rotating mass of wind and rain, it’s usually not potentially threatening at all. Again, keep your eye on weather reports. Tropical depressions can turn to tropical storms, and eventually hurricanes with the right conditions in a matter of hours.
Hurricanes: After a mass of wind and rain has attained a wind speed of 74 mph, it is officially considered a category one hurricane. Hurricanes can be from category one to category five, depending on wind speed. That’s all that distinguishes one level from the next. Typically during a hurricane season, you’ll see one category three, and everything else tends to fall below that level. So, let’s look at the wind speeds needed to reach the next level.
Category 1 – A category 1 hurricane needs 74 mph winds. The storm surge can be 4-5 feet. Most coastal areas are prepared for a category 1 hurricane with no issues. It gets windy though!
Category 2 – When winds reach 96 mph, a hurricane is officially categorized as a category 2. In regions outside of Florida, this tends to be when evacuations come into effect, as the storm surge can easily reach 6-8 feet, and flooding becomes a real issue.
Category 3 – Anything 8 miles inland can be completely underwater at this point. If you’re in a mobile home, you NEED to evacuate or get to a shelter. Winds start at 111 mph, and storm surge reaches 9-12 feet. That’s a ton of water! At this point, it’s imperative to keep in mind, it’s not the wind speed, or the rain in most cases. It’s what the wind is carrying with it! At a category 3, power in even prepared areas can be down for a month.
Category 4 – 131 mph and up, a beast is upon you. If you haven’t evacuated you’re going to want to take shelter wherever you can. Steer clear of tornado shelters (underground) if you don’t want to end up sleeping with the fish. A category 4 storm can EASILY blow a roof clean off a house. Trees, power lines, and even cars will be halfway down the street in a matter of minutes. This is considered an extreme storm. If you’re near the coast a 13-18 ft storm surge is upon you. Terrain 10 ft below sea level or lower? Well.. if you ever wanted a pool…
Category 5 – This is the absolute worst storm type there is. You’ve probably heard stories of hurricane Andrew (1992) which nearly leveled Miami. At 156+ mph, you’re stuck where you are. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if you didn’t evacuate you’re more than likely going to find yourself underwater, or gone with the wind. States that have specific measures for category 5 hurricanes are even clueless for the most part when it comes to recovery plans. If you’re not on a bit of land 15 feet or more above sea level, you will be flooded. Storm surges occur at a whopping 18+ feet. This is the highest category there is, therefore the numbers I’m providing are the absolute minimum.
Eye: Yes, hurricanes have an eye! This is what they refer to when they’re talking about that hole in the dead center of the storm. Make no mistakes, if you’re involved in a direct hit, DO NOT, I repeat.. DO NOT! go outside! Most deaths are caused by people believing the storm to be over and wandering out during the eye. Everything will be eerily silent, people will be outside surveying damage, but you best get your backside back indoors if you still have that. Things can pick up again in a snap. Most of the time, the eye will last for a half an hour to an hour. Don’t take chances.
Storm Surge: A storm surge was mentioned in the category listing. What is that? Well, when the coastal waters flood onto what is usually dry land, this is known as a storm surge. Think of a tsunami. A 20 foot wall of water coming straight towards land itself, bulldozing buildings and everything in its path. A storm surge can occur across a span of a HUNDRED miles along the coast.
Okay, that’s enough vocabulary. Now let’s get some other little tidbits of information. If you’re informed about what could be coming your way, you’re more likely to make it through unscathed!
Yes, I said that the feeder bands are a huge cause of death, and so are the storm surges. However, most of that is the front end of a hurricane. You see, a hurricane has two sides, the front and back. Around the eye wall, you’ll find that the most intense winds and rains are. Well, the front of a hurricane weakens what it makes landfall against… so… what would you say the back end does?
The back end of a hurricane can be the WORST part of the storm. If you haven’t lost power, count your blessings, this is usually when it happens. Depending on where you are, while the front end is making landfall, the back end may still be picking up water, moisture, and power. Don’t be surprised if a hurricane gains a category while right overtop! This brings me to the next part of hurricane 101,
PREPARE AHEAD OF TIME!
The first step to preparations is not deciding what to buy, or how to deal with what may or may not come your way. You NEED to know if your area is REALLY ready for a storm. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best. Do some research. Find out where you are at sea level, how close to the coast you are, and what kinds of storms have gotten to you in the past. If you can figure out how well your area can handle these things, you can make better steps to prepare for what may happen!
Now, once that is said and done.. regardless of your experience, regardless of the history, and regardless of what you think you can handle, you will want two plans. One will be your evacuation plan. This is the big one. You will NOT have time to plan this right before landfall. You’ll end up stuck in traffic or unable to move. Advance action is your key. Questions to ask yourself: Do you have pets? Do you have elderly? Can you afford the price of gas stations that will most DEFINITELY hike those oil prices up because they know they can make more cash? Do you live in a mobile home? If you do, evacuate. No choice. No staying. Just do it.
I’m not a fan of evacuation myself, but I will admit there IS a time and place for everything. Evacuation may be your best option. Elderly may need medicine or provisions that won’t be available for months! I would recommend to have at least THREE centers in mind with everything you’ll need for the ‘hell’ that could come. Plan to have your centers twenty five to fifty miles away from each other. Keep in mind, you’ll have to research what places allow what things. Some don’t have the equipment to care for younger children, or older people. Some don’t allow pets. One of the LARGEST THINGS that people forget is to bring YOUR OWN provisions! DO NOT rely on the center to be at your beck-and-call. Think of it as camping. One of the best places to look at is the red cross. Most centers run by red cross do not allow animals, but it’s up to you to know in advance which ones. Don’t let it take you by surprise! NOTHING WILL BE AVAILABLE DURING THE STORM.
Now, what provisions will you need? Well.. either way, you’re going to want to stock up if you DO or DON’T evacuate, so… let’s touch on that.
Most places will tell you to prepare for 100mph winds and a 1-2 week outage. In Florida, that’s reasonable, but even I don’t give it that kind of leniency. I will always prepare for a month. I’ve been without power for four months before. It gets old quick.
Everyone in your family should have ONE bag of clothes and belongings to themselves. No. You can’t pack your whole home. Sorry. Have the bare minimum ready to go in an emergency. I suggest packing your vehicle if you’re not sure of evacuation or not. That extra time can save your life.
Have a communication line with someone out of state. Make sure your family, or at least friends know you’re okay. I would suggest having one or more close people in constant contact before and after the storm. Telephone lines can be down, so a cell phone, even a pay as you go for emergencies is needed.
CASH! Make sure you have ENOUGH CASH to support your entire group for a long while. Banks, ATM machines, and electronic units are not always going to be available. If you have to leave after the storm and nothing is working.. how do you expect to buy food or gasoline? Cash is always a good thing to have ahead of time.
Toiletries, clothes, and bedding are always a good thing too. Even if you go to a shelter, you’ll probably end up sleeping on a floor. Bring some blankets and pillows. You may be there for a while.
One last big ‘family’ thing is infamous, if you skip over it, congratulations, you’ve earned a darwin award. FIRST AID. ALWAYS HAVE A FIRST AID KIT! Even down to headache medicine. You’ll thank yourself later! I’m sure you can research what you’ll need in that kit.
Before the storm, top off your car with gas. Even if you don’t leave you’ll want to have as much gas as possible. If you have a generator, you can always siphon the gas from the car in an emergency. In other cases it’s good to just have that option to get up and go. Some gas stations will be out of gas for as long as two days before the storm. Plan ahead
Make sure you have any identification, birth certificates, social security, insurance, and other information pertaining to your home, auto, self, or family in a water sealed bag. Keep it close by and safe. Have photographs of family members, your home, auto, and pets in this bag. If anyone gets separated you can use these to possibly find them again.
On the topic of pets, if you evacuate without your pet shame on you. If you leave your pet outside shame on you! Your pet deserves the same shelter you do! Keep a month or two worth of food handy, any medication your pet may need, and water nearby! If your pet has rabies tags, be sure to keep documentation of it in your ID bag.
You’ll want to back up any important information on your computers or phones before the storm. Keep the backups in water-sealed bags. Dismantle your computer and make sure it’s OFF THE GROUND in case of flooding. NOTHING electronic should be plugged in AT ALL. If you have to, buy big black trash bags from the store and bag up all your equipment twice. I place my equipment on a table against an inner wall with no windows.
Alright, we’re not even halfway done. I hope you’re paying attention still, because this is the part people tend to mess up on.
WATER! One gallon of water per person, PER DAY. If you stock up for a month? One person is 30 gallons. RATION! Do not go all willy nilly and start gorging the minute the storm has passed. You will regret it. If you’re camping out, some people fill their bathtubs and sinks with as much water as possible. This can be used for flushing toilets and rag-washing. Don’t ruin it for everyone though, use as little as possible. Your bathing will be sponge baths until you’re sure the water lines are okay.
Are you going to get a generator? I never have, too much money in my own opinion, but some people do tend to have them for the refrigerators in their home. If you live in an apartment, condo, or villa, find out your associations regulations on a generator before you buy one. If worst comes to worst, and you HAVE perishables you absolutely don’t want to be rid of, stock a cooler. Ice will become as precious as diamonds by this point, so if you can, try and eat/dispose of all perishables by this time. Before a storm, you’ll want to put as many jugs of water in a freezer as you can. Leave them in there until they’re absolutely needed. Cool water is nice!
As far as food goes everyone eats a different amount. You’ll want to be sure you have enough for a while. Have a portable propane grill and some tanks ready if you can. A hot meal is a godsend. You can also boil water on the stove to purify it if you absolutely have to. Anything non-perishable is a good hurricane food. Canned ravioli, jerky, potatoes, crackers, peanut butter, instant food, rice, onions.. use your imagination. If younger kids are in the equation make sure you have baby food or formula available, and don’t be shy with canned milk. It’s nasty tasting but it works.
Candles, lighters, batteries, wind-up powered radios/flashlights, mosquito repellant, toys, all of the above are almost required for comfort. Back in the days of the gameboy color, I’d just buy a ton of AA’s and have a blast. In fact, I keep my gameboy color around for JUST that reason. If you can find battery packs for recharging phones/handheld devices from regular batteries (NOT A/C) I’d suggest going for it. You’ll want a radio to keep up to date on what’s going on outside. Remember, you can never have too many batteries. Worst comes to worst, you have a ton of extras. You’ll use them. Never underestimate the old-fashioned candle either, but make sure to place them in spots that will be out of reach of smaller kids or pets. I keep 2 candles and 2 flashlights in every room of the house. Make sure you have trash bags on hand for any debris!
So if you’ve decided to stay behind, you’ll need to make sure your home is now a fortress. This is the fun part (not really.) You’ll want to at least have one absolutely safe room. Board up as many windows as you can, and if you have to, lean your mattress up against the interior part of the window. If something manages to break through your shutters or boards, you’ll at least have a soft surface to absorb the impact. During the storm itself you may find that a closet or bathroom is your safest bet. Make sure your ‘fort room’ as I call it, has no windows and is towards the centermost portion of your home. If you have to move things, it’s better than being hit with a stop sign.
If you find that your windows just aren’t up to par, the old redneck duct tape is your best friend. Cover your window with duct tape from the inside to give it some flex. If anything breaks, at least it can hold the shards.
If you have outdoor furniture, or anything that can become a projectile, move it inside. Even a plant pot at 100mph is lethal. If you have a car, roll it into the garage. If you don’t have one then you may be able to find someone willing to shed your car for the storm. Most of the time a vehicle won’t move, but a category 2 and up is probably going to send something through it. Keep in mind there can be hail in a hurricane!
Trim your trees before the storm. Cut them back to stumps on the weaker branches. Don’t give anything a chance to become a projectile. In Florida, some places have laws about trimming trees for good reasons. Sure they may be unsightly for a while, but it’s better than having to deal with a branch through your room, right?
I suggest making a list of everything you will need. Just check it off at least once a month. Get everyone in on it. Make sure everyone knows the plan should something happen. Even if you’re in New York, you can never be too safe. Trust me, the knowledge you share with your family could save everyones life. Keep your eyes on your television and ears to the radio. Know the possible storm paths. A hurricane has a mind of its own. It’s almost impossible to predict more than a few hours ahead of a storm. Just because the news says it’ll miss, doesn’t mean that’s true. Be skeptical, be informed, and most of all be safe.
Have a good hurricane season guys, if you’re ready, you’ll sleep soundly and actually find that sometimes camping out in your living room is the most relaxing vacation of all.
As an endnote, please do not rely on FEMA to compensate you for your losses. You’re going to find nothing but disappointment. Have insurance beforehand, have photographs of equipment and valuables available, and take your life into your own hands. If you rely on someone else to take care of you, especially government services, you’re going to be in a world of hurt.
Here are some good references for information, weather, and preparedness: