A hurricane is a large storm rotating around an area of low pressure, which produces winds of at least 74 miles per hour (mph). This natural disaster is generally known as a tropical cyclone since it forms over warm ocean waters in tropical areas. Hurricanes produce strong winds, heavy rainfall, storm surge, flooding, rip currents, and even tornadoes. These hazards can cause significant loss of life and property damage. It is therefore important to take precautions before a hurricane begins, or even evacuate from areas vulnerable to storm surges.
For hurricanes to develop, they need humid and moist air over warm ocean waters. The ocean needs to be at least 26 degrees Celsius (79 degrees Fahrenheit). When warm, moist air flows upwards at an area of low pressure over the warm ocean water, it releases water that creates clouds and thunderstorms. The cooling water releases more heat which creates enough energy to cause strong winds. A tropical depression is formed when the winds speed in a circular motion and reach below 39 mph. It becomes a tropical storm when the circulation reaches maximum sustained winds between 39 and 73 mph. Once the sustained winds reach 74 mph or higher (119 kph), the storm is classified as a hurricane. The Coriolis effect - a phenomenon in which winds curve because of the earth's rotation - causes hurricanes to rotate counterclockwise in the Northern hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern hemisphere.
Hurricanes may travel over land. Once this happens, they begin to weaken and lose energy, since they can no longer take in warm air from the ocean water. Although inland flooding may occur due to heavy rains and winds, the storms eventually dissipate.
Hurricanes are classified by their maximum wind speed. Based on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, there are five categories of hurricanes, such as;
The higher the category of the hurricane, the greater the hurricane's potential for causing destruction. According to the National Weather Service (NWS), storms that reach Category 3 or above are considered major hurricanes and can cause significant loss of life and property damage. Category 1 and 2 Hurricanes are also dangerous and require preventive measures.
Hurricanes occur in certain areas of the world such as the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and the central and eastern North Pacific Ocean. Although these areas are all at risk, some regions experience more hurricanes than others. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 40% of all hurricanes in the U.S. occur in Florida. The state sustained 117 hurricane strikes in recorded history, which is more than what was reported in other U.S. states. Major hurricane strikes also occur in states such as Texas, Louisiana, and North Carolina.
There are different seasons for Atlantic and Pacific hurricanes. The Atlantic hurricane season starts on June 1 and ends on November 30. In the Eastern Pacific areas, the hurricane season lasts from May 15 to November 30. Some hurricanes may occur outside these dates. The peak of the hurricane season in the Atlantic typically begins from mid-August to late October. However, the most active period in the Pacific arises in late August or early September.
The main parts of a hurricane include:
The Eye: This is the center of the storm characterized by calm winds and clear skies, and usually between 20 and 40 miles (32-64 km) in diameter. The eye is the calmest part of any hurricane and typically develops when the maximum sustained winds reach 74 mph or higher (119 kph). As the storm strengthens and wind speeds increase, a circular shape begins to form at the center of the storm. This typically occurs when rising air in the eyewall (the strong winds at the edges of the eye) flows inward towards the center of the storm instead of outward. The energy released by the eyewall sinks the air in the eye, thereby creating a warm and calm center. When the eye hits land, some people might think the hurricane has passed due to the calm weather and clear skies. They then go outside only to be caught by the destructive winds of the eyewall returning from the opposite direction. The eye of the hurricane is even more dangerous on open seas since it creates strong winds that toss waves in every direction.
Eye Wall: This is a ring of thunderstorms surrounding the eye. This part of a hurricane is considered to be the most dangerous area because it produces the strongest winds and rains. Changes in the structure of the eye wall can affect the wind speed and intensity of a storm. Double (concentric) eye walls can develop during major hurricanes such as Category 3 or above. During this stage, a new, outer eyewall moves inward to replace the original eye wall. Once the outer eyewall completely replaces the inner one, the storm's intensity increases.
Rain Bands: These are bands of clouds and rain that extend out from the eye wall in a spiral manner. They stretch for hundreds of miles from the hurricane's center and can produce heavy rainfall and winds. Sometimes, tornadoes may occur within the rain bands, though they are usually small and short-lived. Also, there are gaps between these bands where there is no rain or wind.
Hurricanes are considered to be one of the most dangerous natural disasters. This weather event produces different hazards that can cause significant damage, including:
Other accompanying events of a hurricane are rip currents and tornadoes. According to the NOAA, rip currents are powerful, narrow channels of fast-moving water that can pull even the strongest swimmers away from shore. The strong winds of a hurricane can cause dangerous waves which can affect people at sea and those living along the coast. These dangerous waves produce strong rip currents that can lead to death or property damage. Tornadoes are also an outcome of a hurricane. They are found in the rain bands of hurricanes, particularly in the right-front quadrant of the storm. When they arise, they are usually weak and short-lived. Although tornadoes can be dangerous, they do not pose severe risks unlike other hazards associated with hurricanes.
Florida is located in the Southeastern region of the U.S. The state borders Alabama to the northwest, Georgia to the northeast, the Gulf of Mexico to the west, the Bahamas and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and the Straits of Florida and Cuba to the south. Florida has the longest coastline in the contiguous U.S. which is about 1,350 miles (2,170 km) and is the only state that borders both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. It spans 65,758 square miles (170,310 km2) and is ranked 22nd in area among the 50 states in the U.S. With a population of over 21 million, the state is considered to be the third-most populous and the eighth-most densely populated of the 50 U.S. states. Florida is known to have many lakes, swamps, and beaches. The state's flat terrain, warm climate, and coastal location make it highly susceptible to hurricanes. Since 1850, Florida has experienced different categories of hurricanes. The state's southeast coastline is extremely vulnerable to landfalling hurricanes. Some areas such as Jacksonville, Tampa, and the Big Bend do not have as high risks of experiencing a direct hurricane strike, though they are still prone to landfalls annually and such events tend to be catastrophic. Some of the notable hurricanes in Florida's history can be seen as follows:
|Name of Hurricane||Storm Date||Category||Landfall||Number of Fatalities||Dollar in Damages|
|Great Miami Hurricane||1926||4||South Miami||373||$90 billion|
|Lake Okeechobee Hurricane||1928||4||Jupiter||1,836||$25 million in Florida|
|Labor Day Hurricane||1935||5||Craig Key||400+||$6 million (1935 USD)|
|The Fort Lauderdale Hurricane||September 1947||4||Pompano Beach||51||$110 million (1947 USD)|
|1949 Florida Hurricane||August 1949||4||Palm Beach Shores||2||$52 million (1949 USD)|
|Hurricane Easy||September 1950||3||Cedar Key||2||$3.3 million (1950 USD)|
|Hurricane Donna||1960||4||Naples||50||$387 million|
|Hurricane Betsy||1965||3||Florida Keys||80||$1.42 billion (1965 USD)|
|Hurricane Eloise||1975||3||Bay County||4||$560 million (1975 USD)|
|Hurricane Andrew||1992||5||Homestead||23||$26.5 billion (1992 USD)|
|Hurricane Opal||1995||3||Pensacola Beach||9||$2.1 billion (1995 USD)|
|Hurricane Charley||2004||4||Punta Gorda||10||$15 billion (2004 USD)|
|Hurricane Ivan||2004||3||Gulf Shores, Alabama||25||$14.2 billion (2004 USD)|
|Hurricane Jeanne||2004||3||Hutchinson Island||3||$6.9 billion (2004 USD)|
|Hurricane Dennis||2005||3||Santa Rosa Island||3||$2.23 billion (2005 USD)|
|Hurricane Wilma||2005||3||Cape Romano||5||$16.8 billion in Southern Florida (2005 USD)|
|Hurricane Hermine||September 2016||1||Alligator Point||5||$550 million (2016 USD)|
|Hurricane Irma||2017||4||Cudjoe Key||4||$77.16 billion (2017 USD)|
|Hurricane Michael||October 2018||5||Mexico Beach, Tyndall Air Force Base||59||$25 billion (2018 USD)|
|Hurricane Sally||September 2020||2||Gulf Shores, Alabama||6||$7.3 billion (2020 USD)|
The best time to prepare for a hurricane is before hurricane season which begins on June 1 in the Atlantic and May 15 in the Pacific. To be properly prepared for a hurricane, you should understand your home's vulnerability to storm surges, wind, and flooding. It is also important to understand the NWS forecast products, especially the differences between watches and warnings.
The NWS is responsible for issuing weather forecasts and alerts for natural disasters. It uses a "watch" or "warning" program to inform the public about a potentially threatening weather event. According to the NOAA, a warning means that hurricane conditions are expected while a watch means that conditions are possible. Both programs help to notify the public to make adequate preparations for the hurricane, including evacuating from vulnerable areas. Some of the alerts issued by the NWS during a hurricane include:
Watches: These weather alerts are issued when the risk of a hazardous weather event has increased significantly, but its occurrence is still uncertain. A watch, therefore, does not mean that hurricane conditions will occur. It only means that these conditions are possible. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) issues a Hurricane Watch when sustained winds of 74 mph or higher are possible within your area. This weather alert is usually sent out within 48 hours before the winds reach tropical storm force (39-73 mph). This is to provide you with enough time to complete preparations for the hurricane. If your area is under a Hurricane Watch, you should pay attention to the emergency updates of the NHC and comply with evacuation orders. Other types of hurricane-related watches include:
Warnings: These alerts are issued when a hazardous weather event creates an immediate threat to life and property. When sustained winds of 74 mph or higher are expected within a specified area, the NHC issues a hurricane warning 36 hours in advance to give you time to prepare. If a Hurricane Warning is active in your area, it is important to complete storm preparations and evacuate immediately upon the direction of local officials. Other types of hurricane-related warnings that are issued include:
Advisories: In addition to watches and warnings, the NHC uses different text and graphical products to inform about the forecasted hurricane threats, and The Tropical Cyclone Public Advisory.) is one of them. It contains a list of all current watches and warnings for a particular hurricane. The Public Advisory also provides the hurricane's position, maximum sustained winds, current latitude and longitude coordinates, direction and speed of motion, as well as any important weather observations associated with the hurricane. The advisories are issued for all hurricanes in the Atlantic, eastern, and central Pacific areas. For Atlantic hurricanes, the NHC issues advisory products every six hours at 5:00 am, 11:00 am, 5:00 pm, and 11:00 pm Eastern Daylight Time (or 4:00 am, 10:00 am, 4:00 pm, and 10:00 pm Eastern Standard Time). For eastern Pacific hurricanes, public advisories are issued every six hours at 2:00 am, 8:00 am, 2:00 pm, and 8:00 pm Pacific Daylight Time (or 1:00 am, 7:00 am, 1:00 pm, and 7:00 pm Pacific Standard Time). Advisory products for central Pacific hurricanes are issued every six hours at 5:00 am, 11:00 am, 5:00 pm, and 11:00 pm Hawaii Standard Time. In addition, there is the Tropical Cyclone Graphical Product which shows a representation of coastal areas under hurricane watches and warnings (including tropical storms), as well as the current position of the center of the storm and its predicted track.
Public officials also use the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)'s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) to deliver emergency information to the public. The IPAWS is an advanced program that allows authorized users to send alerts to the general public through the Emergency Alert System which delivers the information via radio, television, and other media. Public officials may also use the Wireless Emergency Alerts to send information via mobile phones or on the NOAA Weather Radio. There is also AlertFlorida which is a statewide emergency notification program sponsored by the Florida Division of Emergency Management. The program provides emergency alerts and public safety information to Florida residents during severe natural disasters.
There are several things to consider when getting ready for hurricane season. Some of the safety tips to follow when preparing for a hurricane include:
Know your hurricane risk: Before hurricane season begins, it is important to find out if your area is prone to storm surge, wind, and flooding. This would help you know how to safely prepare and evacuate when the hurricane arrives. You can contact your local government or visit the NWS evacuation website to know if you reside in a hurricane evacuation zone.
Create a family emergency plan: Before hurricane season begins, you should make an emergency plan with your family and decide how to contact each other when the hurricane strikes. The emergency plan should include what your family will do if a hurricane occurs, where you will reconnect if you become separated, who to contact, and so on. Be sure to account for your pets and boats (if any) in your plan. Keep a copy of this plan in a safe place so you can easily access it when the hurricane arrives.
Prepare an emergency supply kit: You should gather enough supplies to keep your family safe and healthy during a hurricane. Some of the important things to put in your emergency kit include medication, First Aid supplies, flashlights, disinfectant, important documents (such as passports, wills, personal identification, etc.), non-perishable food, water supplies, clothing, blankets, fire extinguisher, multi-purpose tool, batteries, dust mask, battery-powered radio, pet supplies, and extra cash.
Understand NWS weather forecasts: It is important to understand the different weather alerts issued by the NWS, especially the difference between a hurricane watch and a hurricane warning. You can download the FEMA app to receive updates from the NWS, or sign up for community alerts in your area. You can also listen to NOAA Weather Radio for emergency information.
Review your insurance policies: Since home insurance does not cover flooding, you will need a separate policy for it. Review your insurance policies with your insurance provider to ensure that you have enough coverage for your home and belongings.
When preparing your home for a hurricane, consider the following safety tips:
Close all windows and doors in your house. You can use permanent storm shutters or plywood to protect windows from breakage.
Trim or remove trees and branches that could fall on your house.
Use materials such as sandbags and plastic sheeting to protect your home from flooding.
Clean out drains, rain gutters, and downspouts.
Bring in outside items such as lawn furniture and garbage cans that can be blown around by hurricane winds. Objects that would be unsafe to bring inside, such as gas grills and propane tanks should be anchored or tied down.
Be sure to have a supply of water in case you lose your water supply during the storm. You can fill up your bathtub and large containers with clean water.
Consider turning off your power and unplugging electrical appliances in the event of flooding.
Continue to listen to the TV, radio, or any other media for emergency updates.
Be ready to evacuate or stay at home. You should listen to local authorities in this regard. If instructed to evacuate, you may need to go to a shelter or find a neighbor’s house to stay in.
Review the emergency plan with your family and assemble emergency supplies.
Keep checking the TV, radio, or any media for emergency updates.
Check with neighbors, including children, the elderly, persons with disabilities, or any other person that may need special assistance.
Make sure you and your family are fully vaccinated with COVID-19 vaccines. This is important to avoid getting sick with the virus while sheltering or evacuating from a hurricane.
Prepare an emergency car kit and keep it in a waterproof bag in your car. The kit should contain flashlights, maps, extra clothing, car chargers, water, jumper cables, etc. This is necessary in case you may need to evacuate.
Fill up your vehicle's gas tank and ensure the battery is charged.
Move your car into a garage to provide it with as much shelter as possible.
Avoid parking your car close to objects like trees and power lines that could fall on it during the storm and cause damage.
Be sure to take pictures of the interior and exterior of your car before a hurricane strikes. This makes it easier to file a damage claim with your insurance company.
Check your car parts (such as wipers and tires) and ensure they are in good condition.
Prepare a pet emergency kit which should contain supplies like pet food and water, litter boxes, poop bags, medical documents, paper towels, pet medications, toys, pet carriers, and pet First Aid supplies.
Find a pet shelter or a neighbor's house where you can take your pets in the event of an evacuation.
Be sure your pet is fully vaccinated to avoid getting infected by contaminated flood waters and diseases.
Consider microchipping your pets or putting a tag on their collar with your contact information in case you separate from them.
If your boat is trailerable, remove it from the water and move it to an area that is elevated above the expected storm surge.
Store your boat in an area free of trees or any other object that could be blown away by strong winds.
Be sure to unplug all electrical appliances on board.
Avoid staying on board during a hurricane. Start preparations early so you would not get caught in the storm while on board.
Review your boat insurance policies and take photos of your vessel for insurance purposes.
Keep records like boat registration, lease, or rental agreement with the marina or storage facility safe.
If your boat needs to stay in a marina berth, install fenders to protect it from rubbing against the pier, pilings, and other boats.
Charge your batteries and ensure they can run automatic bilge pumps during the storm.
If a hurricane is coming, you may receive orders from local authorities to leave your home. Where mandatory evacuation orders are given, you should immediately comply to ensure that you and your family are safe. Some of the safety tips to consider during evacuation include:
Have your emergency supply kit ready and take essential items like food, water, extra clothing, medicines, personal ID, cash, etc.
Turn off your electricity, gas, and water. Make sure all electrical appliances are unplugged.
Move all valuable items to higher points within your home.
Be sure to follow evacuation routes recommended by local officials. Avoid taking shortcuts because they may be flooded or blocked.
Avoid driving through flooded areas since your car can be swept away in just six inches of fast-moving water.
Make plans ahead of time to stay at a local shelter or a neighbor's house that is outside the hurricane zone. Remember to include your pets in your evacuation plans.
Have a common meeting place or a point of contact for all family members.
Continue to listen to the NOAA Weather Radio, TV, and other media for emergency updates.
Take COVID-19 safety precautions during evacuation and ensure you and your family are fully vaccinated.
To stay safe when sheltering at home during a hurricane, consider the following tips:
Close all curtains and blinds. Keep all doors and windows closed.
Stay away from windows and glass doors, even if they are covered.
Even if the weather is calm, do not go outside because it could be the eye of the storm and the winds may pick up again.
Move to the highest level of the building if caught in a flood. Avoid taking refuge in a closed attic because you may become trapped by fast-moving water.
If you live in a mobile home, find another shelter since such structures can be swept away during hurricanes.
Hurricane shelters are safe locations designated by local officials to be used by the public during a hurricane. In case of evacuation, you would have to find a local shelter to stay at till the storm passes. To find information about local hurricane shelters in your area, you can contact your local government or visit the Florida Division of Emergency Management website. Some of the things to consider when preparing a list of shelters to go to in the event of a hurricane include:
Check whether the shelter is a low or high-impact building.
Find out the number of people the shelter can comfortably accommodate.
Check the routes to the shelter and ensure you can easily get there.
Confirm if the shelter caters to people with special needs, including the elderly and disabled people.
Find out if the shelter accommodates pets.
Remember to bring your emergency safety kit when coming to a shelter which should contain all the supplies you may need. Also, ensure you follow shelter rules to avoid being removed. These rules usually forbid smoking and bringing alcohol or weapons inside the shelter.
Even after a hurricane subsides, you should return home only when local authorities say it is safe to do so. Consider the following safety tips when returning home after a hurricane:
Avoid walking, swimming, or driving through flood water. Such water may contain downed power lines that can electrocute you.
Be careful of fallen objects, weakened walls, bridges, and sidewalks when coming back home.
Avoid touching electrical appliances or entering a room with flooded electrical outlets to prevent electric shock.
Wear protective clothing such as rubber boots, rubber gloves, and facemasks when cleaning.
Do not touch floodwaters because they may contain debris, chemicals, and bacteria that can cause illnesses.
Pay close attention to children and pets and keep them away from floodwaters.
Call a professional to repair damaged sewer and water pipes.
Do not drink from the public water supply until local officials say it is safe. They may be contaminated by sewage or floodwater.
Work with a partner when cleaning, and ensure you throw out food that may have become contaminated.
Clean and disinfect your home with household bleach and clean water.
Take pictures of any damage to your home for insurance purposes. This will become useful when making damage claims with your insurance company.
Individuals and businesses recovering from hurricane impacts can apply for federal disaster assistance on FEMA's website, or call the registration phone number at 1-800-621-3362. To be eligible for this assistance, your area must have been declared a federal disaster by the president. After a presidential disaster declaration is made, you can then apply for federal disaster aid with FEMA. If you are suffering from emotional distress due to the impacts of a hurricane, you can contact the Disaster Distress Helpline for free at 1-800-985-5990 or text "TalkWithUs" to 66746.