Hurricanes: Know your risk
Published 7:25 am Monday, June 12, 2023
The National Weather Service compiled information for National Hurricane Preparedness Week on knowing your risks. Find out today what types of wind and water hazards could happen where you live. Hurricanes are not just a coastal problem. Impacts from wind and water can be felt hundreds of miles inland, and significant impacts can occur regardless of the storm’s strength. Know if you live in an area prone to flooding, if you live in an evacuation zone and identify any structural weaknesses in your home.
Consider Your Threats
While hurricanes pose the greatest threat to life and property, tropical storms and tropical depressions also can be devastating. The primary hazards from tropical cyclones (which include tropical depressions, tropical storms and hurricanes) are storm surge flooding, inland flooding from heavy rains, destructive winds, tornadoes and high surf and rip currents.
Storm surge is water that is pushed toward the shore by winds swirling around the storm, and historically has caused the largest loss of life in hurricanes. This rise in water level can cause severe flooding in coastal areas, which can submerge entire areas, cause structural damage to buildings, and wash out roads. Storm surge can travel several miles inland, especially along bays, rivers and estuaries.
Flooding from the extreme amounts of rain a hurricane can bring has also proven to be very deadly, both over an extended period of time as well as very short-term flash flooding. Homes and businesses could flood, and flooded roads could make travel and evacuations difficult, as well as being a potentially deadly hazard to those in vehicles or on foot. Floodwaters can also contain harmful bacteria, chemicals, wildlife and other dangerous objects. Extreme rain from hurricanes can even flood areas that aren’t normally prone to flooding. Flooding can happen hundreds of miles inland and can persist for several days after a storm.
Hurricane-force winds can cause damage to homes and other buildings, ranging from moderate to catastrophic depending on both wind speed and structural integrity. Wind damage can lead to large areas with power and communications outages, as well as uproot trees and make roads impassable due to debris. Signs, roofing material and other items left outside can become flying missiles during hurricanes. Mobile homes are especially vulnerable to wind damage.
- Hurricanes and tropical storms can also produce tornadoes. These tornadoes most often occur in thunderstorms embedded in rain bands well away from the center of the hurricane; however, they can also occur near the eyewall.
- Waves from distant storms can produce deadly rip currents and rough surf on beaches very far away. Good weather at the beach itself does NOT mean the ocean is safe. Even storms more than 1,000 miles away can cause impacts.
Why Should I Not Focus On The Category Alone?
The Saffir-Simpson Scale is a wind scale that uses wind only to estimate potential damage. Unfortunately, this scale does not tell you about all of the impacts that a hurricane can produce. It does not tell you how much rain will fall or how high the storm surge may be. It does not tell you anything about potential impacts from tornadoes or rip currents. It also does not give you information on how large the storm may be, or anything about the storm’s movement. In fact, water accounts for 90% of direct deaths from tropical systems, both from storm surge and flooding rain. Please keep this in mind this upcoming season. Pay attention to all of the impacts from a storm and not just the category.
Determine if you live in a flood-prone area
Anyone living in a flood-prone area is especially vulnerable to hurricane impacts. Find out today the flood risk for your area and plan accordingly. If you don’t live in a flood zone, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re safe – extreme rain from hurricanes can bring floods even to areas that aren’t prone to flooding.
Find out if you live in an evacuation zone
Determine if you live in a storm surge evacuation zone. This can tell you about your vulnerability to storm surge, and will be imperative when it comes time to develop an evacuation plan.
Identify your home’s structural risks
Find out if your home has any weaknesses that could prove deadly in a hurricane. Are your exterior doors and garage door hurricane proof? Do you have storm shutters? Some aspects of your home can be strengthened to help withstand hurricane impacts, and some cannot. Mobile homes are especially vulnerable to hurricane-force winds, and basements are especially vulnerable to storm surge and flooding.
When Is Hurricane Season?
The most active months for tropical systems in North Carolina are August, September and October. However, hurricanes have impacted our state as early as May and as late as November! The peak tropical activity usually occurs in a six week period from mid-August to late September, during which time our state can experience multiple hurricanes or tropical storms within weeks of each other.