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Hurricane FAQs

Hurricane FAQs

 

Hurricane FAQs

Like many people, you probably have a lot of questions regarding hurricanes. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions and answers to help keep you, your family, and your property safe. Be sure to check out our Hurricane Preparedness Checklist and our Important Hurricane Safety Links.

 

What is a Hurricane?

A hurricane (also called a tropical cyclone or typhoon) is a massive tropical storm that can cause heavy rains, storm surges, landslides, and powerful winds. They form over warm, tropical waters when warm air starts to rise and cool air rushes in to fill the void. That air warms, rises, and more air rushes in. At this point, clouds form and begin circulating around the center (which will become the eye of the hurricane), picking up more moisture.

If there is sufficient warm water and wind, the storm will continue gathering power until it makes landfall, at which point they tend to weaken because the source of their power (warm, tropical waters) is no longer readily available.

These tropical storms are classified depending on the strength of the winds. The classifications range (from weakest to strongest) a tropical depression, tropical storm, category 1, category 2, category 3, category 4, and finally category 5.

 

What is the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale (Strength Category Scale)?

You’ve probably heard of hurricanes being classified into categories of increasing strength from 1-5. Technically, this is called the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale although you’re likely more familiar with the media and news networks referring to hurricanes as categories 1 through 5. Below is a chart of the potential damages and the wind speeds that define each category.

CategorySustained WindsPotential Damage
1 (minor)74-95 MPHSome Damage: Shingles might fall off of buildings and there may be power outages.
2 (minor)96-110 MPHDangerous Winds and Extensive Damage: Roofs may become exposed and mobile homes may be damaged or destroyed.
3 (major)111-129 MPHDevastating Damage: Mobile homes will be destroyed and there will be extensive damage to manufactured homes. Power will go out for up to several weeks.
4 (major)130-156 MPHCatastrophic Damage: Mobile and manufactured homes will be completely destroyed. Water and electricity will be out for several weeks.
5 (major)157+ MPHMajor Catastrophic Damage: Few structures are capable of surviving a Category 5 hurricane. The only structures that will be standing are those made of solid concrete or steel frames. Even hurricane-resistant glass can shatter in such a powerful storm.

It should be noted that even if a hurricane is “only” a Category 1 storm it can still cause extensive damage, especially in areas with little to no infrastructure. Always listen to and follow the direction of your local authorities. If you’re told to evacuate, you need to leave immediately.

 

When is Hurricane Season?

There are two different hurricane seasons: one for the Atlantic Ocean and one for the Pacific Ocean. The Atlantic hurricane season typically runs from June 1st through November 30th while the Pacific hurricane season runs from around May 15th through November 30th. In general, the most active month for hurricanes is September, according to the US Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Note that hurricanes can occur outside of these hurricane seasons so always pay attention to your local weather updates to make sure you know if a storm is coming.

 

What Does “Hurricane” Mean?

The word hurricane comes from the Carib god “Hurican” which was originally derived from “Hurakan” (a creator Mayan god). According to Mayan beliefs, Hurakan blew across the Chaotic water to bring forth dry land, and a little later whipped up a great storm and flood to destroy the men of the wood.

 

What is Storm Surge? And Why is it Dangerous?

Storm surge is the extra water on top of whatever a normal tide for an area might be. Typically, the strong winds push extra water toward the shore and can cause extensive flooding, especially in flood-prone areas.

Storm tide is the amount of rise in the water level because of the storm surge and the normal astronomical tide put together. Basically, it can result in a giant wall of water rushing onto the land the causing flooding even many miles inland.

The level of storm surge that will come on the land depends on a number of factors:

  • strength of the storm
  • whether the storm strikes during a high tide or a low tide
  • the lunar cycle (height of the tide)
  • the bathymetry (the undersea shapes and terrain, like a reef or sand flats)

Storm surge flooding is the leading cause of hurricane-related deaths in the US because of drowning and people and structures being swept away. It’s important to make sure you know what the expected storm surge level will be in your area and if you’re going to need to evacuate. It should be said that you should follow the directions of your local authorities.

 

Which Hurricane Had the Highest Storm Surge?

According to reports, there was a real whopper in Australia in 1899. Tropical Cyclone Mahina produced a storm surge of an insane 42 feet, but other reports say that it was closer to 48 feet. Apparently, dolphins and fish were found later on top of 50 foot cliffs. It gives a whole new meaning to flying fish, doesn’t it?

 

Which Hurricanes Caused the Most Damage?

That depends on whether you’re talking about the loss of human life or the economic impacts of hurricanes. Hurricanes from before the 21st century tend to be the most damaging in terms of lives lost because we didn’t have the same medical advancements nor technologies to predict or plan for hurricanes.

Worst Historical Atlantic Hurricanes

Hurricane NameLocationYearCategory StrengthDeath TollEconomic Costs
The Great HurricaneThe Caribbean, Barbados17805 (estimated)20,000+ deathsUnknown
Galveston HurricaneGulf of Mexico, Cuba, Texas190046,000-12,000 deaths$605 million
Hurricane Fifi Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Honduras, Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico197428,000-10,000 deaths$1.8 billion
Hurricane FloraCaribbean, Haiti, Cuba196347,000-8,000 deaths$773.4 million
Pointe-à-Pitre Bay HurricaneGuadeloupe, Lousiana177616,000+ deathsUnknown

By contrast, modern-day hurricanes tend to kill fewer people due to better warning systems and hurricane-resistant buildings. However, more recent hurricanes cause much more economic damage to areas — some of which never recover fully.

Worst Modern Atlantic Hurricanes

Hurricane NameLocationYearCategory StrengthDeath TollEconomic Costs
Hurricane KatrinaLouisiana, Mississippi, Florida20055 (3 upon landfall)1,833 deaths$108 billion
Hurricane HarveyTexas, Suriname, Guyana, Belize, Cayman Islands2017468 deaths$125 billion
Hurricane MariaPuerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Lesser Antilles, The Bahamas201753,059 deaths$91.61 billion
Hurricane SandyNortheastern US20123 (tropical storm upon landfall)285 deaths$50 billion
Hurricane IkeLouisiana, Texas20082195 deaths$29.52 billion
Hurricane MichaelFlorida, Georgia, Central America, Cayman Islands2018531 deaths$25.1 billion

 

How Are Hurricanes Named?

There are six lists of hurricane names which rotate yearly. The first hurricane of a year has a name beginning with the letter A, the second B, the third C and so on and so forth. Both male and female names are used, and every six years, the same list will come around again.

There are 21 names on each list. If there are more than 21 hurricanes in one year, then the following hurricanes are given the letters of the Greek alphabet (alpha, beta, gamma, etc.).

If there is a particularly bad hurricane (like Katrina in 2005), then the name will be replaced on the list with a different name.

 

Which Hurricane Lasted the Longest?

Remember that before satellites (pre-1961), it was difficult to estimate the life span of a tropical cyclone. Since then, the longest one has been Hurricane John which lasted for a lingering 31 days in 1994. Hurricane Ginger was almost the same, lasting for a period of 28 days way back in 1971. Hurricane Kyle lasted for 22 days in 2002.

 

Why do Hurricanes Have the Strongest Winds on the Right Side?

A hurricane which is moving north has its right side on the east while a hurricane which is moving west has its right side to the north. The swirling motion of the hurricane causes the strength of the winds. Think about it like being on a fairground ride (one of those which spins you round and round) you’ll find that, depending on which way you spin, the person on one side of the ride will get much dizzier than the person on the other!

Say that a stationary hurricane has winds of 90 miles per hour. If it begins to move the winds will be around 100 miles per hour on the right side and 80 miles per hour on the left. Remember that hurricanes in the southern hemisphere swirl the other way around so everything would be reversed.

 

Should I Tape My Windows During a Hurricane?

No. Your efforts would be better placed putting up some 5/8″ plywood boards, or even 1/2″ if that’s all you have as that’s better than nothing. Apart from tape having no benefit to the glass during a hurricane whatsoever, just think about how long it will take you to peel it off again when the hurricane season has passed. I’m sure you can think of better things to do with your Sunday afternoon!

 

 


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