Hurricanes are swirling storms that form over warm, often tropical waters and move toward land, bringing high winds, pelting rain and a veritable wall of water. If you are heading for the coast for a vacation, you probably need to know whether you will be in hurricane country. Here are facts about where and when hurricanes occur and a few tips for preparation.
Q: Where do hurricanes occur?
A: By definition, hurricane winds spiral at 74 miles per hour or faster. Category 5 hurricanes have winds blowing over 150 miles per hour. The term hurricane is used only when the storms develop over the Atlantic Ocean or the eastern Pacific Ocean. They are called cyclones in the northern Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal and labeled typhoons in the western Pacific.
Scientists aren't sure how hurricanes form but they know that at least two ingredients are necessary: warm water and strong winds. These storms generate a staggering amount of energy, taking heat from the warm tropical air and releasing the moisture in thunderstorms. They can devastate coastal areas and endanger lives.
Whether referred to as hurricanes, cyclones or typhoons, these storms are most common in the Western Pacific, such as the Philippines, Guam, southeast Asia (including China and Taiwan) and Japan. The Philippines, for example, can be hit by more than 20 storms in a single year. Hurricane season in this region runs 12 months a year.
The Eastern Pacific area is second on the list of the most active hurricane areas, with a peak season running from May 15 to November 30. These hurricanes move into the open ocean but can hit western Mexico, southern Baja and sometimes Hawaii.
Hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean strike the east coast of Mexico and Central America, Bermuda, the Caribbean, Florida, Texas, Louisiana and the southeast coast of the United States and even Canada. Hurricane season here runs from June 1 through the end of November.
Another country that can be hit by these storms is Australia. Storms in the Southwest Pacific Ocean can hit eastern Australia from October 15 through May 1. Storms in the Southeast Indian Ocean can hit northern and western Australia in the same season or January through March.
Q: What to do in case a hurricane hits while you are on vacation?
A: If you happen to be on vacation on the coast when a hurricane watch is announced, you'll want to keep a cool head. Find out the local hurricane evacuation route you should take and organize a place to stay. Ask at your hotel or a local emergency management agency for this information.
Share your plan with your family, whether or not they are with you. Set up a communications plan so that you can let one family member or friend know you are okay and they can tell the others.
You'll also want to get your things packed and organize an emergency kit, including a flashlight, first aid supplies and cash. Charge your phone and sign up for emergency alerts. If you are afraid, leave even before the evacuation order.