Hurricanes: when more than just the answer is blowing in the wind
Hurricanes are massive storm systems. Their rotating cloud formations form over tropical water and move toward land, bringing powerful winds, pounding rain, surging water and dangerous rip currents. Many people have died in hurricanes, but these days, hurricane warnings give you time to get somewhere safe.
What should you do if you are on vacation and hurricane warnings are issued for your area? Here are some tips on how to prepare for the possibility of a hurricane and what to do if one happens.
Taking hurricanes seriously
Since hurricanes are assigned names like "Hurricane Andy," it can be easy to forget just how serious a threat they are to people in their wake. To be qualified as a hurricane, the winds of a tropical storm must travel at least 74 mph, and that kind of wind can do significant damage.
And, that's only a Category 1 hurricane. The categories go through category 5, with wind speeds up to 156 mph. That kind of wind will knock down most houses, trees and power lines, and outages can last for weeks to possibly months. Inland flooding also causes damage and death.
Understanding where and when hurricanes happen
Hurricanes occur in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coastal areas, and can impact inland areas over 100 miles away from the coast. They also happen in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Hawaii and the U.S. territories in the Pacific. Sometimes hurricanes can occur in parts of the Southwest and along the Pacific Coast. Hurricane season runs from June 1 through the end of November, while peak season runs from mid-August to mid-October.
Getting notice of a hurricane risk
When the government issues a hurricane watch, this means that hurricane conditions are possible within the next 48 hours. If a hurricane watch is issued while you are somewhere on vacation, keep listening for updates on the radio, internet or television. Local television or radio channels will have information. The National Weather Service gives the public official alert and warning information through NOAA Weather Radio, NOAA Weather Wire Service and Weather.gov. Many states have emergency management websites.
Prepare a hurricane emergency kit. This should have medicine and other first aid items, matches, a flashlight and batteries, warm clothing, drinking water and a food supply of nonperishable items. Sign up for alerts at www.weather.gov/subscribe on your phone and internet.
It's a good idea if you are vacationing in a hurricane-prone region to keep any vehicles filled with gas at all times. Otherwise, fill your car with gas early when you first get word of a hurricane watch. Later the stations may be crowded and the lines can be long and you will simply have to wait. Put your emergency supplies in the car. Charge your cellphone and pack your bags to allow for a quick getaway if required.
If you next hear a hurricane warning, that means that the a hurricane may arrive within the next 36 hours. Continue to listen to the news to stay on top of the situation. Communicate with loved ones to set up a plan for passing on news in case the power or internet go out.
Follow evacuation directions if and when they are given. If authorities suggest or require an evacuation, it will be announced on radio and television stations. Often evacuation routes are posted. Leave your hotel or home immediately and travel along posted evacuation routes or posted routes toward a hurricane-approved shelter. Otherwise, simply head inland away from the path of the hurricane.
Surviving a hurricane
If you can't get out in time and you are caught in a hurricane, you'll want to stay as safe as you can. If the hotel has a cellar or protected area for guests, go to it and stay there. If you have a rented home, find a spot in the home away from glass windows or doors and stay there.
If you are in a home, unplug the big electrical appliances. Don't use any electrical appliances or even the telephone. Don't venture outside even in a period of calm. This could just be the eye of the hurricane, to be followed by more big wind.