One of the best ways to be ready for a hurricane is through education and preparation. While nothing can prevent the destructive forces brought by a hurricane, just as seen in 2017 during Hurricane Harvey, following basing hurricane safety tips can help people in areas prone to severe storms get through them safely.
Why & When Do Hurricanes Happen?
Hurricanes form when moisture-filled air begins to rise over the water. As this air rises, it is replaced by cooler air, causing large clouds and thunderstorms to develop. As these thunderstorms grow, they begin to spin because of something known as the Coriolis Effect. In short, the Coriolis Effect describes when things (such as storms) move across the Earth in a curved direction rather than a straight line. As a hurricane moves in this way, it begins to spin.
It takes the right set of environmental factors for hurricanes to develop. First, the surface temperature of the ocean needs to be at least 80 degrees. Second, there needs to be a spin (the Coriolis Effect) or areas of low pressure. Finally, there needs to be vertical wind shear that allows thunderstorms to become massive before being dissipated by wind.
Because of the three factors above, the prime season for hurricanes is between June 1 and November 30 each year. This means that hurricanes are something that many residents on the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the United States need to be prepared for six months out of the year.
Why Prepare for a Hurricane?
Hurricane severity depends on how strong a storm can get before it reaches land. In some instances, a hurricane can develop and weaken before making landfall. Often, meteorologists “downgrade" hurricanes that lose their strength and call them tropical storms. Other times, an offshore tropical storm can develop into a significantly strong hurricane before reaching land.
Whether something is a tropical storm or hurricane, it can be devastating and damaging. Anyone living in an area prone to strong storms should treat every approaching one with caution—it could be the next big one!
When Is a Storm a Hurricane?
When a system has wind speeds of 38 miles per hour or less, it’s referred to as a tropical depression. Storms with winds that reach between 39 and 74 miles per hour are called tropical storms. When winds surpass 74 miles per hour, there categorized as hurricanes.
Hurricanes are classified using the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale that ranks storms between Categories 1 to 5, with a Category 5 hurricane being the strongest. Hurricane Harvey was strong enough to be considered a Category 4 hurricane as it produced winds of 130 miles per hour.
For reference, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says winds of this strength severely damage “well-built framed homes" and snap or uproot “most trees." When a Category 4 hurricane tears through an area, the NOAA says that it will be uninhabitable for weeks or months at a time.
Yet, wind strength isn’t the only thing to worry about during hurricanes. These powerful storms also bring a myriad of hazards to the areas they hit.
Dangers during a hurricane include:
- Inland flooding
- Heavy rainfall
- Storm surge (when the ocean moves inland)
- Rip currents
- High winds
Warnings for Hurricanes: How to Tell If a Storm Is Coming
The National Weather Service (NWS) has created a set of warnings to help members of the public prepare for dangerous storms. When the NWS issues a tropical storm or hurricane watch, it means that the conditions for these storms are possible for the next 48 hours. Importantly, it doesn’t mean that a strong storm will develop. These watches only mean that the conditions are present for one to begin.
A tropical storm or hurricane warning means that an area is expected to experience an event in the next 24 hours. Hurricane warnings mean that winds of 74 mph or more are expected. Tropical storm warnings mean that a specified area should experience winds ranging from 39 to 73 miles per hour.
What to do Before a Hurricane: How to Get Ready for a Big Storm
The best way to prepare for a hurricane is to be as resay as possible for one before it arrives. First, you should sign up for emergency alerts and other public safety services in your area. If your city or town has zones, determine which one you live in so you can be prepared to evacuate if required.
Things you should do before a hurricane include:
- Have a disaster plan
- Listen to public officials
- Store outdoor items that could be blown away during a storm
- Board up your windows
- Determine all possible evacuation routes from your home
- Have emergency food and water stored
- Have a stocked first aid kit
- Turn off propane tanks
- Fill your tubs with water (if electric water pumps deliver your water supply)
- Turn your fridge on its coldest setting (to prepare for power outages)
- Have emergency electronics such as a radio, batteries, and flashlights
- Have a warm and protective clothing
- Keep cash handy to account for the lack of banks and ATMs after a storm
- Fill your vehicles with gasoline
- Check your power generators
Additionally, it can be helpful to see if you live in a flood zone by looking at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) flood maps. However, don’t assume that your home isn’t at risk of flood solely because of these maps. During Hurricane Harvey, most flooded homes were outside of the area’s flood plain. While these maps are useful, they shouldn’t be the final influencer for preparations—every person living in an area prone to severe storms should be prepared for a flood.
Preparing for Hurricane Flooding
One of the most important parts of preparing for a flood is purchasing flood insurance. Remember, most home insurance policies do not cover flood damage. Flood insurance can be purchased from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
To physically prepare for hurricane flooding, elevate items in your basement and remove anything that you want to ensure is more protected. Check your sump pump, unplug electronic equipment, clear your drains and basins, and park your vehicles on the most elevated section of land possible. Occasionally, officials will request households to turn off their electricity or gas before a storm arrives. Doing this can help prevent electric shock and fires.
How to Stay Safe During a Hurricane
During a hurricane, you should try and avoid land that is low and prone to flooding. Since hurricanes bring strong winds, staying indoors is crucial to protect yourself from falling objects and flying debris.
During a hurricane, you should:
- Avoid going outside
- Avoid floodwater
- Evacuate when told
- Monitor conditions and constantly listen for updates
- Shelter in place until told it’s safe to go outside
- Stay away from low land and areas prone to flooding
- Avoiding being near windows that can break in injure you
- Listen to emergency orders and evacuate when you’re told to do so
When you're sheltering from a storm, stay away from windows, and be prepared to leave immediately if needed.
Staying Safe During Storm Floods
Emergency situations mean that it isn’t always possible to avoid floodwaters. If you’re in a situation that requires you to get in the water or be near it, it’s important to keep some important safety precautions in mind.
First, never walk in flowing water. It only takes a few inches of water to knock someone off their feet, and floodwater can have deceptively strong currents. If you’re driving and encounter a flooded road, don’t try to drive through it. Water can be deeper than it appears, and cars can be swept away even if they're in shallow waters. If you find yourself stuck in your car, stay inside of it if possible. If water is getting inside, move to the roof for safety.
What to do After a Hurricane
Residents of an area aren’t through the woods after a strong hurricane passes. It’s important to listen to local updates and follow the instructions of officials. If safe, head outside to inspect for damage, look for neighbors who might need help, and identify any gas leaks or downed power lines. If you damaged powerlines or gas, keep away from them and water near them and report the damage by calling 911.
Other things to do after a hurricane include:
- Let your loved ones know you’re okay
- Discard food that was in floodwater, even if it is canned
- Avoid standing water
- Stay away from damaged buildings
- Prevent contact with dangerous debris that could cause injuries or illness
- Document the damage to your home with photos and videos
- Start drying, cleaning, and disinfecting areas in your home that were wet
After a hurricane, you should immediately focus on rebuilding. Examine your home for damage while avoiding contact with electrical panels, wires, and anything else that may have been unnaturally exposed by the storm. Immediately begin documenting damage to your home with videos and pictures. Doing this will create an immediate record for your insurance company and will help you prove that the damage was caused by the storm and not after it.
Should You File an Insurance Claim After a Hurricane?
If you have homeowners’ insurance or flood insurance, you should contact your provider as soon as possible to file a claim. As mentioned above, homeowners’ insurance usually doesn’t cover flood damage. However, it may cover damage caused by the wind of a hurricane or strong storm. In some instances, water damage can be caused because of wind rather than flooding, so making a distinction is important.
If your insurance company isn’t being fair or doesn’t seem to be handling your case in a reasonable and timely fashion, call Arnold & Itkin LLP for help. Our hurricane insurance lawyers are ready to help you hold your insurer accountable and fight to remind them that they should hold up their end of the deal. Call us today at (888) 400-2101 for help with your hurricane or storm insurance claim.