It’s that time of year again. The sun is shining, the weather is changing. As many in the northern hemisphere look forward to the summer season approaching, another season is upon us – hurricane season. Hurricane season in the Atlantic starts officially on June 1 (the Pacific season from May 15) and runs through November 30. Still, storms may form earlier and later, and some sources indicate the season unofficially increasing in length. Historical trends over the past decades have shown increases in the frequency, intensity, and duration of tropical storms globally, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other experts. A number of factors, including rising temperatures and sea levels, have contributed to these changes. Trends indicate they will continue in the same direction as we continue to face major issues of climate change across the world.
It is important to note that hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones are all the same type of storm system, depending on where they form:
1. Hurricanes in the North Atlantic, Central North Pacific, and Eastern North Pacific
2. Cyclones in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean
3. Typhoons in the Northwest Pacific
The 2022 season ended with 14 named storms, including seven forming into hurricanes, two of which, Ian and Fiona, were major hurricanes (defined as Category 3+). Last season was characterized by a mid-summer lull followed by a very active fall after predictions of an overly active season. All Hands and Hearts responded to both of these major events, Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Fiona.
The 2023 season is predicted to be slightly lower than previous years due to the high likelihood of El Niño forming (after three years of La Niña), which is a cyclical pattern of warmer sea temperatures in parts of the Pacific, which then affect wind shear in the Atlantic and reduce the likelihood of tropical storms forming. Although, the NOAA is forecasting one to four major hurricanes to occur this season out of the predicted 12-17 named storms. As we know, it only takes one storm to produce devastating impacts and leave communities recovering for years and even decades. Being prepared is just one step to protect yourself and your family from these potential impacts.
Preparation is Key
Before hurricane season starts, stay up to date with your local weather updates on a regular basis. The National Hurricane Center recently announced changes to its forecasting and expanded its Tropical Weather Outlook to seven days to provide more time for preparation.
Have a plan and think through decisions about evacuation before the storms hit. Review where local safety shelters and emergency centers are located in your region and check out evacuation routes to plan ahead. Click here or below for a copy of MDOT 2023 Hurricane Evacuation Guide. It's available in three different languages.
If you are sheltering in place, make sure you have plenty of water. Fill bathtubs with water and ensure you have filled extra bottles for drinking. The average person uses one gallon of water per day.
Have plenty of supplies on hand. Look through your supplies to determine if you need to replenish any food items (or batteries) that might be expired. Keep your devices charged and stay tuned in to local radio stations. Fill up with gas before evacuation orders are in place. These preparations can be made well before hurricane season. “Since you do not know where you will be when an emergency occurs, prepare supplies for home, work, and cars,” explains Ready.gov.
Understanding Standards for Hurricane Classification
The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale is the industry standard used to measure potential damage to communities impacted by storms, categorized by level of severity. It's important to understand the severity of each category for making the best safety arrangements. An animation illustrating the different categories is available here. Below are five distinct categories:
Expect winds up to 95 mph and some power outages during Category 1 hurricanes. You’ll likely see home and building damage, along with flooding around the coast.
This category features winds between 96-110 mph and can cause total power and potable water outages. These storms can completely destroy mobile homes and uproot trees. Street signs, roofs, and piers will experience damage.
With winds between 111-129 mph, we start to see more substantial, region-wide damage and weeks-long power outages. People will not have access to clean water, and any homes without a foundation will be wiped out.
A Category 4 hurricane means total power and water loss in even larger regions. With winds of 130-156 mph and flooding, most trees and mobile homes will be devastated. The impact and outages can last weeks, and coastal areas will see shoreline erosion.
Category 5 storms are extreme hurricanes — the impact of damage can extend over months, and many homes will be destroyed to the extent that rebuilding is impossible.
BEFORE THE STORM
Here are actions you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones: 1. Review your local authority’s plan to prepare and respond to hurricanes so you are aware of how the plan impacts you and your family.
2. Create a plan that includes: how you will receive emergency alerts and warnings, a shelter plan, your evacuation route, and your family/household communication plan. You can find more guidance on creating a plan for your family here. Sign up for your local emergency management alert system using apps like FEMA, GDACS, My Radar, and NOAA.
3. Follow any evacuation mandates in your local area and any advisories or guidance around leaving your home. If a storm is predicted, consider staying with a loved one or moving to a local considering shelter. Guidance on finding shelters in your area may be found here.
4. Stock up on emergency supplies to support you, for a minimum of five days, should you need to shelter in place; don’t forget things like medications and pet supplies.
5. Prepare a “go-bag” in case you need to evacuate with short notice. Your bag should have important documents, medicines, bottled water, a small first aid kit, blankets, flashlights, cash in small bills, a portable phone charger/cables, and anything else your family might need in an emergency.
6. Prepare and protect your property by clearing drains and gutters, installing check valves in plumbing to prevent backups, trimming or removing trees close enough to fall on your home, and considering, hurricane shutters. If you live in the US and have NFIP flood insurance for your property, your policy may cover up to $1,000 in loss avoidance measures, such as sandbags and water pumps. Click here to get more information.
7. Prepare financially by reviewing insurance policies, understanding the exclusions, and considering how you would cover any gaps. Consider how you would access funds if you are directly affected by a storm.
We are often able to predict hurricanes as they are forming. By following sources such as the National Hurricane Center marine forecast you can stay updated and may have a few days’ notice if a major storm is likely to develop. However, rapid intensification can happen without warning, and the prediction of storms often causes panic buying and supply shortages, so please, make sure you prepare ahead of time.
During the Storm
Here are actions you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones when you face a direct threat from a hurricane:
Stay aware and connected, frequently checking storm updates and local evacuation orders.
Review your plan with your family to make sure everyone in your household knows what to expect and how they will respond when the storm hits. Expect that you may lose communications when it does.
Double-check your emergency supplies and restock if needed; ensure all of your important documents are in order and your “go-bag” is ready.
Protect valuable possessions by storing any irreplaceable items, safe from wind damage and floodwaters; putting electronics and documents in water-tight containers and ziplock bags is recommended. Photographs contain priceless memories, and we’ve found that the loss of them can be painful; don’t forget to protect any cherished photo albums.
Take stock of your home; take photos of the outside and inside of your home, consider the likely impacts to the home, such as losing power and the consequences of that (e.g. food spoiling in the fridge), and try to lessen the effect of the impacts wherever you can.
Prepare your vehicle by filling your gas tank in case you need to evacuate and stocking it with your emergency supplies and changes of clothes. If there isn’t a mandatory evacuation, consider parking your vehicle on higher ground in case of flooding.
Protect your property by installing plywood or storm shutters over your windows and checking the property for any loose objects that could become projectiles during the storm and securing them.
Charge your cell phone so you will have a full battery in case you lose power. Practice dynamic risk assessment during the storm. This means you constantly monitor the situation and identify potential hazards and threats, putting controls in place to protect yourself and your family. This could include decisions such as moving to a secure location, like the basement.
After the Storm
Here are tips if you can’t get immediate professional help and your home, or a home of your loved one, is impacted during this hurricane season: Return to your home only once you have been instructed by your local authorities, and you are confident it is safe. Disconnect services such as electricity and gas until they can be certified safe by a professional. Inspect the property for structural damage from wind or floodwaters. Inspect the outside in its entirety before beginning any internal inspection. If you are not sure if your home has had structural damage, wait for a professional or an inspector to certify the building is safe.
If you choose to enter your home wear appropriate respiratory protection masks (N-95), rubber gloves, and boots. Flood water contains pathogens and could carry rodents, spiders, and snakes. There may also be airborne threats, such as mold. If your home has been impacted, clearly document any damage with a series of photographs including the water level, the house exterior, and the damage to personal belongings before you start cleaning up. These pictures will be used for insurance or federal assistance claims. Reducing mold growth is a priority. You can do that by:
1. Controlling the moisture in your house (with a dehumidifier or air conditioning unit). If your electrics were not flooded and you still have power, keep any A/C constantly running at a low-temperature setting.
2. Removing any water-damaged or damp materials and belongings such as dry-wall, carpets, rugs, bedding, furniture, etc. When disposing of materials on the curb follow these guidelines; checking for any active roof leaks. Inspect the attic (if you have one) or check the ceiling for any visible water stains. Active leaks bring moisture into your home, which contributes to mold growth. They should be repaired as soon as possible.
3. Unplug any appliances and do not open your refrigerator; if it has been flooded, it will no longer work. Food rots quickly and once freed, its smell lingers. Before moving your fridge, make sure you tape the door shut.
4. If you think you can salvage dishware or cookware, place it under a tarp to clean outside of your home. Some items such as porcelain, glassware, and metals can be disinfected with a bleach solution. Even if you are not in a hurricane-prone location, share this information with your friends and loved ones so they are prepared for this upcoming hurricane season. If you are in a hurricane-prone location, make sure your neighbors and community are also prepared.