What is a hurricane exactly? The definition of a hurricane is a tropical cyclone with sustained winds that have reached speeds of 74 mph or higher. A tropical storm does not reach “hurricane” status until it has substantially strengthened over a week’s period, or even longer in some cases. This intricate process begins over the waters that are referred to as the “tropics”. This includes the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, the eastern North Pacific Ocean, North Atlantic Ocean, east of the International Dateline, and North of the equator. All of the tropical disturbances such as tropical depressions, tropical storms, hurricanes, and typhoons are all tropical cyclones and can possibly develop in this region. A tropical cyclone is defined as a low pressure system with a defined wind circulation that develops over the tropics. Before the storm can become a hurricane, it must first surpass four different stages: a tropical disturbance, tropical depression, a tropical storm, and then a hurricane.
The first stage, a tropical disturbance, is a system of clouds, showers, and thunderstorms that begins in the tropics and remains active for 24 hours or more. Tropical waves are a certain type of a tropical disturbance that can develop roughly about every four to five days. They are sometimes called easterly waves, and they are low pressure areas that move from east to west.
The second stage is a tropical depression, and this is when a tropical disturbance develops a closed circulation. These depressions contain sustained one-minute winds of 38 mph or less, and also at an elevation of 10 meters.
A tropical cyclone is named by the National Hurricane Center once the system reaches tropical storm states. A tropical storm has a maximum sustained one-minute winds of 39-73 mph, at an elevation of 10 meters.
The fourth stage is when the tropical storm finally reaches hurricane status. The winds are sustained at one-minute and have reached at least 74 mph and maintain an elevation of 10 meters. The wind during a hurricane can become much stronger than that though. A hurricane can be categorized on a scale of 1-5 based on their wind speed. This scale is known as the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale which was named after its originators.
Hurricanes can form as early as late May, and can continue into December in the Caribbean Sea or Gulf of Mexico. The Atlantic hurricane season begins on June 1st and ends on November 30th. For the eastern North Pacific the season starts May 15th and ends November 30th. Both of the parameters cover more almost all of the tropical cycles each year.
During hurricane season, the National Hurricane Center keeps a close eye over tropical cyclone formations over the Atlantic, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and the North Pacific. They also issue public watches and warnings to ensure the general public is aware of any threats.
During this time, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) maintains a continuous watch on tropical cyclones over the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico, as well as the eastern North Pacific. They also issue public watches and warnings.
Hurricanes can bring a lot of adverse weather scenarios along with them, including heavy rainfall, very high winds, and tornadoes can also be spawned from these systems as well. During landfall, it is not unlikely that 5-10 inches of rain will fall. A storm surge is also likely, and that is defined as a rapid rise in the level of water that moves onto land as the eye of the storm begins to hit land. The stronger the hurricane is, the greater the storm surge will be. The winds present in a hurricane can range anywhere from 74 mph in a smaller storm to greater than 155 mph in a severe and catastrophic situation. Wind is the biggest culprit for most of the structural damage that occurs during hurricanes. High wind has enough power to uproot trees and knock down power lines. Usually, the actual wind speed is combined with the speed of the storm itself.
Tropical cyclones can also trigger tornado formations. With that being said, each storm has a different pattern of tornadoes whose frequency and occurrence is highly variable from one storm to the next. If a tornado is spawned from a hurricane, it is more than likely during a very intense hurricane or one that is beginning to intensity at, or near, landfall.
Some important things to know when preparing for a hurricane: Know if you live in an evacuation area. You should comprehensively assess your risks and make sure to know if your property will be vulnerable to a storm surge, flooding, or excessive wind. Take time to make sure that you understand National Weather Service alerts and forecasts, and especially the meaning of watches and warnings.
You can also get in contact with your local NWS (National Weather Service) office or local emergency management office, and find out what type of emergencies are likely to occur in your community and how to respond. Keeping a list of contacts for reference is recommended.
You and your family should be prepared for the unexpected. Everyone may not be together when disaster strikes, and it is important that everyone is informed on how to react after a disaster such as a hurricane. Putting together a simple disaster supplies kit is in your best interest, and consider storage locations based on different situations.
A lot of homeowners unfortunately learn the hard way that their homeowner’s insurance does not cover property damage due to hurricanes and torrential rains or flooding. If you reside in a potentially affected area, it is probably in your best interest to buy a separate flood insurance policy that will cover your home and its contents.
You can acquire flood insurance by means of your broker or agent through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) which is managed by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). Flood insurance is available to any home or business owner who lives in one of the many NFIP participating communities. Before purchasing a policy, make sure that you have the correct insurance coverage. Make sure that you acquire both contents and building insurance. On average, the flood insurance policy premium is around $650 a year. In low risk areas, homeowners can insure their homes with a lower cost Preferred Risk Policy that starts at about $129 a year. Be sure to purchase your policy before hurricane or severe weather season, as there is usually a 30 day wait period for flood insurance to go into effect.
Also, you should know what your policy will cover, and what it will not. A flood insurance policy will cover contents and property that has been directly affected by water and therefore has been damaged. Before buying, you need to know about the key restrictions and limitations that are specific to flood insurance. First, water must have come from outside of your home. It will not be covered if the water has come from the inside. Swimming pools and landscaping are also not covered. If something has gone wrong with your pool or hot tub and it causes extensive damage, you will not be covered. Small floods are not covered, because to be considered a flood, the water that damages the property must have covered at least two acres or have affected at least one other property. Living expenses or business interruption isn’t covered, as well as any money that was lost. Any home improvements and most contents in below-ground areas are not covered either. Your flood insurance policy will not cover any improvements you’ve made to your basement such as finished floors or walls. Almost all personal property located in your basement or other areas of your home that are below the lowest elevated floor aren’t covered.
A flood insurance policy will cover damages due to hurricanes. More than likely flooding and hurricane’s go hand in hand. When a hurricane pops up, there will usually be extensive flooding that follows. Even if the next hurricane season is months away, you will still benefit from getting a flood insurance policy sooner. As well as protecting you against hurricanes, a flood insurance policy will also protect you against losses from other causes such as heavy rainstorms, coastal storm surges, snow melt, clogged storm drainage systems, levy failures, and mudslides.
Tips to avoid future loss:
Conduct a household inventory: Keep a record of all major household items and any valuables you may have. These documents are vital when filing an insurance claim. If you need help with conducting a home inventory, you can visit knowyourstuff.org.
Protect Important Financial Documents: Store copies of any irreplaceable documents such as passports, birth certificates, etc, in a safe and dry place. Keep any originals you may have in a safe deposit box.
Build an Emergency Supply Kit: First aid supplies, medicines, food, bottled water, and a battery operated radio should be ready to go when you are. Ready.gov has a useful disaster checklist.
Plan for Evacuation: Plan, and make sure to practice, a flood evacuation route. Ask someone that is out of state to be your contact in an emergency, and make sure that your whole family knows the contact’s address and phone number.
Make a Pet Plan: Most shelters prohibit pets from entering. It is always a good idea to make plans now on where you will take your pets if you are forced to evacuate.
Federal Emergency Management Agency
National Flood Insurance Program
National Hurricane Center