How to prepare for a hurricane/tropical cyclone/typhoon.

Advice on Preparing for and Surviving Hurricanes

Hurricanes, also called tropical cyclones or typhoons (depending on where in the world they occur), are low pressure weather systems that most-often form in the tropics. (The three terms for hurricanes have the same meaning, and are used interchangeably here.) Hurricanes are among the world's most destructive weather phenomena; that damage is usually due to flooding and/or high winds. Cyclones require tremendous energy to develop. The warm, moisture-laden air of the tropics contains this energy, thus most hurricanes develop within 20 degrees of the equator and begin to dissipate as they move into mid-latitudes. These tropical weather systems are classified as follows:

  • Tropical Depression: An organized system of clouds and thunderstorms with a defined surface circulation and maximum sustained winds of 38 mph (61 kph) or less.
  • Tropical Storm: An organized system of strong thunderstorms with a defined surface circulation and maximum sustained winds of 39-73 mph (63-118 kph).
  • Hurricane/Tropical Cyclone/Typhoon: An intense tropical weather system of strong thunderstorms with a well-defined surface circulation and maximum sustained winds of 74 mph (118 kph) or higher.

Hurricanes are categorized according to the strength of their winds using the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale.

CategorySustained Winds
DamageStorm Surge
174-95 mph/119-153 kphMinimal: unsecured mobile homes, vegetation, and signs.4-5 feet/1.2-1.5 meters
296-110 mph/154-177 kphModerate: all mobile homes, roofs, small boats, flooding.6-8 feet/1.8-2.4 meters
3111-130 mph/179-209 kphExtensive: Small buildings, low-lying roads flooded.9-12 feet/2.7-3.6 meters
4131-155 mph/211-249 kphExtreme: roofs destroyed, felled trees, roads cut off, mobile homes destroyed. Beach homes flooded.13-18 feet/4-5.5 meters
5greater than 155 mph/249 kphCatastrophic: Buildings and vegetation destroyed. Major roads cut-off. Homes flooded.Greater than 18 feet/5.5 meters

Note: Storms may have, for example, Category 2 winds and a Category 4 storm surge; forecasters use the wind speed when determining a storm's Saffir-Simpson category. Pay attention to weather reports and ensure you understand the storm's real threat to your area.

Preparing for a Hurricane

Tropical forecasting has advanced significantly in recent years, and in most cases, meteorologists provide a fairly accurate forecast of where a storm will strike at least 36 hours in advance. Often, persons in a storm's path will have three days or more to prepare. If you know a hurricane is headed your way, even if the precise area of impact is uncertain, begin making basic preparations, including:

  • Learning the most likely hazards you will face if the storm strikes your area. Some locations are more vulnerable to storm surge (for example, low-lying areas near shallow bays) while others are more susceptible to wind damage or landslides (which can occur after significant rain). You could face the greatest threat from the building you are in, if it is poorly constructed.
  • Determining where you will go if it becomes clear that the storm will impact your area. You may decide to stay where you are (for example, if you are in a sturdy building on relatively high ground), or move to another building in the local area. You may also decide that leaving the area will be the best strategy; in that case, learn the best evacuation routes and find out in advance how congested they become during evacuations, and plan accordingly.
  • Once you know a storm strike is almost certain, buying enough bottled water to last a few days - whether you are staying or evacuating - and non-perishable food, such as energy bars, in case you become stranded. Also, ensure you have a flashlight with extra batteries.
  • Contacting someone out of the area and inform them of your plans (whether you are staying or evacuating).
  • If traveling with pets, planning on their evacuation as well. Most hurricane shelters will not admit pets without proof of up-to-date vaccinations (such as a rabies tag).
  • Even a Category 1 storm can knock out communications systems, including cell phone towers. Do not assume you will be able to make calls or have Internet access during a storm. Depending on wind speeds and other conditions, local authorities may shut off electrical power hours before the brunt of a storm hits an area. Ensure you have a radio with extra batteries, and be prepared to live without electrical power and communications for a few days.

During a Hurricane

If a cyclone watch is issued, the storm will affect the local area in 24 to 36 hours. Travelers should be prepared to:

  • Monitor local media for updated forecasts and evacuation notices.
  • Secure belongings. Review safe areas. Ensure your vehicle has a full fuel tank.
  • Review evacuation plans. Obey evacuation orders issued by authorities. Evacuations may be voluntary or mandatory, or may apply only to non-residents. Make sure you fully understand the order.
  • If unable to evacuate or not ordered to do so, stay indoors and away from glass windows and doors. Keep curtains and blinds closed. Turn refrigerator to lowest setting, and shut off utilities if instructed to do so.
  • During periods of high winds, take shelter well into the interior of your building lodging, and close all interior doors. Secure and brace all exterior doors. Do not stay on the top floor of a building, which could become unsafe if the roof is damaged or destroyed.

What To Do After a Cyclone

Once the storm has passed, there are a number of residual threats that pose problems to travelers.

  • Monitor local media for information related to medical treatment, potable water and food supply, and availability of shelter.
  • Remain in your safe location until authorities state it is safe to leave, especially if you want to return to an area that had been evacuated.
  • Limit driving. Streets will be strewn with debris - and possibly downed power lines - and authorities will be working on clean up, restoring power, and other safety issues. Avoid flooded roads and waterways (see iJET's Advice Sheet on flooding).
  • Do not drink or prepare food with tap water - unless you boil it first - until local officials have declared the water supply clean and safe.
  • Avoid downed power lines. Report them or any other broken utility lines (gas, water, sewer) to local officials.
  • Remain cautious in hilly areas, as the storm's rainfall may have increased the threat of landslides (see iJET's Advice Sheet on landslides).

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