Hurricane Facts


What Is A … Hurricane?  Cyclone?  Typhoon?

Hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons are simply different names used to describe the same type of a massive tropical cyclone, a large vortex of low pressure made up of driving rain, violent winds, and killer waves.

The difference between these three storm names: hurricane, cyclone, and typhoon, is the location of the weather system.

Hurricanes occur in the:
North Atlantic Ocean
Caribbean Sea
Gulf of Mexico
Northeast Pacific Ocean
South Pacific Ocean – east of the dateline

Hurricanes affect the following countries:
The Atlantic Coast of the United States and Canada; the Caribbean Islands; Mexico; Central America; and on rare occasions Hawaii and Western Europe.

Cyclones occur in the:
North Indian Ocean
South Pacific Ocean – west of the dateline
South Atlantic Ocean
South-West Indian Ocean
Australian Region

Cyclones affect the following countries:
India; Bangladesh; Thailand; Sri Lanka; Pakistan; Myanmar; Madagascar; Tanzania; Kenya; Mozambique; Mauritius; Reunion; Comoros; Australia; and rarely Brazil, Somalia, and the Arabian Peninsula

Typhoons occur in the:
Northwestern Pacific Ocean
South China Sea

Typhoons affect the following countries:
China; Hong Kong; Japan; Indonesia; Viet Nam; South Korea; Taiwan; Philippines

Do Hurricanes Always Rotate In The Same Direction? Cyclones? Typhoons?

The hemisphere in which the hurricane, typhoon, or cyclone is located, is the determining factor of the direction of the storm’s rotation.  In the Northern Hemisphere (north of the equator), these storms will rotate in a counter-clockwise direction and in the Southern Hemisphere (south of the equator) rotation circulates in the opposite direction and therefore rotates in a clockwise direction.


What Causes A Hurricane?

As shown in the BBC video above, a hurricane in the Atlantic for example, begins as a very small atmospheric disturbance in the jet stream thousands of miles away. This disturbance is called an easterly wave that travels from east to west across the Sub-Sahara and Africa.

Turbulent eddies then develop into a cluster of turbulent thunderstorms which continue west across the African continent ultimately reaching the warm tropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean.  Thunderstorms begin to rotate around each other, becoming more organized and in turn begin to rapidly gather strength, eventually developing into a hurricane.

The warm, moist air from the ocean feeds the storm while the strong winds power the storm. The storm system may continue to grow in strength and progress from a tropical depression with winds at 25 mph (20 knots), to a tropical storm with winds up to 39 mph (35 knots), eventually becoming a hurricane with winds of at least 74 mph (65 knots), and at this point hurricanes will typically continue to intensify in strength until it makes landfall or reaches colder waters.


The Eye Of The Hurricane

The eye of a hurricane typically develops when winds reach approximately 70 mph (61 knots). This area is formed by downdrafts of dry air located at the center of the hurricane causing a strangely calm area in the midst of the violent storm.

Just like a figure skater spinning in the rink, the closer the skater draws in their arms the faster their rotation. Likewise, the more compact the eye of a hurricane is, the faster the rotation and the more destructive the hurricane.


The Eyewall Of The Hurricane

The eyewall of a hurricane is a vertical wall of clouds immediately surrounding the tranquil eye of the hurricane and is the most violent section of a hurricane.  The eyewall contains the strongest winds of a hurricane that spiral upwards at speeds of up to 200 mph (174 knots).

The eyewall is an area of intense heat where moisture from the ocean is transported upwards.  Heavy bands of rain up to 300 miles (483 km) long and up to 9 miles (14 km) high join together forming towers in the eyewall around the eye of the hurricane.


Hurricanes and Tornadoes

Sometimes when a hurricane makes landfall, the towers of rain that were formed in the eyewall of the hurricane will become tornadoes.

According to the National Hurricane Center, while tornadoes spawned by hurricanes are more likely to occur near the center of the storm, specifically the right-front quadrant, they can also be found anywhere in the rainbands of the hurricane.  When the warm muggy air of the hurricane meets with cool, dry air the conditions are just right for the formation of tornadoes.

Not all hurricanes produce tornadoes, but more than half of the hurricanes that make landfall will have at least one tornado.  In 1967, Hurricane Beulah produced 141 tornadoes.  Hurricane Irene, a Category 1 hurricane that hit the East Coast of the United States in 2011, spawned tornadoes in at least four states.


How Big Is A Hurricane?

A hurricane that is fully formed can reach a height of 9 miles (14 km) and a diameter of over 500 miles (805 km), which is roughly equivalent to the size of the state of Texas.


The 5 Major Impact Elements Of A Hurricane

While discussing an ineffective surge scale in the video below, the Weather Channel’s, Dr. Steve Lyons listed the five major impact elements that cause the damage and destruction from a hurricane.

1- Wind
2- Water Rise (partly from storm surge and partly from wave action)
3- Waves ranging from 15 feet to 40 feet
4- Flooding from rain
5- Tornadoes


Storm Surge

A storm surge is a wall of water that rushes in across the coastline as a hurricane makes landfall and is the most dangerous and deadly part of a hurricane.  It is estimated that storm surge is the cause of 90% of deaths when hurricanes make landfall.

A typical storm surge will vary based on the strength of the hurricane and can average anywhere from 3 to 25 feet (1 to 8 m) or more. For example, a Category 3 hurricane, might have a storm surge of 6 to 12 feet (2 to 4 m). On top of the storm surge are deadly waves driven by the strong winds of the hurricane.

Storm surge is difficult to predict because there are so many variables involved.  The wind speed of a hurricane alone does not determine the storm surge height.  For example, Hurricane Ike, a Category 2 storm, produced a storm surge of 20 feet (6 m); while the Category 4, Hurricane Charley, that produced only 6 or 8 feet (1.8 to 2.4 m) of water.

Other factors which affect storm surge are the angle and depth of the ocean floor along the coast where the hurricane makes landfall, as well as the high and low tide cycles.

When the slope of the continental shelf along the coastline is long and shallow, such as along the coast of Louisiana and Mississippi, very high storm surge can develop even from a hurricane with weaker winds.

Shorelines with a more steep continental shelf, having a very deep ocean that suddenly becomes shallow, such as found in the Hawaiian Islands, will not have a high storm surge; but will instead be forced to deal with the hurricane’s very large breaking waves.


Rainfall From Hurricanes
Another major threat from hurricanes is the flooding caused by intense amounts of rainfall.  It’s not uncommon for a hurricane to produce 10 to 20 inches of rain in a day, regardless of the category level.  The category assigned to a hurricane refers to wind strength. A Category 1 or 2 hurricane can still have prolific amounts of rainfall resulting in catastrophic flooding, especially if it is a slow moving storm.

Intense rainfall and devastating flooding does not only affect the surrounding areas where a hurricane makes landfall.  Even though a hurricane loses strength as it continues moving inland, it can still produce extremely heavy amounts of rainfall resulting in deadly flooding hundreds of miles away from the point of landfall. For example, Hurricane Camille in 1969 made landfall in the Gulf Coast, yet continued its path over 800 miles to the State of Virginia ultimately sweeping away over 100 bridges, numerous highways, and flooded the James River devastating the community of Richmond, Virginia.


Hurricane Categories: The Saffir-Simpson Scale

The Saffir-Simpson Scale is the classification scale used today to categorize a hurricane according to wind velocity.  Civil Engineer, Herbert Saffir, and Meteorologist, Bob Simpson, developed this scale in 1971 and introduced it to the general public in 1973.

As described in the video above, hurricanes are separated into the five following categories based on sustained wind.












Hurricanes above a Category 3 are considered major hurricanes.  Category 1 storms usually do not cause any significant structural damage to buildings; however, coastal flooding and pier damage would be expected in a Category 1 hurricane.

As you go up in the scale you see that Category 5 hurricanes have wind speeds in excess of 155 mph (135 knots) becoming catastrophic storms that destroy buildings and bring widespread flooding that will be remembered in history like Hurricane Katrina.

When Is Hurricane Season?

Hurricane season takes place in summer and fall when the sun heats large areas of the ocean’s waters to temperatures over 82° Farenheit.  In the United States, hurricane season begins June 1st and ends November 30th.




The Path Of A Hurricane

Tracking A Hurricane                  Hurricane Prediction

Most hurricanes will follow a path over the open sea without ever making landfall. For example, the average number of North Atlantic hurricanes that will actually make landfall on the East Coast or the Gulf Coast of the United States is only about two or three major hurricanes each year.

Tracking hurricanes has become quite advanced over the years and scientists are not only able to track and follow a hurricane, they are now able to closely predict the path of the hurricane and determine where it is expected to make landfall.  However, predicting the intensity of a hurricane remains to be a problematic area for scientists.

Through the development of these tracking methods a great deal has been discovered about the inner workings of these catastrophic storms.  Scientists continue their research to learn even more and to find even better ways to more accurately predict a hurricane’s path and to learn more about predicting the strength and intensity of a hurricane as well.

In the video above we see NOAA’s multi-million dollar aircraft, which is designed to withstand winds up to 155 mph (250 km/h).  These planes, known as “hurricane hunters,” are equipped with sophisticated instruments for tracking storms.

Flying directly in and out of the hurricane’s eye several times during a single mission, the aircraft drops special sensors that measure wind speed, temperature, and air pressure inside a hurricane.  Approximately 20 to 25 of these probes, which also contain GPS, are released inside the hurricane providing vital clues to the strength and direction the storm will take.

After the probes are released into the storm, twice each second information is sent to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida as the sensors fall through the storm to the ocean below.

Hurricane 3D Computer Animation
Another fairly new tool, being used by scientists is 3D computer animation models which are able to provide quicker and more accurate prediction and warning of a hurricane.

Doppler Radar
Doppler radar provides scientists with data on rainfall intensity, wind speed estimates, the movement of the tropical cyclone, and if any tornadoes are present in the cyclone.

Doppler radar is able to cover a distance of 200 to 250 miles (322-402 km) from the location of the radar station.  Forecasters are also able to view rain bands within the hurricane, determine an estimate of the amount of rainfall occurring, as well as view a depiction of the eye and the eyewall of the hurricane.

Weather Satellites
Satellite imagery is another key tool in tracking the development of a hurricane.  The very first weather satellite was launched by the United States in 1960 and was quite primitive compared to today’s satellite technology. Satellites are a key tool for forecasters as they track images taken over a number of hours enabling them to gather information on the development of the tropical cyclone.


Data Buoys
Data buoys, located along the Atlantic and Pacific seaboards and in the Gulf of Mexico, relay information by radio signals and satellite.  While these buoys are used for other purposes, during hurricane season they also aid in monitoring and predicting tropical cyclones.



What Is A Hurricane Watch?  Hurricane Warning?

Hurricane Warning System

In the United States hurricane warnings and watches are issued by the National Hurricane Center.  More than half of the nation’s population lives in coastal areas.  Hurricane warning systems warn people when a hurricane is headed their way and therefore helps prevent serious injuries, death, loss of property, and property damage.


Weather Radios & Other Ways To Stay Informed
When you are experiencing severe weather it is important to stay informed through as many ways as possible.  Don’t just rely on one method for your emergency information in case a problem occurs with one of the notification systems.  Receiving timely notifications of hurricane warnings can mean the difference between life and death.

Hurricane watches and warnings are announced via the NOAA Weather Radio (NWR).  These weather radios will sound a loud alarm when a hurricane warning (or any major hazard) occurs.  Through a nationwide network of radio stations, the NWR broadcasts continuous weather information and warnings.  The NWR also works with the FCC Emergency Alert System and will broadcast other emergency warnings and post-event information on various hazards such as earthquakes, chemical spills, etc.

A special radio receiver or scanner is required.  Weather radios can be purchased online or at stores that sell televisions and radios.

Warnings and watches are also widely announced over television and radio stations, as long as you still have power or a battery powered device.  Local emergency broadcast systems will override normal programming with emergency announcements, Reverse 911, as well as sirens.  If your internet signal is available you can monitor the storm’s progress via an interactive hurricane tracking map.


Watch the above video for tips on purchasing an affordable weather radio.  You’ll also learn how to be able to watch TV if your cable or satellite service goes out. One of the tips in the video describes the emergency alarm feature of a weather radio that will go off if a hurricane, tornado, or any hazardous emergency is threatening your immediate area.  The radio being shown in the video has a jack where an external alarm can be connected, so if you’re hard of hearing you can hook it up to a bright flashing light.

Please note that the video refers to a special promotional offer that has since expired; however, the information in this video remains accurate and extremely helpful in choosing a weather radio.



Coastal Warning Display Program

In the above video recorded in 2007, the US Coast Guard announced the re-establishment of the Coastal Warning Display Program, which had been discontinued in 1989.  The Coast Guard warning system is supplemental to the National Hurricane System.  During a hurricane warning the Coast Guard will display two red maritime flags with a black square in each.

Hurricane Watch
The National Hurricane Center will issue a hurricane watch 48 hours in advance when hurricane conditions of sustained winds of more than 74 mph (64 knots) in a coastal area are possible.

Hurricane Warning
A hurricane warning is issued 36 hours in advance when hurricane conditions of sustained winds of at least 74 mph (64 knots) in a coastal area are expected.







Hurricane Preparedness


Before A Hurricane Occurs


Make A Plan
Make an emergency plan which includes what to do before, during, and after a hurricane.   Your plan needs to include what to do if you need to evacuate and conversely what to do if you will remain in your home during the storm.  Discuss each phase of the plan with family, friends, and neighbors. Preparing ahead of time will lessen the impact on you and your family.


Plan An Out Of Town Phone Contact & Meeting Place In Case Separated
Plan for the possibility that you and your family or loved ones may not be able to be together or possibly be separated from each other during or after a hurricane.  During a hurricane there will be road closures and you may not be able to return home.

Establish a meeting place that is located in an area away from the effects of the storm, for example a friend or family member’s house a safe distance away.  Be sure everyone memorizes the address and phone number of your emergency location.  It’s a good idea to also have it written down for each loved one as during emergency events stress levels run high and it may be difficult to remember phone numbers and addresses

Also determine an out of town phone contact.  During an emergency local phone lines are often jammed, yet long distance calls can be made with no problem.



Emergency Supply Kit

Have emergency supplies on hand for at least a 72 hour (3 days) period.  The video above produced by the Fairfax County Office of Emergency Management provides excellent information on hurricane preparedness, including suggested emergency kit items as well as tips on how and where to store these emergency supplies.


Suggested Emergency Supplies For Evacuation & Sheltering In Place

  • Water – at least 1 gallon per person, per day, plus water for pets
  • Food items that are packaged to last for long periods of time such as:
  • Canned foods
  • Dry cereal
  • Snacks
  • Juices
  • Plastic Utensils
  • Paper plates
  • Cooking tools for portable cooking appliances
  • Pet food, if applicable
  • Pet crate, if applicable (many shelters will only accept service animals, however some will allow pets if you have a crate)
  • Non-electric can opener
  • Matches (in a waterproof container)
  • Medications – at least a 7 day supply – Your local pharmacy may be closed or damaged and it might take some time to refill a prescription.
  • Eyeglasses
  • First Aid Kit
  • Special items needed for infants, the elderly, or individuals with disabilities
  • Moist towelettes / disinfectant wipes
  • Towels
  • Toiletries & feminine supplies
  • Garbage bags
  • Dust masks to filter contaminated air
  • Battery operated NOAA Weather Radio: All Hazards OR a standard AM/FM battery operated radio or a hand-cranked radio
  • Battery operated flashlights and lanterns
  • Extra batteries
  • Consider purchasing an additional battery for your cell phone to use as a backup
  • Possibly a solar powered cell phone charger
  • Whistle (to signal for help)
  • Camera to take pictures of damage after the storm for the insurance company
  • Sleeping bag / bedding, if you plan to stay in a shelter
  • Wrench / pliers for turning off utilities
  • Local maps in the event you must evacuate and need to find an alternate route
  • Cash or traveler’s checks
  • Complete change of clothing for each person, including long sleeve shirt and long pants
  • Sturdy shoes for each person
  • Water purification tablets or household chlorine bleach (fragrance free in case you need to use it to sanitize water for cooking and drinking)
  • Medicine dropper
  • A traditional landline telephone (for after the storm – a landline phone does not require electricity, only a functioning telephone line)



Comfort Items

  • Pencils, Crayons, Markers
  • Puzzles
  • Small games
  • Books
  • Small toys for children



Additional Emergency Supplies Needed To Shelter In Place

  • -Portable chemical toilet & extra chemical refills
  • -Plastic sheeting and duct tape if you need to shelter in place
  • -Fire extinguisher


Place these items in large covered plastic containers in a location that is easy to get to in the event of an evacuation.



Important Documents & Photos
Either create a digital backup of some kind or place copies of important papers and pictures in a waterproof bag or container and keep them where you can easily access them quickly if you need to leave.  Suggested documents you may want to include are:

  • Contact information for family and friends, family doctors, insurance agent, hotels where you might stay, local Red Cross, veterinarian, etc.
    Write these numbers down on an index card or paper, because if your cell phone, laptop, etc. loses it charge you will not have access to the information stored on your device.  Keep this list of contacts in your wallet or car, as well as in your emergency kit so you’ll have it when you need it.
  • Keep a current list of medications, including dosage amount, pharmacy and doctor’s phone numbers.  A good place to keep this info is on the back side of the index card you created for phone numbers.
  • Titles or deeds to property
  • Insurance policy
  • Bank account number
  • Social Security Cards
  • Birth certificates
  • Medical Records – including the following:  medical history; a list of current medications being taken; immunization records
  • Photographs
  • Current pictures of your child(ren), and also of your pet, in the event they become lost
  • Dog tag number and/or microchip information
  • Computer/external hard drive



Review Homeowner’s or Renter’s Insurance Policies
Make sure you have enough coverage to rebuild your home if you’re a homeowner

Also make sure you have enough coverage to replace your personal possessions

Make sure your policy specifically includes flood insurance, which is usually a separate coverage

Make or update a home inventory list of your personal possessions with their picture and estimated value

Make an evacuation plan that establishes where you will go and what you will need to take with you

Make any additional plans for evacuating members of your household that may require specific accommodations, such as the elderly, or special needs

If you have pets, be sure your evacuation plan includes the necessary arrangements for them as well



Car Insurance – Do You Have Comprehensive Coverage?
Aside from a house, a car is most people’s biggest asset and Tampa News Channel 8 provides valuable information on car insurance as it relates to damage from the water, wind, and debris of a hurricane.

Make sure you have the coverage needed to protect you financially in the event your vehicle is damaged during a hurricane.  It is important to have comprehensive coverage, which is what is needed in order to have coverage on anything other than an accident.  Comprehensive coverage includes theft, vandalism, fire, and specifically regarding damage from a hurricane includes damage caused by wind and flood.

Keep in mind that once a storm has been “named” and becomes a threat the insurance companies will put a freeze on policy changes and on new policies.  At that point you will not be allowed to make any changes to your existing auto insurance policy.  This is an important item to take care of well in advance of an approaching named storm and you can’t do anything about it.

One other thing to be aware of is that while the comprehensive will cover any damage to your car, it does not provide coverage on items inside your car.  Golf clubs, CD’s, clothes, etc.




Hurricane Preparedness For The Elderly Or Special Needs
Hurricanes can be extremely problematic for seniors, persons with disabilities, or anyone with special health needs.

Social Needs Registry
Some communities provide a registry service that involves agencies, organizations, and houses of worship to partner with the local area to be better prepared for an emergency event such as a hurricane.  These groups work together to assist with various needs such as assisting individuals who may require special transportation or special communications.

A social needs registry is designed to meet the needs of members of the community that are able to be independent once they are relocated to an emergency shelter.


Medical Registry
A medical registry, similar to the social needs registry discussed above, is designed to register individuals and to assist community members who are unable to be independent in a large general shelter.  People who have health conditions that need monitoring or need assistance with daily living.

Check with your local county government offices to see if assistance of this type is available in your community.




Advance Hurricane Preparation To Your Home

Once windows and doors are breached the wind driven rain and debris enters the structure.  The high winds then exert high pressure on your walls and roof from the interior creating a combination of internal pressure from the interior winds and external pressure from the wind blowing over your home leading to catastrophic damage.



Cover Windows – Doors – Gables – Attic Vents
Windows are the most susceptible part of your home when it comes to damage from a hurricane and one of the most important areas of precaution you can take to reduce the amount of damage incurred from the storm.  If you opt not to use pre-installed window protection, keep in mind the amount of time you will need to complete the task of placing shutters or plywood over your windows.

Covering gables and attic vents will prevent your attic and insulation from becoming soaked by the intense rain blown through the openings of these points of vulnerability.

The following are various methods you can use to protect your home’s windows:

  • Impact resistant windows / storm windows which will protect against both wind and water infiltration
  • Folding shutters which protect against wind speeds of more than 230 mph
  • High impact shutters which come in various modern, colonial, and Bahama styles, including folding shutters and roll-up shutters.   These shutters are permanently mounted and are quick and easy to use.
  • Plywood

If you choose to use plywood, purchase exterior grade plywood and at least 1/2-inch thick, although 5/8-inch thick is better.  Keep in mind that plywood is heavy and is best attached with two people working together.  Measure each window and attach via one of the methods illustrated in the following video.



Garage Door
The largest opening in your home is the garage door and if that becomes compromised then the wind and air pressure and the water will get up inside your home and can cause damage.

  • Consider upgrading to an impact resistant garage door.
  • Make sure you have integrated reinforced struts inside your garage door that will resist the winds of a hurricane.
  • Have your track inspected annually.  If there is a problem with the track the whole system can give way.
  • If the garage door has windows be sure they are impact resistant windows.
  • Another option is to protect the garage door with an impact resistant covering, essentially serving as a large shutter over your garage door.



Roof Protection

  • Inspect and repair any loose roof shingles with roofing cement.
  • Consider upgrading to impact resistant roof materials that can withstand high winds and flying debris.  Cement roof tiles, which come in several designs, are an excellent option.



Plumbing – Basement – Sump Pump Preparation

Turn Off Main Water Valve When The Hurricane Hits
When the hurricane hits, turn off the main water shutoff valve to prevent flood water contaminants from getting into your main water supply system causing diseases.


Check Your Sump Pump
Make sure your sump pump is clean and free of debris.  If there is anything floating in it get a shop vac and clean it out.

If you have a battery backup system make sure it is fully charged and ready to go.

If you have a water powered backup system, lift the float to make sure that the water is working and draining your sump pump properly.

If the power is out turn of the circuit breaker to your electric water heater to prevent a surge when the power is eventually restored.  Gas water heaters should be fine unless it has an electronic start, in which case you may need to reset the temperatures on it.


Be sure to maintain drains in and around the basement to keep leaves and debris from allowing the water to drain out of the basement.



Fortified Homes
The Fortified Home Program are homes designed to be disaster resistant  including landscaping strategies.  The standards for these homes often exceed local building code requirements focusing on strengthening the roof, walls, foundation, and openings.  The guidelines for these homes are determined by a national non-profit initiative of the insurance industry.



Exterior Grounds Preparation

  • Prune dead or weak branches from trees.  Do all major cuts long before hurricane season between the months of December and April.  Do not wait until hurricane season or you may not be able to dispose of the tree limbs and branches before a hurricane strikes.  That stack of tree limbs and branches will become extremely dangerous projectiles in hurricane force winds.
  • Keep storm drains and rain gutters free of debris.
  • Patios and driveways constructed out of permeable material reduces excess storm water by allowing water to pass through the pervious paver stones at a rate of 177 inches per hour.  The pervious material allows the water to go right through and sink into the ground, reducing the flooding in and around your home.
  • Seal cracks and openings anywhere on the outside of your home with caulking.  An example of an opening that should be sealed are the holes where telephone or cable wires are run into the home.



Secure Small Boats
Secure, or better yet remove, small boats prior to a hurricane.  It is advisable that you check with your insurance agent to confirm what is required by the insurance company regarding securing your boat in order to maintain coverage for any damages.



Portable Generators: Safety & Maintenance
Many people choose to have a generator(s) to provide power during an extended power outage due to a hurricane.  Even if you’re not in the direct path of a hurricane, surrounding areas commonly experience major and extended power outages.

Under certain circumstances, a power outage can be life threatening; for example, if an individual in a household has a medical ailment and is on a ventilator and is dependent on electrical power, then it is critical to have a backup generator.

Before you use a portable generator it is extremely important that you learn about the dangers involved. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) carbon monoxide poisoning (CO) is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in America.

Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendation on how to best maintain your portable gas generator.  You should start and test your generator at least once a month so that it can cycle the oil through it and lubricate the internal parts of the generator.  The gas also needs to cycle through the carbureator and get out so it doesn’t turn to gel or turn to shellac.

Maintenance on a small generator should typically be done every 50 hours, which would include changing the spark plug, the air filter, the oil filter, and the oil. Don’t overfill the oil because that will cause problems.  Remember to dispose of used oil at your local lube shop.

The Palm Beach County Fire & Rescue video above includes comprehensive information on hurricane preparedness, including the proper use of generators.  To avoid personal injury and property damage it is imperative that proper precautions are taken when using portable generators, especially in densely populated sub-divisions.  One portable generator could pose a danger to multiple residences.


It is vital to remember these key tips when operating your generator:

  • Do not run generators inside a building or garage, under an overhang, near a window to your house or a neighbor’s house, or on top of a roof.
  • Make sure the generator is at least 10 feet away from any structure, measuring from the roof overhang.
  • Monitor the wind direction because even with sufficient distance, wind can push carbon monoxide into the house.
  • Install a Carbon Monoxide Detector / CO2 Detector in the house to monitor exhaust fumes.
  • Allow the generator to cool down and that it is turned off before refueling.
  • Store gasoline only in approved gasoline containers and never store an excess of 25 gallons of gasoline.
  • Follow the NEC standards for temporary wiring and load calculations
  • NEVER back feed the house through the 220 volt dryer outlet.
  • NEVER connect the generator to your household wiring.  Only make connections directly to the outlets located on the generator itself.
  • Never leave the generator run overnight.
  • Never leave the generator unattended.
  • Only use heavy duty extension cords which are rated for outdoor use
  • Make sure you ground the generator properly



Permanent Automatic Residential Backup Generator Systems

Consider investing in an automatic backup generator system for your home that is permanently installed.   They are made of composite materials that can withstand the harshness of a hurricane.  These automatic generators provide enough power to operate your air conditioning and major appliances.

The cost of an average residential backup generator system will probably be under $5,000, unlike the $20,000 to $30,000 price tag in years past.

Keep the following in mind when considering the purchase of a stand-by generator system:

  • It can take up to 3 weeks to have a generator installed, so be sure to plan in advance
  • It is advisable to work with a local generator dealer or an electrical contractor, as well as a general contractor or qualified installers
  • Determine what size stand-by generator will meet your needs – do you want the generator to operate only essential loads for a few key appliances, or for a whole house application which would require a higher kilowatt operation.  Generator manufacturers often provide a wattage calculating tool on their websites to assist you in determining your needs.
  • Make sure the generator meets local ordinances such as flood, noise, and electrical codes
  • You will need to obtain a generator permit




After A Hurricane Warning Has Been Issued

Once a hurricane warning has been issued and you know the storm is coming your way, you should prepare your house to weather the storm and also prepare to be without power.


Backup Computer Files & Move Computer to Safe Location
Backup important files on a flash drive, separate hard drive, or disk.  If your computer is located near a window, move it to a safer location in the house.  If you are evacuating and you have room bring the computer with you.


Charge Cell Phones and Other Rechargeable Devices
Charge up your rechargeable devices such as cell phones, laptops, notebooks, etc.


Preparations Outside The Home
Shutters / Plywood
If you do not have impact resistant windows in your home, attach the shutters or plywood that you previously purchased and prepared or cover your windows with sheets of plywood at this time.

For specifics on how best to complete this job, refer to the shuttering your home informational video which is included on this webpage above in the section titled “Advance Hurricane Preparation To Your Home” and then under the sub-section of “Plywood.”  The video provides excellent tips and step by step directions detailing different methods used to attach plywood to the windows.


Bring In Loose Items From Outside

  • Remove & bring indoors any objects or loose items outside your house that could become flying missiles.

Examples are listed below:

  • Patio furniture
  • Temporary swing sets/playground equipment
  • Bird feeders
  • Potted plants
  • Lawn ornaments
  • Trash Cans
  • Rakes & shovels
  • Exterior antennas / satellite dishes
  • Weather vanes
  • Other objects that should be removed from outside of your home that are of a hazardous nature, should be stored in the garage, away from living quarters.  Examples of such items are:
  • Barbecue grills
  • Propane tanks
  • Remove exterior antennas from your roof


Outdoor Outlets
Cover outdoor electrical outlets with duct tape


Swimming Pool Preparation
If you have a pool, lower the water level and add extra chlorine


If you have skylights, cover them with plastic sheeting and duct tape



When To Turn Off Utilities

Electricity:  Prepare Your House To Be Without Power
The Mississippi Power Company has provided an informative video above with tips on preparing for an approaching hurricane.  A key tip is provided on how to avoid a serious fire hazard which commonly occurs in homes when power is restored.

  • Keep freezer doors closed so frozen foods will keep frozen for approximately 48 hours.Disconnect / power down appliances that will automatically turn on when power is restored because the surge of all of these appliances switching on at the same time can overload the circuits creating a serious fire hazard.  Appliances to disconnect include:  Refrigerator, Freezer, Stove, Oven, Microwave Oven, Washing Machine, Clothes Dryer,  Electric Water Heater, TV’s, Computers, and Electric Space Heaters
  • Wait fifteen minutes after power has been restored before re-connecting and restarting your large appliances.
  • If you will be using a portable generator:
  • Open the main breakers to isolate your home or business from the utility service.
  • Test your generator to make sure it is working.
  • Make sure you have enough fuel on hand.


Do not turn off the natural gas to your home.  The gas meter needs to be left on in order to maintain the proper pressure in hour home’s gas lines and will also prevent water from getting into the line in the event of flooding.

The only actions you will need to take relating to your natural gas will be after the hurricane, but only if you smell gas and then you need to leave the house immediately and call the gas company from another location.

If your house was flooded you will need to call a licensed plumber to inspect your gas appliances and the gas piping before service is reconnected.

Before shutting off your water line, fill sinks and bathtubs with water in case you need it later for washing or cleaning.

As mentioned earlier on this page under plumbing preparations, it is suggested that you turn off your main water valve when the hurricane is about to reach your location.  This is done in order to keep contaminants out of the main water supply system in your home and thus avoid the ensuing diseases.




Evacuation or Shelter In Place

If an evacuation order was issued — do you know where you would go?  Learn some key evacuation tips in NOAA’s National Weather Service video above.  What should you take with you when you evacuate?


Advance Preparation for Evacuation
It’s important to prepare to evacuate long before an evacuation notice is given. So, what can you do ahead of time?

  • Create an evacuation plan.
  • Review your evacuation plan with all your family members so everyone knows what to do so you will be able to evacuate as quickly as possible.
  • Make sure you have an emergency supply kit and that perishable items are up to date.
  • Find out ahead of time what your insurance company’s requirements are regarding clean-up after damage from a storm.  They may require photographs of initial damage after the storm before you clean it up.  There may be certain circumstances where a claims adjuster will need to see the damage before you attempt clean-up or repairs of any kind.  You will need to know ahead of time which damaged items the insurance company may require to be kept and therefore should not be discarded.
  • Plan for your pets.  Find out which hotels are pet friendly and have a pet crate on hand.  Many shelters only allow service animals but there are some that may allow pets if you have a pet crate for your pet to stay in.  Perhaps a friend or relative located away from the danger of the hurricane would be willing to care for your pet.


When Evacuation Is Possible or Probable

  • Stay tuned to your weather radio or local news station for weather updates
  • Fill up the gas tank in your vehicle
  • Be informed of evacuation routes, how far away you need to evacuate, and shelter location.  Determine if you will head for a shelter, a hotel, or to family or friend’s house.
  • Make sure you have a map with you in case your planned route becomes impassable.
  • Pack and gather food and your emergency supply kit, medications, etc., so it will be ready at a moments notice.
  • Also bring cell phone and computer chargers in case you are fortunate enough to have power in your evacuation location.


When Evacuation Notice Is Issued

  • Gather your family and pets
  • Load your emergency supplies in the car, if you haven’t already done so
  • Secure your home
  • Leave

Once an evacuation notice is issued you will have approximately 24 to 36 hours before the hurricane arrives.  However, don’t let that give you a false sense of security in thinking you don’t need to hurry.  Leave as quickly as possible.  Remember the entire area will be evacuating as well, making roads crowded.

Evacuation traffic is often slow moving so you’ll want to get on the road as soon as you can.  In the above video you see the jam-packed Interstate Highway 45 North in the Houston area during a mass evacuation of 2 1/2 million people hitting the roadways before Hurricane Rita in 2005.

It is unwise to choose to weather the storm if an evacuation notice has been deemed necessary.  Remember that many of those who opted to stay put in Hurricane Katrina were severely injured or killed.


If You Are Sheltering In Place

  • When the storm reaches your area remain in the safest part of your home, an inner room with no windows is usually best.
  • Keep emergency supplies close by and readily available in case a need arises.
  • Continually stay tuned on your portable radio or TV and keep informed of the storm’s progress or any new weather alerts or announcements.
  • The amount of time it typically takes for the strongest portion of a hurricane to pass through can vary.  Some hurricanes travel faster, some slower; however, as a general example you can expect to experience approximately 12 hours of intense wind and rain as you wait out the storm in your home.




What To Do During A Hurricane


If You Are Not In An Evacuation Zone
If you are not located in the direct path of the hurricane, and are not in an evacuation zone, and therefore remaining in your home during the storm, refer to the following tips and suggestions as you wait out the storm.

  • Make sure your emergency supplies are readily available.   Emergency personnel will be unlikely to reach you during or immediately after a hurricane.
  • Be prepared for power outages.
  • Stay informed and tuned in to news and weather updates.
  • Stay indoors and keep yourself sheltered and protected in the safest room of your house or building, away from windows.  The safest room of a structure is an interior room without windows to avoid being injured from flying debris and broken glass.
  • Do not attempt to leave your home during the storm unless officials instruct you otherwise.
  • Stay out of the storm surge.



After A Hurricane

According to the Palm Beach County Fire & Rescue, more people are hurt in the aftermath of the storm that during the hurricane itself.


Immediately After A Hurricane

  • Continue to monitor the weather and roadway conditions.
  • If you had evacuated prior to the hurricane you must wait for emergency officials to tell you when it is safe to return home.
  • Keep off roadways until local officials tell you it is safe. Power will most likely be off and traffic signals will be inoperable.  Also emergency vehicles need as much open access as possible to roads at this time.
  • Make sure family members and loved ones are accounted for, as well as your pets.
  • If you smell gas leave your home and contact the gas company from a neighbor’s house or other location.
  • If power lines to your home are damaged, contact an electrical contractor to make repairs BEFORE power is turned back on.
  • If you hire a contractor for any reason ask to see the contractor’s state license before he begins repairs.
  • If you discover there is electrical wiring damage in your home after the hurricane, do the following:    -Confirm that the circuit breakers have been turned off
    • If you didn’t disconnect appliances before the storm, then do so now
    • Turn off wall switches
    • DO NOT stand in water when operating switches or unplugging appliances.
  • Emergency officials are often unable to respond to, or even receive, emergency calls immediately after a hurricane.  Be prepared with first aid kits and a first aid book in case you need to deal with a medical emergency.
  • Wear sturdy shoes before assessing damage to your property or attempting to do any clean-up.
  • Do only essential clean-up immediately after the storm until you have contacted your insurance agent to report your initial assessment of damages and to obtain their further instructions.  One thing to do at this point is to take any necessary actions that will prevent any further damage such as covering a window or roof damage with a tarp. The insurance company may request that certain damaged items be provided to them for claim purposes.  An appointment with a claims adjuster may also be required prior to clean up of certain damages.
  • Exercise extreme caution to avoid downed and live power lines, especially before you enter any flood waters.  Flood water may be electrically charged in the event of a downed power line that might be hidden under debris or murky water.
  • Beware of dangerous flood water hazards that are not easily visible.
  • In addition to the need to be cautious of loose animals and dangerous wildlife, snakes and other dangerous wildlife might be hidden in foggy flood waters or under debris in the water.
  • Broken glass or other sharp objects and debris may also be hidden in the flood waters.
  • Flood waters may be covering dangerous areas of washed out roads and sink holes.
  • Flood waters are often contaminated and can become disease ridden as time passes.
  • Be alert and watchful for any portions of unstable structures.  A weakened and damaged structure could collapse on you.
  • Fallen trees, broken glass, and other dangerous debris may be hidden under layers of other debris posing serious hazards and possible injuries.
  • If you still have running water, do not drink it or cook with it until you get word from authorities that it is not contaminated after the storm. Find out if there is a “boil water order” for your area.  If you need to sanitize contaminated water, use 1 part bleach to 9 parts water.  Do not use bleach that is scented, color-safe, or bleach that contains added cleaners.
  • Remember not to use propane, charcoal, or your portable generator in an enclosed area, or even an area close to a window where deadly fumes may enter your home or your neighbor’s home.  (For more information on generators see the section above.)

Fire After Hurricane
Circuit Overload When Power Is Restored
One fire hazard after a hurricane occurs when power is restored to homes.  If large appliances like washers, dryers, refrigerators, air conditioners have not been previously unplugged, then they will all power up at the same time and could overload the circuits causing a fire.

Remove Shutters/Plywood As Soon As Possible
If circumstances allow, remove shutters / plywood from windows immediately after a hurricane.  When windows are obstructed it often delays the discovery of a fire allowing it to worsen rapidly.

Shutters or plywood may also delay firefighters who need to gain entry to extinguish a fire or make a rescue.

Shutters prevent the use of a window as a means of ventilating heat and smoke from a building which increases danger to occupants, as well as causing more extensive damage.

Days & Weeks After A Hurricane

After Power Has Been Restored
To avoid a serious fire hazard mentioned above, wait for fifteen minutes after power has been restored before re-connecting and restarting your large appliances, connecting each appliance one at a time.  MAKE SURE to wear dry clothes, rubber soled shoes and stand on something dry and non-conductive.

If Needed – Contact the Gas Company
If you experienced flooding in your home a licensed plumber will need to come out and inspect the gas piping and the gas appliances before gas service can be reconnected.

If Your Home Is Unlivable

  • Contact your insurance company immediately.  Many policies will issue an immediate check to cover expenses for food, clothing, and shelter.  They will also make arrangements for you to meet with a claims adjuster and begin the process of assessing damage and repairing/rebuilding after the hurricane.
  • Contact your utility companies to notify them and request billing be discontinued until, or if, you rebuild.
  • Organizations such as the American Red Cross and FEMA are available to assist and advise you in the aftermath of a hurricane.  Needs can vary widely on an individual basis, but typical help people are looking for at this point is temporary housing, clothing, and food.  Contact information for these groups will be broadcast on your local news stations.


Months & Years After A Major Hurricane

The aftermath and recovery following a hurricane varies widely depending on the size and strength of the hurricane and where you are located in relation to the storm.  Major hurricanes cause widespread damage that unfortunately, takes years for the recovery process to take place.

People who experienced complete loss of their homes will be experiencing mixed emotions of being fortunate enough to survive the storm while at the same time the overwhelming loss of their belongings and the comfort of their home and neighborhood.  Many must also deal with the loss of community locations such as schools, libraries, markets, and even workplaces and the loss of a job and income.  And on tope of it all, too many must face the devastating loss of loved ones who died as a result of the hurricane.

Recovery can be a long process as insurance claims are processed and settled, cleanup and rebuilding in completed, and eventually life begins to settle into a routine again.  Many people will seek professional counseling as they move through the emotional and challenging phases of grief and loss, and ultimately move on with their lives as they rebuild their homes and their lives.