If you’re a native or long-time resident of Florida, you’ve likely experienced first-hand the treacherous nature of hurricanes and the long-term damage they can cause to coastal cities and towns.
But what are the main drivers of hurricane damage in Florida and other parts of the country and world? How severe does a hurricane have to be to become a life-threatening event in your community, forcing you and your loved ones to flee?
The most dangerous features of a hurricane include:
Hurricane winds are strong enough to destroy roofs, windows, trees and power lines. A severe storm can completely demolish mobile homes and in some cases even sturdy structures. It’s not uncommon for hurricane-stricken areas to experience weeklong power outages.
Hurricane winds become dangerous when they reach or exceed 74 mph, but extreme hurricanes can produce gusts of well over 100 mph. It’s imperative for you and your loved ones to remain indoors during high winds, as the flying debris can result in dangerous and even life-threatening injuries.
Heavy winds cause fast-moving tides, which are especially dangerous to onlookers. These rapidly rising waters can sweep bystanders off their feet in a matter of seconds and cause drownings. Storm surge can push into and easily reach the roof of single-story coastal homes. In fact, storm surges can join forces withs storm tides and easily rise to more than 12 feet in height, like in the case of 2017’s Hurricane Irma.
When high storm surge is forecast for your area, it’s usually best to evacuate rather than seek shelter at home.
Hurricanes often produce heavy rainfall, which can easily result in dangerous floods. What’s worse about tropical storm rainfall is that it doesn’t only affect coastal communities. Inland areas can experience long-term flooding from nearby rivers, streams and lakes, which can bring about devastating consequences. For approximately, 1.5 million Floridians, inland flooding is a feasible threat. Unfortunately, many people and communities assume being inland insulates them from the danger of flooding–it doesn’t.
Tornadoes are violent and destructive whirlwinds. In Florida, tornadoes form in a wide variety of ways, including being spawned by tropical storms. Tornadoes that are caused by hurricanes or tropical storms can cause plenty of damage, including destroying homes, uprooting trees and breaking powerlines. Luckily, tropical storm-related tornadoes tend to be short-lived. Regardless of how long a tornado lasts, you should never underestimate their destructive power.
Rip currents are currents pushing water away from shore and are typically a result of strong hurricane winds. They can be extremely strong and difficult to spot. Consequently, rip currents can pull even the fittest and most experienced swimmers away from shore, which is why they pose a serious drowning risk.
Rip currents can develop several hundred miles away from a hurricane. If you’re swimming in an ocean, look out for dark-colored patches of water, fewer waves and a rippled surface surrounded by still waters. These signs may indicate a dangerous rip current.
Hurricanes are officially categorized according to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. A hurricane can be rated anywhere from Category 1 to Category 5 depending on its maximum sustained wind speed, with Category 1 being the lowest speed and Category 5 being the highest and most severe.
A hurricane that’s Category 3 or above is considered a major hurricane and has the ability to cause major property damage and loss of life. These types of hurricanes can be extremely dangerous, especially if storm surges and flooding are in the forecast as well.
Always make sure you’re prepared for Florida’s annual hurricane season by checking your insurance coverage, installing impact windows and doors and having a hurricane kit stocked with essential items, like water, food, first aid supplies and cash. Heed evacuation warnings if your home is in the path of a hurricane.