A hurricane is coming, so what? People of Florida are so used to being bombarded with this extreme storm that it becomes just something that happens when living there… nothing special, get on with your day. At some point you should wonder, if there is an entire season named for it, are we normalizing the event to the point that we are ignoring the dangers?
This is especially worrisome as hurricanes are a problem not just for full-time residents but even more so for part-time residents. Many communities in Southwest Florida such as Naples, Bonita Springs, and Marco Island have their own migration phenomenon, known as “snowbirds”. These are people who live in Florida for only part of the year to get away from the cold and snowy winter months back home. Once the seasons change and the snow melts, they return to their other home, generally in more northern climates.
Many of these residents have never been exposed to the stress and preparation necessary for storm season and they may not understand the danger it represents. Further, the Florida storm season officially starts June 1st and continues through November 30th. The peak of this season being mid-August to late October as seen below.
Unfortunately, those dates coincide with the max exodus of all our snowbirds. This exacerbates the dangers of storm season. Later we will discuss steps we can take to mitigate those dangers, but first what makes a storm a hurricane?
You may have heard the term typhoon or cyclone and wondered how these are different from hurricanes. In truth, they are the same thing, but different places in the world refer to them by different names. Storms originating in the Atlantic and the Eastern Pacific are called hurricanes, while in the North Pacific they are known as Typhoons, and those originating in the Indian Ocean and South Pacific are referred to as Cyclones, confusing! Remember these terms all mean the same thing.
The scientific name for this entire collection of storms is tropical cyclones. Interestingly tropical cyclones rotate counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern hemisphere.
Hurricanes only form in tropical areas because they require specific conditions. The ocean must be at least 80°F for the first 165 feet (50 meters) of its surface or more. The other ingredient needed is wind. The Atlantic hurricanes make use of the westward wind blowing from Africa to the Americas along the equator.
The warm moist air over the ocean rises leaving an area of low pressure. That low pressure zone becomes an opening for other air to move into its place, causing wind. The air that moved into that spot becomes warmed and moist from the ocean and rises again. This continues as the surrounding air swirls into the same spot creating a spiral pattern and forming the eye of the storm.
But, hurricanes don’t start off as hurricanes, instead they build over time and progress through a universally accepted classification system. Before storms reach the level of a hurricane they are referred to as tropical depressions and tropical storms.
Further, once a storm becomes a hurricane it can be broken into several major parts that are commonly used by meteorologists and news teams when covering storms.
Here is what you need to know about each of them.
Hurricanes themselves are then broken down further to determine how severe the storm will be. The most commonly used model is the Saffir Simpson Hurricane wind scale which breaks hurricanes into categories.
The Saffir Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale
The damage caused by the different Categories of hurricane vary greatly. The National Hurricane Center describes it as follows.
Category 1s cause minimal damage. There could be some problems with roofing shingles, vinyl siding or gutters. Tree branches could snap, or small trees could be uprooted. There will likely be damage to power lines resulting in power outages for several days.
Category 2s will likely cause moderate damage. This could mean more major damage to roofs and siding, and possibly breaking windows. Many smaller trees are likely to snap and block roads. Power loss is expected with outages lasting from days to weeks.
Category 3s are likely to cause extensive damage. They can break windows and doors, and possibly remove roof decking. Numerous trees will break apart and become uprooted blocking many roads. There is a high likelihood of water and power being out for days to weeks.
Category 4s will cause extreme damage. They have the ability to tear roofs off and cause extensive damage to house structures. Most trees will snap and power poles are also likely to be downed. Power outages will last for weeks to months and the area will be uninhabitable.
Category 5s cause catastrophic damage. They can level houses and flatten buildings. There will likely be total destruction of anything standing. The area will be uninhabitable for weeks to months.
The category of the storm is determined by the winds found around the eyewall, these are the storm’s most powerful winds. However the strength of these winds diminish as you get towards the outer sections of the storm.
Storms with winds 39 mph or greater receive names. This was started to differentiate multiple storms occurring at the same time. In the Atlantic the names come from an alphabetical list that rotates every 6 years. A name is retired if the storm was severe enough that it would be inappropriate to name another storm after it.
It is important to remember that before the storm there are steps you can take to mitigate some damage like storing your patio furniture and using hurricane glass or shutters for your windows. Left alone, outdoor pottery, vases and patio furniture can be picked up by the wind and smashed into neighboring houses, or worse hit a person. With the potential problem of loose patio furniture becoming projectiles, you can see how dangerous an unprepared house can be.
After a storm has passed, make sure to check for problems with your shingles, cracks in windows, and places where leaks and future water damage may occur. You can get service professionals to do this for you if you do not know how. If you’re away during a storm, many home watch companies will come over after to be your eyes and ears on the ground. They will be sure to keep you informed about next steps. It is important to act quickly! The longer you wait the worse it will get.
Remember, most of the major wind destruction will be located in the path of the eye of the storm. This means a category 5 hurricane isn’t going to knock down houses the entire width of the storm. Depending on which part of the storm passes over you, wind damage could be the least of your worries.
Strong winds are not the only threat from hurricanes. In fact, water damage is one of the most destructive aspects of these storms. Water damage can come in several forms during hurricanes.
First of all, this is essentially a giant storm cloud, and storm clouds mean rain.
These storms have the potential to stay over a specific area for days, though many keep moving and spread their rainfall over large areas. The longer it stays in one place the more rain will fall in that area, making the edges of a hurricane as damaging as the eye.
The amount of rain in a storm is hard to predict. There are several argued over methods for estimating how much the average storm could carry. While the number can vary from several inches to several feet, the highest recorded rainfall from a hurricane was 60.58 inches in Nederland, Texas during Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
Rain can generate problems for your house from above through any damage to roofs and windows caused by the winds. It is important that you or a service professional inspect your roof immediately after a storm. You can put in gutter guards to keep debris out of your gutters and allow rain an easy way to drain off of your roof. If water gets into your house it can cause major damage. There are three types of water damage to look out for, click here to learn more.
Second, these torrential rainfalls also cause major problems from flooding. Major flooding including flash floods are projected during hurricanes.
Flood water carries sediments from land its covered and waste from the sewers rising through grates which leads to the most hazardous form of water damage, black water damage.
Parts of the risen water will create strong currents and undertows that make being outside dangerous if not deadly. Many counties (e.g. Collier, Lee, etc.) issue mandatory evacuations for residents before hurricanes to ensure fewer casualties from storms.
Any flood water that has entered homes will cause water damage and leave anything not damaged covered in undesirable sludge. Consider where in your home your HVAC system is located and what appliances you should keep operational during storm season if you aren’t going to be at home. Despite keeping your HVAC system out of flood waters, it won’t remain operational when the electricity is typically out after a storm passes. This means there will be water and moisture everywhere, creating a breeding ground for mold.
Once the storm has passed you need to make sure that you have the appropriate equipment on hand. Mitigating further damage from these conditions will be vital. If you know you will not be around, make sure to have a home watch company that provides storm season services on retainer.
Water is not only coming from rain falling and flooding of overfull lakes and rivers. There is also water coming inland from the ocean. Just as tides come in everyday, hurricanes add to the height of the tide. Storm surge is a rise in the water above what normal tides bring in. The combination of the two is called storm tide.
The rise of water creating the storm surge is mainly due to water being driven ashore by wind. The height of the storm surge is dependent on several factors and can change based on the direction of the hurricane and where it hits shore.
The storm surge is a body of water that moves onto the shore. It allows waves previously confined to the ocean a place to land. The continued pounding of the waves helps hurricanes to knock down buildings that weren’t prepared for the assault.
Storm surge is the most dangerous part of any hurricane. The devastation of storm surge can be seen in hurricanes like Hurricane Katrina that hit the USA in 2005. The storm surge was 25-28 feet. At least 1200 people died as a result of the storm, many due to the storm surge. Katrina was the costliest hurricane on record with estimated destruction of $160 billion.
Hurricane Irma taught all of us to remain vigilant. Irma hit Florida in 2017 and cost approximately $50 billion to clean up after in the US alone. That is in the top 5 of the USA’s most expensive hurricanes, and it wasn’t a category 5 by the time it hit Florida.
It is important to educate yourself on hurricanes, storm season, and its dangers. Preparing your home and having someone you trust care for your home while you are away becomes vital.
Halo Home Watch strives to educate and alleviate the stress of this critical time for those living in Marco Island, Naples, Bonita Springs, or Estero. It is important whether staying through storm season or leaving to know the risks you and your home could face. We have a variety of checklists, prep articles, and other useful information to help you prepare.
If your neighbors are going to leave for storm season, make sure to notify your neighbors about the importance of having somebody knowledgeable, like a home watch company watching over their property. A home watch company will perform property checks while they are away and have their house ready for storm season. This could save both you and your neighbor problems later. Storm season has enough problems without that.
Taking the necessary steps is imperative for both the safety of you and your neighbors. Time is limited once a storm is named, be wary of any home watch company who provides storm season services for all their clients and makes unrealistic promises.
When you are thousands of miles away and a storm has come through, the worst feeling in the world is not knowing if your home is okay. Is someone looking after your interests? It could possibly be one of the most important decisions you make!
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