Hurricane season: What you need to know to stay ahead of the storm

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jason J. Brown and Airman 1st Class R. Alex Durbin
  • 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
June 1 marks the beginning of the 2013 hurricane season in the U.S., kicking off six months of the threat of tropical weather.

Meteorologists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predict 16 named storms during this season. Of these, nine are projected to strengthen to hurricane status, with five of these becoming major hurricanes. Based on the period from 1950-2012, the average season boasts 12 named storms, with seven becoming hurricanes and three becoming major hurricanes.

According to the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, more than 450 people died and nearly 2,600 were injured in the U.S. last year as a result of severe weather. The effects of Hurricane Sandy caused more than 280 of those deaths, and the storm has since become the second costliest hurricane in U.S. history.

Throughout this year's hurricane season, it is imperative for members to be prepared in case of severe weather. Whether riding out the storm at home or evacuating to safe haven, the following information can help prepare the community for the worst.

Understanding hurricanes

A hurricane is a tropical storm with winds that have reached a constant speed of 74 miles per hour or more. Winds rotate around a relatively calm center, known as the "eye" of the storm. The eye is generally 20 to 30 miles wide, and the storm may extend outward 400 miles. Hurricanes can last for more than two weeks over open water.

In addition to the wind speed, rainfall and lightning, tropical storm systems bring the threat of storm surge, a huge dome of water pushed on shore. When coupled with high tide, the storm surge will be the tide and surge combined. Storm surge is especially dangerous in tidal regions.

Hurricanes are categorized into five areas according to their sustained winds, storm surge and damage assessments. This is known as the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane scale:

- Category 1: Winds of 74-95 mph; minimal damage; 4-5 foot storm surge
- Category 2: Winds of 96-111 mph; extensive damage; 6-8 foot storm surge
- Category 3: Winds of 111-129 mph; devastating damage; 9-12 foot storm surge
- Category 4: Winds of 130-156 mph; catastrophic damage; 13-18 foot storm surge
- Category 5: Winds in excess of 157 mph; catastrophic damage; 18 foot or higher storm surge

While hurricanes represent the most severe of tropical storm systems, less powerful weather may still represent a threat to the area in the form of wind, rain and flooding. Tropical depressions are the weakest form of system, and feature circular clouds with winds up to 38 miles per hour and moderate rainfall. More powerful tropical storms feature circular clouds with winds between 39 and 73 miles per hour with heavy rainfall.

Watch vs. Warning

When monitoring severe weather through meteorological or news media outlets, viewers are alerted to watches and warnings. A tropical storm or hurricane watch alerts residents to the threat of a storm arriving within 36 hours. Tropical storm or hurricane warnings are more urgent, warning of a storm's arrival within 24 hours.

Prepare your emergency kit

In the event of an approaching storm, residents may or may not be ordered to evacuate. Whether riding the storm out or evacuating, having an emergency kit can be the difference between life and death, especially when hunkering down through the storm. Essential items in an emergency kit include:

· Water - one gallon per person per day for a minimum of three days
· Food - at least a three day supply of non-perishable goods
· Battery-powered or hand-crank radio, and a NOAA weather radio with tone alerts and extra batteries
· Flashlight
· First aid kit
· Whistle to signal for help
· Dust mask, plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
· Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for sanitation
· Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
· Can opener for food
· Local map

When building an emergency kit and emergency action plan, consider the needs of family members who may not be as capable, such as the elderly, disabled, children and family pets. Be sure to include all necessary medications and the name of the doctor who prescribed the medications in the emergency kit.

Riding it out

Depending on the severity of the storm, officials may not order mandatory evacuations, in which case you may decide to remain and shelter-in-place. You can shelter at home or in a public shelter.

If sheltering at home, be sure to accomplish the following:

· Identify how your property location is affected by storm surge and tidal flooding
· Know the hurricane evacuation routes
· Secure your outside property, i.e. lawn chairs, lawn ornaments and anything not anchored to the ground
· If your home does not have permanent storm shutters, board windows with 5/8-inch plywood. Tape does not offer protection
· Ensure you have flood insurance, if recommended

If you decide to seek refuge in a public shelter, you must take your emergency kit. While public shelters provide basic necessities, most do not provide cots, bedding, infant items or items for those with special needs. Most shelters will only accept service animals. Talk to your vet hospital or kennel in advance to get your pet sheltered.

Personnel and families living in base housing may seek shelter in the provided emergency evacuation centers on the installation or in the base housing area. The base housing shelters are provided exclusively for personnel residing in base housing. Personnel and families living in community housing should use public shelters. For a listing of available shelters, space availability and pet policies, contact the American Red Cross.

Protecting your pets

Pets are family members too, and should have an emergency kit to keep them safe in the event of a storm. Your pet's emergency kit should include food, water and medications. It is imperative to keep a copy of your pet's vaccination records in a waterproof bag.

Pets should wear a collar with a tag that displays the pet's name and owner contact information. Micro chipping is a great way to identify your pet if they get lost or separated. A photo of you with your pet can also help identify them if separated. A pet carrier or crate is recommended for evacuation, and a favorite chew toy can make their ordeal a lot easier.

'Getting out of dodge'

In the event that you are ordered to evacuate, be sure to know the evacuation routes. If you are evacuating, follow these tips:

- Leave early. Avoid traffic delays. If you are evacuating, many others likely are as well.
- Stay Local. Stay with nearby family who live outside of storm surge areas. Hotels are also available outside of storm surge areas, but must be booked as early as possible. Public shelters should be a last resort.
- Listen to local weather reports. Stay updated on current and developing conditions.

For more information visit the following websites: