5 hurricane hazards and tips to prepare for them
Last updated: September 2023
Hurricanes can be accompanied by hazards before, during and after the storm. Here’s a look at five hurricane-related hazards and how you can help protect your family and property against them.
1. High winds
Hurricane-force winds, which reach 74 mph or more, can carry debris through the air and damage buildings, the National Hurricane Center says. Hurricanes are assigned categories, from 1 to 5, based on their wind speeds. Even a Category 1 hurricane can knock down trees or damage a home, the National Hurricane Center says.
You may be able to help prevent wind damage to your home by taking precautions before hurricane season arrives. For instance:
- Consider installing permanent storm shutters or installing impact-resistant windows, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says.
- Brace your garage door to help minimize damage, suggests the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes.
- Check your gutters and downspouts. If they are loose, secure them, advises Ready.gov.
- Trim your trees or remove damaged ones to help minimize damage and potential hazards on your property, says Ready.gov.
Almost all hurricanes that move over land produce at least one tornado, according to the Central Pacific Hurricane Center. While many of those tornadoes form the same day a hurricane makes landfall, tornadoes can form up to two days before and three days after a hurricane reaches land, the organization says.
It's a good idea to have a tornado shelter plan. Designate an interior room with no windows on your home's lowest level where you and your family can seek shelter during a tornado, the National Weather Service (NWS) says. You may also want to practice your plan to help make sure everyone in your home knows where to go if there is a tornado warning, the NWS says.
In the event of a tornado watch, place cars in your garage or under a carport to help protect them from hail damage, the Insurance Information Institute (III) suggests. And, if you have time, put lawn furniture and other outdoor equipment inside to help protect it and prevent it from blowing around during the storm, the III says.
If you're in your car during a tornado, seek shelter in a building, the NWS says. If there's not a place to take shelter, you may have two options, depending on your surroundings. If there's a nearby ditch that is noticeably below road level, and you're able to safely exit your vehicle, lie in the ditch and cover your head with your hands, the NWS says. If there is no ditch or you cannot safely leave your vehicle, remain in your car with your seat belt on. Be sure to keep your head below the windows and cover your head with your hands as well as another barrier like a blanket or coat, the NWS says.
People living in mobile homes should also seek alternative shelter, the NWS adds.
3. Heavy rains and flood
In addition to high wind speeds, hurricanes can bring heavy rainfall. A slow-moving storm can result in rain that remains over a particular area, the NWS says, resulting in flash floods or floods from overflowing rivers. FEMA can help you see if you live in a potential flood zone.
If flash flooding threatens your area, move to higher ground, says Ready.gov. Take safety precautions if you find yourself near standing water, Ready.gov adds. Don't walk or drive through flood water, the site says. While 6 inches of moving water may not look like a safety hazard, it's enough to knock you off your feet, according to Ready.gov. Similarly, a vehicle can be carried off by 12 inches of moving water, the site says.
In addition, avoid driving on bridges that are over moving flood water and don't park along rivers or creeks during a heavy rainfall, Ready.gov says.
4. Storm surges
A storm surge can occur when ocean water rises above tide levels and wind pushes it toward the shore, the National Hurricane Center explains. This can cause flooding in coastal areas and even wash away boats and buildings, according to Ocean Today.
The risk of a storm surge is one of the reasons why people in coastal areas are urged to evacuate before a hurricane, AccuWeather says. To help prepare, find out from your local government whether you live in a hurricane evacuation area, FEMA suggests. With a better understanding of what risks you may face, you can create a plan to help you prepare for what you'll do if a hurricane strikes.
5. Rip currents
A rip current is when a section of water quickly travels toward the ocean rather than crashing onto the shore, the National Ocean Service explains. A hurricane can generate rip currents even if the storm is hundreds of miles from the shore and pose risks to even the best swimmers, the National Hurricane Center says. Rip currents, sometimes referred to as rip tides or undertow, can occur even on a nice day after a storm passes, according to Ocean Today.
To help stay safe, look up your local beach forecast before heading to the water, the NWS says. And, adds the site, only swim in areas where a lifeguard is on duty. If you do get caught in a rip current, swim parallel to the shore until you're out of the current before heading back toward the beach, the National Ocean Service says.
A hurricane can come with several safety risks. Being prepared and taking some precautions may help you stay safe if a storm strikes your area.