Life on the Gulf Coast comes with its own manner of measuring the seasons. If you’ve been here long enough, you know that when holiday lights aren’t up and there isn’t a thick layer of yellow pollen coating cars as far as the eye can see, it must be hurricane season.
Hurricanes are most likely to strike the Gulf Coast between June 1 and November 30, which is just about as long as a Texan summer feels. It wouldn’t be healthy to be on high alert for the duration, but it’s important not to become so used to the hurricane watches that you start to ignore them, either.
Hurricanes can cause catastrophic damage, and not only from the storm itself. Other hurricane effects include:
- Strong winds
- Storm surge
- Strong winds
- Rip currents
The last thing you want is to be caught unprepared when a hurricane is headed your way. If you understand which hurricane effects your household is exposed to, you’ll be able to prepare in advance and be as ready as possible next time a hurricane graces our corner of the Gulf of Mexico.
What is a Hurricane?
Hurricanes (also known as typhoons or cyclones in other parts of the world) are deadly storms that claim around 10,000 lives every year. Hurricanes begin as tropical depressions.
Storms form when fronts of cold and hot, humid air meet over warm ocean waters. As gravity pulls the denser cold air down and forces warmer, humid air upwards, the warm air releases water and starts to spin as it rises, creating storm clouds. Once the storm generates winds of 39-73 mph, we call it a tropical storm and the World Meteorological Organization gives it a name. If it reaches wind speeds at or above 74 miles per hour, the tropical storm becomes a hurricane.
You can learn more about the science of hurricanes here and find a glossary of terms here.
Hurricanes are classified by wind speed into categories, which describe the potential immediate hurricane effects brought on by the storm itself.
Category 1 hurricanes have dangerously high wind speeds between 74-95 miles per hour that can send debris flying, topple trees and snap large branches, and damage power infrastructure, causing power outages, potentially for days. With wind speeds between 96-110 miles per hour, category 2 hurricanes amplify these hurricane effects, toppling more trees and blocking more roads, resulting in power outages that can last for weeks.
Category 3 hurricanes and higher are major hurricanes that can cause catastrophic wind damage. You can expect devastating damage with a category 3 hurricane: trees will snap or become uprooted, blocking roads on a wider scale, and the damage to infrastructure could leave you without water or power for weeks.
With wind speeds between 130 – 156 miles per hour, category 4 hurricanes cause catastrophic damage. Even sturdily-built homes can lose their roofs and parts of exterior walls. Most trees snap or topple and power poles submerge, making it extremely difficult to get into or out of the most severely affected areas. Some hurricanes of this magnitude can leave you without power not for weeks, but potentially for months. Category 4 hurricanes don’t often make landfall on the Gulf Coast: before Hurricane Harvey in 2017 the last Category 4 storm to hit the Middle Texas Coast was Cecilia in 1970.
The most severe hurricanes have wind speeds at or above 157 miles per hour and are classified as category 5. Most homes are no match for hurricanes this strong, which can rip roofs right off and cause the walls themselves to collapse. Flying debris, fallen trees, and widespread power outages lasting for months can make affected areas completely uninhabitable in the aftermath of category 5 hurricanes.
You can see examples of how each category might affect a home here.
Your level of exposure to different hurricane effects depends largely on your location, though all can be life threatening: Along the coast, hurricane-related hazards like heavy rains, high winds, and even tornadoes can damage property in the hurricane’s path and send debris flying. Storm surges
Storm surges occur when the strong force of hurricane winds combine with the storm’s low pressure to force the sea levels to rise up to 30 feet above normal. The rising water can submerge low-lying areas along the coast, but it’s strong enough to move boulders and debris from docks, houses, roads, and anything else that the crashing waves demolish as the hurricane approaches.
Galveston residents can estimate their risk using the storm surge hazard map.
Farther inland, the most serious threat from hurricanes is often the flooding.Hurricanes weaken as they travel inland, but the torrential rains they bring can linger for days, causing widespread flooding and power outages. It’s a good idea to check the flood maps in your area even if you do live far from the coast, and if you’re not up to speed on basic flood safety, brush up here.
Preparing for a Hurricane
You can’t avoid all hurricane effects if you live in a hurricane zone but you can be a step ahead by being prepared. It is wise to have an evacuation plan if you live in an area vulnerable to hurricanes and flooding, and an emergency supply kit too. The rule of thumb for emergency kits is to have at least one day’s worth of drinking water and non-perishable food for every member of your household, including your pets.
Emergency kits should include:
- Seven days worth non-perishable food a gallon of drinking water for every day for every household member, including pets
- About a weeks worth cash
- Extra batteries
- Candles and matches
- Extra clothes
And don’t forget your pets! You should try to have a seven days supply of food for your pets just like you do for every family member, and factor your furry friends into your evacuation plans as well.
For more information on preparing for hurricanes, see the US National Hurricane Center’s hurricane preparedness site.
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