With hurricanes constantly pummeling the eastern seaboard, it is a grim reminder that we are not immune.  Almost without exception, if you don’t get the hurricane head-on, the entire coast gets the tail, shoulder or rump of one or two of the dozen or so that form up in the Atlantic between the Caribbean and Africa and bring so much destruction and misery with them as they thunder west and north…  

This column is about that.

Tidal Surges

For Islanders, as bad as the winds will be (more on that below), it is the tides and tidal surges that will do most of the damage, which is why even these tails that go by every year leave so much trouble behind.  The storm tide is added to the astronomical tides.  And when those waves hit something solid, they generate force dozens of times more powerful than wind of the same speed.  Andrew generated a storm tide of 17 feet.  Camille in 1969?  24 feet.  And of course, there was Sandy who just sat there, at high tide.  During a full moon…

Add to that the population growth over time and the increase in the value of homes and it can spell either “an absolute disaster” or “they were prepared.”

What Is It?

A hurricane is, in the words of scientists, an organized rotating weather system that develops in the tropics.  Technically, it is a “tropical cyclone” and it is classified as one of three states, with hurricanes being further classified into levels of destruction…

Tropical Depression:  sustained winds of 38 mph (33 knots) or less
Tropical Storm:              sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph (34-63 knots)
Hurricane:                        sustained winds of 74 mph (64 knots) or greater

Hurricanes are called typhoons in the western Pacific and cyclones in the Indian Ocean.  Six of one, a half dozen of the other…

Categories of Hurricanes

We’ve all heard the weather reporter state that “Hurricane ‘x’ is now a Category 3 hurricane and headed for ________.”  What does that mean?

Category        Winds(mph)               Type of Damage Expected                        Examples

        1                    74-95                           Anything not tied down is going            Irene, 1999
                                                                        to be lost; don’t get hit by it.                     Sandy, 2012

        2                   96-110                        Trees will go down.  Roofs in                     Floyd, 1999
                                                                       trouble.                                                                  Georges, 1998

        3                 111-130                      Many trees will go down, along                Betsy, 1965
                                                                      with small buildings                                         Alicia, 1983

        4                 131-155                      Complete failures of some small             Hugo, 1989
                                                                      buildings.  Complete destruction
                                                                      of many structures

        5                 156->                            Catastrophe.  Wrath of God.                      Andrew, 1992
                                                                                                                                                           Katrina, 2005

USCG hurricane aircraft reported Andrew and Katrina had generated winds over 200mph at various times of the storms…

When looking at Cat-5s’, no one is saying that there is no difference between a storm that brings 160-mile-per-hour winds and one that reaches 190. The force of the winds goes up with the square of the velocity. In layman’s terms, that means a hurricane with 200-mile-per-hour winds has four times — not just double — the force of one with 100-mile-per-hour winds.

Are You Ready For the Glancing Blow?

Look, if a Category-4 or -5 arrives, there are no levels of preparedness except evacuation.  A storm surge like Camille’s basically means that everything “south of the highway”, as real estate agents like to classify the choicest properties on Long Island, is gone for all intents and purposes.  But what to do, regardless of intensity?  How can you be ready?

            Before the Storm Arrives

1. Have a family action plan – if you’re at caught at school or at work, who do you call?  To grandmother’s house we go?

2. flash lights working?  Canned goods and water supplies?  Cash?  Portable radio?

3. Where ARE you going to move the boat?  Don’t even THINK about staying on her… (more on that in #hurricaneprep-2-the-boat!)

4. How about your prescription medicines?  A first-aid kit is WHERE…!?

            During the Storm

1. Have the radio or TV on.  If power goes out and you don’t have a portable radio, I’d get the kids in the car and “to grandmother’s house we go…!”

2. Propane tanks on your property?  Shut them off, completely.

3. Turn the refrigerator up all the way and don’t open the door idly.

4. Fill the bath tub with water.  How about the big spaghetti pot?  Anything that can hold water and keep it clean.

5. If ordered to evacuate, do so.  Immediately.  And tell someone where you are going.

6. When evacuating, don’t drive across flowing water.  2’ of flowing water can carry your car away.  Yes.  Only 2’ of moving water.  Turn around and go another way.  There is no other way – call 911 or the US Coast Guard.

            After the Storm

1. If you’ve been ordered to evacuate, don’t go back until the area is declared safe.

2. If you see someone that needs rescuing, unless the threat of loss of life is imminent, call 9-1-1.

3. See standing water?  Do you know if any power cables lie in it?

4. Never use candles and other open flames indoors.  Keep the flashlight at your side…

This is by no means an exhaustive list.  But Earl just sent us a wake-up call.  And next time, we’ll talk about prepping your boat.