Friday, July 18, 2014

Hurricane Preparedness: Lots of Scary Facts

Not actually Erin.
Picture by KJ Photography
& is used with permission. 
Last week, I talked about the evacuation ("bugging out") side of hurricane preparedness.  I originally intended for this week's article to be full of advice on how to make sure your home is ready for a hurricane strike, but I got a bit sidetracked.

Folks, I am absolutely astounded at all the people who seem to think they can weather a storm and end up paying the price for it. Therefore, before I talk about the actualities of bugging in for a hurricane, I'm going to try to scare the crap out of you so that you take it as seriously as I do.

Make Sure Your Home Can Take It
If you're a Floridian like I am, you're golden in this regard: as of 2013, we have the highest safety rating (95%) for hurricane-rated buildings and their associated code enforcement. However, if you live in other states, you might just be in trouble:
However, just because your home is hurricane-rated doesn't mean that it will survive a direct strike. While Florida homes may be built on the assumption that once every 50 years they will experience winds over a hundred miles per hour (115 mph in North Florida, 180 in the southernmost Keys), keep in mind that a Category 5 hurricane, according to the Saffir-Simpson scale,  is a storm with wind speeds "over 157 mph". Kindly note there is no upper limit there. Back in 2008, a wind speed of 211 mph was recorded as Hurricane Gustav passed over Cuba -- and that speed broke the instruments.  There might have been stronger winds; we simply can't know. 

Also, the duration of the winds is as important as intensity: a home might be able to withstand a 180 mph gust for a few seconds, but what about minutes? What about storms that last for hours?  To quote Robert Simpson (of the aforementioned Saffir-Simpson scale),

"...when you get up into winds in excess of 155 mph (249 km/h) you have enough damage if that extreme wind sustains itself for as much as six seconds on a building it's going to cause rupturing damages that are serious no matter how well it's engineered."

And Then There Are the Tornadoes
It's been proven that hurricanes spawn tornadoes. Fortunately, the tornadoes that spin off from hurricanes and tropical storms are usually weaker than their great plains counterparts (usually EF0 or 1, and rarely exceeding EF3). However, the key word there is "usually"; there are two recorded instances (Hurricane Carla, 1961, and Hurricane Hilda, 1964) which both spawned EF4 tornadoes.

Did you know that EF4 can get as high as 200 miles per hour? And that there is, in fact, an entire category beyond that called EF5 which is basically meteorologists throwing up their hands and saying "We have no idea how high this will go"?  A force 5 tornado is basically a town-killer. I sure don't want to be dug in on the day that a Cat 5 hurricane decides to get freaky and start tossing out EF4 and 5 twisters. 

Don't Forget the Storm Surge
"Storm surge" is a fancy way of saying "hurricanes also flood areas."  Storm surges are actually responsible for the majority of deaths in hurricanes, either from drowning (six inches of fast-moving water can knock a man off his feet), debris (a foot or so of the same fast-moving water can knock buildings off their foundations, causing them to crumble), or good old exposure, aka hypothermia. While not as impressive as the flooding caused by tsunami, they're a close second in terms of death and destruction.

Note here how even a Category 1 hurricane can produce a surge deep enough to drown children and many adults, and how a Cat 2 is over the heads of all human beings. Now think about what happens if all that water decides that you are in its way... well, you're going wherever it takes you, and if it decides to smash you into a building or dump some debris on you, then you really have no say in the matter. 

Fortunately, water behaves in rather predictable ways when it comes ashore, and there are definite precautions which can be taken to protect a house and its occupants from flooding.  Just don't try to wade across it if it's moving quickly, and don't try to drive across a flooded section of road!

Have I scared you yet? Good.
Folks, I am not kidding when I say "If they tell you to leave, then get the hell out of town." Nature is a mother.  Therefore, all posts after this will assume that you are attempting to ride out nothing more than a Category 3 hurricane.

Next week (as this article has already gotten quite long) I will talk about what you can do to make your home safer from wind and water. 

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