Currently Explains: Hurricanes

A hurricane is, technically, a storm that forms over large bodies of warm, tropical water. When the storm’s winds reach and sustain 74 miles per hour, that’s when it’s officially classified as a hurricane.

Studies show that, due to climate change, hurricanes are becoming more frequent and more destructive. Just last year, in 2021, we experienced the third most active hurricane season in documented history — including Hurricane Ida, which ravaged through Louisiana and across the Southeast, accounting for almost 100 deaths and $60 billion in damages.

“The intensity is linked to the warming of the ocean waters,” says our Chief Meteorologist, Anthony Torres. 

“As we continue to heat up the planet, the oceans heat up; the hurricanes feed off of the latent heat released, which is the evaporative moisture from those warm oceans. And the warmer the ocean is, the warmer the air around it, the more capacity for the atmosphere to hold more water. And that process is directly tied to the strengthening of these tropical cyclones. And that is why we’re seeing a greater increase in major hurricanes year after year.”

And hurricane zones — the geographic areas that are predicted to experience the most occurrences of this extreme weather event — are only expected to grow, according to new research. Now, hurricanes will impact almost everyone, even in cities like Boston or Beijing.

This means that, perhaps now more than ever, it is important that our awareness around how to form resilient communities in the face of more extreme weather is strengthened.

Here’s the best way to prepare yourself and your community of loved ones for a hurricane, according to Currently experts.

1. How vulnerable is my community?

The perhaps most effective way to prepare for any extreme weather event is to have a strong understanding of how vulnerable your community is to the elements.

Researching whether your community is in a storm surge area and learning about your home’s infrastructure and susceptibility for damage is a great place to start. 

“Have a plan in place,” says Torres.

“The number one killer in hurricanes is flooding and the storm surge, not the winds. So if you’re in an area that floods easily — if you’re in a storm surge zone — then that is when you really want to have plans to evacuate. If you’re in [another] structure, like a mobile home or one that is poorly built and you know that strong winds are moving your way, that is another reason to have an evacuation plan.”

Currently has teamed up with the meteorologists at Colorado State University to create an interactive hurricane risk map that breaks down this year’s landfall risk by county, parish, province, state, and nation for all the hurricane-prone areas of North America, Central America, and the Caribbean:

2. What’s the best way to prepare?

Depending on the intensity of the storm, community members could be without water or power for extended periods of time. This means that taking a thorough inventory of your household needs and what you might need in the event of an emergency, is crucial.

“Make sure that you’ve got at least three days worth of self-sufficiency,” says John Morales, our Miami-based meteorologist. “If you’re taking care of elderly, make sure that they’re going to be properly taken care of. Even your pets, you need to consider as well.”

Things like prescription medications, water, clothing, food — larger tools like a generator — are all worth considering when assembling your preparedness plan.

Preparing for a storm, also looks like assessing your home’s structural integrity, as mentioned before.

“[Do] you have strong windows and doors? Or do you have a way to protect those windows and doors? You need to know that too, because if not, you need to make plans to protect those and keep the wind out of your structure,” said Morales.

If you’re a homeowner, preparedness might also look like connecting with your property’s insurance agent to see what kind of storm damage might be included in your policy.

3. What about afterward?

It’s important to note that a tropical storm’s impacts on a region can be devastating. Due to this, it is equally as important to prepare how you’ll navigate your community post-storm as it is pre-storm.

In addition to making sure to cover any exposed skin to protect yourself from fallen debris or other hazards, you’ll also want to make sure you have essential items, like medical equipment, essential documents, medication or other things you may need to survive, should you be forced to relocate.

Meteorologists emphasize that in the case of these events you should think long-term, and prepare to, especially if you choose to or are unable to evacuate, navigate an unstable environment.

In Puerto Rico, for example, Hurricane Maria knocked out nearly 80 percent of the country’s power grid, taking over 11 months to restore and leaving millions, especially the most vulnerable, without necessary electricity.

“If you are sick, and require medical equipment that must use power, [but] that equipment is not working — you might be able to withstand a day or two or three, but after two or three weeks with still no power, people are succumbing to that situation,” said Morales. 

“That’s how so many people died in Puerto Rico, no power for weeks and months on end led to these indirect deaths on the island. So [if] people need to move to try and find a place where there is power, [it’s] a good idea if you do it carefully. But the problem is, not everybody can afford to do that.”

Should you, in fact, be forced to relocate, you’ll also want to be aware of your town’s evacuation plan, in order to avoid further panic on the day of.

“There have been instances in the past year, going back to the 2005 hurricane season, where people have died in the evacuation process because everybody evacuated at once and were stuck on the freeway with high heat and other dangers,” says Torres.

 “The best way to avoid evacuation disasters  is to make sure that you know where you live and [if] this was a big hazard to your specific location.”

4. Who can I call on for help?

“Nobody knows exactly where [the storms] are going to go once they form and get strong. But everybody from the Caribbean to Central America and North America — we all need to be quite vigilant to what’s going to happen this hurricane season.”

Local organizations have long been carrying the burden of supporting community members through traumatic extreme weather events like hurricanes.

Organizations like Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, for example, offer a Relief Toolkit,  a list of resources and a directory of city-based mutual aid organizations across the country for community members in need during a time of environmental crisis.

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