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The Essentials of life article series covers the basics of sustaining life with an emphasis on both urban and wilderness places.

Hurricane Preparation and Survival Planning Part 2

Part 1    Part 3

Planning For The Danger of High Winds and Hurricane Survival

  The intensity of a land falling hurricane is expressed in terms of category numbers that relate to wind speeds and potential damage. The categories are numbers from 1 to 5. When planning for your families safety and survival it is vital to understand the meaning of hurricane category numbers. According to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale (the scale used to measure hurricane intensity and danger), a Category 1 hurricane has lighter winds and presents less danger to your survival when compared to storms in higher category numbers, meaning the higher the number the more dangerous the storm is.  A Category 4 hurricane would have winds between 131 and 155 mph and, on average, would usually be expected to cause 100 times the damage of the Category 1 storm. This obviously effects your chances of survival. Remember also, your families survival plan requires as much advanced warning as possible, especially for very dangerous storms, monitor local forecasts on radio, TV and by internet. Be ready to prepare for, and use, your families survival plan well ahead of time. If a dangerous hurricane approaches, your escape route and survival will be put in jeopardy if you wait to long to act on your plan. Gather your survival kit and discuss your survival plan when a storm forms and starts to move your direction. This will insure that you a prepared to implement your plan without last minute problems that may hurt your chances for survival. Depending on circumstances, less intense storms may still be strong enough to produce damage, particularly in areas that have not prepared in advance. Planning includes boarding up windows and any glass ahead of time, even if you plan to evacuate, covering glass can minimize the damage to your property after your evacuation. The fact that a category 4 storm can cause 100 times the damage of a category one storm highlights the importance of planning to survive a hurricane. We have seen many tragic circumstances in recent years of those who thought their plan was adequate to survive a storm, only to find that a powerful hurricane can test your survival even in the best circumstances. Plan well and include a evacuation route and evacuation survival kit as well as a home survival kit. By making a comprehensive plan, covering all the bases, your family will be prepared to survive even the worst of possible storms. If you are prepared and a storm suddenly intensifies you will be able to evacuate on a moments notice. This means less traffic and a greater chance you will escaper the danger.

Tropical storm-force winds are strong enough to be dangerous to those caught in them. For this reason, emergency managers plan on having their evacuations complete and their personnel sheltered before the onset of tropical storm-force winds, not hurricane-force winds. You can use this same guide in your survival plan. Prepare to evacuate or be sheltered before the rain bands and wind arrive.

Hurricane-force winds can easily destroy poorly constructed buildings and mobile homes. Your survival will be in great jeopardy if you stay in such a structure. Plan to evacuate well ahead of time if you live in a unsheltered location or a mobile home. There is little you can do once the storm arrives and your home is damaged. There is plenty you can do though, if you plan ahead and survive the storm. All other damage can and will be taken care of with time. If you or your family are injured, or worse, there is little that can be accomplished.  Debris such as signs, roofing material, and even small items left outside become flying missiles in hurricanes and threaten your survival. Extensive damage to trees, towers, water and underground utility lines (from uprooted trees), and fallen poles cause considerable disruption, this should also be considered in your survival plan. Your survival kit should contain such necessary items such as food and water as well as a good flashlight, medical kit, emergency shelter and tools needed to escape your home (through the roof if necessary) and to turn off utilities if needed.

High-rise buildings are also vulnerable to hurricane-force winds, particularly at the higher levels since wind speed tends to increase with height. Recent research suggests you should stay below the tenth floor, but still above any floors at risk for flooding. It is not uncommon for high-rise buildings to suffer a great deal of damage due to windows being blown out. Consequently, the areas around these buildings inside and out can be very dangerous.

The strongest winds usually occur in the right side of the eyewall of the hurricane. Wind speed usually decreases significantly within 12 hours after landfall. Nonetheless, winds can stay above hurricane strength well inland. Hurricane Hugo (1989), for example, battered Charlotte, North Carolina (which is 175 miles inland) with gusts to nearly 100 mph. Even if you don't live directly on the coast it is still important to have a evacuation and survival plan, to keep a survival kit and evacuation kit ( a dual purpose, portable kit) available, many other disasters can also call for similar action.

HIGH WIND SURVIVAL ACTIONS - before hurricane season

  • Find out if your home meets current building code requirements for high-winds. Experts agree that structures built to meet or exceed current building code high-wind provisions have a much better chance of surviving violent windstorms.
  • Protect all windows by installing commercial shutters or preparing 5/8 inch plywood panels. More info
  • Garage doors are frequently the first feature in a home to fail. Reinforce all garage doors so that they are able to withstand high winds. More info
  • If you do not live in an evacuation zone or a mobile home, designate an interior room with no windows or external doors as a “Safe Room”. More info #1   More info #2
  • Before hurricane season, assess your property to ensure that landscaping and trees do not become a wind hazard.
    - Trim dead wood and weak / overhanging branches from all trees.
    - Certain trees and bushes are vulnerable to high winds and any dead tree near a home is a hazard.
    - Consider landscaping materials other than gravel/rock.
  • Create a survival plan including a evacuation plan and gather supplies for a survival kit for your home and auto.

HIGH WIND SAFETY ACTIONS - as a hurricane approaches

  • Most mobile / manufactured homes are not built to withstand hurricane force winds. Residents of homes not meeting that level of safety should evacuate to a safer structure, especially be prepared to evacuate at any time incase local officials issue a hurricane evacuation order for your community or area.
  • Once a hurricane warning is issued, (or before hand if you need more time) install your window shutters or plywood panels. More info
  • When a hurricane warning is issued for your community, secure or bring inside all lawn furniture and other outside objects that could become a projectile in high winds.
  • Listen carefully for safety instructions from local officials, and go to your designated “Safe Room” when directed to do so.
  • Monitor NOAA Weather Radio.
  • Do not leave your “Safe Room” until directed to do so by local officials, even if it appears that the winds calmed. Remember that there is little to no wind in the eye of a hurricane.
  • Review your survival plan and take stock of your survival kit and supplies.

Tornado Danger

Hurricanes can also produce tornadoes that add to the storm's destructive power. Tornadoes are most likely to occur in the right-front quadrant ( if you could lay a clock dial on top of the hurricane with 12 pointing in the direction the hurricane is traveling, the right front quadrant would be the area between 12 and 3 on the clock dial) of the hurricane.  However, they are also often found elsewhere embedded in the rain bands, well away from the center of the hurricane.

Tornado Facts

  • When associated with hurricanes, tornadoes are not usually accompanied by hail or a lot of lightning, clues that citizens in other parts of the country watch for.

  • Tornado production can occur for days after landfall when the tropical cyclone remnants maintain an identifiable low pressure circulation.

  • They can also develop at any time of the day or night during landfall. However, by 12 hours after landfall, tornadoes tend to occur mainly during daytime hours.


Fujita scale
The Fujita scale (F-scale) uses actual damage to determine a tornado’s wind speed

  • F0 Gale Tornado
    40-72 mph
    Some damage to chimneys. Tree branches broken off. Shallow rooted trees uprooted.
  • F1 Moderate Tornado
    73-112 mph
    Peels surface off roofs. Mobile homes overturned. Moving autos pushed off roads.
  • F2 Significant Tornado
    113-157 mph
    Considerable damage. Roofs torn off frame houses. Large trees snapped or uprooted. Light-object missiles generated.
  • F3 Severe Tornado
    158-206 mph
    Severe damage. Roofs and some walls torn off well constructed homes. Trains overturned. Most trees in forests uprooted. Heavy cars lifted off ground.
  • F4 Devastating Tornado
    207-260 mph
    Well-constructed houses leveled. Structures with weak foundations blown off some distance. Cars thrown and large missiles generated.
  • F5 Incredible Tornado
    261-318 mph
    Strong frame houses lifted off foundations and disintegrated. Automobile-sized missiles fly through the air in excess of 100 mph. Trees debarked.

Tornado Safety Actions - Homes

  • Monitor NOAA Weather Radio.
  • When a tornado watch is issued, be prepared to take action.
  • When a tornado warning is issued, or a tornado is imminent, move to a small interior room away from windows.
  • Consider constructing a tornado safe room in or adjacent to your home.

Tornado Safety Actions - Mobile and Manufactured Homes

  • Monitor NOAA Weather Radio.
  • Have a plan of where to go during a tornado threat—a nearby pre-identified safe structure within walking distance, evacuate, a mobile home will not survive a tornado strike.
  • When a tornado watch is issued, be prepared to take action, implement any planning, know where your evacuation survival kit is and be prepared to evacuate if threatening weather approaches.
  • When conditions warrant, move to the pre-identified safe structure.
  • If you live in a mobile or manufactured home park, get together with other residents and the park owner/manager to designate safe shelter areas in the park or community.

Tornado Safety Actions - Offices, Condominiums and Hotels

  • Monitor NOAA Weather Radio.
  • When action is required, take shelter in an interior hallway on a lower floor, closet or small room.
  • As a last resort, get under heavy furniture, away from windows.

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