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Hurricanes are tropical cyclones that have a maximum sustained surface wind force of 74 miles per hour or greater.
These storms, such as Hurricane Ian, form over the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and Central Pacific Ocean each year from June 1 to Nov. 30, according to the National Weather Service.
As Hurricane Ian nears the Gulf of Mexico, a hurricane watch has been issued along Florida’s Gulf Coast, FOX Weather reported.
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“Now is the time to prepare,” Mayor Jane Castor of Tampa, Florida, tweeted on Sunday morning. “Don’t wait until it’s too late.”
A map showing Hurricane Ian.
Hurricane–force winds are defined by having a one-minute average of sustained wind.
Storm trackers apply the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale to assess hurricane hazards on a scale of one-to-five — with five being the highest level of property damage and danger, the weather service reports.
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Here’s more about hurricanes, plus safety tips on how to prepare as Hurricane Ian nears and Florida residents take precaution.
National Weather Service’s explanation of the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale
Category 1 hurricanes produce winds that are between 74 and 95 mph and are predicted to have “very dangerous winds” that’ll result in “some damage,” such as destruction to roofs, shingles, vinyl side and gutters, broken branches and the potential toppling of shallow-rooted trees and power lines, according to the NWS.
Category 2 hurricanes produce winds that are between 96 and 110 mph and are predicted to have “extremely dangerous winds” that’ll result in “extensive damage,” such as major destruction to roofs and siding, potential toppling of many low-rooted trees and near-total power loss with outages that can last days or weeks, according to the NWS.
Hurricane Ian could possibly become a Category 3 or higher when it enters the Gulf of Mexico and moves closer to Florida.
Category 3 hurricanes produce winds that are between 111 and 129 mph and are predicted to yield “devastating damage” that’ll result in major destruction, including severe damage or removal of roof decking and gable ends, many snapped or uprooted trees and loss of electricity and water for several days or weeks, according to the NWS.
Hurricane Ian could possibly become a Category 3 or higher when it enters the Gulf of Mexico and moves closer to Florida, according to FOX Weather.
Category 4 hurricanes produce winds that are between 130 mph and 156 mph. These hurricanes can result in “catastrophic damage” with severe destruction to most exterior roof structures and/or some walls; most trees will be snapped or uprooted; and power poles will be downed, with power outputs that can last weeks or months. In addition, certain areas will be uninhabitable for an extended period, according to the NWS.
Category 5 hurricanes produce winds that are between 157 mph or higher, and they’re also predicted to yield “catastrophic damage” that’ll result in a high percentage of framed homes being “destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse,” according to the NWS.
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Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas and power outputs and uninhabitable conditions can last for weeks or months.
More hurricane hazards and what could go wrong
Storm surges — an abnormal rise of water generated by tropical storms or hurricane winds — are another major hazard that causes property damage and deaths, according to the NWS.
“Large battering waves can result in large loss of life and cause massive destruction along the coast,” the NWS wrote on a Hurricane Safety Tips and Resources webpage.
“Storm surge can travel several miles inland, especially along bays, rivers, and estuaries,” the weather agency added.
Additional water-related hurricane hazards the NWS lists include flooding from heavy rains that can persist several days after the storm had dissipated and dangerous waves that can cause deadly rip currents, beach erosion and destruction to coastal structures.
This 3D rendering of clouds from Hurricane Ida (Aug 28, 2021) shows the storm over the Gulf of Mexico.
Eighty-eight percent of all tropical storm, tropical depression and hurricane deaths in America from 1963 to 2012 were caused by water, according to data from the National Hurricane Center.
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The NWS also warns residents in hurricane zones that loose objects and damaged property can be lifted or detached by strong winds and become dangerous projectiles, including signs, roofing material and outdoor furniture.
Hurricanes can sometimes be accompanied by tornadoes that “typically occur in rain bands well away from the center of the storm,” according to the NWS.
Hurricane safety preparation
Knowing what actions to take before hurricane season begins, when a hurricane approaches and enters a residential area, as well as what to do post-hurricane increases a person’s chance of survival, according to the NWS.
Before the start of hurricane season, the NWS recommends building a basic emergency supply kit and periodically making sure emergency equipment works correctly, including flashlights, generators and storm shutters.
Basic Emergency Supply Kit: FEMA Recommended Items
– Non-perishable food and water
– Extra cell phone batteries or chargers
– Battery-powered or hand crank radio
– Flashlights and extra batteries
– Plastic sheeting and duct tape
– Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
– Non-sparking wrench or pliers
The weather service refers to residents of hurricane zones to the US Department of Homeland Security’s “Basic Disaster Supplies” list on ready.gov, which has a breakdown of basic and additional supplies approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
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Basic emergency items include non-perishable food and water (gallon per person) that can last for several days, backup batteries and chargers for cellphones, extra packs of batteries for other emergency items, a battery-operated or hand crank radio, flashlights and a first aid kit.
Other basic disaster supplies that ready.gov names include a whistle to signal for help, dust masks to filter contaminated air, plastic sheeting and duct tape for sheltering in place, sanitation materials (moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties), a wrench or pliers for turning off utilities, a manual can opener and local maps.
Additional emergency supply includes prescribed medications and eyewear, infant or pet care supplies and copies of important family documents (IDs, bank accounts, insurance policies, etc.). People should keep these documents in a portable waterproof container, according to ready.gov.
More items include cash, emergency reference materials like first aid books and evacuation information, sleeping bags or warm blankets for each family member, extra clothes, fire extinguishers, matches (stored in a waterproof container), feminine and personal hygiene supplies, hand sanitizers, mess kits, disposable dinnerware, paper, pencil and non-electric entertainment activities.
The NWS and ready.gov both advise residents living in hurricane zones to research their area’s risk level and their nearest evacuation zone.
With this information in hand, residents who are at risk are urged to put together an emergency plan and review the plan with family members before disaster strikes.
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Both agencies state that preparing “go bags” or packing a car trunk with basic emergency supplies should be a part of each family’s emergency planning, and it must be done before a hurricane arrives.
Residents in hurricane zones should consider having materials to fortify their homes, such as wood plans for boarding windows, according to the NWS’s What to Do Before the Tropical Storm or Hurricane.
Homemade plywood covers the windows of a beach cottage in Florida in preparation for an oncoming hurricane.
Homeowners should also keep trimmed trees, declutter gutters, bring loose outdoor furniture indoors, secure all doors and move cars into garages or another secure location, according to the NWS and ready.gov.
Storm forecasts and updates should be monitored before, during and after a hurricane passes.
The NWS said information can be found through local TV news stations, mobile phones, radio broadcasts, social media and weather.gov.
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If evacuations are ordered by local officials, the NWS and ready.gov strongly encourage residents to follow instructions and leave immediately. Returns can be made if officials deem areas to be inhabitable post-hurricane.
Residents who aren’t ordered to can take refuge in small interior rooms, closets or hallways for safety, according to the NWS.
“Stay away from windows, skylights and glass doors,” the NWS warns.
“If the eye of the storm passes over your area, there will be a short period of calm, but at the other side of the eye, the wind speed rapidly increases to hurricane force winds coming from the opposite direction.”
An indoor window view of palm trees getting pushed by strong tropical storm winds. The National Weather Service recommends staying away from windows during storms and hurricanes.
Ready.gov recommends avoiding floodwaters outside and moving to higher levels if floodwaters enter a building or house.
Homeowners shouldn’t hide in closed attics because they can become trapped by rising floodwater, according to the disaster preparedness website.
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Cleaning up after a hurricane might require wearing protective clothing, including face coverings or if mold is present and being extra alert around electrical equipment that may have gotten wet during the storm, ready.gov warns.
The NWS says residents should also be wary of weakened roads, bridges, sidewalks and walls, structural damage from floods or fires, loose power lines, gas leaks and carbon monoxide poisoning from generators or another source.