How to Prepare for a Hurricane

  • Medical Author:
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

Can Your Hospital Handle a Natural Disaster?

Most of us have our favorite places to eat and hang out. There is the neighborhood coffee shop where we stop for our morning cup. However, that isn't the place we would choose for a Sunday morning brunch or the special anniversary night out. Each place serves our special wants and needs. Hospitals are no different, but do you know what hospital to choose in an emergency or natural disaster like a tornado, hurricane, or earthquake, and does it matter?

So why should it matter to you, the patient, when an emergency exists? Every hospital should be about the same...right? The answer is a little complicated and is based upon geography.

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Hurricane definition and facts

  • The definition of a hurricane is a type of tropical cyclone (a circulating weather system) over Atlantic and northeastern Pacific tropical waters that has well-defined circulation, and sustained winds of 74 mph or higher. These same types of storms are called typhoons in the western Pacific, and cyclones in the Indian Ocean.
  • All Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coastal areas are subject to hurricanes. An  reliable estimate of expected annual property loss due to hurricanes is $5 billion.
  • The Atlantic hurricane season lasts from June to November, with the peak season from min-August to late October. People living in these areas need to prepare for these events.
  • Hurricanes are categorized according to wind speeds based on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, from 1 to 5.
  • In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf coast as a Category 3 storm, with sustained winds up to 140 mph. Katrina was the costliest natural disaster in the U.S, and the third-most deadly, with 1,245 deaths related to the storm. In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy was a Category 3 storm when it made landfall in Cuba, and by the time it reached the northeastern U.S. where it made landfall, it was a Category 1 with winds of 80 mph. It was the second-costliest hurricane in U.S history. In October 2016 Hurricane Matthew made landfall in the Caribbean and the southeastern U.S. Matthew was a Category 4 storm when it hit Haiti with 145 mph winds. It briefly strengthened to a Category 5 out at sea before making its way over the Bahamas as a Category 3, and hitting the U.S. mainland in just north of Charleston, SC as a Category 1 with wind gusts up to 75 mph.
  • The National Hurricane Center (NHC), a division of The U.S. National Weather Service (NWS) and The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), predicts, names, and tracks tropical weather systems.
  • The National Hurricane Center suggests having a family disaster plan that is written down and discussed with all family members before a storm approaches. Create a checklist for all the things you will need to do in the event of an approaching storm. Include pets in your plans.
  • Part of your hurricane preparedness plan should include where to go in the event you need to evacuate your home. Follow instructions of local authorities and evacuate if required.
  • Secure your home, and make sure you have enough supplies for several days in case you lose power or cannot get out of the area due to floods or blocked roads.
  • Take locally offered or Internet based First Aid, CPR, and disaster preparedness classes.
  • After the storm, make sure food and water is safe to eat and drink. Be careful of downed power lines, and make sure you wear protective gear during storm cleanup.

How do hurricanes form?

A hurricane is an intense low-pressure weather system with winds of 74 or more miles per hour. It is a type of cyclone that generally forms in the tropics. Thunderstorms accumulate into a tropical depression which begins to rotate as it gets bigger over warm tropical water. The tropical depression grows bigger and gains strength, eventually turning into a hurricane. These storms are defined by high wind speeds, with accompanying rain, possible storm surges, flooding and tornadoes.

How are hurricanes categorized?

Hurricanes are categorized according to wind speeds based on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. The weakest hurricanes are Category 1, defined by wind speeds starting at 74 miles per hour and storm surges of 4 to 6 feet. The scale ranges to a Category 5 where wind speeds are in excess of 155 miles per hour, and storm surges can reach 18 feet or more.

Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale
Category Sustained Winds Damage
1 75-95 mph Very dangerous winds will produce some damage.Roofs, siding, shingles, and gutters damaged. Large tree branches will snap. Damage to power lines will result in power outages.
2 96-110 mpg Extremely dangerous winds will cause extensive damage. Major roof and siding damage. Shallowly rooted trees will snap or uproot and block roads. Near-total power loss is expected with outages that could last weeks.
3 111-129 mph Devastating damage will occur. Well-built framed homes may see major damage or removal of roof decking and gable ends. Many trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking roads. Electricity and water will be unavailable for up to weeks after the storm.
4 (major) 130-156 mph Catastrophic damage will occur. Well-built framed homes may have loss of most of the roof and some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages could months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.
5 (major) 157 mph or higher Catastrophic damage will occur. A large number of framed homes will be destroyed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.

How dangerous are hurricanes?

All hurricanes are dangerous. Even the lowest category hurricanes can produce flying debris, standing water hazards, and tornadoes.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/13/2016

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