Preparing for a Hurricane: Before and After

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Introduction to preparing for a hurricane

Hurricane damage accounts for on average of $5.1 billion in damages per year. From 2000 to 2010 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recorded 1,153 deaths due to hurricanes, with the majority occurring in 2005 due to Hurricane Katrina, a Category 4 storm that hit the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Mississippi.

This article provides tips to prepare for an encroaching hurricane (including how to prepare a hurricane kit) before it hits, and what action to take once the hurricane or major storm has passed.

What is a hurricane?

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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. These storms are defined by high wind speeds, with accompanying rain, possible storm surges, flooding and tornadoes.

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.

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

How are hurricanes named and tracked?

When wind speeds reach 39 miles per hour (tropical storm wind speed), these weather systems are named. Naming helps facilitate warning and tracking services communicate storm information to the public, and reduces confusion when there is more than one storm occurring at the same time. If the named tropical storm reaches 74 or more miles per hour, the tropical storm becomes the same-named hurricane.

In 1953, the National Hurricane Center originated a naming list, which is now maintained by an international committee of the World Meteorological Organization. The lists are alphabetical, alternating between men's and women's names. The lists rotate every 6 years. If a hurricane results in significant damage or death, the name is usually retired and not used again. A complete list of hurricane names is available at the National Weather Service National Hurricane Center.

Hurricanes are tracked by the National Hurricane Center. There are many factors that go into tracking a hurricane, including atmospheric conditions, water temperatures, and even historical information. Computer models use this data to predict what track a storm will take. Tracking has become more precise over the years and usually predictions are relatively accurate 24 hours prior to the storm. Many computer-generated models attempt to predict a hurricane's path up to five days prior. However, beyond a day or two, these predictions become less accurate. Individuals living in an area that may be impacted by a hurricane should heed all local warnings.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/24/2012

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Can Your Hospital Handle a Natural Disaster?

Medical Author: Benjamin C. Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM
Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

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