Hurricanes, also known as typhoons, are tropical cyclones with torrential rains and sustained winds of 74 miles per hour or greater which blow in a counter-clockwise direction around a center "eye."  If the eye passes directly overhead, there will be a lull in the wind lasting from a few minutes to half an hour.  On the other side of the eye, the winds will return rapidly to hurricane force and blow from the opposite direction. Hurricane winds can exceed 155 miles per hour and severely affect areas hundreds of miles inland.

Hurricanes form over water as tropical storms before gathering enough force to reach land.  As hurricanes approach the coast, a huge dome of water called a storm surge crashes into the coastline, causing major damage to everything in its path.  About nine out of ten people killed in hurricanes are victims of the storm surge.  Hurricanes also spawn tornadoes and cause severe flooding from heavy rains.  All coastal states, particularly Atlantic and Gulf Coastal States, are threatened by hurricanes.  Hurricane season usually extends from June through November.

Hurricanes are classified into the five categories, based on their wind speeds, central pressure, and damage potential.  The groupings are:

Category 1:  winds of 74 to 95 MPH and a storm surge of 4-5 feet above the mean high tide.

Category 2:  winds of 96 to 110 MPH and a storm surge of 6-8 feet above the mean high tide.

Category 3:  winds of 111 to 130 MPH and a storm surge of 9-12 feet above the mean high tide.

Category 4:  winds of 131 to 155 MPH and a storm surge of 13-18 feet above the mean high tide.

Category 5:  winds over 155 MPH and a storm surge over 18 feet above the mean high tide.

It is important to know the terms used to describe hurricanes and like threats.  They are:

Hurricane Watch – meteorological conditions make the appearance of a hurricane within 36 hours likely.  Stay tuned to radio or television reports.

Hurricane Warning – a hurricane is expected within 24 hours.

Tropical Storm Watch – meteorological conditions favor the appearance of a tropical storm (wind speeds between 39 and 74 mph).  Stay tuned to radio or television reports.

Tropical Storm Warning – a tropical storm is expected within 24 hours.

Preparation for a hurricane is the best method for minimizing injury or damage during one.  There will be little time to move to protected areas once a hurricane is in the immediate vicinity.   Follow these important steps to prepare yourself and your family for a hurricane:

  •  Purchase a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Weather Radio with a battery backup and tone-alert feature.  A NOAA (pronounced "Noah") radio will automatically alert you when a Hurricane Watch or Warning has been issued.  Also purchase a battery-powered commercial radio and extra batteries as well.
  • When skies are threatening or a hurricane watch has been issued for the Florence area, listen to NOAA radio or local radio or television newscasts for the latest information and special instructions from local officials.
  • Learn community evacuation procedures and routes.  Determine where you would go and how you would get there if you needed to evacuate.  Keep your car fueled and in good condition in case evacuation is required.
  • Determine places to seek shelter during a hurricane and practice going there with your family.  A basement, storm cellar, or interior room or hallway on the lowest floor of your home is the best place.  If you live in a low-lying area, a beach front, or a mobile home, determine a safe place outside of the area to take shelter, as these areas are very prone to hurricane damage.
  • Talk to your family about hurricanes.  Plan a place to meet your family in case you are separated.  Determine the needs of family members or neighbors who may need your help in a hurricane.  Choose an out-of-state contact for everyone to call to say they are okay.
  • Gather emergency supplies and have them on hand in case a hurricane approaches.  Keep tools, flashlights, a portable radio, batteries, a First Aid kit, fresh water, and non-perishable foods handy.
  • Make plans to protect your property.  Permanent storm shutters offer the best protection for windows.  A second option is to purchase 5/8" marine plywood, cut to fit and ready to install.  Also, secure loose objects in your yard and windowsills which can become airborne missiles in a hurricane.  Moor boats securely or move them to a safe place well in advance of a storm.
  • Know how to shut off utilities.  Know where gas pilots, water mains, and circuit breakers are located and how the heating and air-conditioning system works.
  • Have your home inspected for compliance with local building codes.  Many homes destroyed by hurricanes are destroyed because they were not constructed according to building codes.
  • Much of the damage caused by hurricanes comes from flooding.  Consider purchasing flood insurance.  Plan ahead, as there is normally a five-day waiting period before flood insurance takes effect.
  • Know the locations of shelters in places where you and your family spend time, such as public buildings, nursing homes, and shopping centers.  Ask whether your children's schools have been inspected for shelter space by a registered engineer or architect.

If a hurricane is threatening the Florence area, the most important thing to do is listen for information and instructions on radio or television newscasts or NOAA Radio.  These emergency broadcasts will tell you whether you should prepare to evacuate or seek shelter in or near your own home.  Get together with family members to talk about what needs to be done.  Make sure everyone knows where to meet and who to call in case you are separated from one another.  Determine the needs of family members or neighbors who may need your help.

Secure your home.  Close storm shutters and board up windows.  Secure outdoor objects or bring them indoors.  Moor your boat if time permits.  Gather your emergency supplies and make arrangements for pets, as they are not allowed in emergency shelters.  If instructed, turn off utilities at the main valves.

If you are instructed to evacuate, follow instructions as to where to go and the routes you should take.  Be sure that your car is fueled and you have emergency supplies with you.  Leave immediately to avoid being marooned by flooded roads and fallen trees, especially if you live in a low-lying area, a beach front, or a mobile home.  Stay away from coastal areas, river banks, and streams.  If you have time, tell others where you are going.

If you are not required to evacuate, stay indoors during the hurricane and away from windows.  In a house or small building, go to the basement or storm cellar.  If there is no basement, go to an interior room on the lower level – closets and interior hallways work well.  In a high-rise building, go to a small, interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible.  Be sure not to be directly under heavy appliances on an upper floor.  Do not be fooled if there is a lull in the storm – it most likely means you are in the eye of the storm, in which case winds will pick up again shortly.  Avoid using the phone except for serious emergencies.  Local authorities need first priority on telephone lines.

After a hurricane, danger and injury are still possibilities.  It is extremely important to keep the following information and safety standards in mind:

  • If you are in a safe location, stay where you are until local authorities give the okay to return.
  • Keep tuned to local radio or television stations for information such as caring for your family, finding medical help, or applying for financial assistance.
  • Talk with your children about what has happened and how they can help during the recovery.  Being involved will help them deal with the situation.  Consider the needs of your neighbors.  People often become isolated during hurricanes.
  • Stay away from disaster areas unless local authorities request volunteers.  If you are needed, bring your own drinking water, food, and sleeping gear.  Another way to help is to donate money to a recognized disaster relief organization.  Do not donate food, clothing, or other personal items unless they are specifically requested.
  • Drive only when necessary and be especially careful.  The streets will be filled with debris and downed power lines.  Roads may be undermined and collapse under the weight of a car.
  • Stay away from coastal areas, river banks, and streams until potential flooding has passes.  Report broken gas, sewer, or water mains.  Do not let children play in the street due to possible health hazards from overflow of raw sewage from sewer manholes.
  • Contact your insurance agent.  An adjuster will be assigned to visit your home.  Take photos or videotape of the damage.  Separate damaged and undamaged belongings.  Locate your financial records.  Keep detailed records of cleanup costs.
    If the electricity goes out, use flashlights or battery powered lanterns.  Do not use candles, matches or open flames indoors after the hurricane because of possible gas leaks.
  • Check your home, especially roofs and chimneys, for structural damage.  The initial check should be made from a distance.  If you have any doubts about safety, have your home inspected by a professional before entering.  Wear sturdy shoes in areas covered with fallen debris and broken glass.
  • Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, gasoline and other flammable liquids inside buildings.  If you smell gas or hear a hissing or blowing sound, open a window and leave the building.  Shut off the main gas valve outside, if you can.  Report the leak to the gas company from a neighbor's house.  Stay out of the building.  If you shut off the gas supply at the main valve, you will need a professional to turn it back on.
  • Visually inspect utility lines and appliances for damage.  If there is electrical damage, switch off all power at the main fuse box or circuit breaker.  If your home has suffered water damage, do not turn on the electricity until the circuits have been checked by a qualified electrician – moisture may still be trapped within electrical boxes, receptacles, motors, and switches.
  • If water or sewer pipes are damaged, shut off the water supply at the main valve.  Do not flush toilets.  If water is cut off, use water from the water heater.

For more information about hurricanes and how to recover from them, please call the Florence County Emergency Preparedness Department at 843-665-7255.