Hurricane Prep Week 2023: Hazards of Hurricanes

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18 May 2023 11:00 AM

Inland Dangers of Tropical Systems

Hazards from tropical systems are not limited to areas along the coast. In some cases, inland impacts can be even more dangerous. While tropical systems begin to weaken once they’re over land, they can still cause catastrophic impacts for hundreds or even thousands of miles. Water is the leading cause of death in tropical systems, and many occur hundreds, if not thousands of miles away from where the storm makes landfall. Take Hurricane Ida in 2021 for example, the storm was a remnant low, but the lingering tropically charged rain produced widespread deadly flooding in the NYC metro. Other inland hazards include widespread damaging winds and tornadoes. According to the Director of the National Weather Service, Ken Graham,

"There was wind damage into central portions of Georgia with Hurricane Michael so well inland you could see that tree damage."

Tropical tornadoes are usually fast moving, weaker and short lived. But as we found out with Ida in 2021… strong tornadoes can occur and cause damage well away from the center of the storm. These hazards emphasize the need to have a hurricane plan in place and an emergency kit ready. Be prepared for power outages that can last for days or even longer. Remember, every storm will be different and its impacts unique … be ready for the specific hazards that can threaten your community.

Tropical System Hazards

It does not matter what type of tropical system threatens your home…the potential hazards are numerous. Since 2017, inland flooding from heavy rain has ranked #1 for storm-related fatalities during hurricane season. Half of those deaths occurred in cars. Heavy rain can lead to flooding from the beach to hundreds of miles inland…and can continue for days… even after the main system has moved out of the area.

Storm surge is another potentially deadly water-related hazard … and can lead to complete destruction from inundation to communities along the coast. Powerful, destructive winds can also accompany any storm: Tropical storm force winds can reach speeds of up to 73 miles per hour, and hurricane force winds could top more than 100 miles per hour with some of the stronger storms, creating devastating scenes like this.  Just remember -- it’s not the wind itself that can hurt you … it’s what’s in it!

Tornadoes can also form anywhere from close to the center of the storm to up to hundreds of miles away in outer rain bands.  

Even after a storm passes, there still can be deadly impacts. For example, Hurricane Laura in 2020 was blamed for more than two dozen indirect deaths… caused by improper generator use, a stifling heat wave, and clean up related injuries.

Hidden Hazards of Hurricanes

Hurricanes are deadly - there’s no way around it. Whether it’s storm surge, high winds, or inland flooding, hurricanes pose numerous obvious risks to life and property. But there are other hidden hurricane hazards that can threaten your safety. The Director of the National Hurricane Center, Dr. Michael Brennan says not to let your guard down even if a storm is thousands of miles away.

“you can be at the beach and it's a beautiful day, but it's dangerous to go in the water and just trying to increase awareness of that. If you see those red flags or warnings, stay out of the ocean, really do that, you don’t want to become a statistic to a hurricane that is a 1,000 miles away”

Even if skies are clear, rip currents can still impact your area. Always pay close attention to warnings on the beach. Many of the hidden hazards of hurricanes come after storms have passed.
Rivers can still rise for days after a tropical cyclone has left an area, which is exactly what happened in North Carolina after Hurricane Matthew. Roads that were once dry, can become inundated, leaving motorists and pedestrians stranded. Flood waters should be avoided if at all possible. Dangerous debris and washed out roads can be hidden in the water. Plus, the water itself may contain harmful chemicals or could even be electrified by down power lines that are still active.

If the power is out, use flashlights and lanterns instead of candles to avoid starting a house fire. If you’re going to use a generator, make sure it’s operating at a safe distance away from windows and doors. According to Dr. Brennan, 

“A lot of fatalities after the event, indirect deaths, deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning from improper generator use, heat exhaustion, medical issues. So just a reminder to people if they’re asked to leave by the local authorities, its not just for your safety during the storm, it is potentially for your safety after the storm”

Speaking of the aftermath, the clean up process can be another hidden hazard. Be sure to check for power lines when trimming trees and use ladders safely. Mold can quickly invade living spaces that were inundated with water. And finally, take care of yourself. Be mindful of the stress you may be putting on your body and mind in the weeks and months that follow a tropical cyclone.

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