The Peak of Hurricane Season!
In the past few weeks, people in my community have been asking me if we are really busy at SERVPRO because Hurricane Season is starting. If you have been following this blog, you know that Hurricane Season started months ago! Many disastrous hurricanes have occurred in the fall months in recent years, but that's not always the case. Hurricane Charley struck southwest Florida in early August of 2004 as a Category 4. Hurricane Agnes affected Florida and New York City in June of 1972 and caused billions of dollars in damage and 390 deaths as a category 1 storm. Hurricane Audrey (1957), the only Category 4 June hurricane on record in the Atlantic Basin, hit along the Texas and Louisiana border, claiming at least 416 lives in the U.S., the 7th deadliest U.S. tropical cyclone on record. Only Hurricane Katrina (2005) claimed more lives since Audrey. Nevertheless, the top 10 most devastating hurricanes (measured by strength) have affected the United States in August and September. This month, we will discuss what the different categories of Hurricanes mean to you. We will also review your power outage checklist, and what to do during the storm.
The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale was developed in the early 1970s by Herbert Saffir, a consulting engineer in Coral Gables, Florida, and Dr. Robert Simpson, then director of the National Hurricane Center. The 1-5 category scale used to give an estimate of the potential property damage and flooding expected along the coast from a hurricane landfall.
- Category 1: Minimal Damage (which is really not accurate, if you see the example of Hurricane Agnes above!) Winds are 74-95 mph, sustained. (Wind gusts may be stronger.) You may have damage to your roof, vinyl siding, and gutters. Tree branches are likely to snap, and power outages are common. Coastal road flooding is possible.
- Category 2: Moderate Damage. Winds are 96-110 mph sustained. Shallowly rooted trees will be uprooted and block roads. Well-constructed homes could sustain major roof and siding damage; major damage to exposed mobile homes. Coastal roads and low-lying escape routes inland can be cut off by rising water, about 2-4 hours before landfall. Considerable damage to piers and marinas is likely. Near-total power loss should be expected.
- Category 3: Extensive Damage. Considered a Major Hurricane. Winds are 111-129 mph, sustained. Mobile homes will be destroyed, and well-constructed homes will incur major damage and potentially structural damage. Serious flooding, especially on flat terrain 5 feet or less above sea level (up to 8 or more miles inland). Expect loss of electricity and water for several days or several weeks. Hurricane Katrina was a Category 3 storm. It was the second most intense storm to hit the US, the most costly hurricane (twice as expensive as Hurricane Sandy) and the third deadliest. Category 3 storms are no joke!
- Category 4: Extreme Damage. Considered a Major Hurricane. Sustained winds are 130-156 mph. Mobile homes will be demolished. Complete failure of roofs on smaller homes. Well-built frame homes will likely have damage to the roof and exterior walls. Flat terrain 10 feet or less above sea level will be flooded inland as far as 6 miles. Major erosion of beaches. Massive evacuations required. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months. Hurricane Andrew was a Category 4 when it hit Florida in August of 1992.
- Category 5: Catastrophic Damage. Considered a Major Hurricane. Sustained winds of 157 mph or greater. (For those of you who are familiar with tornadoes, a Category 5 Hurricane would be the equivalent of an F3 or greater tornado, which represents about 5% of all tornadoes. The reason you cannot compare the intensity of the two is because tornadoes generally last for minutes over one area, while hurricanes can last for days.) A high percentage of framed homes and industrial buildings will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Major damage to lower floors of all structures less than 15 feet above sea level within 1500 feet of shore. Massive evacuations as far inland as 10 miles may be required. Hurricane Camille, a Category 5, was the second most intense Hurricane ever to hit the US, in August of 1969. The final wind speed will never be known because all measuring devices were destroyed, but it is thought to exceed 200 mph.
So what does all this mean for you? You only need to know 2 things: Prepare, and Heed all evacuation orders. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, "Research on preparedness shows that people who believe themselves “prepared” for disasters often aren’t as prepared as they think. Forty percent of survey respondents did not have household plans, 80 percent had not conducted home evacuation drills, and nearly 60 percent did not know their community’s evacuation routes." Stay safe and stay alive.
Safety During the Storm
What are some tips for staying safe during the storm? First of all, you need to know what to do based on the type of storm that you are facing. You can find this information at: Red Paw Emergency Relief Team. The following list is for a summer storm:
* Use your battery-operated NOAA Weather Radio for updates from local officials. I would not recommend relying on an app on your cell phone as you will wear the battery down. If you lose power, you will be unable to recharge your phone if you really need it. So invest in a battery-operated NOAA radio (about $35) and turn your cell phone off, or on to airplane mode to conserve the battery.
* Avoid contact with corded phones. Cordless phones are safe to use. Cellular phones are also safe but see above for info about the battery! Or, purchase an alternative charging device for your cell phone so you always have power. Kent German has some unique suggestions at Cell phone chargers - CNET Reviews.
* Avoid contact with electrical equipment or cords.
* Unplug appliances and other electrical items, such as computers. Power surges from lightning can cause serious damage. (Are we seeing a pattern here?)
* Avoid contact with plumbing. Plumbing and bathroom fixtures can conduct electricity.
* Stay away from windows and doors.
Power Outage Checklist
If a power outage is 2 hours or less, you need not be concerned about losing your perishable foods. For prolonged power outages, though, there are steps you can take to minimize food loss and to keep all members of your household as comfortable as possible, according to The American Red Cross. For their complete list, click here.
Keep your refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. Use perishable food from the fridge first. An unopened refrigerator will keep foods cold for about 4 hours. Then use food from the freezer. A full freezer will keep the temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed. When the power comes back on, throw away any food that has been exposed to temperatures of 40 degrees or higher for 2 hours or more. When in doubt, throw it out!
Turn off and unplug any unnecessary electrical equipment. Leave one light turned on so you will know when the power comes back on. If purchasing a generator, consult an electrician to make sure you get the right one. Never use a generator inside, or in a partially enclosed area. Install carbon monoxide alarms in central locations on every level of your home. If the alarm sounds, move quickly to a fresh air location outdoors or by an open window or door and call for help. Carbon Monoxide kills.
If your community experiences a disaster, register on the American Red Cross Safe and Well Web site available through RedCross.org to let your family and friends know about your welfare. If you don’t have Internet access, call 1-866-GET-INFO to register yourself and your family.
As I write this blog, the Atlantic/Gulf/Caribbean is unusually quiet. That worries me more than if it had been busy all season. People tend to think the danger has passed, or is not imminent. But now is the perfect time to start making your disaster kit (if you haven't already!) as most items will be on sale. For more money-saving tips, see our June Blog, "Storm Preparedness." Next month will be our last blog of this storm series. Hopefully, the Atlantic will still be quiet. Have a safe and happy Labor Day Weekend.