Hurricane emergency route sign.
Hurricane emergency route sign. (iStock)

Hurricane safety, explained

iStock
1
Introduction
2
Storm surge: Always follow evacuation orders
3
Heavy rainfall: If you can see a body of water, you’re too close
4
Strong wind: Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside
5
Before, during, and after a storm

Introduction

Storm surge

Always follow evacuation orders

Heavy rainfall

If you can see a body of water, you’re too close

Strong wind

Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside

Before, during, and after a storm

Hurricanes are powerful storms that bring life-threatening hazards to people living in both coastal and inland communities. Though you may first think of wind when envisioning a hurricane, water hazards are historically the most deadly. In this explainer, we will review the three major hazards of hurricanes — storm surge, heavy rainfall, and strong wind — and give you actions you can take before, during, and after tropical weather to protect your life and property. 

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Before we get started

A note on teaching hurricane safety to kids

This explainer talks about how to stay safe from dangerous, deadly storms and covers topics like causes of death and numbers of fatalities associated with hurricanes. If you prefer to read something more focused on the causes of hurricanes, please read our hurricane resource collection

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Review these common terms associated with hurricanes and hurricane safety:

  • National Hurricane Center (NHC): The NHC mission is to save lives, mitigate property loss, and improve economic efficiency by issuing watches, warnings, forecasts, and analyses of hazardous tropical weather and by increasing understanding of these hazards. The NHC is responsible for forecasts for Atlantic and eastern Pacific basin tropical cyclones.
  • Central Pacific Hurricane Center (CPHC): The CPHC issues tropical cyclone warnings, watches, advisories, discussions, and statements for tropical cyclones between 140 Degrees West Longitude to the International Dateline, which is the region of the Pacific Ocean surrounding Hawaiʻi.
  • Eye: The calm, clear center of the storm, which is surrounded by the eyewall. The eyewall is where winds are strongest. 
  • Direct death: A death that occurs due to hazards from physical forces of a hurricane. Examples include deaths by flooding, flying debris, or collapsing buildings.
  • Indirect death: A death that occurs after a hurricane as a result of hurricane damage. Indirect deaths can be hard to count and can happen days, weeks, or even months after a storm passes. Examples include deaths due to power loss, overexertion during cleanup, generator accidents, and water-borne diseases spread by flooding.
  • Rip currents: A powerful type of current where water flows away from the shore back towards the sea, cutting through the waves. People are at risk of drowning when the rip current carries them so far offshore that they are unable to get back to the beach. Rip currents and high surf can be deadly, even when storms are hundreds of miles offshore, sometimes days before a hurricane passes. Pay attention to signs on the beach and guidance from local officials and lifeguards.

To learn more about the differences between tropical storms, cyclones, depressions, and other tropical weather, read these definitions. 

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Pop quiz! Watches and warnings

The NHC and CPHC issue updates every few hours during tropical weather threats. They also issue tropical storm, hurricane, and storm surge watches and warnings. Because it may not be safe to prepare for hurricane wind or storm surge once the storm is close, watches are typically issued 48 hours before the hazardous conditions are possible somewhere within the specified area and warnings are typically issued 36 hours before the hazard is expected to begin somewhere within the specified area

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What is a Hurricane Watch?

Hurricane conditions (sustained winds of 74 mph or greater) are possible somewhere within the specified area.

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What is a Hurricane Warning?

Hurricane conditions (sustained winds of 74 mph or greater) are expected somewhere within the specified area. Evacuate immediately if so ordered.

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What is a Tropical Storm Watch?

Tropical storm conditions (sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph) are possible somewhere within the specified area within 48 hours.

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What is a Tropical Storm Warning?

Tropical storm conditions (sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph) are expected somewhere within the specified area within 36 hours.

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What is a Storm Surge Watch?

There is a possibility of life-threatening storm surge flooding from rising water moving inland somewhere within the specified area, generally within 48 hours.

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What is a Storm Surge Warning?

There is a danger of life-threatening storm surge flooding from rising water moving inland somewhere within the specified area, generally within 36 hours. If you are under a storm surge warning, check for evacuation orders from your local officials.

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Measurements

In this explainer, we use U.S. customary measurements, notably miles per hour (mph), feet, and inches. You can use these conversions to metric if you prefer.

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Storm surge is an extremely dangerous hazard associated with hurricanes and tropical storms. Storm surge happens when wind from a storm drives water onshore, causing an unusual and rapid rise in water level. Larger, stronger storms typically produce the greatest storm surge flooding. Storm surge occurs in addition to the normal tides, so coastal storm surge flooding is worst during high tide.

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This animation shows the movement of seawater as a hurricane passes over. As it approaches land, storm surge occurs when the water movement under the storm drives water onshore.
A simultaneous top and side view of a hurricane and associated storm surge. (COMET MetEd)

Storm surge can raise the water level several feet or more, causing flooding in normally dry areas many miles from the shore, especially in low-lying coastal areas. Moving water is an incredibly powerful force. Just one foot of water can carry a small car, but during storm surge, many feet of water can move onshore. The force of this water can not only carry cars, but can completely sweep houses and buildings off of their foundations. As a result, damage from storm surge can be catastrophic.

A graphic of the silhouettes of adults and children on top of a scale bar of possible heights of storm surge flooding showing that storm surge can result in flooding much deeper than the height of event the tallest adults. The image reads: Understanding storm surge flooding. Storm surge is destructive, life-threatening coastal flooding. It accounts for about half of the deaths associated with tropical cyclones in the U.S. To help you determine the best way to prepare, NOAA coastal flooding forecasts are exp
Storm surge flooding can be many feet high and can result in catastrophic damage. (National Weather Service)

The deadliest natural disaster in American history was the hurricane that hit Galveston, Texas, in 1900. More than 8,000 people died during the hurricane, which had a 15-foot storm surge, in a city where the highest point was less than nine feet above sea level. This means that even in the highest areas of the city, water was around 6 feet deep. Other hurricanes with high death tolls, like Sandy in 2012, Katrina in 2005, and Camille in 1969, all had large numbers of deaths from storm surge. Historically about half of the direct deaths offsite link in landfalling tropical cyclones in the United States are from storm surge. 

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Protect yourself from storm surge

Always follow guidance and evacuation orders from local emergency managers.

With improvements in forecasting and storm surge warnings from the NWS, and better ways emergency managers can reach vulnerable residents, more people can evacuate ahead of a storm, saving lives. Hurricane Laura (2020) produced an “unsurvivable” storm surge, but early warnings and forecasts and the resulting evacuations helped save countless lives. There were no known deaths from the 12-18 foot storm surge offsite link during this storm, which was a comparable surge to the 1900 Galveston, Texas surge.

Learn your risk for storm surge and review the National Hurricane Center storm surge hazard maps.

These maps can help you find out if you live in an area vulnerable to storm surge. Storm surge can reach many miles from a coast in low-lying areas. Rivers far inland from the ocean can also be subject to storm surge. If you live in an area prone to storm surge, you can also check with your local emergency managers to find out your evacuation zone offsite link and where the evacuation shelters are located.

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Hurricanes can bring tremendous amounts of rain. While a typical heavy thunderstorm may bring a few inches, some hurricanes can dump several feet of rain on an area. Rain from a tropical system can reach hundreds of miles inland, and flood warnings may occur very far from the eye of a storm. Along the Gulf of Mexico and eastern United States, rainfall from hurricanes makes up 10-15% offsite link of the total annual rainfall.

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Slow-moving storms, like Hurricane Florence (2018), Hurricane Harvey (2017) and Tropical Storm Allison (2001), can dump an enormous amount of rain on one area — on rare occasions 30 or more inches over the course of one storm. Always listen to local emergency managers and follow evacuation orders when issued. 

Any body of water — a lake, river, stream, or pond, including ones that are far inland — is at risk of flooding during a hurricane or tropical storm. The ground may already be saturated with water if there has been heavy rains before the hurricane, meaning an even higher likelihood of flooding. In general, if you can see a body of water during a hurricane, you are too close to it. If you live in an area prone to flooding, you may need to evacuate — this may be only a few miles or quite far, depending on the local conditions. The purpose of an evacuation order is to get you safely to a place that is at low risk of flooding. 

Flooding can still be a major hazard weeks after a hurricane passes, even when evacuation orders may have expired and wind is no longer a threat. This can be especially true in areas near rivers that are downstream from where hurricanes make landfall. Dams must release the excess water from hurricane rains, which can result in flooded downstream rivers with strong and dangerous currents weeks after a hurricane. In mountainous areas, especially in the Caribbean and Central America, but also along the Appalachian range, heavy rainfall can lead to land and mudslides. 

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Protect yourself from flooding and rain-related hazards

Always keep a safe distance from flooded and damaged areas. Never drive through floodwaters or compromised bridges. Always pay attention to barriers and signage. If you encounter flooding, remember: Turn Around Don’t Drown. Downstream flooding can lead to many indirect deaths following a hurricane. Learn about land and mudslide risks and how to prepare for them.

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Though rain and storm surge cause more direct deaths, wind can also be very destructive and deadly in hurricanes. Hurricane categories are based solely on wind speed. Category 5 storms have the fastest wind speeds at 157 mph or higher. When Hurricane Andrew struck Miami in 1992, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) was along its path. The NHC recorded a gust of wind at 164 mph atop their building, and wind gusts in the eyewall may have reached as high as 200 mph! At speeds this high, wind can lift cars in the air, flatten houses, and cause catastrophic damage.

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Always pay attention to the latest forecast as conditions can change quickly and storms can rapidly intensify from a tropical storm to a major hurricane. And always follow evacuation orders from local authorities — don’t wait for a hurricane to intensify before deciding to follow the order. If a storm rapidly intensifies just before landfall, like the 1935 Labor Day hurricane and many others did, there can be catastrophic damage from the wind and storm surge.

A map of the Gulf of Mexico showing the hurricane tracks of Michael, Camille, Labor Day, and Andrew hurricanes and their top windspeed three days before the hurricanes made landfall. The text reads: Where were the nation's most powerful hurricanes three days before landfall? All tropical storms! All rapidly strengthened!! Michael 50 mph, Camille 65 mph, Labor Day 40 mph, Andrea 50 mph.
All of the most powerful hurricanes to make landfall in the U.S. were tropical storms three days before landfall. Each storm rapidly intensified to a major hurricane in three days. Always listen to the most recent hurricane forecasts as they can change quickly! (NWS/Dan Brown)

Winds can be stronger higher above ground level. This can put high-rise buildings at a greater risk. High elevations, like mountains, can also be at a greater risk of wind damage. This can be the case in the Appalachian mountain region and can be especially dangerous in the Caribbean, where mountains are much closer to the shore. Hurricane Hugo (1989), which made landfall as a category 4 near Charleston, South Carolina, moved quickly across the Carolinas, eventually leading to damage well inland in the Carolinas, and even in the mountainous areas of the southern Appalachians.

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Protect yourself from the wind

To protect yourself from wind, the best thing you can do is put as many walls as possible between you and the outside. An interior room without windows is the safest place you can be in a building. Reinforcing windows and doors can help you stay safe inside, while securing outdoor items and trimming trees can help minimize damage. If you find yourself stuck in a storm, head to an interior room without windows. You can cover yourself with a mattress and wear a helmet for added protection.

Strong winds from tropical storms and hurricanes can cause rip currents. Rip currents and high surf can be deadly, even when storms are hundreds of miles offshore, sometimes days before a hurricane makes landfall. Do not travel to the beach to surf, swim, or loiter. Pay attention to signs on the beach and guidance from local officials and lifeguards.

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There are specific actions you can take before, during, and after a hurricane to help protect your life and property. Some preparations can be made any time of the year, including today! Are you ready?

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Before

These steps will help you prepare for the hazards of a hurricane. 

  • Determine your risk. Most importantly, you need to know what your local hazards are. Find out if you live in an evacuation zone offsite link so you are ready to follow evacuation orders. Learn whether storm surge is a risk in your area (even if you are inland). 
  • Develop an evacuation plan. If you live in an evacuation zone, determine how you will evacuate and where you will go if an evacuation order is issued. How will you get to your destination? Be sure to plan an alternate route! How can you take care of your pets? You don’t necessarily need to travel hundreds of miles to be safe, but always make sure your evacuation destination provides protection from hurricane hazards, like inland flooding near a river, creek, or dam or mudslides. 
  • Assemble disaster supplies. Devastating hurricanes can lead to long recovery times. Be prepared with at least three days of supplies (or more!) including water, non-perishable food, medicine, and pet supplies. Extra cash, a battery-powered radio, flashlights, and a portable crank or solar powered USB charger to charge your cell phone are also important. These supplies are helpful in any disaster, not just a hurricane, so it is always a good idea to have them on hand.
  • Get an insurance checkup. Check with your insurance agency before hurricane season to learn what is covered. Flood insurance requires a separate policy for both owners and renters. Learn more about the National Flood Insurance Program
  • Strengthen your home. You can take steps to make your home more resilient to threats from a hurricane. Purchase plywood, steel, or aluminum panels to board up windows and doors and have them on hand. Keep your trees trimmed. Secure loose outdoor items and furniture and find a safe place for your car. 
  • Learn how to help your neighbor. Get to know your neighbors and their needs. Many people, especially senior citizens, may need help from neighbors before, during, and after hurricanes. 
  • Write down your plan. Once you have made all of these preparations, write them down! It’s easy to forget something you planned far in advance. Store your written plan somewhere safe, have photo documentation of valuables, and share your plan with your family. 
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During

As a hurricane approaches, always pay attention to local emergency managers. Follow evacuation orders when they are issued. Help is scarce during and following a hurricane, so preparation for and awareness of evacuation orders is key.

If your local area is under a hurricane warning:

  • Be prepared to shelter in an interior portion of your home. Get as far away from windows and doors as possible. The more walls you can put between you and the outside, the better. 
  • Never go outside during the calm period when the eye of the storm passes. The eyewall is the most dangerous part of a hurricane and can come on suddenly. 
  • Stay out of flooded areas. Just six inches of water can knock an adult off their feet and flood waters can carry disease. 
  • Keep your battery operated radio and a flashlight or camping lantern nearby. You will need them!
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After

There are many hazards that follow a hurricane that can lead to indirect deaths or injuries.

  • Overexertion is especially dangerous. Following a hurricane, people may want to clean up immediately, but overexertion can lead to heart attacks, heat strokes, and other serious medical issues. Perform cleanups safely and slowly. Be sure to take lots of breaks and not push beyond your limits.
  • Generator accidents are very common following a hurricane that caused power outages. Familiarize yourself with generator safety if you think you may use one. Carbon monoxide poisoning, electric shock, and fire are the most common hazards,
  • Power tools, like chainsaws, that are used during cleanup can lead to accidents and death. If you are not trained to use them, leave the power tools to the experts.
  • Flooded roads are very dangerous. It can be difficult to judge how deep or swift the water is moving — just 12 inches of water can float a car. Never drive through flooded roads, even if you are seeking supplies or trying to check on someone. Floods can also compromise bridges and roads. Avoid flooded river areas, as they can continue to rise long after a storm passes.
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Page 1 of 5
Introduction

Hurricanes are powerful storms that bring life-threatening hazards to people living in both coastal and inland communities. Though you may first think of wind when envisioning a hurricane, water hazards are historically the most deadly. In this explainer, we will review the three major hazards of hurricanes — storm surge, heavy rainfall, and strong wind — and give you actions you can take before, during, and after tropical weather to protect your life and property. 

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Before we get started

A note on teaching hurricane safety to kids

This explainer talks about how to stay safe from dangerous, deadly storms and covers topics like causes of death and numbers of fatalities associated with hurricanes. If you prefer to read something more focused on the causes of hurricanes, please read our hurricane resource collection

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Review these common terms associated with hurricanes and hurricane safety:

  • National Hurricane Center (NHC): The NHC mission is to save lives, mitigate property loss, and improve economic efficiency by issuing watches, warnings, forecasts, and analyses of hazardous tropical weather and by increasing understanding of these hazards. The NHC is responsible for forecasts for Atlantic and eastern Pacific basin tropical cyclones.
  • Central Pacific Hurricane Center (CPHC): The CPHC issues tropical cyclone warnings, watches, advisories, discussions, and statements for tropical cyclones between 140 Degrees West Longitude to the International Dateline, which is the region of the Pacific Ocean surrounding Hawaiʻi.
  • Eye: The calm, clear center of the storm, which is surrounded by the eyewall. The eyewall is where winds are strongest. 
  • Direct death: A death that occurs due to hazards from physical forces of a hurricane. Examples include deaths by flooding, flying debris, or collapsing buildings.
  • Indirect death: A death that occurs after a hurricane as a result of hurricane damage. Indirect deaths can be hard to count and can happen days, weeks, or even months after a storm passes. Examples include deaths due to power loss, overexertion during cleanup, generator accidents, and water-borne diseases spread by flooding.
  • Rip currents: A powerful type of current where water flows away from the shore back towards the sea, cutting through the waves. People are at risk of drowning when the rip current carries them so far offshore that they are unable to get back to the beach. Rip currents and high surf can be deadly, even when storms are hundreds of miles offshore, sometimes days before a hurricane passes. Pay attention to signs on the beach and guidance from local officials and lifeguards.

To learn more about the differences between tropical storms, cyclones, depressions, and other tropical weather, read these definitions. 

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Pop quiz! Watches and warnings

The NHC and CPHC issue updates every few hours during tropical weather threats. They also issue tropical storm, hurricane, and storm surge watches and warnings. Because it may not be safe to prepare for hurricane wind or storm surge once the storm is close, watches are typically issued 48 hours before the hazardous conditions are possible somewhere within the specified area and warnings are typically issued 36 hours before the hazard is expected to begin somewhere within the specified area

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What is a Hurricane Watch?

Hurricane conditions (sustained winds of 74 mph or greater) are possible somewhere within the specified area.

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What is a Hurricane Warning?

Hurricane conditions (sustained winds of 74 mph or greater) are expected somewhere within the specified area. Evacuate immediately if so ordered.

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What is a Tropical Storm Watch?

Tropical storm conditions (sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph) are possible somewhere within the specified area within 48 hours.

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What is a Tropical Storm Warning?

Tropical storm conditions (sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph) are expected somewhere within the specified area within 36 hours.

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What is a Storm Surge Watch?

There is a possibility of life-threatening storm surge flooding from rising water moving inland somewhere within the specified area, generally within 48 hours.

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What is a Storm Surge Warning?

There is a danger of life-threatening storm surge flooding from rising water moving inland somewhere within the specified area, generally within 36 hours. If you are under a storm surge warning, check for evacuation orders from your local officials.

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Measurements

In this explainer, we use U.S. customary measurements, notably miles per hour (mph), feet, and inches. You can use these conversions to metric if you prefer.

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Page 2 of 5
Storm surge
Always follow evacuation orders

Storm surge is an extremely dangerous hazard associated with hurricanes and tropical storms. Storm surge happens when wind from a storm drives water onshore, causing an unusual and rapid rise in water level. Larger, stronger storms typically produce the greatest storm surge flooding. Storm surge occurs in addition to the normal tides, so coastal storm surge flooding is worst during high tide.

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This animation shows the movement of seawater as a hurricane passes over. As it approaches land, storm surge occurs when the water movement under the storm drives water onshore.
A simultaneous top and side view of a hurricane and associated storm surge. (COMET MetEd)

Storm surge can raise the water level several feet or more, causing flooding in normally dry areas many miles from the shore, especially in low-lying coastal areas. Moving water is an incredibly powerful force. Just one foot of water can carry a small car, but during storm surge, many feet of water can move onshore. The force of this water can not only carry cars, but can completely sweep houses and buildings off of their foundations. As a result, damage from storm surge can be catastrophic.

A graphic of the silhouettes of adults and children on top of a scale bar of possible heights of storm surge flooding showing that storm surge can result in flooding much deeper than the height of event the tallest adults. The image reads: Understanding storm surge flooding. Storm surge is destructive, life-threatening coastal flooding. It accounts for about half of the deaths associated with tropical cyclones in the U.S. To help you determine the best way to prepare, NOAA coastal flooding forecasts are exp
Storm surge flooding can be many feet high and can result in catastrophic damage. (National Weather Service)

The deadliest natural disaster in American history was the hurricane that hit Galveston, Texas, in 1900. More than 8,000 people died during the hurricane, which had a 15-foot storm surge, in a city where the highest point was less than nine feet above sea level. This means that even in the highest areas of the city, water was around 6 feet deep. Other hurricanes with high death tolls, like Sandy in 2012, Katrina in 2005, and Camille in 1969, all had large numbers of deaths from storm surge. Historically about half of the direct deaths offsite link in landfalling tropical cyclones in the United States are from storm surge. 

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Protect yourself from storm surge

Always follow guidance and evacuation orders from local emergency managers.

With improvements in forecasting and storm surge warnings from the NWS, and better ways emergency managers can reach vulnerable residents, more people can evacuate ahead of a storm, saving lives. Hurricane Laura (2020) produced an “unsurvivable” storm surge, but early warnings and forecasts and the resulting evacuations helped save countless lives. There were no known deaths from the 12-18 foot storm surge offsite link during this storm, which was a comparable surge to the 1900 Galveston, Texas surge.

Learn your risk for storm surge and review the National Hurricane Center storm surge hazard maps.

These maps can help you find out if you live in an area vulnerable to storm surge. Storm surge can reach many miles from a coast in low-lying areas. Rivers far inland from the ocean can also be subject to storm surge. If you live in an area prone to storm surge, you can also check with your local emergency managers to find out your evacuation zone offsite link and where the evacuation shelters are located.

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Page 3 of 5
Heavy rainfall
If you can see a body of water, you’re too close

Hurricanes can bring tremendous amounts of rain. While a typical heavy thunderstorm may bring a few inches, some hurricanes can dump several feet of rain on an area. Rain from a tropical system can reach hundreds of miles inland, and flood warnings may occur very far from the eye of a storm. Along the Gulf of Mexico and eastern United States, rainfall from hurricanes makes up 10-15% offsite link of the total annual rainfall.

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Slow-moving storms, like Hurricane Florence (2018), Hurricane Harvey (2017) and Tropical Storm Allison (2001), can dump an enormous amount of rain on one area — on rare occasions 30 or more inches over the course of one storm. Always listen to local emergency managers and follow evacuation orders when issued. 

Any body of water — a lake, river, stream, or pond, including ones that are far inland — is at risk of flooding during a hurricane or tropical storm. The ground may already be saturated with water if there has been heavy rains before the hurricane, meaning an even higher likelihood of flooding. In general, if you can see a body of water during a hurricane, you are too close to it. If you live in an area prone to flooding, you may need to evacuate — this may be only a few miles or quite far, depending on the local conditions. The purpose of an evacuation order is to get you safely to a place that is at low risk of flooding. 

Flooding can still be a major hazard weeks after a hurricane passes, even when evacuation orders may have expired and wind is no longer a threat. This can be especially true in areas near rivers that are downstream from where hurricanes make landfall. Dams must release the excess water from hurricane rains, which can result in flooded downstream rivers with strong and dangerous currents weeks after a hurricane. In mountainous areas, especially in the Caribbean and Central America, but also along the Appalachian range, heavy rainfall can lead to land and mudslides. 

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Protect yourself from flooding and rain-related hazards

Always keep a safe distance from flooded and damaged areas. Never drive through floodwaters or compromised bridges. Always pay attention to barriers and signage. If you encounter flooding, remember: Turn Around Don’t Drown. Downstream flooding can lead to many indirect deaths following a hurricane. Learn about land and mudslide risks and how to prepare for them.

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Page 4 of 5
Strong wind
Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside

Though rain and storm surge cause more direct deaths, wind can also be very destructive and deadly in hurricanes. Hurricane categories are based solely on wind speed. Category 5 storms have the fastest wind speeds at 157 mph or higher. When Hurricane Andrew struck Miami in 1992, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) was along its path. The NHC recorded a gust of wind at 164 mph atop their building, and wind gusts in the eyewall may have reached as high as 200 mph! At speeds this high, wind can lift cars in the air, flatten houses, and cause catastrophic damage.

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Always pay attention to the latest forecast as conditions can change quickly and storms can rapidly intensify from a tropical storm to a major hurricane. And always follow evacuation orders from local authorities — don’t wait for a hurricane to intensify before deciding to follow the order. If a storm rapidly intensifies just before landfall, like the 1935 Labor Day hurricane and many others did, there can be catastrophic damage from the wind and storm surge.

A map of the Gulf of Mexico showing the hurricane tracks of Michael, Camille, Labor Day, and Andrew hurricanes and their top windspeed three days before the hurricanes made landfall. The text reads: Where were the nation's most powerful hurricanes three days before landfall? All tropical storms! All rapidly strengthened!! Michael 50 mph, Camille 65 mph, Labor Day 40 mph, Andrea 50 mph.
All of the most powerful hurricanes to make landfall in the U.S. were tropical storms three days before landfall. Each storm rapidly intensified to a major hurricane in three days. Always listen to the most recent hurricane forecasts as they can change quickly! (NWS/Dan Brown)

Winds can be stronger higher above ground level. This can put high-rise buildings at a greater risk. High elevations, like mountains, can also be at a greater risk of wind damage. This can be the case in the Appalachian mountain region and can be especially dangerous in the Caribbean, where mountains are much closer to the shore. Hurricane Hugo (1989), which made landfall as a category 4 near Charleston, South Carolina, moved quickly across the Carolinas, eventually leading to damage well inland in the Carolinas, and even in the mountainous areas of the southern Appalachians.

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Protect yourself from the wind

To protect yourself from wind, the best thing you can do is put as many walls as possible between you and the outside. An interior room without windows is the safest place you can be in a building. Reinforcing windows and doors can help you stay safe inside, while securing outdoor items and trimming trees can help minimize damage. If you find yourself stuck in a storm, head to an interior room without windows. You can cover yourself with a mattress and wear a helmet for added protection.

Strong winds from tropical storms and hurricanes can cause rip currents. Rip currents and high surf can be deadly, even when storms are hundreds of miles offshore, sometimes days before a hurricane makes landfall. Do not travel to the beach to surf, swim, or loiter. Pay attention to signs on the beach and guidance from local officials and lifeguards.

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Before, during, and after a storm

There are specific actions you can take before, during, and after a hurricane to help protect your life and property. Some preparations can be made any time of the year, including today! Are you ready?

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Before

These steps will help you prepare for the hazards of a hurricane. 

  • Determine your risk. Most importantly, you need to know what your local hazards are. Find out if you live in an evacuation zone offsite link so you are ready to follow evacuation orders. Learn whether storm surge is a risk in your area (even if you are inland). 
  • Develop an evacuation plan. If you live in an evacuation zone, determine how you will evacuate and where you will go if an evacuation order is issued. How will you get to your destination? Be sure to plan an alternate route! How can you take care of your pets? You don’t necessarily need to travel hundreds of miles to be safe, but always make sure your evacuation destination provides protection from hurricane hazards, like inland flooding near a river, creek, or dam or mudslides. 
  • Assemble disaster supplies. Devastating hurricanes can lead to long recovery times. Be prepared with at least three days of supplies (or more!) including water, non-perishable food, medicine, and pet supplies. Extra cash, a battery-powered radio, flashlights, and a portable crank or solar powered USB charger to charge your cell phone are also important. These supplies are helpful in any disaster, not just a hurricane, so it is always a good idea to have them on hand.
  • Get an insurance checkup. Check with your insurance agency before hurricane season to learn what is covered. Flood insurance requires a separate policy for both owners and renters. Learn more about the National Flood Insurance Program
  • Strengthen your home. You can take steps to make your home more resilient to threats from a hurricane. Purchase plywood, steel, or aluminum panels to board up windows and doors and have them on hand. Keep your trees trimmed. Secure loose outdoor items and furniture and find a safe place for your car. 
  • Learn how to help your neighbor. Get to know your neighbors and their needs. Many people, especially senior citizens, may need help from neighbors before, during, and after hurricanes. 
  • Write down your plan. Once you have made all of these preparations, write them down! It’s easy to forget something you planned far in advance. Store your written plan somewhere safe, have photo documentation of valuables, and share your plan with your family. 
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During

As a hurricane approaches, always pay attention to local emergency managers. Follow evacuation orders when they are issued. Help is scarce during and following a hurricane, so preparation for and awareness of evacuation orders is key.

If your local area is under a hurricane warning:

  • Be prepared to shelter in an interior portion of your home. Get as far away from windows and doors as possible. The more walls you can put between you and the outside, the better. 
  • Never go outside during the calm period when the eye of the storm passes. The eyewall is the most dangerous part of a hurricane and can come on suddenly. 
  • Stay out of flooded areas. Just six inches of water can knock an adult off their feet and flood waters can carry disease. 
  • Keep your battery operated radio and a flashlight or camping lantern nearby. You will need them!
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After

There are many hazards that follow a hurricane that can lead to indirect deaths or injuries.

  • Overexertion is especially dangerous. Following a hurricane, people may want to clean up immediately, but overexertion can lead to heart attacks, heat strokes, and other serious medical issues. Perform cleanups safely and slowly. Be sure to take lots of breaks and not push beyond your limits.
  • Generator accidents are very common following a hurricane that caused power outages. Familiarize yourself with generator safety if you think you may use one. Carbon monoxide poisoning, electric shock, and fire are the most common hazards,
  • Power tools, like chainsaws, that are used during cleanup can lead to accidents and death. If you are not trained to use them, leave the power tools to the experts.
  • Flooded roads are very dangerous. It can be difficult to judge how deep or swift the water is moving — just 12 inches of water can float a car. Never drive through flooded roads, even if you are seeking supplies or trying to check on someone. Floods can also compromise bridges and roads. Avoid flooded river areas, as they can continue to rise long after a storm passes.
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