A hurricane is nothing to mess with. These massive rotating storms bring winds that rage at 200 mph or higher, torrential downpours, and storm surges that threaten flash flooding in coastal areas.
In recent decades, hurricanes and typhoons have become more frequent and more destructive on average. The major culprit seems to be climate change. Warm water nurtures baby hurricanes, helps them grow larger and sustain themselves longer. With ocean temperatures on the rise, there is more opportunity than ever for these deadly storms to form and gather momentum before making landfall.
With Hurricane Florence bearing down on the Carolinas and Super Typhoon Mangkhut menacing the Philippines, let’s take this opportunity to talk about hurricane survival tips. Every traveler who ventures into the tropics during storm season should know how to maximize their chances of surviving a worst case scenario.
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1. Know the risks
Hurricanes don’t just happen, of course. They’re created by atmospheric and oceanic conditions that are more likely at some times of year than others. They’re as apt to form in the Pacific as the Atlantic — only Pacific hurricanes are called typhoons instead. (In the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea, and Bay of Bengal, they’re called cyclones or some variation thereof.)
If you’re traveling in the Atlantic, be advised that hurricane season lasts from June 1 until November 30, with the peak months being September and October. Typhoon season runs from May 15 to November 30.
If you’re traveling to hurricane-prone destinations during these seasons, you should make a commitment to keep your eyes and ears on weather reports as often as possible.
2. Get out
This shouldn’t have to be said, but every time a hurricane hits, there are people who simply will not evacuate, even when they’re placed under mandatory orders to do so. Don’t be a hero. If they tell you you need to leave — comply.
In some cases, it may be best to leave even if you’re not ordered to evacuate, especially if you’re in an isolated area or on an island. People who are mobile but suffer from chronic illnesses that require ongoing treatment or medication should make every effort to flee the path of a hurricane. As we all saw with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, devastated infrastructure kills. Nothing is deadlier to a diabetic, for example, than being trapped in a flooded area without any food or insulin for several days.
3. Bring extras
Which brings us to another important point: don’t bring as much medication as you need with you on vacation. Bring more. Not just in case there’s a storm; what happens if there’s some kind of random disaster like those volcanic eruptions in Iceland back in 2010? Something that makes it impossible to get home for a week or two? You’ll be able to find replacement medication eventually, assuming you’re within a hundred miles of a pharmacy, but having an extra dose or three on hand will make that process a lot less stressful.
4. Stay where you are
If leaving isn’t an option, or isn’t advised for whatever reason, you have only one other alternative: get somewhere safe and stay there until you’re 100% certain the storm has passed.
If you’re in a low-lying area or right along the coast, in the path of a hurricane, you probably can’t stay where you are. You’ll need to head inland and find a storm shelter. If you’re in a relatively secure location already, the safest room is one with no outside walls or windows. In some cases, this may mean taking shelter in a closet or a bathroom.
If you’re looking for a safe room in a multi-story building, choose the one on the lowest possible floor that isn’t flooded.
If you’re staying at a cottage in the Carolinas or a seaside condo in the Keys, bring a battery-powered radio so you can keep up with storm coverage should the power goes out. You don’t want to leave your refuge until you’re certain the worst has passed. Remember: if the eye of the storm passes overhead, the weather can be deceptively calm for a time. But the storm will start up all over again once the eye has moved on. You need to be sure the threat is truly over before you leave your hiding place.
5. Prepare the defense
Let’s return to the hypothetical scenario that you’re renting a cottage on the east coast when a hurricane starts rolling in your direction. You haven’t been ordered to evacuate, and you don’t have time to get out of there. You’re going to have to ride out the storm. What do you do?
First, you need to make sure you have supplies. Water, non-perishable food, batteries, candles, a flashlight, some matches, cash, and a first aid kit.
The second priority is to establish a line of communication with loved ones so they’ll know where you are and whether you’re alright. Texting is preferable to calling in emergency situations; fortunately, text networks are pretty reliable.
The third task on your list is securing any loose items or pieces of furniture on the property. Don’t try to tie them down, move them inside. The last thing you want is for your barbecue and patio set to be turned into high-speed projectiles that will come crashing through the windows and walls. The only exceptions are objects which are potentially dangerous in itself, like propane tanks. In such cases, you need to weigh the thing down, leave it outside, and hope for the best.
6 hours before the storm hits, you’ll want to charge your phone so it will last as long as possible should the power go out. Set the refrigerator and freezer to their coldest settings and keep the doors shut unless absolutely necessary. In a blackout situation that could last a day or more, you want your food to keep for as long as possible.
6. Don’t underestimate the danger
As you might imagine, the most dangerous part of a hurricane isn’t the wind, but the flooding that can result from the intense rain. That’s how most people die.
If the building you’re in is flooded, you will obviously want to retreat to the highest level possible. But you must avoid windowless attics with no routes of escape, lest you become trapped by the rising water and drown.
Once there’s flooding in your area, it’s too late to attempt an escape. Don’t try to swim, walk, or drive your way out. You would be surprised how little water it takes to incapacitate a person in a flood scenario. A surge of just 6 inches can knock a grown man off his feet; a surge of 12 inches can turn a car into flotsam and jetsam. So you can see why the safest thing is to stay put.
There you have it: a few key tips to bear in mind in case you ever find yourself facing off against a hurricane.
To read more about staying safe during natural disasters, refer to this Homeland Security website.