Hold onto your hats – its hurricane season

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Christopher Parker
  • 111th Operations Support Squadron weather forecaster
t's that time again: hurricane season.

Kicking off June 1 and lasting through Nov. 30, below normal activity is forecasted for this year according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This in no way minimizes the destructive power of each hurricane that does develop.

It's predicted that there will be from six to 11 named storms, three to six hurricanes and as many as two major hurricanes. Storms are named once their sustained surface winds reach 39 mph. They become hurricanes at 74 mph and are considered major at 111 mph. Hurricanes are categorized as 1-5 on the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale with the highest, category 5, having wind speeds in excess of 157 mph. 

Even though hurricanes are best known for their strong winds, only five to 10 percent of recorded U.S. Atlantic Tropical Cyclone deaths since 1963 were due to winds--winds are indirectly the cause of deaths. In actuality, 50 percent are due to the storm surge and 25 percent are due to prolonged rainfall-induced flooding.  People who try to "ride out" the storm, usually only think of the winds and not the possible wall of water that may accompany the landfall of the hurricane. In 2005, some of the recorded storm surges from Hurricane Katrina reached 36 feet.

A hurricane is typically a large circular system, but its destructive path is not as symmetrical. Historically, the regions with the greatest impacts from a hurricane are generally the coastlines that face perpendicular to the onshore wind flow. Remember, the storm rotates counter-clockwise so one half will draw winds and water away from the coast while the other half forces them inland.

Hurricanes do not need to be major events to cause massive destruction.  October 2012, Super Storm Sandy was a category 1 during landfall, but brought strong enough winds to knock over power transformers and cause fires that tore through Breezy Point, Queens, New York.  The fires destroyed more than 100 structures.

The location where the eye of the storm will hit is commonly a concern for people. But this is not always an indicator of destruction. Looking again back at Hurricane Sandy, the eye made landfall near Brigantine, New Jersey, but caused storm surge flooding all the way up to New York City. 

So, what should one do to prepare for a hurricane?  The answer is simple: keep informed on the hurricane, and if possible, evacuate the area. Most of the time, safe evacuation means traveling a few miles inland to avoid the dangers of the storm surge. Not doing so can cause those caught in hurricanes to become another statistic. Additionally, not evacuating has the potential of putting others in harm's way-- to include first responders who may now have to rescue individuals. Also, preparedness guides are available from the sources like the National Weather Service's Hurricane Center at http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/prepare/.

(Editor's Note: Master Sgt. Christopher Botzum, 111th Public Affairs contributed to this article)