During his travels and explorations, Christopher Columbus was affected both financially and physically by the force and destruction of hurricanes. During his second trip to the New World, Columbus built the first European town on the island of Hispaniola, which was eventually destroyed by a hurricane. In 1500 he sent a fleet of caravels full of gold back to Spain. During the return voyage a hurricane sank 90 of the ships and drowned 500 sailors.
In 1503, Columbus personally experienced his first hurricane at sea near the country of Panama. He wrote about this experience, “Eyes never beheld the seas so high, angry and covered by foam…We were forced to keep out in this bloody ocean, seething like a pot on a hot fire. Never did the sky look more terrible…All this time the water never ceased to fall from the sky… It was like another deluge…The people were so worn out that they longed for death to end their dreadful suffering.”
In United States history, a ship called Mayflower left England in 1620 for Virginia. However, a hurricane blew it off course to the north. Subsequently, the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts instead.
Over the years, hurricanes have caused countless loss of lives and billions of dollars in damages.
The greatest natural disaster in U.S history occurred on September 8, 1900, when a hurricane struck Galveston, Texas, killing more than 8,000 people. Fortunately, as hurricane forecasting, emergency response plans, evacuation procedures, and the training of public health workers have improved in this century, the loss of human life has been gradually reduced. In 2005, while Hurricane Katrina caused an estimated $45 billion in property damage in the Southern States, the human toil was estimated to be 727 people.
In 1992, Hurricane Andrew (the second most costly hurricane in U.S. history) caused an estimated $20 billion in property damage in Florida and Louisiana and the loss of 41 lives. While each life lost is one too many, the only way to reduce the human cost of a hurricane is with adequate preparation.
Hurricanes have occurred every year in the last five centuries. Each year has borne witness to at least one great hurricane. In tropical waters like the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, storms usually form in May and June. In the Atlantic Ocean, they usually form from July to October, often beginning off Africa’s west coast. The squalls build in power as they drift west.
There are about 100 storms spotted each year that could develop hurricane strength, about 10 of which become tropical storms. Typically only about six grow into full-force hurricanes, and on average only two make landfall in the United States annually.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) divides the strength of hurricanes into five categories, to use as a warning system for preparedness and evacuation purposes. Category 1 hurricanes are small and have winds of 74 to 95 miles per hour. They create 4 to 5-foot-high waves. Category 5 hurricanes, on the other hand, have winds racing over 155 miles per hour while producing waves higher than 18 feet. These usually cause the most damage.
A hurricane with 150 mile per hour winds can put 11 tons of pressure against anything it hits. If a house is poorly built, it can be smashed, torn, or lifted off its foundation. Cars are often swept away in flash floods or blown over by fierce winds. Ocean waves can tower to enormous heights, taking boats and beach houses out to sea.
Hurricanes can develop when the sun’s rays heat tropical waters to at least 82 degrees Fahrenheit. This causes the air to grow warmer and rise. Water rises with it as vapor, and the heat causes the air to rise faster and faster. In about 12 hours, the heated air will begin to circle counterclockwise, forming stronger and stronger winds that whirl with increasing speed. The hurricane will pass over in three stages. The first stage brings curtains of rain in winds as fast as 200 miles per hour. Next, the eye will arrive, causing the winds to die down, the rain to stop, and sometimes the sky to appear. It seems as if the storm is over, but then the third stage arrives. This is the other side of the eye with more fierce winds and rain.
Hurricane hazards come in many forms, including storm surge, heavy rainfall, inland flooding, high winds, tornadoes, and rip currents. To convey analysis and forecast information on tropical cyclones, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) and the Central Pacific Hurricane Center (CPHC) produce graphics that provide important information for those who rely on tropical cyclone forecasts.
The National Weather Service (NWS) continuously broadcasts warning, watches, forecasts and non-weather related hazard information on NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards (NWR). Understanding the difference between National Weather Service watches and warnings is critical to being prepared for any dangerous weather hazard, including hurricanes.
A watch indicates that weather conditions are favorable for a hazard to occur.
It literally means, “be on guard.” During a weather watch, gather awareness of the specific threat and prepare for action. Monitor the weather to find out if severe weather conditions have deteriorated and review your protective action plans with your family.
A warning requires immediate action. This means a weather hazard is imminent.
It is either occurring (a tornado has been spotted, for example) or it is about to occur at any moment. During a weather warning, it is important to take action. Grab the emergency kit you have prepared in advance and head to safety immediately. Both watches and warnings are important, but warnings are more urgent.
Next month, we’ll discuss how to make a family disaster plan, create a disaster supply kit, and how to secure your home if you live in a hurricane-affected zone.
By Corinne Lanquetuit, Account Executive at Adventist Risk Management, Inc.
The information presented in this article is a compilation of multiple articles attributed to the following organizations and websites:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Federal Emergency Management Agency
National Hurricane Center