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Understanding the Dangers of Hurricanes

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Hurricanes and tropical storms form over large, warm bodies of water – just like the Gulf of Mexico – every year. Hurricanes typically form in the summer and fall with hurricane season officially running from June 1st through November 30th annually.

Along the Gulf Coast, peak hurricane season is usually August and September, though hurricanes can strike at any time. Everyone in Alabama should be prepared for hurricanes, and not just those of us who live along the coast. Hurricanes can cause damage far inland as well with sustained winds, heavy storms, floods, and even tornadoes.

Hurricanes are categorized based on their sustained winds in a classification system known as the Saffir-Simpson Scale. The National Weather Service describes the scale:

“The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale is a 1 to 5 rating based on a hurricane’s sustained wind speed. This scale estimates potential property damage. Hurricanes reaching Category 3 and higher are considered major hurricanes because of their potential for significant loss of life and damage. Category 1 and 2 storms are still dangerous, however, and require preventative measure.”

Hurricane Watches and Warnings are issued by the National Weather Service’s Hurricane Prediction Center every year. The National Weather Service defines tropical storm and hurricane watches and warnings as follows:

A watch lets you know 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 discuss 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.

Hurricane / Tropical Storm Alerts

Tropical Storm Watch: An announcement that tropical-storm conditions are possible within the specified area.

Hurricane Watch: An announcement that hurricane conditions are possible within the specified area.

Because outside preparedness activities become difficult once winds reach tropical storm force, watches are issued 48 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical-storm-force winds.

Action: During a watch, prepare your home and review your plan for evacuation in case a Hurricane or Tropical Storm Warning is issued. Listen closely to instructions from local officials.

Tropical Storm Warning: An announcement that tropical-storm conditions are expected within the specified area.

Hurricane Warning: An announcement that hurricane conditions are expected within the specified area.

Because outside preparedness activities become difficult once winds reach tropical storm force, warnings are issued 36 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical-storm-force winds.

Action: During a warning, complete storm preparations and immediately leave the threatened area if directed by local officials.

Extreme Wind Warning – Extreme sustained winds of a major hurricane (115 mph or greater), usually associated with the eyewall, are expected to begin within an hour.
Action: Take immediate shelter in the interior portion of a well-built structure.

Take a moment to watch the videos below from the National Hurricane Center to learn more about hurricane safety and how to prepare your family should a tropical storm or hurricane impact your area.

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