When I was in my teens, my brother liked to watch CSI: Miami. (I can’t decide if it’s because of his lifelong interest in espionage and crime or because Horatio had reddish hair like him.) While I couldn’t tell you much about it now, there is one episode that’s always stuck in my mind. One that centered around a crime perpetrated during a hurricane.
It was on that day that I realized just how much facts can be exaggerated or ignored for the sake storytelling. Growing up in a place where there are hurricanes, I have some firsthand experience. Below are 5 seemingly common misconceptions.
5. They don’t appear out of nowhere.
Local forecasters watch every storm system in the Atlantic and the Gulf with intense interest since it might become the next big storm. In fact, most of the time, East Coast hurricanes start their lives as storms off the coast of Africa, so meteorologist spend literally weeks tracking a storm with hopes that they’ll be the first to announce that it’s a named storm headed for land.
This doesn’t mean that there isn’t the occasional storm that develops in warm waters not far from land and hits a few days later, but those instances are very rare.
And, yes, the forecasters do become far too excited with the prospect of the state being hit by a storm.
4. Odds of finding yourself under a well-defined eye of a storm are slim.
The moment a hurricane hits land, it begins to deteriorate. (Exception: If there’s just been another storm in the area that’s saturated the warm ground with fresh fuel for the hurricane.) The eye of the storm is one of the first things to begin losing definition. While pictures of hurricanes often have that clear “eye” in the center, odds of ever witnessing the fabled complete stillness with a blue sky above while on land are quite low. Just speaking from experience.
3. Lightning is uncommon.
Hurricanes aren’t giant thunderstorms, so lighting isn’t a common occurrence. One afternoon storm has more lightning than all of the hurricanes I’ve seen so far combined.
2. All hurricanes should be taken seriously, but areas that are built for the storms don’t normally have severe damage from a category 2 or lower.
As I mentioned, I’ve grown up with hurricanes. We’re blessed that the worst we’ve experienced was a category 4 and that our area is built for the storms, able to bounce back with relative ease, and has a good sense of humor. (For instance, after the cat. 4, there were ongoing jokes that our state flag should be changed to a blue tarp because almost everyone had them on their roofs where shingles had come off.)
While hurricanes are a serious matter and some are catastrophic (as we’ve seen with Andrew, Katrina, Sandy, etc.), it often seems that newscasters try to make the less severe storms out to be far worse than they actually are.
From an area that’s built for hurricanes and has a good sense of humor about them even after a week without power, here’s a short description of each category.
– Maximum sustained winds: 39-73 mph
– Damage: minor
– How residents here view it: A little worse than the severe thunderstorms that come through every summer afternoon. Definitely time to bring in the light patio furniture. But the good news is that school and work are canceled for the day!
– Maximum sustained winds: 74-95 mph
– Damage: count on some downed branches and minor damage to old shingles
– How residents here view it: Potential tornadoes in the northeastern corner of the storm are a larger concern than the storm itself. Make sure anything loose is indoors. Odds of losing power are pretty low, and if it does happen, it won’t be for long.
– Maximum sustained winds: 96-110 mph
– Damage: some downed trees and shingle damage
– How residents here view it: Time to board up the windows, just in case of debris being caught in the wind. Power might go out, but it usually doesn’t go out for long.
– Maximum sustained winds: 111-129 mph
– Damage: count on some downed trees and serious damage overall
– How residents here view it: Board those windows and batten down the hatches. It’s going to be a bumpy ride! (And plan on spending the next few days picking up shingles…)
– Maximum sustained winds: 130-156 mph
– Damage: severe
– How residents here view it: Prepare the house and consider leaving the area. Power will definitely be out for a couple of days at least.
– Maximum sustained winds: 157+ mph
– Damage: catastrophic
– How residents here view it: Time to pack up and go. Bring anything that matters.
(For more hurricane information, check out NOAA’s hurricane center. And remember, if there’s one in your area, please take it seriously.)
1. If it’s already raining, it’s too late to leave.
Going back to that tv episode, characters were in a traffic jam, trying to leave the city during a torrential downpour — a clear sign that the storm was already on top of them. At that point, it’s too dangerous to leave and the roads would already be shut down to everything but emergency vehicles. If you want to leave, plan to do it at least 12 hours before the first feeder bands of the hurricane even reach the area. Otherwise, it’s too late.
Do you have any experience with hurricanes?