How to survive a hurricane

This lesson will discuss: How to Survive a HURRICANE.

  •  What they are.
  •  How are they classified.
  •  The dangers associated with them.
  •  How to survive a hurricane.
  •   How to determine your RISK Level of them.

Hurricanes can have impacts on both the East and West Coasts of Central and North America.  But hurricanes are much more prevalent on the East Coast and therefore more of a concern to people living on the East Coasts of both Central and North America.

What’s the story with Hurricanes and the West Coast?


The reason that Hurricanes do not form as often on the West Coast is because the waters in the Pacific Ocean are cooler.  Washington and Oregon have never recorded an actual hurricane event.  But they can get wind storms, called “Pacific Northwest Windstorms” that can rival hurricane force winds.

  • December 1 -3, 2007:  The Great Coastal Gale of 2007 had reported wind gust up to 137mph.
  • October 12, 1962:  Columbus Day Storm of 1962 had official wind gusts reaching 127 mph.

California has had a four hurricanes reported, but were mostly the remnants of the hurricane that actually made land fall.

But this doesn’t mean a Hurricane will not hit the West Coast – they are just more infrequent than for the East Coast.


When is Hurricane Season?


  •  Hurricane Season in the Northern Hemisphere runs from June 1 through November 30.
  •  The Southern Hemisphere sees most of their “Cyclones” during March and April.

Side Note:  Hurricanes, Cyclones, Typhoons are all the same thing, they are all classified “Tropical Cyclones”, but are named differently depending where they form:

  • Northern Hemisphere: Hurricane
  • Southern Hemisphere: Cyclone
  • Eastern Hemisphere: Typhoon

Twice as many Hurricanes form in the Northern Hemisphere than in the Southern Hemisphere.  Simply because the weather conditions that are necessary to form Hurricanes are more prevalent in the Northern hemisphere.

Hurricanes:  What they are and where they can happen.


Hurricanes are very large rotating storms (Tropical Cyclones) that form over the Oceans in waters that are 80oF or warmer and result from the never ending balancing of weather systems: High Pressure flowing into Low Pressure Systems.

Hurricanes can form in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, but their rotation will be different(remember the Coriolis Effect):

  • Northern Hemisphere: Counter-Clockwise Rotation
  • Southern Hemisphere: Clockwise Rotation
Interesting Note: Hurricanes need water temperatures that are at least 80oF to form. But hurricanes do not form within 5 degrees of latitude of the equator. This has to do with again “The Coriolis Effect”. And no Hurricane has ever been reported moving across the equator.


How Hurricanes are Classified:


The Saffir – Simpson Scale is used to classify Hurricanes.  This scale takes 3 factors into considerations toestimate the “potential” damage that the storm may cause.


  • Maximum Sustained Wind Speed
  • Minimum Surface Pressure
  • Storm Surge Potential

Saffir – Simpson Scale for Hurricane Classification

For our situation in how to survive a hurricane, it may make more sense if we look at the potential damage that may result from these different categories of Hurricanes.

Hurricane Damage Classification

“Categories 3, 4, and 5 are classified as major hurricanes, and while hurricanes within this range compromise only 20 percent of total tropical cyclone landfalls, they account for over 70 percent of the damage in the United States.”, Tropical Storms and Nor’easters


Quick Note about Tropical Storms: A Tropical Storm could be looked at as the “Little Brother” of the Hurricane; Strong Thunderstorms, heavy rains, and winds ranging from 43 mph to 72 mph. These winds may be less than a Hurricane, but they are still capable of doing damage and the heavy rains associated with them can cause flooding. Tropical Storms are named and they will retain that name if they turn into a Hurricane.


With modern weather technology, the weather services NOAA will institute Hurricane Watches and Alerts if the Hurricane is expected to make landfall.

     •  HURRICANE WATCH: A Hurricane is possible within 36 hours.

     •  HURRICANE WARNING: A Hurricane is EXPECTED within 24 hours. TIME TO GET OUT – EVACUATE!


Hurricane Sandy Damage

YES – This picture is from New York City.  Not Florida. Not South Carolina. Not North Carolina.  This shows you the reach that a Hurricane can have.


What are the potential dangers from Hurricanes?

There are 5 major dangers with Hurricanes.


#1)    Storm Surge is the wall of water that the Hurricane pushes in front of itself as it moves toward land.   This wall can be as high as 20’ and is capable of causing enormous amounts of damage, flooding and loss of life.  Not only the wall of water is extremely dangerous, but also all of the debris that it is pushing along with it.  It the water doesn’t kill you, you run a high risk of being crushed, impaled, or seriously cut up by the debris.

An amazing video (and very dangerous video) taken by Mike Theiss from showing the 28 foot storm surge that Hurricane Katrina developed in Gulfport, Mississippi on August 29, 2005. Mike was gracious enough to allow us to post his video on our website. Thank You – Mike.

This is a perfect example of why the best defense against a Hurricane is:  GET OUT OF ITS WAY!  Hurricanes can be KILLERS.   Move inland away from the storm to a safe area as soon as you hear that a Hurricane is reported coming in your GENERAL direction.

When you watch the video – Note how fast a Storm Surge can move in and the debris in it.  It can flood a relatively clear street within seconds.  There is no defense against something like this.  Here is the big secret in how to survive a hurricane:  GET OUT OF ITS WAY!


Did this video scare you?  

YES.  That’s good.  That’s exactly what it was suppose to do.  

A quote from the Governor of North Carolina, Pat McCrory, when he announced to the state on the approach of Hurricane Arthur on July 3, 2014.  “Don’t Put Your Stupid Hat On.”   Wise words when it comes to a Hurricane.  Get out its way!


#2)   Flooding caused by the heavy rains: The outer rain bands of a Hurricane can extend several hundred miles inland.  These heavy rain bands can last for hours and even days; dropping huge amounts of water and causing inland flooding problems.  Many think that the high winds and storm surges are the most deadly threat – but it is actually inland flooding that is the most deadly threat. Reported: “Inland Flooding a Deadly Threat with Hurricanes”. A study that examined 1970-1999 found that more than half of tropical storm and hurricane deaths are due to flooding. Furthermore, nearly 80 percent of children killed by hurricanes drown in flood waters.


#3)   High Winds: The National Weather Service – National Hurricane Center, has a very good animation on the effects of Wind Damage that a Hurricane can cause.    The animation starts out with Tropical Storm winds and progresses up all the way to a Category 5 Hurricane.   After viewing this clip, you’ll see the best defense for a Hurricane is simply:  That’s Right!  “Get Out Of Its Way”.  

Please click the Blue Button National Hurricane Center: Wind Damage.

Scroll down (about half way down the page) until you get to the High Winds section.  The video should start as soon as you get to that part of the page.  It loops in case you didn’t get the chance to see it from the beginning.

Beyond the structural damages that these high winds are capable of, if you are caught outside without anything to protect you from the winds, the likelihood of being hit by flying debris is very high.  Like in the Storm Surge discussion above with debris in the water…. you run a high risk of being crushed, impaled, or seriously cut up by the flying debris.

#4)   Tornadoes: Hurricanes are capable of spawning Tornadoes. Tornadoes will be discussed in its own section but it is important to know that when you are preparing for a Hurricane – you need to prepare for many potential dangers.

 #5)    Rip Tides or Rip Currents: These are narrow currents that are found near beaches which flow back into the ocean from the shore.  These currents are strong enough that you will not be able to swim against them to get back to shore.   They are very dangerous.  Hurricanes have the ability to produce rip currents hundreds of miles away from their location.

A good video that discusses Rip Tides:

  • What causes a Rip Tide.
  •  How to spot a Rip Tide.
  • The dangers of a Rip Current.
  • What to do if you are caught in a Rip Tide.

Can be found on YouTube by Dr. Beach titled: Rip Currents

Click on the Blue Button if you would like to know more about Rip Tides / Rip Currents.

Dr. Beach Video: Rip Currents.


OK, so we have the foundation knowledge of Hurricanes down; let’s start determining our Risk Factors when it comes to Hurricanes.


How to Determine Your Risk of Being Impacted by a Hurricane.


We will be using two sources of data to determine your risk level for Hurricanes impacting your location.

Source #1:  Historical data collected over the past 152 years.

Source #2:  Storm Surge Data supplied by NOAA.

So, get your “Risk Level Form” out that you printed from an earlier module.


Step#1:  The following table reports historical data for Hurricane impacts [by Category] over the past 152 years.If you live in one of these states – Enter the number that appears in the far Right Column into your Risk Assessment Table.


•  Florida: Enter 5 in the Box.

•  Maryland: Enter 3

Hurricane Impact by State

Hurricane Impact by State

Step #1B:  If you live in the States of California, Oregon or Washington – Use a number 3 for your Risk Level.


Step #2:  Determine the probability of a storm surge impacting your location.  We will be using the “Storm Surge Inundation Map” provided my NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).  Click on the Blue Button.  NOAA Storm Surge Inundation Map

This is an amazing interactive map provided by the government that predicts what your chances are of being impacted by a storm surge if your area is visited by a hurricane.  The Legend in the Left Hand Column will indicate what the potential height of the Storm Surge will be depending upon the Category of the Hurricane that you select.  You can even choose the Category Level of the Hurricane to see how the impact will affect you as the Category Level changes.  Note:  This data is only available for the East Coast of the United States.

Before you click on the link that will take you to the map – let’s briefly discuss how to use it.

  • You can ZOOM IN or Out by either using the wheel on your mouse of by using the “+” or “-“ symbols located on the map in the upper left hand corner.
  • Locate your state and Click On It.
  • As you ZOOM in you can fine tune the Map to get as close to your location as you can. If necessary, you can PAN in any direction by Holding the LEFT MOUSE Button Down and moving your MOUSE in the direction you want to go.
  • You will only be able to ZOOM in so much before you start losing data. But you will get close enough to be able to identify your location.
  • Once you have identified your location – choose the Category of Hurricane you would like to see the data for. Watch the map for how the impact changes in the area.
  • If you find that you are located in any areas indicated by possible Storm Surge Inundations – Increase your Risk Level by 1.

Example:  If you were a 4 before – increase it to a 5.

If you were a 3 before – increase it to a 4.

If you are located in Florida – you don’t need to do anything – you are already a 5.

So, when you’re ready, click on the Blue Button below and start exploring your location.

NOAA Storm Surge Inundation Map

If necessary, make any changes to your Risk Level on your Risk Assessment Table.


Now you have your Risk Level for a HURRICANE impacting your area.  Make sure that you write it down on your “Risk Assessment Table”.


This is what you should be taking away from the Hurricane Module:


  1. What is a HURRICANE.
  2. Which areas have the highest probability of being impacted by a HURRICANE.
  3.  When is HURRICANE Season.
  4.  How HURRICANES are classified.
  5. The 5 Major Dangers associated with a HURRICANE.
  6. How to survive a HURRICANE.
  7. How to determine the Risk of a HURRICANE Impact for a specific location.

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