Spending nearly 25 years of my life in Florida has not only opened up my ears to excellent tips about hurricanes but many different fallacies as well. Although hurricanes have been given special media attention, especially after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, there continues to be a great deal of misguided beliefs that can endanger those that believe them. The following 15 myths are the most common misconceptions surrounding one of nature’s most awesome and dangerous natural disasters; the hurricane.
15. Hurricanes and tropical storms only occur during the official hurricane season.
Although hurricanes and tropical storms are more likely to occur during the official season between June 1st and November 30th, they can happen anytime the upper part of the ocean is warm. For example, hurricane Lili struck in December in 1984, tropical storm Anna occurred in April of 2003, and Hurricane Zeta happened in January of 2006.
14. Only coastal areas are at risk during a hurricane.
It is easy to believe this when media coverage records the awesome power of a hurricane as it plows through a beachside town; but strong winds, torrential rain, tornadoes, and flooding hundreds of miles inland can not only be just as deadly but even more costly.
13. I have homeowner’s insurance. I don’t have to worry.
Most homeowner’s insurance requires you to pay a huge deductable and many companies don’t cover flood damage. Check with your insurance company before a hurricane occurs so that you know what to expect after one happens.
12. The storm surge is the deadliest part of a hurricane.
Storm surges are definitely deadly, but flash floods that occur more inland cause more deaths than storm surges because of people’s underestimation of the depth and power of moving water.
11. I live in an evacuation zone so I don’t need a plan. I’ll just go to an emergency shelter.
Hopefully, the media coverage during Hurricane Katrina of the conditions of emergency shelters have lessoned the amount of people who opt to not plan for themselves if a hurricane should happen. Emergency shelters are loud, crowded, uncomfortable, and do not allow pets. Make sure that you have a plan before a hurricane strikes.
10. I’ve been through a thunderstorm before, it can’t be much worse than that.
I once had a neighbor who told this to me one day as my family and I were stacking sandbags around our home. He had never been through a hurricane before and thankfully only tropical storm conditions raged on in our neighborhood as he was dreadfully unprepared. Thunderstorms can bring on 60 mile an hour winds, but the winds of a hurricane can be twice as fast and last more that twice as long as the strongest storm. Although thunderstorms can cause temporary power failure and minor damage, hurricanes can rip roofs off houses, uproot trees, shut off power and water for days, flood and block roads with debris, as well as other things that thunderstorms just don't do.
9. Opening up the windows on the opposite side of the house where the wind is hitting will relieve air pressure and make my home safer.
The first thing a person should do in the event of a hurricane is to shut all the windows. Opening up a window will make the walls and windows of the home weaker and will increase wind damage.
8. A hurricane will destroy my house anyway so why should I prepare?
Storing outdoor tables, chairs, and other items that can be thrown against your house or someone else’s as well as boarding up windows and removing dead trees and overhanging limbs may be the difference between a destroyed home and one that can be repaired.
7. I live on the top floor of my condo/apartment so I will be safe.
Have you ever visited the Empire State Building or another tall structure? If you have you may remember that it seemed much windier up there than on the ground. Wind speed increases the higher up you are. This means that you’re “safe” home may lose it’s siding as well as it’s roof. To make matters worse, rescuing a person from the top floor of a building is very difficult if not impossible in the middle of a hurricane. Vertical evacuation is a deadly idea.
6. I’ll store water in my bathtub and sink so that I will have water to drink incase the public water supply stops or is contaminated.
Being part of a volunteer restoration team after the category 5 Hurricane Andrew hit Homestead, Florida in 1992 has personally proven this popular belief completely false. Water that is stored in bathtubs and sinks are open for contamination because of the fact that it is sitting in an open container. A powerful hurricane could make water and power unavailable for days. Flooded and blocked roads could make leaving and rescuing impossible. Imagine the state of that water after three days of open windows for fresh air, upper 90 degree humid weather, and the dust and filth that will float around your house because of upturned trees and damaged cars and homes. Although water stored in bathtubs and sinks can be used to flush the toilet or wash clothes, make sure you have a minimum of four gallons of bottled water available just in case.
5. I taped my windows so they won’t break.
I have fond memories taping the many windows of my childhood home with my parents, but unfortunately studies have proven that taping only prevents glass from shattering inside your home. Instead of wasting your precious pre-hurricane time, fasten shutters made from metal or 5/8” plywood to windows instead.
4. I tied down my mobile home so it will be safe enough for me to stay.
Mobile homes are never safe to ride out a hurricane whether they are tied down or not. In fact, many cities and towns require residents that live in mobile homes to evacuate. If your hometown does not require you to leave, make the safe choice and head to a shelter as soon as you can.
3. It’s safe to go outside during the eye of a hurricane.
Although the eye of the storm appears safe because of lighter rain and less powerful winds, you have no idea how long the conditions will last. Hurricanes are unpredictable and all it takes for one strong wind put your life in danger. Always stay indoors during a hurricane.
2. We’re under an evacuation order but the weather looks fine. I’ll just wait until the weather gets bad and then I’ll leave.
This is the second most dangerous myth surrounding hurricanes and can be the absolutely worse decision that you can make. Hurricanes are unpredictable and can happen fast. Waiting until the last minute to evacuate will not only put your life in danger but also the people who will undoubtedly risk their lives to rescue you.
1. It won’t happen to me.
If you live on the Gulf of Mexico or on the East Coast you are at risk for a hurricane. Also, don’t think that it won’t happen to you simply because you live inland. Make a survival kit, gather your prescriptions, collect your important papers, have emergency cash on hand, make a plan for your pets, secure your home, and leave as soon as possible. No one thinks that they will be part of disaster area. Although you can’t prevent it from happening you can plan ahead so that you and your family can be as safe as you possibly can.