Hurricane Hazards

While the eye of any storm can be devastating, often it’s the accompanying hazards that can be more destructive.

Do what you can now to learn and prepare for storm surges, high winds, tornadoes and inland flooding. Here are top tips from survivors and experts from across the country:

Water Hazards

Storm Surge/Storm Tide

Storm surge is water pushed toward the shore by the force of the winds swirling around the storm, according to FEMA. This extra water combines with the normal tides and can increase the mean water level 15 feet or more.

Because much of the Atlantic and Gulf Coast coastlines lie less than 10 feet above mean sea level, the danger from this extra surge of water and storm tides is tremendous. “The storm surge not the winds is what causes about 90% of all deaths and injuries – you really need to pay attention to storm surge,” says Jon Toigo, disaster recovery and preparedness consultant with Office Depot, whose web site has disaster advice for small businesses.

Inland Flooding

Storm surge and heavy rainfall can lead to another hurricane hazard – inland flooding. Just like flooding from a broken levee or an overflowing river, inland flooding can be just as devastating.

A tropical storm or hurricane doesn’t have to be a Category 3 or higher to cause severe inland flooding. In fact, according to FEMA, some of the greatest rainfall amounts occur from weaker storms that drift slowly or stall over an area.

“Whether it’s the force of storm surge or just the slow trickling of rain, [the damage] is equally devastating,” says Chris Walsh, Hurricane Program Manager, Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA).

What Can You Do to Prepare for Storm Surges and Inland Flooding?

  1. Know your risk and level of vulnerability.
    This is especially important if you live along the Atlantic or Gulf Coasts. Turn to your local city administration and emergency planning department and your state’s emergency management agency to help you determine the hazards in your area. FEMA has a handy checklist worksheet
  2. Consider flood insurance as well.
    A lesson learned by many Hurricane Katrina and Rita victims, flood damage isn’t covered by homeowner’s insurance.
  3. Know how to evacuate
    Prior to evacuation, learn the evacuation routes and alternative routes to higher ground. Always keep your gas tank at least ½ full prior to the pending storm.
  4. If you are advised to evacuate, do so immediately.
    Do what you can before you leave to protect your home and your possessions from water damage.
  5. Read these helpful articles for advice from experts and past disaster survivors:

Wind Hazards

You have most likely heard the terms “Category 1-5” used when describing a hurricane. These numbers refer to the Saffir-Simpson Scale. For instance, a Category 1 hurricane has lighter winds compared to storms in higher categories. A Category 4 hurricane would have winds between 131 and 155 mph and, on the average, would usually be expected to cause 100 times the damage of the Category 1 storm.

Don’t let the category numbers fool you, however. “More damage is done annually by Category 3 storms then Category 4-5,” says Jon Toigo. “High winds causes any debris, tree limbs, signs, kid’s toys to get caught up in the wind and turn into projectiles and that can ruin your whole day.”

What Can You Do to Prepare for High Winds?

Again, know your risk and vulnerability. Pay attention to the media’s reports of the potential strength of the storm and prepare accordingly. Here are a few tips on some improvements – follow the links below for more:

“If you’re anticipating any sort of high winds, board up your windows,” says Toigo. “If you don’t have time to board your windows, at least make a big X with utility tape and that provides a minimum level of protection. The way you cover up your windows depends on local ordinances so please pay attention to that.”

“Move beyond shutters and consider also looking at your roof and soffits. Let’s use the analogy of a chain. If your windows are protected, the winds are going to look for the next weakest link such as gaps in soffits,” says Wendy Rose of Institute of Home and Business Safety. Some Gulf Coast states are now also offering wind inspections with regular home inspections when purchasing a new home. Check to see if your state as a wind inspection program.


Hurricanes can also produce tornadoes that add to the storm's destructive power.

“Tornadoes are most likely to occur in the right-front quadrant of the hurricane,” says Walsh. If a hurricane watch or warning is in effect for your area, pay attention to the projected path of the hurricane and look to see if your area would be in that right-front area.

Tornadoes that accompany hurricanes “tend to be low-level tornadoes, F0s, F1s, with low localized damage,” says Walsh.

What Can You Do to Prepare for Tornadoes?

Pay attention to the media’s reports of the potential path of the storm and prepare for tornadoes, especially if advised to do so. Read our the following to sections for additional tips:

Reviewed: 5/2009