Hurricanes are intense tropical weather systems with well-defined circulation and maximum sustained winds of 74 mph or higher. When hurricanes move ashore, they sweep the ocean inward while spawning tornadoes and producing torrential rains and floods. Hurricanes are classified into categories according to sustained wind speed; the stronger the wind, the higher the category. However, flooding is what causes most hurricane damage, not the severe winds.
North Carolina’s coast is one of the nation’s areas most vulnerable to a direct hurricane strike due to its protruding coastline. But all areas of the state – from coastal and sound counties to the mountains – have been significantly impacted by hurricanes in the past 20 years. Heavy winds, tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, flooding, storm surge and landslides can all be triggered by hurricanes causing catastrophic damage.
The Atlantic Hurricane Season runs from June 1 to November 30 with the peak season from mid-August to late October.
To prepare for a hurricane:
- Build an emergency kit and make a family emergency plan.
- Monitor the weather reports, listening every hour as the storm approaches.
- Put fuel in all vehicles and withdraw some cash from the bank. Gas stations and ATMs may be closed after a hurricane.
- If authorities ask you to evacuate, do so promptly.
- If you evacuate, be alert to flooded or washed-out roads. Just a few inches of water can float a car. Remember: Turn Around, Don’t Drown.
- Keep a photo I.D. that shows your home address. This may become important when asking law enforcement for permission to re-enter your neighborhood.
- Secure your property:
- Bring inside all outdoor furniture, decorations, garbage cans and anything else that is not tied down.
- Cover windows with permanent storm shutters or board up windows with 5/8” plywood, cut and ready to install. Tape does not prevent windows from breaking.
- Trim trees and shrubs around your home so they are more wind resistant.
- Clear clogged rain gutters and downspouts.
- Reinforce garage doors; if wind enters a garage it can cause dangerous and expensive structural damage.
If a hurricane is likely to impact your area, you should:
- Listen to the radio, TV, or NOAA Weather Radio for information.
- Secure your home, close storm shutters and secure outdoor objects or bring them indoors.
- Turn off utilities if instructed to do so. Otherwise, turn the refrigerator thermostat to its coldest setting and keep its doors closed.
- Turn off propane tanks
- Avoid using the phone, except for serious emergencies.
- Ensure a supply of water for sanitary purpose such as cleaning and flushing toilets. Fill the bathtub and other larger containers with water.
- Find out how to keep food safe during and after and emergency.
Evacuate if you are:
- Directed to do so by local authorities.
- In a mobile home or temporary structure. Such structures are particularly hazardous during high wind events no matter how well fastened to the ground.
- In a high-rise building. Hurricane winds are stronger at higher elevations.
If you are unable to evacuate, go to the safest room in your house.
- Stay indoors during the hurricane and away from windows and glass doors.
- Close all interior doors – secure and brace external doors.
- Keep curtains and blinds closed.
- Do not be fooled if there is a lull; it could be the eye of the storm – winds will pick up again.
- Take refuge in a small interior room, closet or hallway on the lowest level.
- Stay tuned to local radio, TV or NOAA Weather Radio for the latest updates.
- Stay alert for additional rainfall and subsequent flooding even after the storm has ended.
- Drive only if necessary. Avoid flooded roads and washed-out bridges. Stay off the streets. If you must go out watch for fallen objects; downed electrical wires; and weakened bridges, roads and sidewalks.
- Keep away from loose or dangling power lines and report them immediately to the power company.
- If you need to reach your family, use your family communications plan or contact the American Red Cross at 1-800-RED-CROSS/1-800-733-2767 or visit the ARC Safe and Well site: www.safeandwell.org.
- If you cannot return home and need shelter, text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area (example: shelter 12345).
- Return home only when officials say it is safe.
- Walk carefully around the outside your home and check for loose power lines, gas leaks and structural damage before entering. Stay out of any building if you smell gas, if floodwaters remain around the building or your home was damaged by fire.
- Inspect your home for damage. Take pictures of damage, both of the building and its contents, for insurance purposes. If you have any doubts about safety, have your residence inspected by a qualified building inspector or structural engineer before entering.
- Use battery-powered flashlights in the dark. Do NOT use candles. Note: The flashlight should be turned on outside before entering – the battery may produce a spark that could ignite leaking gas, if present.
- Several longer-term housing options may be available to help those whose homes have been severely damaged or destroyed. Check this website or listen to local media after a disaster to learn what options may be available.
- Watch your pets closely and keep them under your direct control. Watch out for wild animals, especially poisonous snakes. Use a stick to poke through debris.
- Avoid drinking or preparing food with tap water until you are sure it’s not contaminated.
- Check refrigerated food for spoilage. If in doubt, throw it out.
- Wear protective clothing and be cautious when cleaning up to avoid injury.
- Use the telephone only for emergency calls.
- NEVER use a generator inside homes, garages, crawlspaces, sheds, or other enclosed areas, even when using fans or opening doors and windows for ventilation. Deadly levels of carbon monoxide can quickly build up in these areas and can linger for hours, even after the generator has shut off
Tropical Depression – contains winds up to 39 miles per hour.
Tropical Storm – 39 – 73 mph winds
Category 1 – 74 to 95 mph winds
Category 2 – 96 to110 mph winds
Category 3 – 111 to 130 mph winds
Category 4 – 131 to 155 mph winds.
Category 5 – winds 156 mph or greater.
Hurricane Watch – hurricane conditions (sustained winds greater than 74 mph) are possible. Watches are usually issued 48 hours before the onset of tropical-storm-force-winds.
Hurricane Warning – hurricane conditions (sustained winds greater than 74 mph) are expected. Warnings are usually issued 36 hours before the onset of tropical-storm-force-winds.
Tropical Storm Warning – tropical storm conditions (sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph) are possible within 36 hours.
Atlantic Tracking Map (PDF)
Windspeed Conversion Chart in PDF format. (PDF)
National Hurricane Center (link)