Hurricanes are products of the tropical ocean and atmosphere. Powered by heat from the sea, they are steered erratically by the easterly trade winds and the moderate westerly winds, as well as by their energy. As they move ashore, they bring with them a storm surge of ocean water along the coastline, high winds, tornadoes, and both torrential rains and flooding.
Cause financial damage
Each year on average, ten tropical storms develop over the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, or the Gulf of Mexico. About six of these will strengthen enough to become hurricanes. Many of these remain over the ocean with little or no impact on the continental United States. However, about five storms strike the United States coastline every three years. Of these five, two will be significant hurricanes measuring a category three or higher (defined as having winds above 111 miles per hour) on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. These storms can end up costing our nation millions, if not billions, of dollars in damages.
During a hurricane, homes, businesses, public buildings, and infrastructure may be damaged or destroyed by high winds and high waves. Debris can break windows and doors, allowing high winds and rain inside the home. Roads and bridges can be washed away by flash flooding or can be blocked by debris. In extreme storms (such as Hurricane Andrew), the force of the wind alone can cause tremendous devastation, as trees and power lines topple and weak elements of homes and buildings fail. And these losses are not limited to the coastline — they can extend hundreds of miles inland, under the right conditions.
Precautions to be taken
Fortunately, there are a variety of measures that can be taken — both at the individual and community levels — to reduce your vulnerability to hurricane hazards. Simple construction measures, such as the use of storm shutters over the exposed glass, and the addition of hurricane straps to hold the roof of a structure to its walls and foundation, have proven highly effective in lowering damages when hurricanes strike. Also, more complex mitigation measures can be pursued to reduce a property’s susceptibility further.
For example, coastal homes and businesses can be elevated to permit tidal storm surge to pass under living and working spaces. Communities can further reduce their vulnerability to hurricanes through the adoption and enforcement of wind- and flood-resistant building codes. Sound land-use planning can also ensure that structures are not built in the highest hazard areas.
Although tornadoes occur in many parts of the world, these destructive forces of nature are found most frequently in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains during the spring and summer months. In an average year, 800 tornadoes are reported nationwide, resulting in 80 deaths and over 1,500 injuries.
A storm is defined as a violently rotating column of air extending from a thunderstorm to the ground. The most violent storms are capable of tremendous destruction with wind speeds of 250 mph or more. Damage paths can be more than one mile wide and 50 miles long. Once a tornado in Broken Bow, Oklahoma, carried a motel sign 30 miles and dropped it in Arkansas.
Examples of Mitigation Techniques
Hurricanes and tornadoes both have in prevailing very high winds and the associated damage. After Hurricane Andrew, a team of experts examined homes that had failed and ones that had survived. They found four areas that should be checked for weakness–the roof, windows, doors, and if you have one, garage door. Some steps can be taken by most homeowners to reduce the vulnerability of homes to high winds.
An experienced builder should only do others. You will find more information about how to prepare your family, home, or business for hurricanes and tornadoes at this Web site. You may also obtain more information from your state office of emergency services, the nearest Federal Emergency Management Agency Regional Office, and your local office of the American Red Cross.
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