Hurricane season: AccuWeather's guide for first-timers
Residents who have recently moved to the coast may experience their first hurricane season this year. Experts have some tips to help those new residents better prepare themselves in case they must respond to a tropical threat.
As workers across the United States traded in office spaces and desks for a work-from-home format over the past year, and as the pandemic swept across the country, more and more people have moved south in search of sunny skies and warm weather.
However, with hurricane season just beginning in the Atlantic basin, are new residents of the Gulf Coast prepared?
Miami and Orlando were two of the top five metro areas in the U.S. that remote workers moved to amid the pandemic, according to real estate website Redfin. Along with the two Florida cities, the website noted a trend in which people moved to various locations across the sunbelt, a region of the U.S. that stretches across the lowest third of the country.
Residents of Flagler Beach, Fla., fill sandbags Friday, Aug. 30, 2019, to help protect their homes in preparation for Hurricane Dorian Friday, Aug. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Many individuals also moved to Atlanta, Georgia, Greenville, South Carolina, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Knoxville, Tennessee.
The top metro areas people left this year were New York City and Los Angeles, which, according to U.S. News, are both among the 10 most expensive cities in the world to live in.
While moving to Florida from New York City or Los Angeles may offer more affordable housing, living in the Sunshine State poses its own unique challenges -- such as the destructive and sometimes deadly hurricanes that menace the region.
This year is set to be an active hurricane season in the Atlantic, with a forecast of up to 20 named storms and three to five direct impacts on U.S. soil, according to AccuWeather meteorologists.
Though this season is projected to be an active one compared to a usual year that would only have 14 named storms, last year's hurricane season was one that would be difficult to top after producing the most named storms on record, 30, and the 2021 season is not projected to surpass that number.
According to AccuWeather Meteorologist Brett Rossio, tropical cyclones are one of the biggest culprits for weather-related fatalities, particularly when storm surge and flooding is factored into the equation. In addition, tropical systems can cause extreme damage to structures and homes.
"Unlike other severe weather hazards, hurricanes damage spans large areas and can have a very long-lasting impact on entire regions," Thomas Bedard, implementation manager and meteorologist for AccuWeather for Business, said.
Just last year alone, AccuWeather estimates the damages and economic loss caused by tropical storms that made landfall in the U.S. to be between $60 billion and $65 billion, AccuWeather CEO and Founder Dr. Joel N. Myers says.
"The science of weather forecasting allows us to know several days before hurricanes hit, which allows communities to prepare their homes, evacuate the area (if requested), and prepare themselves for the potential of a long-lasting disaster," Bedard said.
Many may think of New Orleans and other cities along the Gulf coast in terms of hurricane destruction, but the impacts of tropical weather can extend as far inland as the Ohio and Tennessee valleys.
Ricky Trahan makes a fire on his property after their home was destroyed by both Hurricane Laura and Hurricane Delta in Lake Charles, La., Friday, Dec. 4, 2020. The family is living in tents, with their son, his fiancee and their one-year-old son living in a loaned camper there. His sister's family's home is now gutted and they are living in a camper on the same property. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
"Houston and New Orleans are two major cities that are located in places highly susceptible to major damage from tropical cyclones. We saw this firsthand with both Harvey and Katrina," Rossio said.
Residents along the entire Gulf coast and Eastern Seaboard are particularly at risk, but those living deeper inland still need to be cautious and prepare for the effects, such as inland flooding, that these weather events can unleash.
Know the terms
If you live in a hurricane-prone area, it is important to understand terminology used during severe weather threats. One of the key ones to learn: what is the difference between a hurricane watch and warning, and why does it matter?
A hurricane or tropical storm watch is when hurricane conditions are possible within the next 48 hours.
Evacuation is not yet needed during a watch, but it is important to prepare yourself by getting an emergency preparedness kit together and looking over evacuation routes. Be sure to stay tuned into weather alerts during a hurricane watch.
A hurricane or tropical weather warning is a more pressing matter.
During a warning, hurricane conditions are expected in the area within 36 hours. If you live in the evacuation zone when a hurricane warning is announced, it is time to go.
Make sure you have a safe location your entire family, including pets, can shelter in that is outside of the evacuation zone during a hurricane warning. If you own larger animals that cannot come along, such as farm animals, make sure they have a safe place to go long before the warning is in place.
What is in an emergency preparedness kit
When a hurricane warning is called and it's time to get going, one of the most important things to do is to have an emergency preparedness kit all ready to go.
"It is crucial to have a hurricane plan ready before the season starts and have a box of supplies ready to go so you don’t have to worry about getting the essentials at the last minute," Rossio said.
Several jugs of water, flashlights, food, blankets, batteries and first aid kits should all be packed and ready to go when a hurricane warning is put in place.
In addition, Rossio says it is important to make sure your car has a full tank of gas and is in good condition, as the trip to a safe zone could be hundreds of miles long in some cases.
AccuWeather has even more information on hurricane safety kits and evacuation preparedness listed on its official Hurricane Preparedness Checklist.
Preparing for damage
Damage to property may seem inevitable when living in hurricane-prone areas, but there are ways to prevent damage and costly repairs.
Cutting down trees -- with the help of experts -- prior to a tropical weather event can minimize the chances of a branch, or even an entire tree, falling on your home. Clearing out gutters and drains will also minimize the likelihood for flooding.
FILE - In this Oct. 10, 2020 file photo, houses surrounded by flood waters are seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Delta Saturday in Welsh, La. Hurricane Delta, which made landfall about 11 miles from where the devastating Hurricane Laura hit a little more than a month earlier, cost $2.9 billion in the United States and was linked to six deaths in the U.S. and Mexico, according to a report from the National Hurricane Center. (Bill Feig/The Advocate via AP, Pool, File)
Prior to the tropical weather, boarding up windows will prevent them from breaking. Despite 54% of Americans believing it works, taping windows up does not prevent them from breaking. Before the winds hit, also be sure to bring any outdoor objects inside that could become projectiles as the strong winds soar through your neighborhood.
And finally, take photos of the entire exterior of your home before a hurricane strikes. While this won't prevent damage, it will document exactly what your home looked like before the storm tore through the area, which will be helpful when the time comes to discuss the damage with your insurance company.
Bedard said he has witnessed some misconceptions regarding hurricane preparedness, particularly with what the cone of uncertainty is, and what it tells us.
This cone of uncertainty graphic from the 2020 hurricane season shows the forecast trajectory of Hurricane Laura prior to it making landfall in the U.S. The cone of uncertainty shows where Laura is expected to travel, but not where the worst impacts will be felt.
"That cone only tells us what the track is, it doesn't tell us what the actual impacts are," AccuWeather Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski explained during AccuWeather's 2021 Hurricane Town Hall.
In other words, the cone shows where the storm is expected to move, but not the area that will sustain the most damage from it.
"Those watching an incoming storm would be much, much better served by looking at a meteorologist's rainfall, flooding, and storm surge projections so that they can see where the greatest threats really are," Bedard said.
Rossio said that one major misconception he's come to face in hurricane-prone areas is a lack of understanding to the seriousness of these weather events. He said he has come to learn that in the Outer Banks some people even throw "hurricane parties" when they know one is coming toward the shore.
"This is very dangerous and there is a preconceived belief among some that nothing bad can happen to them and that they will be fine," he explained.
"Hurricanes are very dangerous and if you live right along the coastlines, water rises due to storm surge can dramatically rise very quickly," Rossio said. "When local emergency management says to evacuate, citizens should listen and follow their instructions."
Rossio stressed that taking hurricanes seriously is the best way to go when it comes to tropical threat heading toward any part of the U.S.
During AccuWeather's 2021 Hurricane Town Hall, Director for the National Hurricane Center Ken Graham also shared a message for those who will be experiencing their first hurricane season this year.
"Here's the big advice if you haven't been through these systems before: Take them serious," he said. "And I think that's one major factor, to really take these serious. Because it's not just a short-term event ... some of those impacts could last for weeks."
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