High Wind Watch

Avoid these 5 common, potentially deadly mistakes when a hurricane strikes your area

By Ashley Williams, AccuWeather staff writer

Those living in a hurricane’s projected path have much to worry about as the deadly storm threatens to inflict potentially catastrophic damage over a region.

During the process of preparing for the storm’s wrath, people can make some easily avoidable mistakes that could endanger the lives of their loved ones and pets.

Experts urge you not to make these five potentially deadly mistakes if a hurricane is due to strike your area.

1) Underestimating the storm’s impact

Occasionally when a hurricane’s strength is downgraded on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, people are led to believe that the weakened storm won’t pose a major threat.

Hurricane from outer space - Pexels image

However, this isn’t the case, as even tropical storms can drench areas with heavy rain and flooding.

"Tropical cyclones are classified based on one-minute sustained wind speeds, but their associated hazards, like rainfall, storm surge and flooding, can cause terrible destruction, even in a tropical storm or a Category 1 storm," said Dr. Amber Silver, assistant professor for the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity at the University at Albany.

Tropical Storm Allison, which remains the only tropical storm name ever to be retired, claimed 41 lives along the Gulf Coast in June of 2001 and saturated several areas with more than 30 inches of rain, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC).

“Often people who have historical experience with natural disasters like hurricanes tend to inflate their personal resiliency and downplay the impact of the storm,” said Dr. Christa A. Gallagher, DVM, MPH, DACVPM, assistant professor of veterinary public health and epidemiology at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine.

Doing so can have devastating and even fatal consequences, Gallagher warned. Experts advise people living in hurricane watch or warning areas to take proper precautions.

2) Not evacuating, or waiting until it’s too late

In the days leading up to the storm, experts recommend deciding whether to leave the area or stay put.

“Do not defy evacuation orders,” said Marie D. Jones, author of “The Disaster Survival Guide: How to Prepare for and Survive Floods, Fires, Earthquakes and More.”

“You not only put yourself and your family at risk, but the lives of first responders who will have to attend to you if you are injured or in danger from rising floodwaters,” Jones told AccuWeather.

If evacuating, experts advise not leaving it until it’s possibly too late. “Waiting until the last minute can leave you stuck in traffic and vulnerable to the hurricane, including high winds and storm surge,” said security, crisis and risk management expert Jack Plaxe.

“If you decide to go, leave early to avoid traffic,” Plaxe said. “If you decide to stay and shelter in place, retreat to your shelter that should be fully stocked with food, water, a radio and all the supplies you may need to survive for at least a few days or longer.”

3) Not including pets in disaster planning

During 2017’s Hurricane Irma, authorities in Florida threatened pet owners with felony charges for abandoning their pets during the storm.

Gallagher stressed that all pet owners should be aware of their responsibility to provide for their animals and ensure their safety and well-being during a natural disaster.

Owners should keep in mind that not all shelters accept pets.

“Although most shelters are required to accept small animal companions and service animals due to the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act of 2006 (Pets Act), owners are expected to provide for all of their physical needs,” Gallagher said.

Owners should consider bringing along items like a carrier, leashes or harnesses, a three-day supply of pet food and water, as well as any important documents including proof of ownership.

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4) Going outdoors during the hurricane

“Stay inside,” Silver told AccuWeather. “A hurricane is not the time for a leisurely stroll along the beach,” Silver said. “People can - and do - get swept away or injured by flying debris.”

5) Seeking shelter in rooms vulnerable to tree damage

Tropical-storm- and hurricane-force winds can be powerful enough to knock tall or weak trees into your home.

As Tropical Storm Gordon made landfall west of the Alabama-Mississippi border in September 2018, a child was killed as a tree toppled over onto a mobile home in Florida.

About 20 of the 72 Hurricane Sandy-related deaths in 2012 were attributed to falling trees, according to a 2014 report from Edward N. Rappaport of the NHC.

Experts recommend taking precautions to have vulnerable trees removed prior to hurricane season or sheltering in a section of the home away from the tree’s path.

For more safety and preparedness tips, visit AccuWeather.com/Ready.

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