Ocean Currents

Are You Prepared for Hurricane Season?


As most ocean lovers know, June 1 marks the official start of hurricane season. With torrential rains, storm surges and substantial winds, hurricanes can cause catastrophic damage to coastlines and several hundred miles inland, but you can increase your chances of safety by being prepared.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30. The ingredients for a hurricane include a pre-existing weather disturbance, warm tropical oceans, moisture and relatively light winds. If the right conditions persist long enough, they can combine to produce the violent winds, incredible waves, torrential rains and floods we associate with hurricanes.

Hurricanes are an intense tropical weather system with well-defined circulation and maximum sustained winds of 74 miles per hour or higher. Major hurricanes have maximum sustained winds of 111 miles per hour or higher, which corresponds to Category 3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Here’s an animation that illustrates wind damage associated with increasing hurricane intensity.

In the Atlantic, hurricanes can strike the U.S. coastline from Texas to Maine. The northern Gulf Coast from Texas to northwest Florida is the prime target for pre-August major hurricanes. The threat of major hurricanes increases from west to east as the season progresses, with major hurricanes favoring the U.S. East Coast by late September. Most major October hurricanes in the United States impact southern Florida.

Hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico

The Gulf of Mexico has experienced some of the strongest storms that have impacted the coast of the United States. From 1851 to 2010, there have been 1,589 tropical cyclones in the Gulf, 644 of which were hurricanes. Among them are Hurricane Katrina (2005), Hurricane Charley (2004), Hurricane Andrew (1992), Hurricane Camille (1969), the Labor Day Hurricane (1935) and the Galveston Hurricane of September 1900.

Tropical Cyclones map

Source: The Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem: A Coastal and Marine Atlas / Ocean Conservancy

The map above displays the combined paths of tropical depressions, tropical storms and hurricanes that have occurred in the Gulf of Mexico. By understanding the patterns of tropical cyclone tracks and landfalls in the Gulf, environmental planners and risk assessors will be able to increase storm preparedness and minimize the loss of lives and property.

This map is part of a larger Ocean Conservancy project to provide tools to aid Gulf restoration efforts and improve the ongoing management of the Gulf ecosystem. Our full collection of maps, The Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem: A Coastal and Marine Atlas, will be debuting soon.

Be Prepared

As more residents move to coastal areas in the East Coast, people become more susceptible to the impacts of hurricanes: loss of life, extensive damage to coastal development and infrastructure (e.g., homes, industries and roads), and contamination of drinking water.

You can increase your own preparedness by following these tips from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA):

  • Put boards or storm shutters over windows. Do not use tape since it doesn’t prevent the window from breaking.
  • Pick up small items in your yard, such as toys, tools and potted plants, and bring in outdoor furniture. In high winds, these items could slam into you or your windows.
  • Fill six 2-liter soda bottles or a large water container for each family member. The water from faucets may not be safe to drink.
  • Store at least a three-day supply of nonperishable food.
  • Make sure you have a flashlight and radio that run on batteries in case you lose electricity.

What measures do you take in preparing for and weathering through a hurricane? Share your tips in the comments.

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