Common Myths about Hurricanes

The six costliest hurricanes in United States history have all occurred since 1992, with five of the six happening since 2004 – Hurricane Katrina in 2005 of course being the worst of all.  Thus hurricanes have been much in the news, and people have had the incentive and the opportunity to educate themselves on the topic.

Yet there are various myths about hurricanes that are still fairly widespread.  Let’s take a look at a few of the most important:

1.  A mobile home is safe in a hurricane if it’s properly tied down and braced.

No, that just makes it very unsafe instead of very, very, very unsafe.

2.  As long as emergency shelters have been established, individuals and families don’t need their own evacuation plan.

Ending up in an emergency shelter should be your last resort, unless you like sleeping on the floor amongst a massive number of loud and smelly strangers.  Plus you can’t bring your pets, and you won’t have room for most of your “stuff” that you like to have with you when you’re away from home.  If at all possible you need to arrange in advance a place to stay outside the evacuation zone with a friend or family member.  Or a motel or public accommodation out of the area, but expect those to fill up very fast.

3.  As long as you have homeowners insurance, you’re covered for a hurricane.

Usually not.  Your policy might not cover you at all if you’re in a “high risk” area.  You might be covered for wind damage but not flooding.  You might be covered for damage to your house itself but not other damage to your property.  If you’re covered for hurricane damage at all, you probably have a high deductible you’ll still have to pay.  Don’t assume you’re covered; find out exactly the hurricane provisions of your insurance and get more insurance if you need to.

4.  If a hurricane is bad enough, it’ll destroy your house anyway, so it’s futile to take precautions.

This is as silly as this style of fatalism always is.  The idea is to improve your odds as best you can.  Maybe you can’t hurricane-proof your house so effectively that it’s literally impossible it could be destroyed in a hurricane, but you can lessen the chances.  You could put a roof on it that only the 5% strongest hurricanes could blow off rather than the 75% strongest.  You could shutter the windows so only 2% of hurricanes could break them rather than 95%.  You could use this building material rather than that building material so you’re only vulnerable to the top 15% strongest hurricanes rather than the top 50%.  And so on.

5.  If your house is fine in a typical windy thunderstorm, it should be fine in a hurricane, since that’s just a little more of the same.

The key point to remember here is that when you double the wind speed, the force it exerts is quadrupled.  So a 120 MPH wind isn’t just twice as big a deal as that 60 MPH wind you experienced in a bad thunderstorm; it’s four times as big a deal.  Plus a hurricane’s high winds aren’t an occasional gust in a passing storm, but can be sustained for hours.

6.  Hurricanes only happen in Florida, in the Gulf states, or at most in the South in general, and only along the coast.

Hurricanes are much more likely to strike in some areas than others, but occasional hurricanes have made it into the Midwest and into the New England states.  And even if a hurricane loses strength and is no longer technically a hurricane once it gets far enough inland to reach you, such storms have still often caused massive damage and flooding.

7.  Taped windows are safe from a hurricane.

Not really.  Taping might slightly lessen the chances of the window shattering when it breaks, but really you need proper storm shutters, or you need to nail wood over the windows.  (Think of “The Birds” when they’re trying to seal off the house to keep the killer birds out.)  The main thing tape will do is leave you with the unpleasant task of trying to scrape it all off your windows if the storm passes you by.

8.  The higher you can get in a building, like say the top floor of an apartment building, the safer you’ll be in a hurricane.

Mostly not.  If the storm and its high winds have largely passed but it has caused flooding, and you’re stuck in your home with flood waters rising, then yes, it makes sense to retreat upward to keep from being underwater.  But during the storm itself, going to a higher floor can make you more vulnerable, as wind speed increases the higher you go.  It also makes evacuation and rescue trickier.  You can more easily become trapped on a higher floor.

9.  You don’t need to evacuate until the weather turns noticeably bad.

You need to evacuate when you’re told to evacuate.  Once it already looks like a hurricane outside, you’re in serious danger of not being able to make it out of the area or to a shelter in time.

10.  You should leave windows open, because otherwise the house could explode from the difference in air pressure on the outside and inside.

The pressure difference could be a problem if a house were truly air tight with the doors and windows closed, but no house is.  You’re best off closing and boarding up the windows.  You and your possessions are at greater risk if you let the wind blow into your house through open windows, especially since it’ll blow the rain inside and drench everything.

With hurricanes as with so much else in life, don’t believe everything you hear.  There are plenty of myths floating around out there.


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