Hurricanes are tropical cyclones in which winds reach a constant speed of 74 mph or greater. The visual hallmark of these storms is a tightening spiral around an area of extreme low pressure. The winds flow in a counterclockwise direction in the Northern Hemisphere (clockwise in the Southern). Near the center of the storm, winds can exceed 200 mph. An “eye of the storm” is unique to hurricanes, and this calm center, with mild winds and clear skies, can last half an hour or longer. An important thing to remember is that on the far side, the winds blow in the opposite direction and are at the storm’s maximum strength. Initial forward speed of a hurricane can be as little as 15 mph, but the farther it gets from the equator the faster its forward speed becomes.
Drowning is the major cause of hurricane deaths. As the storm strikes a coastline, it brings huge waves and tidal storm surges that can reach 25 feet above normal tide lines, while torrential rains cause inland flooding. The Atlantic hurricane season is from June 1 to November 30.
WHAT TO DO: Hurricanes can rapidly change in intensity, course and speed, so keeping a vigil over the radio for current storm information is absolutely critical. Clear your yard of any loose debris and anything that can be blown about and cause damage. Take the time to fill your vehicle with gas and any supplies you might need upon evacuation. An important item to keep on hand is a road map; if all major roads are impassable, either closed or clogged, you may need to take alternate routes. Also have on hand plywood, nails, and any other materials needed to board up windows and shutters.
Flash floods are the number one weather related killer in the U.S. each year, resulting in approximately 140 deaths. Most fatalities occur at night when people become trapped in automobiles. Hikers trapped in canyons with no means of escape are also at high risk. Water one foot deep can displace 1,500 pounds — enough force to sweep away an automobile.
WHAT TO DO: If you are inside of a building and are ordered to evacuate, do so immediately. Never drive through a flooded area. Even though it looks passable, the roadway may not be intact or stable. If you are caught outside away from safe shelter, immediately seek higher ground. Avoid canyons, dry riverbeds, streams, creeks and rivers. Keep children away from culverts, drainage ditches or storm drains.
Although not a “storm,” excessive heat conditions can have a devastating effect, particularly in congested urban areas. Heat cramps, exhaustion and heatstroke are life-threatening.
WHAT TO DO: Cramps are simply muscles contracting due to excessive water loss through perspiration. Gently massage the muscles, sit in a cool place and drink plenty of fluids. Heat exhaustion is manifested in profuse perspiration, cool and clammy skin, a weak pulse, possible fainting and nausea or vomiting. If left untreated, exhaustion can lead to heat stroke. Have the exhausted person lie down in a cool place, loosen any restrictive clothing and place cool washcloths over pulse points (wrists, neck, head) to help the body cool off. Drink cool water. If the person is vomiting and unable to keep down fluids, seek medical help. Heatstroke causes the body’s heat regulatory system to fail, thereby rendering it unable to produce perspiration. Death can occur very rapidly after initial onset of symptoms. Look for hot, dry skin, confusion, irrational behavior, coma, seizures, and a very rapid pulse. If the heatstroke is induced by heavy exertion, the person may still have perspiration on his or her skin while being unable to produce more. Take the victim to a cool place, remove clothing, sponge with cool water, fan him or her and call 911. Do not give fluids by mouth.