8 Common Myths and Misconceptions About Hurricanes

Hurricane-Ian

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By Crystal Harlan

July 27, 2023

Do you put tape on your windows before a hurricane or worry more about the wind than the water? If so, you’re not alone! Those are just a a couple of the most common myths about hurricanes.

Puerto Ricans in Florida are no strangers to hurricanes, but even among seasoned storm survivors, misconceptions are widespread. When it comes to hurricane season, having the right information will help you prepare and stay safe.

Here are a few of the most common myths about hurricanes.

Myth: High wind speed poses the greatest threat to human lives.

Truth: In actuality, 88 percent of hurricane-related deaths are from water, including both the initial storm surge, which is when the hurricane’s wind field pushes water toward the shore, and flooding from large amounts of rainfall.

That’s why they say, “Hide from the wind, run from the water.”

Myth: A Category 1 hurricane is nothing to worry about.

Truth: Category 1 storms’ sustained wind speeds of 74 to 95 miles per hour can cause significant damage to trees and the roofs and siding of homes. The winds can also damage electric lines, resulting in power outages that can last for days. And like higher category storms, Category 1 can still bring a storm surge and plenty for flooding from rainfall.

Myth: Taping your windows will help keep them from breaking.

Truth: Use plywood boards or hurricane shutters instead. It’s a popular misconception that tape will strengthen a window enough for it to withstand debris. In fact, it can actually make windows more dangerous because with tape they will break in bigger pieces.

Myth: People up north don’t have to worry about hurricanes.

Truth: If you lived in New York or New Jersey during Hurricane Sandy (2012) you know that not to be true. Sandy caused 147 deaths–72 occurring in the mid-Atlantic states–and an estimated $82 billion in damages, making Sandy the fourth-costliest hurricane in the U.S. Hurricanes can even reach as far north as Canada. Hurricane Igor (2010) was the most destructive hurricane to hit Newfoundland in 75 years, according to the Canadian Hurricane Centre.

Myth: Hurricanes only affect people along the coast.

Truth: As we mentioned above, the damage caused by copious amounts of rainfall is not to be underestimated, and the rain doesn’t stop once the storm makes landfall. Those of us in Central Florida remember the flooding caused by Hurricane Ian (2022) in the Orlando area, more than 150 miles inland from where Hurricane Ian made landfall near Fort Myers.

And Hurricane Irene (2011) caused inland flooding that damaged or destroyed nearly 2400 roads, 300 bridges and a half dozen railroads tracks in Vermont. As if that weren’t enough, these storms can also produce tornadoes once on land.

RELATED: A More Resilient Puerto Rico: How Biden’s Climate Crisis Plan Will Help Coastal Communities

Myth: Opening windows and doors will help relieve dangerous pressure that can build in your home and cause structural damage.

Truth: Homes are not sealed well enough for pressure to become dangerously high in a home. Please don’t open doors or windows during a hurricane, as it can let in rain and airborne debris.

Myth: Wait to see how the storm progresses before evacuating.

Truth: If you are ordered to evacuate or even if there is a possibility that a hurricane could affect your area, do not delay in evacuating. That’s because the storm surge will likely start hours before the storm makes landfall. Plus, you don’t want to be stuck in a traffic gridlock on the highway when the storm hits.

Myth: If I’m outside of the cone of uncertainty, I’m safe.

Truth: That’s a dangerous assumption. The cone of uncertainty is the hurricane’s predicted path. The center of the cone of uncertainty is not necessarily going to be the center of the storm. The center of the storm could pass over any point within the cone or even outside of it.

If you’ve tracked storms for long enough, you know that they can suddenly change direction, defying all predictions. Just look at Hurricane Ian (2022), which was predicted to hit somewhere between the Panhandle and Tampa. Then, just days before making landfall, it made a dramatic shift south and hit near Ft. Myers.

 

Author

  • Crystal Harlan

    Crystal is a bilingual editor and writer with over 20 years of experience in digital and print media. She is currently based in Florida, but has lived in small towns in the Midwest, Caracas, New York City, and Madrid, where she earned her MA in Spanish literature.

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