Don’t Underestimate a Hurricane

Today’s blog post is once more, early for the pending hurricane in the Carolinas. We will return to your regularly scheduled blogging later next week. Hurricane Florence has weakened to a category 2 storm, but it is no less deadly. It might be worse than if it had remained a category 4 and kept moving.


The Category System

There are a lot of factors that go into how strong a storm is. We don’t have an easy system to boil this down to a master deadliness rating. There’s the amount of rain, the storm surge, the wind, the size of it, how long it’s going to impact a given area, and more. If we had a complex system that factored in everything, the average person wouldn’t be able to understand the taxonomy and understand the storm.

As a result, we build our hurricane categories on one factor alone: windspeed. We start out with tropical depressions and tropical storms, then work our way up to faster and faster winds, all the way up to roaring 150mph+ category 5 storms. The wind is a predictable, understandable factor. We know the faster the wind gets, the more damage there will be. In some ways, the wind speed is a measure of how much energy is in a storm.

This is an understandable set up. You see Category 5 and you know the storm is gonna be a whipping bulldozer that levels everything in its path. You know it’ll tear the roofs off houses, or outright tear buildings to shreds. You know that light aircraft will literally get picked up off the runway if they’re not tied down and some cars will even get blown over just sitting on the road.


The Flaw In the System

Windspeed is a major factor, but it’s not the only factor. A house might hold up to 150mph winds for an hour, but how will it handle two hours? It will survive 100mph winds, but maybe it loses a shingle an hour. As the storm wears on, there will be more and more damage.

A storm can be a lower category, but cover a bigger area or lower but slower. Instead of facing a few hours or a day of a storm quickly blasting through an area, it could be days of winds just hammering everything down flat. Even ‘slower’ winds, when sustained for days, are incredibly damaging.

That’s to say nothing of the rain or storm surge. The storm might hover and dump trillions of gallons, despite a slower windspeed. It could be a category 2 storm, but raise the waterways 10, 20 feet or worse. There could be localized flooding with streets and similar areas flooding from the shear amount of rainfall alone.


What This Means for Florence

Florence has slower winds, but it’s not any weaker. The total energy in the storm system is still incredibly high. There’s still a ton of water on the way too, enough to fill 15 million olympic pools, and then some. It’s going to be a disaster, even as a weaker storm.

Don’t treat this as any less of a storm. It’s going to be bad. Instead of a few hours of category 4, it’ll be potentially days of hammering with slightly slower wind speeds and pouring rains. Expect power outtages, floods, and closures. The shore line is going to need months to even begin to recover.

As with all things involving these storms, be terrified, be over-prepared, and be safe. You’ll never kick yourself that you bought more fuel, food or water; never be upset that you put up some extra sandbags to block water from getting nearer your house; or regret taking just a few more precautions against the storm.

Be safer than sorry. Good luck with the storm. Stay safe out there.

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