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How to Prepare for a Hurricane

Climate
Bela Sebastiao and Jaques Sebastiao (R) begin the process of cleaning up their home after after it was heavily damaged by hurricane Michael on Oct. 17, 2018 in Mexico Beach, Florida. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

By Brooke Bauman

As the climate changes and ocean temperatures and sea levels rise, flooding from hurricanes has become more serious. That's why it's important for people who live in places vulnerable to hurricanes to prepare for the dangers associated with flooding and storm surge.


How Climate Change is Influencing Storm Surge

Many people associate hurricanes with high winds, but storm surge — the wall of water pushed ashore by the storm — can be an equal or even greater danger for people and property.

"We want people to know that they can hide from the wind, but they need to run from the water," said Jay Wiggins, who directs the Emergency Management-Homeland Security Agency in Glynn County, Georgia.

Water weighs about 1,700 pounds per cubic yard. As it's pushed by hurricane winds, it can act like a battering ram, pummeling the shore and buildings.

Sea levels are rising in substantial part from warming ocean waters, melting glaciers, and ice sheets. Because of that sea-level rise, storm surges can inundate more coastline than they did in the past. Storm surges are particularly dangerous when they occur during high tide, because they can raise water levels by as much as 20 feet.

Although the overall number of hurricanes isn't known to be increasing, there is evidence that climate change is making some storms worse. For example, several studies have found that climate change increased the odds of the intense precipitation that fell during Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall in Texas in 2017. A 2013 study projected a 45-87 percent increase in the frequency of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes — the most dangerous categories — in the Atlantic Basin during this century.

How to Prepare for a Hurricane

Before a hurricane even pops up on the forecast, there are a few steps that you can take to prepare. Consider investing in flood insurance — or if you've already purchased it, familiarize yourself with the policy. Sign up for your community's emergency alert system.

If a hurricane is imminent, it's important to take additional precautions to minimize potential damage and threats to your safety. Here are some key steps that the Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends:

  • Familiarize yourself with evacuation routes and plan to follow local evacuation orders if possible.
  • If you are not ordered or are unable to evacuate, store enough food, water, supplies, and medications for at least three days.
  • Put important documents in a safe, waterproof place.
  • Charge all electronic devices that you might need.
  • Turn your fridge to the coldest setting so that if you lose power, it will stay cooler for longer.
  • Cover windows with plywood boards and place sandbags around doorways to reduce the risk of water damage — note that some flood insurance policies may cover up to $1,000 in avoidance measures to protect your property.
  • Bring lightweight objects indoors.
  • Create a plan to contact family and friends. Save phone calls for emergencies because the lines will likely be busy; rely mostly on text and social media to communicate.

What to Do During a Hurricane

FEMA warns to not walk, swim, or drive through floodwaters. Floods can develop quickly, so stay alert for the potential of flash flooding.

According to the Department of Homeland Security's Ready campaign, six inches of water can knock a person down and one foot of water can be enough to pick up some vehicles.

Avoid flood water. It may contain dangerous debris and be contaminated. Floodwaters also pose the danger of electrocution if electronics or downed power lines are exposed to water.

And creatures like snakes may lurk on or beneath the surface.

What to Do After a Hurricane

Before you begin to clean up, listen to authorities for further instructions. In addition, follow these FEMA guidelines.

  • Stay off the roads unless it's an emergency.
  • Avoid driving in or making contact with floodwaters.
  • Beware of electrocution. Don't touch electrical equipment if it's wet or while you're standing in water.
  • Use a generator or other gasoline-powered machinery only outdoors and away from windows.
  • Always use heavy gloves and boots while cleaning to protect yourself from sharp objects and biting creatures.
  • If your home was exposed to water, it likely contains mold. Consult these EPA guidelines on protecting your safety while cleaning mold after a flood.

ChavoBart Digital Media contributed reporting.

Brooke Bauman is an intern at Yale Climate Connections and a student at UNC-Chapel Hill studying environmental science, geography, and journalism.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

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At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.