- Education and Science
Understanding the Threat of Hurricanes
As I was sitting on my couch awaiting the arrival of Tropical Storm Irene, I thought what a great idea would be to write a Hub about the hurricane season. In this Hub I’ll concentrate on the North Atlantic hurricane season, since this is where I live. I’ll explain how hurricanes are categorized, the dangers and how people should prepare. I know that this Hub might not be as relevant to some people, since they might not live in an area that is directly affected by hurricanes, but I think that it’s very important to be educated in the phenomenon and to know the hazards of these massive storms. Living in the Caribbean, I’ve always been aware of hurricanes and their dangers. Every year from July through November, we are in constant vigilance just in case we receive a tropical storm or hurricane warning. People go shopping for the necessities and prepare their homes for when the storm nears. In my case, I’m extra prepared. My family owns a hardware store and hurricane season has always been our busy season. After working overtime at the store, sometimes it came to be late in the night, in the middle of the rain (risky), when we gathered friends and family to help us prepare for the threat and secure our house. Fortunately, the times when there have been hurricanes, my family has been unharmed and there hasn’t been any mayor damage, but others haven’t been so lucky.
When these tropical cyclones develop they are divided into categories which are based in the sustained speed of their winds.
- Tropical Depression: According to the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale, a cyclone is categorized as a Tropical Depression when its winds are around 0-38 mph. In a Tropical Depression, people can expect rain and thunderstorms. This type of the storm doesn’t have a defined form and has no eye , which is the area of sinking air at the central of the storm. The eye is calm and has no clouds, but the winds around the eye, in the eyewall , are the strongest, which is why it’s considered the most dangerous part of the storm.
- Tropical Storm: Now, when the winds are 39-73 mph, the cyclone is categorized as a Tropical Storm. At this stage, the storm has more of a defined structure and the eye begins to form. This storm will bring a lot more rain and can develop stronger thunderstorms.
- Hurricanes: When the winds have picked up to 74-95 mph, the cyclone has officially become a Category I Hurricane . At this stage the storm will have a fully developed eye that can easily be viewed from satellites. At 96-110 mph the cyclone becomes a Category II Hurricane . Hurricane Earl was category II when it reached North Carolina in 2010. A Category III Hurricane has winds of 111-130 mph. Hurricane Georges (1998), which caused great devastation here in Puerto Rico, was at this category when it reached land. I had just turned 11 three days before, when Georges unleashed its winds here in my home and it was really scary. Another example of a storm of this type was Hurricane Katrina (2005), and we all know the devastation that followed. At 131-155 mph, the storm has become a Category IV Hurricane . These hurricanes are extremely severe and incredibly dangerous. Lastly when the storm has winds of more than 155 mph, it becomes a Category V Hurricane . These hurricanes are catastrophic. Hurricane Andrew was Category V when it reached Florida in 1992.
The dangers of huricanes
In general, houses in Puerto Rico are made out of cement, which can sustain hurricane winds. But, there are some older houses made out of wood with roofs made out of zinc panels that can suffer greatly by hurricane winds. When a hurricane comes, these are the houses that suffer the most damage. The zinc panel roof is very light and with a gust of wind it can be blown clean off. Other than knocking down trees and electrical posts, hurricane winds can also pick up items that weren’t secured and they become projectiles. There have been deaths because people are hit with these projectiles. Also there have been cases where these projectiles have been launched at such high speeds that they have been able to puncture the protective barriers, or “tormenteras”, which are usually made of wood or zinc panels, that are put over the windows of houses and business.
Other than the high winds discussed before, these cyclones can cause other types of damage. Because of the excessive rain, rivers have overflowed and caused floods in the surrounding areas. These floods destroy property, crops and have made the roads difficult, if not unable, to travel. Also, the severe rain causes the earth to saturate. Puerto Rico has a lot of mountainous terrain and when it rains in large quantities that terrain begins to detach. Streets and even mountains slide causing “derrumbes” or rock slides. These rock slides have been known to destroy structures and some have even taken lives.
Getting ready for a hurricane threat
When a hurricane warning is put in place, citizens must take the necessary precautions to ensure their safety and the safety of others. If their homes are made out of wood, they should be secured, because if pieces of the house are blown away they could become projectiles. Also people should board up their windows, either with wood boards or with the zinc panes or “tormenteras”. Also loose items on the outside should be taken indoors, including pets. If you think that you will not be safe in your homes, people should seek refuge in one of the designated shelters around the island. Other than security precautions, people should go shopping for the essentials, if they don’t already have them. Among the items that every home should have are: flashlights, batteries, a portable radio, candles, potable water, canned foods and a first aid kit.
After the storm has passed and depending on its severity, homes will usually be without electricity and possibly without water service. People should notify the local authorities of the problems in their area, albeit a fallen tree, no electricity or no water service. They should also be patient, as hard and frustrating as that might be, until they are able to fix the problems. After Hurricane Georges in 1998, we were without water and electricity for a week!
As for my experience with Hurricane Irene...
Irene was a little unexpected and in my home we were barely prepared. When the storm entered Puerto Rico at around 10:00pm on August 21, 2011, it was still a Tropical Storm. During the night the storm became a Category I Hurricane with winds of 75mph. My house is in an area that when there’s even a little bit of wind, the electricity is gone super fast. That was the case that night; we were without electricity at around 9:30pm. (I was really angry because I was watching the finale of The Glee Project and didn’t get to see who won. DON’T spoil it for me!) On the nearby neighborhoods, everyone had electricity, which was extra frustrating. Anyway, the winds where I live weren’t that bad and the rain was sporadic. My side of the island didn’t suffer great damages, but the east of the island was hit pretty hard with really strong winds and rain. Approximately 190,000 people lost electricity just like us, but the consequences of the storm appeared to be manageable; after all, we are accustomed to this situation already. At around 7:30pm the next day, we had power back in our neighborhood. Irene might have tried to knock us down, but we as “boricuas” could certainly handle her.
My Experience with Tropical Storm Isaac (Aug 22, 2012)
So far, everything has been fine! Tropical Storm Isaac was expected to hit the south side of the island. (I live in the north, north west.) The storm greatest danger to our island wasn't going to be the winds, but the rain. As I have mentioned before, our little island has a lot of areas that are susceptible to flooding. Since Isaac's speed was slow and was bringing heavy rain, the authorities opened shelters for people who live in these areas. Yesterday, people quickly gathered up their supplies (water, canned foods, gasoline!!) and headed home to prepare for the storm.
Last night as I was heading home, I was caught in pretty big rainfall, and that was before the Storm even hit ground. During the night there was some wind and rain, but nothing serious. This morning the sky was cloudy, as it was expected, but the weather was better than expected. I found that I was able to travel the streets and I headed to work this morning to check things out. On the 1 hour drive to work, the weather was manageable. There have been some winds, but nothing major. There have been some rain, but not much. As I got to work I realized that I didn't have work today, which was awesome!!! Most people didn't have work today. The electricity or the water didn't go off, which was completely unexpected!!! That never happens!!! I was shocked!!! First time in like forever that doesn't happen. And I have had a pretty easy going day. I caught up on some series I've been watching (Dr. Who) and I read a little (Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey) and now catching up on HubPages!!! Overall, Isaac didn't cause major damage, which is amazing!! And we had a peaceful free work day!!!
The storm seems to be heading to the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba and eventually to Florida. Isaac might not have cause major damage in Puerto Rico, but the storm is still gathering strength and can cause damage to these other nations. Please prepare yourselves people!! If it wasn't for our experience and preparation, things couldn't have gone as smoothly as they did over here. I encourage everyone who is in Isaac's path to be cautious, make good decisions and listen to the news!!