County Officials Reveal Top 10 Hurricane Myths
When it comes to preparing for hurricanes, you'll hear a lot of tips from well-meaning friends, relatives or self-proclaimed "hurricane experts." While some of their tips can help-others can endanger your life if you follow them.
As Pinellas County gears up for the beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season on June 1, here are the Top 10 Hurricane Myths, along with reasons why they could be hazardous to your health -- or even fatal:
1. My windows are ready. I have them taped.
Taping windows to prevent breakage or limit the amount of shattering is not an effective form of window protection. Window shutters made of 5/8" plywood or metal and fastened correctly can improve the chances of having your home survive the impact of a storm.
2. I'm going to open the windows on the side opposite the wind so the difference in air pressure doesn't explode my house.
The best way to keep your home safe is to keep the wind OUT! Studies have shown that opening a window can increase the amount of damage done by wind. When a hurricane threatens, keep your home sealed up tight.
3. Why should I prepare my house? When the big one comes, it's going to be destroyed anyway.
While a hurricane's winds can destroy even the most solidly built structures, taking some basic precautions can significantly reduce damage from a storm. Pictures of areas devastated by hurricanes will often show one house standing while a neighbor's lies in ruins. The difference? The owners of the house in good shape took some basic precautions to safeguard their property. Shuttering windows, bracing garage and entry doors and bringing in yard items can mean the difference between destruction and minor damage.
4. The storm surge is only going to be 15 or 20 feet at worst. My condo is on an upper floor. I'm riding the storm out here.
Vertical evacuation, or escaping the rising storm surge by going to the upper stories of a building, is a very bad idea. Wind speeds increase the higher you go, so you will be evacuating into a more dangerous place. Plus, the high winds and water will make getting help to you nearly impossible after the storm passes.
5. We get high winds in our summer thunderstorms. A hurricane can't be much worse.
While summer thunderstorms can produce wind gusts in excess of 60 miles per hour, the winds of a major hurricane can be twice as fast -- or even faster. And, these winds will be sustained for hours, much longer than a brief thunderstorm. Remember, each time the wind speed doubles, the force it exerts is four times as strong. A Category 2 hurricane, with winds of 96 to 110 miles per hour, can do considerable damage to roof structures and topple trees.
6. I've got my mobile home tied down and braced. It will be a safe place to ride out the storm.
A mobile home is NEVER a safe place to weather a hurricane. In fact, once a mandatory evacuation is ordered, all mobile home residents, in all evacuation levels, are required to leave their dwellings, no matter how well secured they are.
7. When I get the evacuation order, I'm leaving Pinellas County. There's no high ground here, and everyone knows that it will be much safer inland.
While Pinellas County has an extensive coastline, there are many places that are non-evacuation zones that are safe from storm surge. In fact, in some locations, beach residents need travel no more than one mile to get to safe areas. Hurricanes Hugo (1989), Andrew (1992), Floyd (1999) and Charley (2004) have also demonstrated that the effects of hurricane force winds, tornadoes and heavy rains can be felt well inland from the actual landfall. Traveling a great distance to escape the effects of the storm may actually lead you into danger. And, the further you go to evacuate, the longer it will take you to get there and the longer it will take to return to your home after the storm passes.
8. Why do I need an evacuation plan? When the order comes down, I'm going to go to an emergency shelter.
Emergency shelters are safe places to ride out a hurricane, but they are not the most comfortable. They will be crowded and noisy, and, most likely, you will be sleeping on the floor. Shelters will also not accept pets. Your first and best option is to evacuate to a host home, the house of a friend, co-worker or associate living in a non-evacuation zone. Now is the time to determine where you will go and, if you will serve as a host home, to ensure that you have taken protective measures such as preparing hurricane shutters, bracing garage doors and the like.
9. The weather looks great, but we're under an evacuation order. That doesn't make any sense. I'm going to wait until the weather gets bad before I evacuate.
This can be one of the most dangerous decisions you can make. Storm paths are extremely unpredictable, and waiting until the last minute can leave you with no place to go to escape a storm's fury. Evacuation orders are given based on the best information available and are issued early enough to allow sufficient time for people to get to shelters. Don't take chances with your life. Gather your important papers such as your homeowner's insurance policy, deeds to property and birth certificates, your hurricane survival kit, prescriptions and cash, as you may not be able to use credit cards after the storm. Secure your home and leave as quickly and safely as possible.
10. It will never happen here!
That's probably what people in Port Charlotte thought before the arrival of Hurricane Charley on August 13, 2004. As long as we choose to live, work and vacation on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, we need to pay close attention to the tropics to ensure our safety.
For help creating your hurricane survival plan, go to www.pinellascounty.org/emergency, where you can also find your home's evacuation level. For information, call the Pinellas County Emergency Management Department at (727) 464-3800.
Editors and reporters: The Pinellas County Emergency Operations Center's Media Day is at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, June 1 in the basement of the 400 S. Fort Harrison Ave., Clearwater, location. Please call Maggie Hall at (727) 453-3318 or cell (727) 580-7732 to RSVP. In addition to receiving information packets, members of the media will also hear about new developments that could be used for future stories.