Hurricanes

As our climate changes, extreme weather events like hurricanes are increasing in both frequency and intensity. In addition to the damage caused to homes and structures, hurricanes also increase the risk of flooding and moisture inside homes. Because of this, hurricanes pose several health risks and housing hazards including contaminated standing water, heightened risk of the growth and spread of bacteria and mold, increased risk of pest infestation, the release of toxic substances from wet building materials, carbon monoxide poisoning due to improper use of fuel-burning equipment (such as generators), and even lead exposure due to damage to and deterioration of lead paint-based paint. These all pose health risks including disease, respiratory illness, asthma triggers, carbon monoxide poisoning, lead poisoning, and others. Additional risks due to structural damage include houses being pushed off their foundations, rotten floorboards, and damage to electrical systems. Housing will need to play a central role in our response to a changing climate to keep residents safe and healthy before, during, and after extreme weather events like hurricanes.

While this resource focuses primarily on hurricanes, other high-wind events can cause similar damage and pose equally dangerous health risks. Many of the resources provided throughout this guide apply to other weather events with catastrophic winds paired with substantial rains and flooding.

Visit the National Weather Service’s website regarding other kinds of high-wind events that might affect you, including thunderstorm downbursts and derechos, here.

Definition

A hurricane is a type of tropical cyclone occurring in the North Atlantic, central North Pacific, and eastern North Pacific Ocean. They form from thunderstorms that hover over warm ocean waters that are at least 80° F; this is why many hurricanes develop near states that are closer to the equator. The warm water evaporates and creates moisture in the atmosphere. As the warm moisture rises into the atmosphere, it begins to cool and condenses to form clouds. While the warm air continues to rise upward, wind on its outskirts begins to move in a circular motion around an epicenter, which can expand to a 20- to 30-mile radius. The winds gather up the clouds formed by the moisture and continue to spin rapidly. When the winds reach 74 m.p.h., it is officially designated as a hurricane.

What’s the Difference?

Before the winds reach 74 m.p.h. and are officially classified as a hurricane, you might hear a tropical cyclone referred to as a tropical depression or tropical storm. The major difference between the three disignations is their maximum wind speeds.

  • A tropical depression has maximum a sustained wind speed of 38 m.p.h. or less.
  • A tropical storm has a maximum a sustained wind speed of 39-73 m.p.h.
  • A typhoon is the same as a hurricane but occurs in the Northwest Pacific.

While higher wind speeds can create dangerous conditions, these other storms can pose flooding and other risks that are still a threat to your health, safety, and property.

Hurricane Season

The Atlantic hurricane season occurs from June 1 to November 30; in the East Pacific, it occurs from May 15 to November 30. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, 97% of hurricanes occur within this time frame. Knowing when hurricane season begins can better help you to prepare in advance. It is worth noting that scientists have observed that hurricanes have increased in both frequency and intensity due to climate change.

Resources for Consumers

Hurricanes and Other Tropical Storms 
CDC’s main page helps you navigate information relevant to how to keep you and your loved ones safe before, during, and after hurricanes and other tropical storms. [url; CDC, 2021]

Health and Safety Concerns for All Disasters 
CDC has collected a multitude of resources on health and safety concerns including animals and insects, food and water safety, carbon monoxide, safe clean up, and power outages for all disasters. [url; CDC, 2017]

2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook 
Read NOAA’s press release regarding the current hurricane season. The outlook estimates a 70% likelihood for 6-10 hurricanes and 3-5 major hurricanes. [url; NOAA, 2021]

Facts + Statistics: Hurricanes 
This website provides users with quick hurricane facts including past hurricane seasons and the costliest hurricanes in U.S. history. [url; III]

Tropical Definitions 
This page on National Weather Service’s website walks you through the various definitions and differences between tropical storms and weather. [url; NWS]

Resources for Policymakers

Creating Strategies for Flood Preparedness NEW 
NCHH produced this series to highlight state and local flood assistance/preparedness programs that represent efforts to make homes and communities flood resilient and aid in recovery efforts after flooding events. [url/pdf; NCHH, 2022]

Sections of This Resource Library

Throughout this resource, you’ll find guidance specific to these topics:

  1. Categories of Hurricanes
  2. Preparing for a Hurricane
    1. Emergency Plans
    2. Emergency Supplies
    3. Make an Evacuation Plan and Know Your Evacuation Zone
  3. At-Risk Populations
    1. Older Adults
    2. Children
    3. People Experiencing Homelessness
    4. People with Disabilities
    5. People with Chronic Health Conditions
  4. During a Hurricane
  5. After a Hurricane

This resource library was made possible through a contract between the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) and the National Center for Healthy Housing, funded through cooperative agreement NU38OT000300-04-05 between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Environmental Health Association. The contents of this resource library are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the National Environmental Health Association or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

 

Latest page update: August 21, 2022.