A Perfect Storm: Hurricane Safety and Preparedness for 2024

After one of the most costly years for natural disasters in United States (US) history, alarm bells are sounding again for the 2024 hurricane season.1 Each year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the federal agency responsible for providing daily weather forecasts and severe storm warnings, issues a spring and summer hurricane outlook. This year’s is exceptionally daunting. The NOAA has released the most aggressive forecast it has ever issued for its May outlook. The agency predicts that 8 to 13 hurricanes will form in the Atlantic Basin in 2024.2,3 

Though some take these projections with a grain of salt, hurricanes are still nature’s biggest and most costly storms. Even a “quiet” season can be deadly. Here’s what you need to know for the months ahead.

What is a Hurricane?

Tropical cyclones, a generic term that describes a rotating, organized system of clouds and thunderstorms that originate over tropical or subtropical waters, are massive and intense weather events that usually move inland.4–7 The three terms used to describe this weather event depend on where the storm originates. 

The term “hurricane” is used to describe tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic, central North Pacific, and eastern North Pacific. “Typhoon’’ is used to describe the same weather disturbance in the Northwest Pacific. In other regions, they are still known as “tropical cyclones.”4,7 These storms are characterized by their wind speed and only become hurricanes, typhoons, or tropical cyclones when they have sustained winds of at least 74 miles per hour.4,7,8

Regardless of the term used, these storms should not be underestimated. The NOAA reports that tropical cyclones have caused the most death and destruction of all recorded weather disasters in US history.9 They can happen along any US coast, stretch hundreds of miles across, and affect areas as far as 100 miles inland.6 These storms cause billions of dollars in damage annually.2,9

Know Your Risk

Awareness of local hazards and risk factors is one of the best safeguards throughout hurricane season.

Storms’ impacts largely depend on their size, intensity, and proximity to populated and vulnerable areas.10,11 Whether you live on the low-elevation slopes of the coast or high up in the heartland, there are several considerations for assessing and understanding your risk.

Storm intensity. Hurricanes are categorized using the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which addresses wind speed on a scale from 1 to 5. Notably, these five categories are used to estimate potential property damage and do not account for rainfall. This means that a tropical storm or lower-category hurricane could cause as much overall damage as a major hurricane.12,13 

Location. The risk of being hit by a hurricane is strongly related to where you live.14 The US Atlantic and Gulf coasts are particularly active, and southern states are especially vulnerable.4,5 Though it may seem like there is less activity on the West Coast, there are actually more hurricanes in the Eastern Pacific.15 However, wind flow tends to steer them away from the mainland, so fewer make landfall.

Geography. Because hurricanes form over warm tropical waters, coastal communities are most at risk for extreme winds, flooding, and storm surge.13,14,16 However, their impact extends far beyond the shoreline. Recent research suggests that hurricanes are lasting longer after they make landfall and spreading their damage farther inland.17 People who live inland are at risk for wind, thunderstorms, and flooding. 

Season. The Atlantic and Central Pacific hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30.5,8 Most activity has been observed between mid-August and late October, with September 10 being the accepted peak date.18 The Eastern Pacific hurricane season begins May 15 and ends November 30.18

Structural risks. Structures not built to withstand hurricane-force winds and flooding, such as mobile homes, are more vulnerable to damage.19 Houses in disrepair, dilapidated architectural features, and structures built under outdated building codes are also at risk.

Preparing for a Hurricane

The best time to prepare for a hurricane is before the season begins. Taking a proactive approach can keep you safe and make a significant difference in how quickly a community recovers. Even if there’s no current risk, consider the following recommendations.

Develop a plan. Create a detailed emergency plan. Make sure it includes these three critical sections: household information (e.g., list of family members, personal documents, medical records), evacuation protocols, and a communication plan with contacts.20 Anyone living in flood-prone areas or storm surge evacuation zones should be aware of their risk ahead of time and determine transportation and sheltering options. Make sure everyone in your household knows and understands your emergency plan and that several copies are made available.

Build and maintain a kit. Gather emergency supplies and store them in one or two easy-to-carry containers, such as plastic bins or a duffel bag, that will serve as your go bag.21 These essentials should include a flashlight, emergency radio, first aid kit, and extra or backup batteries for essential devices. Personal medications should be stored in a waterproof container. You should also make sure your household and pets have enough water (one gallon per person per day for several days) and food (at least a several-day supply of non-perishable items).3,5,6 If you need to evacuate, fill up your gas tank before the storm.

Protect essentials. Personal documents and records should be protected from the elements and stored in a waterproof container. Consider making copies or uploading them to a password-protected digital space.21 Review your insurance policies and make sure they are up-to-date.

Understand emergency communications. The National Weather Service is responsible for keeping the public informed about hurricanes and issuing forecasts, watches, and warnings for a variety of hazards.22 However, citizens should understand risk communication and enable alerts on their devices ahead of time. Knowing the difference between a watch and a warning is essential. A watch means impacts are possible; a warning means impacts are expected or happening.23

Strengthen your home. Identify your home’s structural risks. Some aspects of your house can be strengthened to help withstand hurricane impacts.24 Preventive measures, such as installing hurricane-proof garage doors and storm shutters, can protect your home from potential damage.

During a Hurricane

Severe weather can happen at any moment. Be ready to take action immediately if a storm is forecasted to hit your area. With proper preparation, time is on your side. However, there are still several strategies to stay safe during a storm.

Secure your home. When longer-term home improvement is not possible, short-term adjustments can help protect your property. Board up windows and exterior doors. Secure loose yard items, such as garbage bins and outdoor furniture. If you’re not going to evacuate, move your vehicle to a safe place where it can be shielded from the wind. If you are evacuating, unplug electronics and shut off water, gas, and electricity if instructed to do so.24

Choose your shelter. Riding out the storm in your home is not always an option. Be sure to have multiple sheltering options prepared ahead of time.24 This might include staying with a loved one outside of the storm’s impact area or a hotel. Keep in mind that not all venues will allow pets. Contact local officials to determine what spaces are available and have your go bag ready. If you do choose to shelter in place, whether at home or at work, stay in a small interior room or hallway on the lowest level.25 Put as many walls between you and the outside as possible, and stay away from windows, skylights, and glass doors.

Follow safety protocols. Always follow evacuation orders from local authorities.25,27 Only rely on government agencies and reputable media outlets for further instruction. 

Stay informed. Using a radio, TV, or emergency app, stay tuned in to the latest forecasts.23,26 Keep in mind that weather conditions can affect wide swathes of land, change quickly, and/or rapidly intensify. Even small changes in the storm’s track can make a big difference.27

After a Hurricane

Generally, the danger and seriousness of hurricane-caused hazards are not fully realized until the storm is over. Don’t let your guard down; more than half of hurricane-related fatalities occur after the storm.28,29 Once local authorities deem it safe to return home, there are several steps you should take.

Assess your wellbeing. Before responding to the people and demands around you, your immediate physical and mental health needs should be your priority.30 The risk for injury after natural disasters is high, so find first aid or attend to any manageable wounds yourself.31 Keep away from flooded areas. Rain can carry contaminated water or sewage into common spaces and expose you to viruses, bacteria, and disease carriers.31 Connect with loved ones and trusted community members for emotional support. For immediate assistance, consider calling the National Disaster Distress Helpline, a 24/7 toll-free and confidential hotline dedicated to providing disaster crisis counseling.33

Document damage. Always follow reentry and safety guidance from local authorities. If possible, have a professional inspect your property to check whether utilities can be restored safely. Wearing protective clothing, cautiously investigate the extent of damage on your property. Photograph any damage to apply for relief assistance and insurance claims.6

Stay connected. After a storm, city services and emergency departments are often overwhelmed, and communications systems might be delayed or down. Tune in with local authorities using alternative methods, such as radio or social media. Similarly, text instead of calling friends and family when possible. 

Remain vigilant. Certain weather events, such as flooding, tornadoes, high winds, and rip currents, are common after hurricanes.34 Storm surge, an abnormal rise of water that occurs when winds push it toward shore, is an environmental threat unique to coastal areas. Sometimes spanning hundreds of miles and reaching heights well over 20 feet, it is often a primary cause of hurricane-related deaths.30,34 

Protect yourself from hazards. Loose power lines, wet electrical appliances, gas leaks, structural damage, and debris can also be deadly.5,29,34 Be careful handling portable generators and never use them inside, as carbon monoxide poisoning is one of the leading causes of death in areas experiencing power outages.28,35

Looking Forward

Americans across the country are bracing for an anxious six months as climate change continues to intensify and increase natural disasters.10,36 When it comes to hurricane safety and preparedness, knowledge is power. It only takes one hurricane to devastate a city or town, but with proper preparedness measures and strategic plans to respond to hazards, we can each take part in building more resilient communities.

  1. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. US struck with historic number of billion-dollar disasters in 2023. 9 Jan 2024. https://www.noaa.gov/news/us-struck-with-historic-number-of-billion-dollar-disasters-in-2023. Accessed 15 May 2024. 
  2. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA predicts above-normal 2024 Atlantic hurricane season. 23 May 2024. https://www.noaa.gov/news-release/noaa-predicts-above-normal-2024-atlantic-hurricane-season. Accessed 23 May 2024.
  3. Freedman A. NOAA forecasts extraordinarily busy Atlantic hurricane season. Axios. 23 May 2024. https://www.axios.com/2024/05/23/atlantic-hurricane-season-forecast-noaa. Accessed 23 May 2024.
  4. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. What is the difference between a hurricane and a typhoon? Updated 18 Jan 2024. https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/cyclone.html. Accessed 15 May 2024.
  5. Federal Emergency Management Agency. Hurricane. https://community.fema.gov/ProtectiveActions/s/article/Hurricane. Accessed 15 May 2024.
  6. Federal Emergency Management Agency. Be prepared for a hurricane. Sep 2023. https://fema-community-files.s3.amazonaws.com/hazard-information-sheets/Hurricane-English.pdf. Accessed 15 May 2024. 
  7. National Geographic. Hurricanes, cyclones, and yyphoons explained. 19 Oct 2023. https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/hurricanes-cyclones-and-typhoons-explained/. Accessed 15 May 2024.
  8. Ready.gov. Hurricanes. Updated 3 Mar 2024. https://www.ready.gov/hurricanes. Accessed 15 May 2024.
  9. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office for Coastal Management. Hurricane costs. Updated 15 May 2024. https://coast.noaa.gov/states/fast-facts/hurricane-costs.html. Accessed 15 May 2024.
  10. Emanuel K. Evidence that hurricanes are getting stronger. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2020;117(24):13194–13195.
  11. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Hurricanes. Updated 1 May 2020. https://www.noaa.gov/education/resource-collections/weather-atmosphere/hurricanes. Accessed 17 May 2024.
  12. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/aboutsshws.php. Accessed 17 May 2024.
  13. Waddell SL, Jayaweera DT, Mirsaeidi M, et al. Perspectives on the health effects of hurricanes: a review and challenges. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021;18(5):2756.
  14. Berlemann M, Eurich M. Natural hazard risk and life satisfaction – empirical evidence for hurricanes. Ecol Econ. 2021;190:107194.
  15. DeRoche E. Do hurricanes ever hit the West Coast of the US? CompuWeather. 25 May 2021. https://compuweather.com/do-hurricanes-ever-hit-the-west-coast-of-the-u-s/. Accessed 15 May 2024.
  16. Federal Emergency Management Agency. Hurricane | Where. https://community.fema.gov/ProtectiveActions/s/article/Hurricane-Where. Accessed 15 May 2024.
  17. Coch NK. Inland damage from hurricanes. J Coast Res. 2020;36(5):1093–1105.
  18. National Hurricane Center. Tropical cyclone climatology. https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/climo/. Accessed 19 May 2024.
  19. Federal Emergency Management Agency. Hurricane | Consider your personal risk. https://community.fema.gov/ProtectiveActions/s/article/Hurricane-Consider-Your-Personal-Risk. Accessed 19 May 2024.
  20. Ready.gov. Make a plan form. Updated 22 May 2024. https://www.ready.gov/plan-form. Accessed 22 May 2024.
  21. Ready.gov. Build a kit. Updated 8 Aug 2023. https://www.ready.gov/kit. Accessed 22 May 2024.
  22. National Weather Service. Warnings (issuance process). https://www.weather.gov/about/warnings-issuance-process. Accessed 22 May 2024.
  23. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Understand forecast information. Updated 10 Apr 2023. https://www.noaa.gov/understand-forecast-information. Accessed 15 May 2024.
  24. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Know your risk: water & wind. Updated 7 May 2024. https://www.noaa.gov/know-your-risk-water-wind. Accessed 15 May 2024.
  25. Federal Emergency Management Agency. Shelter in place during a hurricane. Nov 2021. https://www.fema.gov/sites/default/files/documents/fema_shelter-in-place_guidance-hurricane.pdf. Accessed 15 May 2024.
  26. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Get moving when a storm threatens. Updated 30 Aug 2023. https://www.noaa.gov/get-moving-when-storm-threatens. Accessed 15 May 2024.
  27. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Stay protected during storms. Updated 21 Mar 2023. https://www.noaa.gov/stay-protected-during-storms. Accessed 15 May 2024.
  28. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Use caution after storms. Updated 21 Mar 2023.  https://www.noaa.gov/use-caution-after-storms. Accessed 15 May 2024.
  29. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Stay safe after a hurricane or other tropical storm. Updated 7 Feb 2024. https://www.cdc.gov/hurricanes/safety/how-to-safely-stay-safe-after-a-hurricane-or-other-tropical-storm.html?CDC_AAref_Val=https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/hurricanes/be-safe-after.html. Accessed 15 May 2024.
  30. Rappaport EN. Fatalities in the United States from Atlantic tropical cyclones: new data and interpretation. Bull Am Meterol Soc. 2014;95(3):341–346.
  31. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preparedness and Safety Messaging for Hurricanes, Flooding, and Similar Disasters, 2nd edition. US Department of Health and Human Services; 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/hurricanes/media/pdfs/338199-A_NCEH_PUB_HurricaneKeyMsgs-English-508.pdf. Accessed 15 May 2024.
  32. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Homeowners and renters guide to mold cleanup after disasters. 28 Mar 2024. https://www.cdc.gov/mold-health/media/Homeowners_and_Renters_Guide.pdf. Accessed 15 May 2024. 
  33. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline. Updated 2 Feb 2023. https://www.samhsa.gov/resource/dbhis/samhsas-disaster-distress-helpline. Accessed 20 May 2024.
  34. National Weather Service. Hurricane preparedness – hazards. https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/prepare/hazards.php. Accessed 15 May 2024.
  35. US Consumer Product Safety Commission. Carbon monoxide fact sheet. https://www.cpsc.gov/safety-education/safety-guides/carbon-monoxide/carbon-monoxide-fact-sheet. Accessed 17 May 2024.
  36. Dance S. This hurricane season could be among the worst in decades, NOAA warns. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2024/05/23/hurricane-season-forecast-active-storms/. Accessed 23 May 2024. 

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