SEPT 5 & 6 2024

LA Convention Center

Understanding Hurricane Season in The Atlantic & Beyond

As the recent Florida Hurricanes have shown us, hurricane season is here, meaning it’s time for many in the country to get ready with a sturdy waterproof jacket, home reinforcements, and an emergency action plan. Between June and November areas such as Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coastal areas, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Hawaii, parts of the Southwest, the Pacific Coast, and the U.S. territories in the Pacific are all subject to intense winds, heavy rain, and thunderous clouds.

The NOAA defines hurricanes as tropical cyclones with winds that reach sustained winds of at least 74mph, with even the mildest ones potentially causing serious property damage. We’ve written this blog to shed some much-needed light on hurricane season, share some historical examples, and look at the directions that preparation, response, and recovery are going in.

Hurricane Categories and Wind Speeds

To properly understand hurricane season, it’s important to understand hurricane categories, as according to the Saffir-Simpson Scale, in both technical terms and the sort of impact they can have.

  • Category 1 - 74-95 mph: Winds that will cause some damage. Tree branches will break, power lines will be destroyed, and well-structured homes will experience damage to their roofs.
  • Category 2 - 96-110 mph: Well-constructed homes will experience serious roof damage, with many shallow-rooted trees completely toppled over. Large scale, longer-term power outages should be expected.
  • Category 3 (Major) - 111-129 mph: Damage will begin to devastate communities, with roofs massively damaged or completely removed. Many larger trees will be felled and areas will lack water and electricity for at least a few days.
  • Category 4 (Major) - 130-156 mph: Homes will start to be devastated from every angle, most of the trees and power poles in an area will be felled, isolating communities. Most of an effected area will be uninhabitable for weeks to months.
  • Category 5 (Major) - 157 mph or higher: A lot of the homes in an area will be completely decimated, with trees and poles isolating areas. Areas will likely be uninhabitable for months.

As you can see, hurricanes can cause serious issues, even in their least devastating forms. That’s why good meteorological sensors, alert systems, and evacuation plans are an absolute necessity in at-risk areas. 

Historical Data of Hurricane Season

Understanding the typical state of hurricane season is an effective way to prepare for it, as it will give a better idea of what the public might have to expect. However, it’s important to note that climate change has been influencing weather patterns in recent years, resulting in more erratic extreme events. While this data, as reported by the National Hurricane Center, will offer some insights into what the country might be in for, it’s a lot harder to predict in this era of meteorological uncertainty. 

Basic Statistics:

  • Average Number of Named Storms per Season: Approximately 14.
  • Average Number of Hurricanes per Season: About 7.
  • Average Number of Major Hurricanes per Season: Around 3.

An interesting fact about storm classification is that named storms are not hurricanes. A storm only has to reach 39mph, around half the speed of a hurricane, to be given a name. That means even if an area hosts a whole party of storms in a season, the worst is still likely to come. 

Notable Major Hurricanes - Katrina and Harvey

In the pantheon of hurricane season, there have been some particularly destructive ones over the years. It’s important to understand these hurricanes, their impacts, how they were responded to, and the recovery from them in the aftermath – this informs future strategies for developing resilient infrastructure and response plans. 

Hurricane Katrina (2005) - Category 5 

Hurricane Katrina made its first landfall as a category 3 storm near Buras, Louisiana on August 29, 2005, with its second category 5 landfall near the Louisiana-Mississippi border. Katrina caused severe flooding in New Orleans, breaching levees and spreading damage across Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. 

  • Damage: >$160 billion
  • Fatalities: Over 1,800

Katrina has gone down as one of the deadliest and costliest hurricanes in U.S. history. The storm displaced hundreds of thousands of people for extended periods of time, highlighting major flaws in disaster preparedness and response at both local and federal levels. 

Response & Recovery

The immediate response was to offer 10s of thousands of people shelter in the Superdome and city convention center, with the military and National Guard distributing food and water. The global community came together with funds and supplies, with Canada and Mexico deploying troops. It wasn’t until over a month later in October that the last floodwaters were pumped out. 

It was acknowledged that the levee and flood protection systems were severely flawed. This triggered $15 billion in federal funds being invested in flood defenses, which proved a successful project, holding up against Hurricane Ida in 2021. 

Hurricane Harvey (2017) - Category 4 

Harvey made landfall near Rockport, Texas on August 25, 2017, after meandering as a tropical wave and tropical storm for around two weeks. Once it hit, the rainfall and winds did massive damage to Houston and the surrounding areas. The rainfall topped 60 inches, making it the highest amount of rainfall from a tropical storm in U.S. history. 

  • Damage: >$155 billion
  • Fatalities: 107 total

Harvey did damage to an estimated 300,000 structures and 500,000 vehicles in Texas alone, causing many homes, businesses, and infrastructure to be decimated. The damage Highlighted the need for improved urban planning and flood control measures.

Response & Recovery

The response to Harvey involved over 780,000 Texans evacuated and over 42,000 housed across 692 shelters, along with the Coast Guard deploying 2,060 personnel, 50 aircraft, 75 boats, and 29 cutters, rescuing 11,022 people and 1,384 pets. Over $1.5 billion in federal funds was distributed over a month, with FEMA providing $571.8 million in housing aid. Another $608 million was paid out in flood insurance claims. 

In the aftermath, the US Army cleared navigation channels, installed power generators, and provided assistance with the clean up process. HUD and DOE helped to restore public housing, fuel, and power. While the process is ongoing, the response has been strong in supporting those professionally impacted, however, there is still work to be done in terms of building resilience.

By looking at these hurricanes, and other examples like Hurricane Maria, we can see the failings of infrastructure, along with the sheer impact of these meteorological events. With major hurricanes causing hundreds of billions of dollars and massive loss of life, technology and technique must continue to improve in tandem. 

How Preparation, Response, and Recovery are Developing

Considering how recent examples like Harvey are, it’s important that preparation, response, and recovery continuously develop and improve. Some of the most exciting and effective developments in the industry include: 

Forecasting Improvements & Early Warning Systems: The ability to forecast the weather has improved in recent years. Developments include the integration of AI, which analyzes masses of data to optimize predictions and response strategies. UAV, drone, and satellite technologies have all advanced, making for more accurate and continuous monitoring of weather patterns. These technologies can all contribute to early warning systems, allowing for maximized preparation. 

Improved Building Materials: Building materials and techniques are becoming more resilient, minimizing the damage caused by hurricanes in many cases. This can include impact-resistant windows, reinforced concrete structures, modular construction choices, and self-healing materials. All of these materials can play a huge part in reducing the costs of hurricanes due to property damage. 

Disaster Mapping: Much of the same or similar technology employed in early forecasting systems can be used for real-time disaster mapping. High-quality, comprehensive visual mapping, often completed by drones, allows for better coordination of evacuation routes, rescue techniques, and resource allocation. 

3D Modeling: This technology combines computer engineering, landscape architecture, urban planning, geography, and marine and coastal environmental science. The process involves creating 3D models of specific buildings to simulate how they’d react to hurricanes and other hazards, making it easier for property owners to insure, reinforce, and defend buildings. 

Simulation Sessions: Simulations for people are also becoming an element of preparation, with teams like the National Hurricane Center creating immersive experiences to demonstrate what it feels like to be in a storm surge. These simulations are a great way to give people a better understanding of what their individual experiences would be like in the situation.

With developments like these and more, hurricane-prone communities can better defend themselves against tropical cyclone hazards. 

Where to Learn More

If you’re eager to learn more about hurricanes and the developments that will help combat their consequences, you should attend Disasters Expo USA - California edition. After a series of successful international events, this show is returning to California to platform business exhibitions and seminars from some of the finest brands and minds in disaster management and emergency response. 

This year’s show will feature a variety of showcases and seminars touching on relevant aspects of hurricane handling, among a plethora of other emergency response insights. Make sure to register for your tickets today and engage with the cutting edge of disaster management!

Visit our blog for more insightful pieces on disasters, extreme weather, and emergency response techniques.