How Hurricanes handle hurricane season

Residing in Miami means having to be prepared for Hurricane season which runs June through November.
Photo credit: Julia Monteiro Martins

For many University of Miami students, the promise of sunny skies and endless beach days is a dream come true. But in a land where fur sweaters are obsolete and tank tops might as well be the statewide uniform, it can be easy to forget about the more unfavorable side of South Florida’s climate: hurricanes.

Here in Miami, hurricane season spans from June 1 to Nov. 30; the peak season runs from August through November. In light of accelerating climate change, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has predicted above-average hurricane activity for the year.

As incoming residents of the ‘Sunshine State,’ it’s more important now than ever–to be prepared and informed for when a hurricane is at UM’s door.

What exactly is a hurricane?

A hurricane, also called a tropical cyclone, is a storm that forms over tropical or subtropical water and rotates at speeds higher than 74 mph, according to NOAA. Thunderstorms, high amounts of rainfall and strong winds are the main characteristics of a hurricane.

Hurricane categories, which range from one to five, are based on wind speeds with category one storms being the lowest and category five storms being the highest. The hurricane rotates around the eye, or the innermost circle of the storm, where the wind speed is much weaker relative to the rest of the storm.

Hurricanes don’t usually start with such high winds. Oftentimes, these gargantuan storms begin as tropical depressions or tropical storms, with much lower wind speeds than hurricanes. However, the powerful winds of tropical storms and hurricanes alike can topple trees, power lines and buildings.

While tropical storms, with their significantly lower wind speeds, may not seem like a major concern, they can leave severe damage in their wake, especially in a coastal city like Miami.

“Tropical storms often get disregarded because they’re not tropical force winds but the danger of flooding is still very high,” said Marybeth Arcodia, a Ph.D recipient from the department of Atmospheric Science in Rosenstiel School. “It is not safe to go outside.”

This flooding is the result of storm surge, abnormal sea level rise due to storm activity, which can flood streets and stall cars.

Once the storm makes landfall it becomes weaker, and will eventually dissipate unless it crosses over warm water again, scientists at NOAA stated. This is why Miami, both on the water and a warm-tropical environment, is vulnerable to severe hurricanes.

Before landfall

Thankfully, hurricanes are never a surprise. Local news stations begin charting the course of a hurricane at least one week prior to its expected landfall. UM’s Emergency Notification Network (ENN) will also be sending out storm watch notifications via text message and email to all students.

To ensure they receive these notifications, students should update their information on CaneLink including their phone number, address and emergency contacts.

In the event that students choose to remain on campus during a hurricane, they are encouraged to create a disaster kit, in case basic necessities like running water and electricity are compromised during the hurricane. Items like gallon water jugs, canned foods and prescription medications should be at the top of the list. A complete list of what to include can be found at www.ready.gov/kit.

For electronics, students should back up computer data and any other files they may need. This step may save a lot of headaches for students.

All items that could be lifted and become a projectile during the hurricane, like patio or balcony furniture, should be moved inside and away from windows.

Evacuation procedures

Although uncommon, there may be an occasion in which residents — including UM students — have to evacuate the area for an incoming hurricane. In preparation for an event in which evacuation is necessary, students are advised to start their evacuation plan early.

“Make a plan that includes evacuation routes and prepare your home in advance,” said Touri White, a student of the department of Atmospheric Sciences at the Rosenstiel School.

This plan should include barricading your windows if you live off-campus, securing a mode of transportation out of the area and having a list of essential items to bring with you, one of these essential items could include gas.

“Make sure your car is filled with gas,” White said. “One thing you would hate to happen is to evacuate and you run out of gas on the highway.”

In the unlikely event of an emergency evacuation, UM students should contact friends or family members who live outside of the hurricane’s path to house them.

UM will offer bus transportation at set intervals to Miami International Airport and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport. Evacuation orders are mandatory and students without an evacuation plan will be asked to self-identify and placed in a University operated shelter or county shelter.

In Miami, evacuation zones are determined by a storm surge map which calculates incoming storm surge and classifies the vulnerability of each neighborhood to the predicted surge. The zones run from A, most at risk, through E, least at risk..

UM’s Coral Gables campus is usually in the storm surge zone C, where category three hurricanes or greater can cause storm surge damages.

During the storm

Students should not venture outside for any reason during a hurricane until the all clear is given by UM or county officials. In the case of highwinds, windows should be closed, locked and avoided as much as possible.

It is also recommended to be aware of the location of the storm. Since the eye of a hurricane is relatively calm, it is a common mistake to think the worst is over when the eye is overhead. However, avoid going outside as the second half of the hurricane could possibly be fast approaching.

After the storm

Immediately after the storm, it might be hard to get in contact with others due to power outages. If possible, students should contact others to let them know they are okay.

Once outside, students should proceed with caution as most injuries occur after the storm has passed. Downed power lines, debris or falling items and escaped animals like snakes could all pose a threat.

All on-campus students should report injuries and physical damages to the building to their residential college. Meanwhile, off-campus students should take pictures of injuries or damage to report to insurance companies.

If evacuation occured, the university will only permit students back on campus if the ‘all clear’ has been released. They will also implement a reunification and recovery process to get everyone back to campus safely and efficiently.

With the right tools and preparation, ‘Canes can weather any storm this hurricane season.