21 Things You Should Know about Hurricanes

As Hurricane Irene sets its eye on the East Coast, use our facts about hurricanes to maintain safe shelter, food, and water.

August 26, 2011

As Hurricane Irene threatens the East Coast, government officials are shutting down public transit and ordering evacuations from North Carolina to low-lying areas of New York City. But before the storm strikes, tap these facts about hurricanes … they just might save your life! Or give you something to talk about when you're boarding up your windows.

General Facts about Hurricanes:


1. Climate scientists say climate change plays a role in these extreme storms. 

2. More than two inches of rain a day can cause flooding. Some areas in Hurricane Irene's path could see at least a foot of rain as the storm system passes through.

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3. Every second, a large hurricane releases the energy of 10 atomic bombs.

4. Most people who die in hurricanes are killed by the towering walls of seawater that come inland, so heed evacuation warnings and avoid waterfronts if you can.

5. Hurricanes can release more than 2.4 trillion gallons of rain a day.

6. According to NASA satellites, the size of Hurricane Irene is now 700 miles wide, about one-third the size of the entire East Coast of the U.S.

Health and Food Safety During a Hurricane:

7. Left unopened, a refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours after losing electrical power.

8. Coffee filters can help purify tap water after a storm. If your tap water is cloudy, pour it through a fresh coffee filter until the cloudiness goes away. Then boil it for at least one full minute before drinking or using it for cooking. (But follow local emergency management orders; if they tell you tap water isn't safe to drink, a coffee filter isn't going to make it safer.)

9. Heart attacks increased fourfold in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Tulane University researchers have found. They attribute the increase to chronic stress related to rebuilding and recovery efforts, not lifestyle factors. (Use our beginner meditation techniques to keep your stress levels in check during and after a disaster.)

10. Research has shown that the elderly are the most vulnerable population during natural disasters and are more likely to experience greater risks and adversity than other age groups. If you have elderly family members or neighbors, be sure to include them in your hurricane preparedness plans.

11. Any drug or drug container exposed to flood waters—that includes pills as well as injections, inhalers, and skin creams—can become contaminated and lead to serious health problems. Keep your meds in waterproof containers and away from flood waters.

Hurricane Tips and Facts for around the Home:

12. Hurricane myth: Opening the windows of a house during a hurricane will relieve the air pressure and protect your house.

Hurricane fact: Opening windows during a hurricane is a BAD IDEA. Studies have found that opening a window can increase the amount of wind damage your home sustains.

13. Hurricane myth: Taping your windows is as effective as boarding them up.

Hurricane fact: A taped window can still shatter, and taping does absolutely nothing to prevent broken glass from flying inside your home. Use plywood, or your home's shutters, to protect windows from breaking.

14. Hurricane fact, maybe: Watch the worms and follow the birds. Although evidence is mixed as to whether dogs and cats can sense impending bad weather or natural disasters, worms are known to flee areas when groundwater rises, and birds are sensitive to air pressure, and they take cover when a storm nears.

Save Your Garden before a Hurricane Strikes (Courtesy of Organic Gardening magazine editors)

15. Harvest greens that have loose leaves now, otherwise, high winds will shred them.

16. Pick your tomatoes now to prevent splitting from the heavy rains. Put green tomatoes in a brown bag to accelerate ripening, or just use them as is for Green Tomato Salsa!

17. Harvest cabbage early if your forecast shows torrential downpours. Too much water makes cabbage heads split, too.

18. Stake brussels sprouts and eggplants so they don't uproot.

19. Secure lids on compost bins and make sure downspouts are in place. While you're at it, secure any other objects around the outside of your house that might get tossed in high winds. (Yes, this means bringing your pink flamingo lawn ornaments inside.)

20. Check trees for dead wood or weakened branches overhanging the house roof and car parking areas, and remove them, if possible.

21. Bring container plants inside.

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