10 Things You Thought You Knew About Hurricanes But Don’t
Common Myths and Reasons to Prepare
The following is an excerpt from the Texas Homeowner’s Handbook to Prepare for Coastal Natural Hazards published by the Texas General Land Office and the Texas Sea Grant College Program in March 2013.
There are common myths that may cause complacency in homeowners and lead them to not fully prepare for a natural hazard. The most common ones are provided below in quotes and are discussed in order to encourage people to take action.
1. “I survived Hurricane Ike so I am sufficiently prepared.”
Many people have the impression that because they survived Hurricane Ike or a similar storm, they therefore do not need to prepare any more than they did in 2008. Although Ike was a storm with widespread damage, it was in fact a large, but otherwise unexceptional, hurricane. The same storm could make landfall at a different location, go in a different direction, or have a slower forward speed along the Texas Coast and have an entirely different impact on a particular location.
2. “If a natural disaster occurs, it won’t be that bad.”
In 1900, Galveston, Texas, experienced one of the deadliest hurricanes in recorded history. The 1900 Storm struck on September 8 as a Category 4 with sustained winds of 145 miles per hour and a 20-foot storm surge, killing more than 6,000 people [Editor’s Note: Estimated figures range from 6,000 to 8,000 people killed in Galveston and 10,000 to 12,000 across the entire island.] and causing $30 million in damages. If the 1900 Storm were to hit today, economic estimates predict it would cause almost $94 billion in damages. Hurricane Ike made landfall on September 13, 2008, as a Category 2 storm with sustained winds of 110 miles per hour and an 18-foot storm surge, and it caused an estimated $29 billion in damages.
3. “A natural disaster won’t happen to me.”
Scientists agree that it is not a matter of IF a hurricane will hit the Texas Coast, but WHEN. Since the 1900 Storm, Texas has been hit by 34 hurricanes, or about one every three years, and 16 tropical storms. [Editor’s Note: These figures reflect Spring 2013 data and may not be current.] Texas leads the nation almost every year in flood-related damage.
4. “Hurricanes like Ike and the 1900 Storm only happen every 100 years.”
Although it was a little over 100 years after the 1900 Storm when Hurricane Ike struck the Upper Texas Coast, Texas had already experienced 13 hurricanes with sustained winds stronger than Ike during that time period, and one in 1915 exceeded Hurricane Ike in total economic damage. Although, on average, storms of this magnitude occur every 100 years, there is a 1% chance they can occur each year. Scientists agree that for the past 10 years, we have been entering a natural cycle of heightened hurricane activity, which can last for several decades.
5. “I don’t live near the coast, so I am safe.”
Major hurricanes often carry powerful winds and devastating floods for many miles inland after landfall before weakening. The storm surge associated with Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was recorded 12 miles inland, and hurricane-force winds were felt near Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Hurricane Ike weakened to a tropical storm just east of Palestine, Texas, approximately 175 miles north of where it made landfall. Devastating floods and hurricane-force wind gust associated with the remnants of Ike were recorded as far north as the Ohio Valley.
6. “Installing hurricane clips or completing other retrofits won’t guarantee there will be no damage after a hurricane, so I won’t bother.”
Even though someone may wear a seat belt, shoulder belt, and even have an airbag, there is no guarantee that he or she will not be injured in a major auto accident. Yet most people recognize the importance of these safety devices in reducing risk and use them. Likewise, the measures discussed in this handbook could significantly reduce risk, although there is no guarantee.
7. “If a natural hazard occurs, government will come to the rescue.”
After Hurricane Ike, many residents found that government would not repair their damaged houses or even provide adequate compensation for property damage. In most cases, the compensation that was received was many months later. After a natural hazard, the number of people in need may also overwhelm governments. It is up to you to plan properly, strengthen your house, and have the appropriate financial protections in place, such as insurance if it is available.
8. “My house survived Hurricane Ike, so I don’t need to retrofit for hurricanes.”
The most destructive area of a hurricane is the northeast quadrant of the storm. In this area, you can expect the strongest winds and the highest storm surge. Damage to your house very much depends on the location of your house in relation to where the center of the hurricane makes landfall. Homeowners along the Texas Coast should consider retrofits that improve the structural integrity of their homes to help protect them against hurricane winds and storm surge.
9. “Even if a disaster occurs, there is nothing I can do.”
Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to significantly reduce the risk of damage to life and property. While it is not possible to eliminate all risk, these reasonable steps to plan and prepare can make a major difference and determine whether your house survives and receives only minor or no damage. Thus, the information in this handbook covers two major parts for preparation: (i) protecting yourself and your family, and (ii) protecting your property.
10. “Strengthening my house is too expensive and not worth the effort.”
Ultimately, strengthening your house should be considered a home improvement that adds value to your house and is worth the effort. The time and money spent to prepare your house is a very small fraction of the resources that may be needed if you have not prepared before a natural disaster strikes. Also, by strengthening your house so that it does not fall apart during a hurricane and become flying debris, you protect your neighbors as well as yourself. You also help the emergency efforts of the local, state, and federal governments by reducing the amount of debris that may slow response time.
Coastal protection is a priority at the Texas General Land Office. Commissioner George P. Bush initiated the Texas Coastal Resiliency Master Plan in 2015. The plan was released this March. In April 2017, Commissioner Bush and more than 60 other co-signers sent a letter to the president advocating for a new coastal barrier to further protect the Texas coast.