Explaining Hurricanes To Children

Part of every parent's emergency plan should be to teach children about hurricanes in order to relieve their anxiety and calm their fears.

A hurricane can be terrifying, especially for a young child who does not understand category ratings, wind speeds, and track forecasts. Every parent's hurricane preparation should include explaining hurricanes to their children. Knowing what is going on relieves anxiety, and when children know their parents trust them enough to explain emergency procedures, they will be more attentive and cooperative during dangerous storms.

General Explanation Guidelines

It is important to explain hurricanes long before a storm is imminent. During emergency preparations or evacuation, parents will not have time for calm explanations, and the child may become more fearful witnessing parents' disarray. If they are already familiar with emergency procedures and know why unusual tasks need to be done, they will ask fewer questions and be more willing to help.

Younger children have difficulty understanding a hurricane's technical details. Public libraries offer picture books about hurricanes or strong storms, and while they may not explain what a hurricane is, they help the child understand what to expect. Hurricane and weather-related nonfiction books are located in the 551.55 section of the Dewey Decimal classification system, and the simplistic explanations, illustrations, and photographs are very helpful while explaining basic parts of the storm. Diagrams are especially useful because they are similar to the satellite photographs and projected images that dominate the newscasts and a child can easily make connections between the two sources.

For young children, analogies are vital for their comprehension of hurricanes. For example, comparing wind speeds to roller coasters or race cars helps them visualize the storm's speed, and storm distances can be compared to distances they are familiar with, such as how far it is to school or to visit a grandparent or other relative. A hurricane in general can be compared to a very long thunderstorm with heavy rain and strong winds.

Older children will benefit from detailed explanations about how a hurricane forms, how the intensity is categorized, and what damage can occur from a severe storm. Local newspapers and schools in affected areas often publish hurricane guides that include basic information as well as emergency tips, and adolescent or teen books provide age-appropriate scientific analysis. Using maps and satellite photos to track a storm's progress helps children focus on the appropriate chain of events rather than panicking about the storm's approach.

What is a Hurricane?

Parents can vary an explanation's detail for different children depending on their comprehension level, but basic facts should always be explained to assuage the child's fears about what they are hearing from television, radio, and newspapers. In its most basic sense, a hurricane is a severe storm that forms under specific air pressure, humidity, and temperature conditions in warm, tropical waters. The Coriolis Effect, or how the Earth's rotation affects wind speed, is a major factor in hurricane formation.

Hurricanes begin as tropical depressions - large air masses where bad weather starts to form. As the storm strengthens, it becomes a tropical storm but isn't strong enough to be called a hurricane. Hurricanes are classified by wind speed: a category one storm has the slowest speeds, while a category five is the fastest and most dangerous. The lowest wind speed for a hurricane is seventy-four miles per hour, and the strongest storms have winds over 150 miles per hour.

Hurricanes have defined structures. The eye is a central clearing, and can usually be seen very well from satellite photographs. The eye wall is the first layer of winds that extend between twenty and thirty miles from the eye - these winds are the fastest and most dangerous. Rain bands are the long arms of the hurricane where strong thunderstorms, fast winds, and tornadoes are located. To help a child visualize how the speed of a hurricane changes, compare the inner and outer wind speeds to a fast merry-go-round: it is harder to hold on if you closer to the middle of the merry-go-round than if you are on the outer edge.

Hurricanes are named so that they are easy to distinguish when several are visible at once. It is important to stress to children that a hurricane name isn't bad, even if it's the same as the child's or close friend's name. An educational activity to put children at ease with hurricane names is to create an alphabetical list of what they would name storms, and compare their choices with real hurricane names.

Children should be involved in hurricane preparations such as taping up windows or securing outdoor equipment to protect it from excessive damage. While making different preparations, explain why each step is necessary and what damage might occur, such as debris, flooding, or broken glass. Keeping children involved helps them understand why precautions are necessary and calms their fears because they know they are helping.

After the Storm

Parents need to teach their children not only about hurricanes, but about how to recover from one. Strong storms can deposit dangerous debris in playgrounds, back yards, and other familiar places, and children must be taught to use caution after a storm to avoid injury. Having the child help clean up reinforces the lessons about a hurricane's strength, emphasizing that they must be taken seriously.

All children should know the family's emergency plan including a meeting spot and important phone numbers in case they are injured or need to assist someone else. Older children should be taught basic first aid in order to tend minor injuries and help younger children. Children should also know how to care for pets after a storm, keeping them from getting lost or injured in the aftermath.

Every parent knows that children have a million questions, often at inappropriate times when the parents are too busy or preoccupied to offer an explanation. By explaining hurricanes to children long before a storm arrives, parents quell the child's anxiety and teach them valuable information about emergency preparedness and proper behavior. When a hurricane strikes, it is transformed into a real-life learning experience rather than a terrifying unknown.

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