When To Stay Through A Hurricane And When To Evacuate

Unless a mandatory evacuation order is issued, residents in the path of an oncoming hurricane can decide whether to evacuate or remain in their homes. Here are some pros and cons for either decision.

Hurricanes are almost unique among the natural disasters humans face. Unlike a sudden earthquake or a tornado spinning out of a storm cloud, hurricanes can be detected very early and tracked all the way until their final moments days or weeks later. Few people in the path of a hurricane can claim it caught them completely off-guard. But with this early warning system also comes great responsibility for the safety of others and the protection of property.

National weather services usually take notice of a

potential hurricane once a low-pressure system in ocean waters begins to strengthen. The weather system is assigned a tracking number and special instruments are used to measure its speed and direction. A tropical wave could be nothing more than a passing thunderstorm, but it could also become more organized over warmer water. If it strengthens to a tropical depression, coastal weather stations begin to take precautions.

Once a tropical low-pressure system reaches tropical storm strength, it is given a name and efforts to predict its path are stepped up. Finally, when a tropical storm contains sustained winds over 79 mph, it becomes a hurricane. Areas in its predicted path receive watches and warnings. By now the storm looks like a classic hurricane, with bands of rain radiating from a twisting eye.

Some veteran residents of hurricane-prone areas believe they can predict the severity and course of an oncoming hurricane. They base their decision to stay in place or evacuate on years of experience with similar hurricanes. A category 1 or 2 hurricane with an erratic path may bypass the area entirely or only cause minimal damage. Many residents find it easier to remain in their reinforced homes and ride out the storm rather than spend their time in communal shelters. If the storm does indeed move in another direction or cause only slight damage, then they are in the best place to begin cleanup efforts.

Others trust the local weather authorities and make the decision to evacuate based on the latest scientific data. A strong Category 3 or higher hurricane is going to cause major damage even if the path deviates slightly, so evacuation seems like the most prudent decision to make. Forecasters generally err on the side of caution, so residents are urged to consider evacuation at the first sign of a direct path. The actual hurricane may not even reach the resident's homes, but it may be better to be safe in a shelter than be trapped in a severely damaged home.

Under extraordinary conditions, a mandatory evacuation may be issued, which takes the decision-making process out of most residents' hands. Those few who decide to stay behind are often asked by law enforcement officers to sign legal waivers and provide the names of their next-of-kin. Remaining behind during a category 4 or 5 hurricane may prove to be a very bad decision indeed. The only people who should even consider staying behind during a cat 4 or 5 hurricane are emergency workers, law enforcement and media workers assigned specifically to cover the storm's progress. There is usually nothing in your home worth protecting with your life, and looters have most likely abandoned the city themselves.

The decision to remain in one's home or evacuate the area is generally left up to individuals. Many homes in hurricane-prone areas are designed to survive category 1 or 2 storms with minimal damage. If enough emergency supplies are stored in a basement or shelter, the idea of riding out a smaller hurricane is appealing. On the other hand, a stronger storm may still destroy your home

and possibly injure those hiding inside. A hotel room hundreds of miles away from the storm may calm your family's fears about surviving the event. Even a few hours or days spent in a community shelter may be seen as an adventure, not an ordeal. No matter which decision you make, be sure you follow the rules of that decision to their fullest. If you remain at home, pack emergency food supplies, drinking water and battery-powered lights and radios. If you go to a shelter, bring essential papers and changes of clothing for all of the family members. If you go to a hotel, check the latest updates for news on road closings and checkpoints.

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