A CATEGORY 1 hurricane, defined as sustained winds of 74-95 mph, is usually associated with minor damage. Homes may lose a few shingles. You could see some damage to siding and gutters. Large tree branches may snap. Expect some damage to power lines and poles. Power outages can last for several days.
A CATEGORY 2 hurricane, defined as sustained winds of 96-110 mph, is considered more extensive damage. Windows can break from flying debris. You will probably see a major roof and siding damage. Shallow-rooted trees can snap or be uprooted, blocking roads. Look for nearly total power outages. Power outages for several days to weeks.
A CATEGORY 3 hurricane, is considered a major hurricane. It has 111-129 mph sustained winds and the damage is usually devastating. Doors can be blown in and your roof may begin to flap. Well built frame homes can sustain major roof and siding damage. Many trees will come down blocking numerous roads. Electricity and water could be unavailable for days to weeks.
A CATEGORY 4 hurricane, defined as sustained winds of 130-156 mph, is considered catastrophic damage. Expect most of the roof to be lost. Most windows break. Well built homes will sustain major structural damage including some exterior walls. Most trees are uprooted and nearly all power poles destroyed. Fallen trees and power poles isolate areas. Power outages can last for weeks to months. Areas will be uninhabitable for weeks or months. Clean water is unavailable for a long time.
A CATEGORY 5 hurricane, defined as sustained winds over 157 mph, is also considered catastrophic damage. Most framed houses suffer complete structural failure. Expect roof failure and wall collapse. Almost all trees are snap or are uprooted. Like Category 4, areas are isolated. Power outages can last for weeks or months. Areas are uninhabitable for weeks or months. Clean water unavailable for a long time.
Remember a slight shift in a hurricane's track or a last-minute change in intensity can make all the difference when it comes to specific impacts for your neighborhood. Follow the advice of your county Emergency Managers.
The list of hurricane hazards not included in the Saffir-Simpson Scale is extensive.
FLORENCE: “ONLY A CATEGORY 1”?
History will correctly tag Hurricane Florence of September 2018 as a relatively minimal Category 1 storm since it featured maximum sustained winds of “only” 90 mph at its Wrightsville Beach landfall.
But, across the Carolinas, Florence killed at least 30 people and inflicted more than $20B in damage. And in the Cape Fear Region, Florence will be remembered as one of the worst - if not the worst - hurricanes of all time.
BOTTOM LINE: LOOK PAST THE CATEGORY
Florence, like no other storm in Cape Fear Region history, showed how there’s so much more to a hurricane than its Saffir-Simpson category. So please be a savvy weather consumer and, next time a storm threatens, look to your First Alert Weather Team to go past these often deceptive storm labels and into specific, impact-based forecasts! We’ll have you covered!
WHAT IS A RIP CURRENT? A rip current is a narrow channel of swift outbound water within a surf zone. A rip current's flow can exceed six feet per second – vigorous enough to overpower even a strong shore-bound swimmer. Though rip currents tend to form amid patterns of aggressive onshore winds and swell, any day with breaking waves can host rip currents – especially near piers, jetties, and sandbars.
HOW CAN YOU SPOT A RIP CURRENT? Spotting rip currents can be tricky, but in general, you want to look for persistent gaps or interruptions in a prevailing breaking wave pattern. The water in a rip may be frothy or discolored. Lifeguards will place cautionary flags on stretches of beach vulnerable to rip currents. Yellow and red flags indicate a moderate to high risk of rip currents, respectively. Always heed the advice of lifeguards!
HOW CAN YOU ESCAPE A RIP CURRENT? If a rip current begins to pull you away from the shore, resist the urge to panic, flail, or fight the current – you will quickly become exhausted and you may drown. Rather, simply swim parallel to the beach. You might be pulled away from shore as you do, but remember: rip currents are narrow – generally only a few yards wide. You will quickly escape the rip's grip and, once to no longer feel its outbound tug, you will be free to swim shoreward.
HOW DO YOU LEARN EACH DAY'S RIP CURRENT RISK: Your First Alert Weather Team publishes a rip current forecast every day in the warm season. Find it in the free WECT Weather App > Weather Headlines > Beach and Boating Forecast. All Cape Fear Region beaches are highlighted in rip current risk categories: low, medium, and high. Remember: low risk does not mean zero risks, and lifeguards on your beach of choice always get the last word!
QUICK NOTE ON LIGHTNING: In addition to rip currents, lightning is a prime beach hazard. Remember, if you are close enough to a thunderstorm to hear thunder, you are close enough for lightning to strike you. The safest move is to head to shelter at the first sign of a summer thunderstorm!
DO think of the cone as a collection of most likely tracks for the center of a particular hurricane.
DO NOT simply focus on the cone's center line and dismiss its edges as unreasonable track outcomes. In a hurricane forecast situation, your WECT First Alert Weather Team will share with you a range of most likely storm tracks and purposefully omit the center line of a cone's display.
DO consider that a hurricane's effects are often felt well outside the bounds of its forecast cone.
DO NOT think "outside the cone" is equivalent to "all clear". Strong winds, flooding rains, and dangerous surf regularly occur dozens or hundreds of miles from a hurricane's center. Trust your First Alert Weather Team to not only analyze a particular storm's track, but also what such a track means in terms of impacts.
DO stay alert for updated storm information, including new and revised forecast cones. The National Hurricane Center releases new forecast cones four times a day.
DO NOT "eyeball" a storm's path beyond the official 5-day cone; be patient and wait for the cone to become relevant to the eastern Carolinas. Your First Alert Team will readily retransmit, share, and analyze this information on TV, online, and on the WECT Mobile Weather App.
DO expect regular revisions to official forecast track cones. Subtle changes to the evolution of Pacific weather systems – yes, systems half a world away – often impart significant changes to the paths of hurricanes in the tropical Atlantic. As new National Hurricane Center forecast cones reflect these changes.
DO NOT approach the revised information with a cynical or dismissive attitude. Rather, be ready to take the changes in-stride – staying with your First Alert Weather Team for full updates all the way.
1. ALWAYS BE VIGILANT
We live here, and we get it: the rhythm of summer. It can lull you! The balmy temperatures, the mellow breezes, the slow roll of an afternoon thundershower... If you're living right, your toughest decision in a day might be "pool vs. beach" or "burger vs. dog."
But all the while... the ocean is warming, energizing, and becoming more conducive for hurricanes. So don't let yourself fall asleep only to be rudely awakened by a storm! Your First Alert Weather Team will keep you informed of any and all brewing storms… all season long.
2. ALWAYS BE PREPARED
"This is an obvious one," you might be saying. And you're right! But it needs to be said. In an emergency weather situation, freshwater, food, and medicine are not "wants." They're not "it'd be nice if we had." They're needed. Get them early and go in with a plan.
Rule 1 and 2 are close cousins. Staying vigilant and prepared are the best ways to ensure your stress level doesn't spike from 0 to 100 in a hurricane situation. Your WECT Weather App will have continuous forecast updates, interactive storm tracking, and a complete hurricane prep guide… all season long.
3. BE PATIENT
Now, the rules become more nuanced but no less important. Like this one: be patient. Understand that the average life span of a hurricane – from inception to dissipation – is one to three weeks and that the responsible answer to the question "Is it going to hit us?" is very often "It is too soon to know for sure."
"Cape Verde hurricanes" are the greatest tests in patience. These storms form near Africa's Cape Verde and usually take more than 15 days to cross the Atlantic! In almost all Cape Verde hurricane situations, meteorologists won't be able to say for certain how the storm might affect the Carolinas until the storm reaches or passes the Caribbean Islands. That's the benchmark: the Caribbean Islands... and it takes a little while for storms to reach that benchmark. So, please patience!
4. FOCUS ON FORECAST *IMPACTS* NOT LABELS
Consider two scenarios… A Category 1 Hurricane will affect the Cape Fear Region. A Category 3 Hurricane will affect the Cape Fear Region.
Now consider the question… Which scenario is worse? "The Cat. 3, of course!" you might say. But a better answer is, "I don't know for sure. I need more information."
Look beyond categories. Look beyond labels. Focus on *impacts.* Don't just ask, "What will affect me?" The better question is, "How will it affect me?" Hurricane categories only account for maximum sustained winds within a storm – nothing else – and while winds are important, they're far from the only indicator of storm severity.
So, by all means, it's okay to ask… How strong are the winds and what category is that? But also make sure you ask things like…
At what angle is the storm going to impact the coast? Hurricane Hugo of 1989 and Hurricane Earl of 2010, if we want to label them, were both Category 4 storms that both impacted the Carolinas. The big difference though: Earl brushed the Carolinas while Hugo slammed in at a 90-degree angle. One storm brought fleeting and forgettable rain, wind, and surf impacts. The other: deadly or at least life-altering destruction and surge. Track angle and trajectory matter.
How large and how quick is the storm? Large, lumbering tropical systems can bring 1,000% more rainfall and a far higher freshwater flooding potential than small, speedy storms. Record flood-producing Hurricanes Floyd and Matthew were "only" Category 1 storms when they affected eastern North Carolina, but they were very big, slow, and wet.
Thanks for trusting your First Alert Weather Team to communicate the nuances of a storm, to go beyond the labels and focus on specific impacts.
5. UNDERSTAND THE FORECAST CONE
For every tropical cyclone – that's a tropical depression, tropical storm, or hurricane – that forms in the Atlantic, the experienced and accredited meteorologists with National Hurricane Center issues an official forecast track cone.
The National Hurricane Center will update a storm's forecast cone every six hours as long as the storm is alive. The cone will shift at times, but it's almost always more stable than a cynical person might give it credit for.
Learn the cone. Love the cone. Live by the cone. When you're done here, we encourage you to visit your First Alert Weather Team's brief tutorial on understanding the National Hurricane Center forecast cones: "CONEOLOGY."
6. KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A “FORECAST” AND A “FORECAST MODEL”
At any given time in hurricane season, media and social media will be saturated with both storm forecasts and storm forecast models. Knowing the difference between the two is absolutely crucial as you assess your threat level in a storm.
Forecast models are computer-generated simulations of storm activity. Each day, hundreds of different models – each with a different mix of atmospheric physics and math – develop scenarios for the strength, track, and evolution of any given storm. In pouring over this suite of models, you can almost always find one to show you what you want to see.
Want to go online and find a computer model run that shows a Category 3 Hurricane slamming North Carolina? Horrific as such a case may be, in just about any given day in the summer or fall, you can!
Just the same, you'll be able to find a forecast model that tracks a storm of interest well clear of our coast.
Think of computer forecast models as raw ingredients. An actual forecast is a finished product and, in a hurricane situation, that is what you're looking for.
Forecasts are crafted by human meteorologists – professionals who understand the patterns of the atmosphere and, quite importantly, the strengths, weaknesses, and biases of computer models. Are forecasts perfect? Of course not. But, human-smoothed forecasts are statistically more accurate and vastly more consistent than computer models. Trust your First Alert Weather Team to deliver the highest quality forecasts from the National Hurricane Center – refined for this area – all season long.
7. DON'T BASE YOUR EMOTIONAL HEALTH ON THE LATEST COMPUTER MODEL RUN
Since you can find computer forecast models of hurricanes almost anywhere – web sites, message boards, social media accounts – you may be tempted to watch their every move. Please try not to. They change – very often wildly – and if you're not careful they can take you on an unnecessary emotional roller coaster ride.
Trust your First Alert Weather Team to stay away from the high highs and low lows in favor of a more consistent message – on TV, online, and on your WECT Weather App.
8. SOCIAL MEDIA "HYPE SITES" ONLY POST THE MOST PROVOCATIVE COMPUTER MODEL RUNS
Consider these two scenarios… The 8 a.m. run of the GFS computer forecast model generates a Category 3 Hurricane that will smack the Carolina Coast in five days. The 8 p.m. run of the same model generates the same hurricane but tracks it relatively harmlessly 300 miles east of the Carolinas.
Which model would go viral on social media? Obviously: the landfalling hurricane. Every. Single. Time.
Here's a forecast you can take to the bank: Every hurricane season, there is a 100% chance of provocatively hurricane models featuring wicked and scary landfalls "going viral" on social media. Thankfully, though, those viral images don't pan out 99% of the time. Please don't fall for the hype. Trust your First Alert Weather Team to give you the whole picture.
9. ONLY TRUST AND SHARE INFORMATION FROM METEOROLOGISTS WHO PUT THEIR NAME AND FACE TO THEIR PRODUCT
We are YOUR First Alert Weather Team. We live, shop, worship, and raise our families locally and we put our names and faces on every one of our forecast products.
10. DON'T PANIC!
You're cool with rules 1-9, right? Then this one should work for you, too!
Will my community be evacuated?
This isn't a cut and dry answer. Each county has a different policy, but they all involved weighing different factors of the storm, like wind speeds and expected rainfall. If a mandatory evacuation is issued for the beach towns, there are plans to get people out in under eight hours.
If I decide to evacuate, where do I head?
If you opt to evacuate for an approaching hurricane, your direction of travel should hinge on the forecast track of the storm.
Most hurricanes approach southeastern North Carolina directly from the south (like Fran of 1996 and Floyd of 1999). In these events, the ideal evacuation route is a westbound route like I-40 west, US-74 west, US-76 west, and US-17 south to US-378 west (in the case of southwestern Brunswick County).
Occasionally, hurricanes approach the Carolinas more directly from the east (like Hugo of 1989 and Isabel of 2003). In such a case, a north or southbound mode of evacuation may be more appropriate (I-40 west to I-95 north, US-17 north or south, US-421 west, and NC-87 north or south).
Will major bridges shut down if the storm gets bad?
The answer is no for bridges like the Cape Fear Memorial and Isabel Holmes, but officials warn to travel at your own risk. On the other hand, Snow's Cut Bridge will shut down if wind speeds exceed 45 mph sustained.
What can you do to keep pets safe during the storm?
You can always privately board your animal, but if a county state of emergency is declared, New Hanover County's main animal shelter will be open 24/7 for you to drop off your pet. Once the order is lifted, you have three business days to pick them up. Another option is to head to a county co-location shelter where you can say with your pet. Keep in mind, only dogs and cats are allowed.
What should I do if my car gets stranded in floodwaters?
If you're inside the vehicle, emergency services will respond to make sure you are safe. It is, however, your responsibility to get your car out.
How should I use sandbags?
Fill the bags half full of sand or soil. When stacking the bags, make a barrier around or beside where you're trying to keep water away. REMEMBER - sandbags are for small water flows up to two feet. You'll need to have a plan in place to protect your belongings for major flooding. You can pick up supplies at a home improvement store.
Tropical terms and how a meteorologist might use them.
Tropical wave: a broad, generally disorganized axis of relatively low air pressure over tropical waters. "We will keep a close eye on a tropical wave just west of Africa as it has a chance to organize and strengthen in the coming days."
Tropical depression: a tropical low-pressure system with a full wind circulation of speeds of 38 mph or less. "The tropical wave we've been monitoring has developed into Tropical Depression Number One. We will continue to monitor this organizing system."
Tropical storm: a tropical low-pressure system with a full wind circulation of speeds of between 39 and 73 mph. "The National Hurricane Center indicates that Tropical Depression One has strengthened into a tropical storm named Alex with maximum winds estimated at 50 mph."
Hurricane: a tropical low-pressure system with a full wind circulation of speeds of 74 mph or more. "Tropical Storm Alex has strengthened into a hurricane. Steering winds should guide this ferocious system northwestward, over the open waters of the Atlantic, in the coming days."
Eye, eyewall, and spiral bands: the three main structural components of a hurricane. "Aircraft reports who Hurricane Alex's lowest air pressure is 955mb in its eye. Alex's maximum winds of 110 mph were found in its eyewall - or the tall ring of thunderstorms surrounding the eye. Spiral bands of clouds and rain continue to circulate around Alex - feeding moisture and energy to its central core."
Watch and warning: storm bulletins. A "watch" means conditions are possible within two to three days. A "warning" means conditions are likely within one to two days. "Hurricane Alex's likely path is east of Bermuda, but still close enough that the National Hurricane Centers has hoisted a Hurricane Watch for the island. Hopefully, Alex will stay on-course, but if it happens to make a closer pass to Bermuda, the watch may later be upgraded to a warning. We will continue to closely monitor Alex."