ORLANDO, Fla. – While most Floridians associate hurricanes with howling winds strong enough to knock down trees and pummel buildings, water is actually the deadliest element of any storm.
National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham explained how most hurricane deaths occur.
"The reality is, 90% of the fatalities in these tropical systems (are from) water," Graham said. "Half of it is storm surge, another 25% of it is the inland rain and the rest of it is right around the shore and offshore."
Still, most people don't know this, partially because there's no real measurement scale for water like there is for wind. The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale is a 1-to-5 rating system that explains the type of danger and damage possible at wind speeds ranging from 74 mph to 156 mph.
News 6 chief meteorologist Tom Sorrells demonstrated the danger of water by filling up a 39-gallon plastic bag.
“When I fill it with water, this 39-gallon bag suddenly weighs up to 300 pounds. Water moving at 4 mph like that has the destructive force of an EF-2 tornado,” Sorrells said. “It only takes 1 foot of water to knock you off your feet, 2 feet of water can float your car.”
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Former FEMA Director Craig Fugate said water is even a major hazard for those who don’t live in coastal towns. He was in Gainesville when Hurricane Irma struck in 2017 and still, a tree went down on his property, he lost power for four days and he had sheet flow water in his yard.
"Hurricanes are not just a coastal impact. If you look at Florence and some of these other hurricanes, look at Michael, that damage went all the way up to the state line," Fugate said.
He claims there's no point in Florida more than 70 miles from either coast, meaning that inland residents still experience heavy rainfall, high winds and tornadoes as a result of a hurricane even if they aren't affected by storm surge.
So while you're preparing for hurricane season, remember that it's the water, not the wind, that you should fear most.
For more on ways to prepare for storms, visit ClickOrlando.com/Hurricane.
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