What threats do wind speeds pose during hurricanes?

Chief meteorologist Tom Sorrells answers viewers' questions

By Tom Sorrells - Chief Meteorologist

File photo.

ORLANDO, Fla. - Ahead of hurricane season, News 6 invited viewers to submit their storm related questions to be answered by our team of meteorologists.

News 6 Pinpoint Weather Chief Meteorologist Tom Sorrells received the following questions from Sila, via Hearken:

"Over the years I have heard (a) lot of conflicting information about the real threats of high winds -- in this case, major hurricane strength. News reports constantly mention wind speeds and category strength but never explain in depth what that should mean compared to explaining flooding, storm surge and rain fall risks. Explaining the risks associated with wind speeds would help a lot for people who don't live in areas that flood. 

What part of wind speeds are something to be concerned about, even with boarding up windows (and) picking up loose objects outside? Can wind speeds tear apart a house built in the past 20 years? Etc."

Here is Sorrells' response to the viewer:

Winds speeds are usually the first thing we talk about when preparing for a hurricane. The question of your home "tearing apart if it was built in the last 20 years" will be answered by what code the house was built under. Construction codes in the state of Florida were getting stronger and better with each passing season until about 2017.  Since 2017, new code standards have not been automatically raised. If you have concerns about your home, you can go to the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) website, where you can enter your address and learn about the codes in your area. 

To answer just how safe you will be in a storm I would really need to know your exact location. If you are in a newer home more than 5 miles from the ocean waters, and not in a flood zone, then I would bet you would be able to shelter in place in your own home, assuming you've put shutters on the windows and doors.

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During any storm the threat of flying debris, projectiles, shingles, etc. will be a concern. If your windows are hurricane wind rated you are safe, right up until some tin can comes at the window at 80 mph. If your window fails from being hit by a projectile, then the wind will penetrate you home and structure failure does become an issue. Not to mention hours of rain, dirt and all the ugliness of the storm. 

Now, let's talk water. This hurricane season, I want to focus on the risks of water vs. wind. The Saffier Simpson Scale that we use to determine the category of hurricanes is based on wind speed, not the water risk. 

In our coastal zones, the storm surge is not as high as those in the Gulf because we have a different geographic profile. The slope of the our land shelf is much different.

The Atlantic is deeper than the Gulf water, and the Gulf has wide beachfronts, which can lead to storm surge totals up to 20 feet. From Brevard, Volusia and Flagler counties, it will be hard to get a surge higher than about 8 feet, so if you live more than a few miles from the ocean, chances are the storm surge will not get to you, even if the storm gets to a Category 3 or higher in wind speed.

However, if you live near a tributary, a retention pond, a lake or any other body of water, you need to take precaution.

In recent years, we have noted an increase in the intensity of the rain associated with tropical systems. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey set the record in the United States, with more than 60 inches of rain from a single system. Before that, the record was 48 inches.

That is not just breaking a record, that is smashing a record. In August 2008, we had 30 inches of rain in 36 hours in Central Florida from Tropical Storm Fay. We had a tremendous amount of flooding, ponding and pooling of water for weeks after Fay. If that total were to be doubled, like it was in Harvey, our flooding issues would be of a biblical proportion.

Much like the flooding of Hurricane Florence in the Pee Dee River of South Carolina last season, driving winds from a strong tropical storm or hurricane can push standing water into what's known as horizontal flow. That means standing water can start to move from your yard to your home if the wind blows on it long enough. You do not have to be on the coast for that to happen. 

In conclusion, you are right to be concerned about the water. If your home is up to code, and you prepare, you can easily survive and rebound from high winds. If you are not ready for rising water, you may very well find your life at risk and a quick rebound almost impossible financially . 

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With all that said, I highly recommend you get flood insurance. It is a cheap buy if you are not in a flood zone and it will protect you when the water is suddenly affecting an area no one expected it to.

To submit your hurricane-related questions and for more on ways to prepare for storms, visit ClickOrlando.com/Hurricane.

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