Recently, the Sun Sentinel newspaper wote an article regarding some of the urban legends, myths and not-quite-accurate beliefs some people have about hurricanes. Although on initial blush such information may seem like just interesting fodder for conversations at the water cooler, the reality is that the information contained in this article could save a lot of heartache and help avoid an unnecessary loss of property. The full text of the article appears below:
Like many catastrophic phenomena, hurricanes have become encrusted with mythology.
From bad advice on how to protect your home to erroneous ideas about the most dangerous regions within a hurricane, meteorologists hear all sorts of lore from the public. Some are harmless baloney, others are genuinely dangerous.
“There are a lot of hurricane myths out there. Many contain a grain of truth. That’s how they got started,” said Steve Letro, a retired meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Jacksonville. “Our challenge is to convince the public that official information is actually going to be more correct than what they heard from the guy standing in line at Walmart.”
Here are some of the myths, according to Letro and Chris Landsea, science and operations officer of the National Hurricane Center. They spoke last week at the Governor’s Hurricane Conference in Fort Lauderdale.
Myth: To prepare for a hurricane, tape up your windows with masking tape. This idea actually appeared in publications of the old U.S. Weather Bureau, and a recent survey by the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes found that 70 percent of people in the southeastern United States believed this is an effective way to protect your home.
Reality: This accomplishes nothing and yields a false sense of security. A wind-born tree branch, coconut or garbage can would smash through glass with or without tape. Use shutters or impact glass.
Myth: When a hurricane is approaching, you should open windows on the side of the house where the wind is not expected so you can equalize the air pressure and prevent your house from exploding.
Reality: Completely unnecessary because the pressure changes slowly and no house is airtight, so it will equalize anyway. Opening windows as a hurricane approaches only invites in blasts of wind, rain and debris.
Myth: The strongest winds in a hurricane can be found in the storm’s northeast quadrant.
Reality: Usually this is the case, but not always. For instance, because Wilma approached Florida from the west in 2005, its strongest winds were in its southwest quadrant.
Myth: If a hurricane’s sustained winds are 100 mph and it’s moving west at 15 mph, it’s packing a wind total of 115 mph.
Reality: Wrong. The National Hurricane Center already did the math for you to come up with the wind speed. It will vary through the hurricane, but you can’t just add the steering winds to the rotating winds and come up with the total.
Myth: The storm surge of a hurricane is primarily a result of the lowered air pressure sucking the water up as if through a straw.
Reality: Although the “barometric effect” is a factor, 95 percent of the cause of the storm surge is the hurricane’s winds pushing the water toward shore.
Myth: Hurricanes turn toward the north because they’re following the Gulf Stream.
Reality: Not completely off base, but still wrong. The Gulf Stream current and the typical paths of hurricanes are both the result of northerly wind patterns along the southeast coast of the United States, which is part of the larger circulation of winds around the center of the North Atlantic.
Myth: This is the 21st century, and we should be able to put our technological wizardry to work to destroy hurricanes. We can accomplish this by towing icebergs from the arctic to weaken them with cold water, using giant pipes to bring up cold water from the ocean depths, seeding clouds to force the rain out of them at sea, coat the ocean along their path with oil to stop evaporating water from powering the storm, erecting giant fans to blow the hurricane back out to sea or breaking up a hurricane with hydrogen bombs.
Reality: All impossible, and a few would make things worse. Like many crackpot ideas, however, they are built around a kernel of reality. It would theoretically be possible to fatally weaken a hurricane with icebergs, but towing enough of them into its path would require all the merchant ships currently in service in the world. Even nuclear weapons don’t have sufficient power to do the job. All they would accomplish would be to create a radioactive hurricane.
Hopefully, the information in the above article will come in handy – if not at the water cooler, than in preparation for an upcoming storm.