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Hurricanes in Georgia

Hurricanes are storms that move in a circular motion, often accompanied by strong winds and heavy rainfall. A hurricane, scientifically called a tropical cyclone, is an intense rotating storm that travels at a wind speed of 74 miles per hour or greater. Large hurricanes possess winds of up to 111 miles per hour and can gain momentum, reaching more than 180 or 200 miles per hour.

Hurricanes create powerful winds, tornadoes, heavy rainfall, thunderstorms, and storm surge. They are powerful and violent storms that destroy coastlines, buildings, homes, properties, and infrastructure and put human life at risk. Winds generated by hurricanes are strong enough to uproot trees and knock down electrical lines.

Georgia is a coastal state bordering the Atlantic Ocean in the state's eastern region. Its coastal location makes it vulnerable to hurricanes and tropical storms. Although major hurricanes seldom hit Georgia directly, the state often experiences tornadoes, heavy rainfall, and floods from hurricanes nearby. To reduce the impact of hurricanes, people must prepare for hurricane season before it begins. Hurricane preparation involves assessing your flood risk, getting flood insurance, creating an evacuation strategy, and paying attention to hurricane alerts and warnings.

The Science Behind Hurricanes

Hurricanes are called tropical cyclones because they only originate within tropical oceans like the Pacific, Indian, or Atlantic Oceans, at least 300 miles north or south off the earth's equator. Tropical cyclones are identified depending on where they form. For example, those that originate above the Atlantic or Eastern Pacific Oceans are called hurricanes. Likewise, tropical cyclones that start within the Indian and South Pacific Oceans are known as cyclones. And those in the North Pacific Ocean, typhoons. Moreover, tropical cyclones are defined by their highest wind speed, namely:

  • Tropical Depression: It sustains a maximum wind speed below 39 miles per hour

  • Tropical Storms: The maximum wind speed is between 39 to 73 miles per hour

  • Hurricanes: Hurricanes have wind speeds of 74 miles per hour and greater.

How Do Hurricanes Form?

According to a publication from the National Weather Service, hurricanes form under certain atmospheric conditions at least 300 miles north or south of the equator:

  • Warm ocean waters at about 80 degrees Fahrenheit from the ocean surface to 150 feet underwater

  • A cool upper atmosphere

  • Moist air at the mid-levels of the troposphere

  • Prior disturbances like thunderstorms around close to the ocean surface

  • Little to no shift in vertical wind shear between the surface of the ocean and the lower atmosphere.

Tropical cyclones are powered by energy from warm tropical waters. Warm water cools as it rises in the form of water vapor. In turn, the water vapor cools and condenses into clouds, which are liquids that appear as visible clouds. Heat is released as a result of condensation. This heat increases the atmosphere's temperature, making the air lighter as it progresses upward into the atmosphere. While this happens, more air gathers near the surface to replace it. Meanwhile, the alternating heating and cooling of air causes the clouds to spin, thus forming a storm system. At this stage, parts of the hurricane start to take distinctive shapes.

The Parts of a Hurricane

A hurricane has a structure of its own. It has three parts, namely:

  • The Eye: The eye is the center of the hurricane. It is usually calm, and the skies are clear in this area. It is as wide as 20 to 40 miles and can grow or shrink in size. The winds are less intense, and there is little to no rain.

  • The Eyewall: This wall is a whirl or circle of thunderstorms. In this part of the hurricane, the winds and rainfall are intense. Any change in the arrangement of the eye and the eyewall can affect the wind speed.

  • The Rain Bands: These are bands of cloud and rain that extend from the eyewall as far as 100 miles or more. These bands can contain tornadoes and thunderstorms that move in circles. Rain bands move anticlockwise if a hurricane forms north of the equator; the bands move clockwise if the hurricane forms south of the equator.

Categories of Hurricanes

Hurricanes are placed in five categories based on wind speed. This hierarchy is known as The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, grading system to determine the intensity of hurricanes using only their maximum wind speeds.

  • Category 1: Maximum wind speed of 74-95 miles per hour

  • Category 2: Maximum wind speed of 96-110 miles per hour

  • Category 3 (major): Maximum wind speed of 111-129 miles per hour

  • Category 4 (major): Maximum wind speed of 130-156 miles per hour

  • Category 5 (major): Maximum wind speed of 157 miles per hour or greater

How Hurricanes Are Named

When a tropical cyclone gusts above the maximum wind speed of a tropical storm, 73 mph, it is given a name. Hurricanes are named following a strict procedure by the World Meteorological Organization. Hurricane names are alphabetical, selected from a list, and used on a six-year rotation basis. This means that every six years, a list of names is repeated. The names are only retired for reasons of sensitivity. For example, a storm that claims many lives and property cannot be re-used. However, all retired names are replaced with new names.

Some of the most devastating hurricanes in history include:

  • Hurricane Dorian 2019
  • Hurricane Michael 2018
  • Hurricane Harvey 2017
  • Hurricane Maria 2017
  • Hurricane Sandy 2012
  • Hurricane Katrina 2005
  • Hurricane Ivan 2004
  • Hurricane Charley 2004
  • Hurricane Mitch 1998
  • Hurricane Andrew 1992
  • Hurricane Hugo 1989
  • Hurricane Gilbert 1988
  • Hurricane Camille 1969
  • Florida Keys Labor Day Hurricane 1935
  • The 1926 Miami Hurricane
  • Galveston Hurricane 1900
  • The Great Hurricane of 1780

Hurricane-Prone States

Since 1851 and until August 2022, the United States coastlines have been impacted by 303 Atlantic hurricanes. Unfortunately, states bordering the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico are more susceptible to hurricanes. These States include but aren't limited to:

  • Florida
  • Texas
  • Louisiana
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • Alabama
  • Georgia
  • New York
  • Mississippi
  • Virginia.

When Is Georgia Hurricane Season?

Although hurricanes can happen any time of the year, Georgia has experienced most of its hurricane disasters from June to November. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), hurricane activity is more intense from mid-August to mid-October, with June 1 marking the beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season and September 10 marking the height of the hurricane season.

Hurricane Disaster Impacts

Hurricanes often result in billions of dollars in damage to property and infrastructure. In extreme cases, it even claims human lives. While hurricane winds are very destructive, storm surges, tornadoes, and inland flooding are parts of hurricanes that cause significant damage.

Strong Winds

Hurricane winds are so powerful that they can sway and damage buildings, uproot trees, knock down power poles, blow out windows, destroy farmlands, lift roofs off buildings, and push vehicles off the roads and into ditches or buildings. When this happens, materials blown off from houses will become airborne and pose a grave danger to pedestrians and livestock. It can cause injuries, accidents, and possible casualties. People and animals can be killed or severely injured by fallen trees, electrical poles, or swept away. During this time, there may be power outages and water and food scarcity.

Storm Surges

Storm surge is a dangerous rise in sea level accompanying a hurricane. It is the water from the ocean propelled towards the shore by the winds. When combined with the regular tides, this tidal surge can raise the water level by 30 feet or more. Waves and storm surge together have the potential to do significant damage. It can lead to erosion on coastlines and beaches. The battering waves can destroy boats and buildings. Rivers and lakes may be impacted when the water migrates inland, contributing to the rising flood levels.

Inland Flooding

Storm surge and rain from hurricanes increase flood levels and cause rivers to overflow their banks. Tropical storms can cause mudslides and flooding. Globally, 10,000 people die in hurricanes and tropical storms. More than half of the deaths linked to tropical cyclones in the United States are caused by inland floods. Most deaths linked to flooding are from drowning. Inland flooding also poses people to contaminated flood water and sewage and blocks off major roads and access to emergency services. Furthermore, flooding leads to mold growth in homes, thus causing respiratory issues that may worsen without medical care.

Tornadoes and Rip Currents

Most tornadoes produced by hurricanes develop rapidly and are short-lived. Despite their short lifespan, hurricane-spawned tornadoes can be destructive. For example, Hurricane Carla spawned an F4 tornado that resulted in eight fatalities in Galveston, Texas. Also, the tornadoes from Hurricane Ian caused several deaths in the communites affected from Florida to Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, rip currents from hurricanes are equally dangerous, especially to residents of coastal communities. These powerful, narrow waves of water can pose a hazard to swimmers, surfers, and beach visitors.

Georgia Hurricane Threat Profile

As a state bordering the Atlantic Ocean, Georgia is vulnerable to hurricanes that originate in the southern Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico. But, because it has shorter coastlines, Georgia has experienced few direct hurricanes compared to its surrounding states. This doesn't mean that Georgia is not affected by hurricanes.

Most times, hurricanes that make landfall in other states directly pass through Georgia. The hurricane will sometimes weaken before it gets to Georgia, leaving the state with tropical storm conditions, heavy rainfall, and floods.

Hurricanes in Georgia History

Between 1851 and 2008, 29 hurricanes hit Georgia. One of the worst was the Sea Island Hurricane of 1893. The 1893 Sea Islands hurricane is ranked the seventh deadliest hurricane in the history of the United States. Its maximum wind speed was 120 miles per hour (category 1). This disaster killed about 1000 to 2000 people and caused damages of $1 million in 1893.

Between 2009 and 2019, Hurricanes caused the most property loss and damage to the state of Georgia at $148 million per year. In 2018, Hurricane Micheal struck Georgia racking up to 1.2$ billion in agricultural damage. Wind gusts from Hurricane Michael recorded in the states were as high as 110-115 miles per hour (category 1). Officials claimed that the maximum speed sustained was even higher in Central and South Georgia but could not be monitored because recording equipment did not work due to a power outage. The wind caused severe damage in Central Georgia, Dodge County, and Americus. There was heavy rainfall between two to five inches in over 11 locations. And brief tornadoes were created in Fulton County, Peach County, and Crawford County leaving damage in their wake.

In August 2005, Western Georgia was affected by Hurricane Katrina. It came with heavy rains and destructive winds. A new record of 18 tornadoes hit Georgia when Katrina passed through the state. These tornadoes claimed two lives and destroyed many residential and commercial buildings. To make things worse, the price of gasoline rose to $6 a gallon due to fuel scarcity created by consumers after oil pumps were damaged in the Gulf of Mexico. Georgia also received over 10,000 people evacuating from the Gulf States.

Getting Ready for Hurricane in Georgia

Although land-falling hurricanes rarely hit Georgia because of its curvature, it still deals with tropical storms that pass through the state after a hurricane weakens. It doesn't matter if the storms are from a hurricane that has subsided. It still has strong winds, heavy rainfall, and tornadoes that result in downed power lines, washed-up roads, and destroyed trees.

Preparing for a hurricane before it forms helps people lessen the damage from floods and high winds. The precautions taken can save lives and keep people and their families safe during and after a hurricane. Gregorians must take safety measures to prepare themselves for the hurricane season.

Hurricane Warnings and Alerts

Once a tropical cyclone of any kind or a subtropical storm originates in the Eastern North Pacific or Atlantic Coast, the NOAA National Hurricane Center (NHC) provides tropical cyclone public advisories six hourly at 5 AM, 11 AM, 5 PM, and 11 PM Eastern Daylight Time to the states and counties at risk. Likewise, the Central Pacific Hurricane Center (CPHC) provides tropical cyclone public advisories for the Central North Pacific 6 hourly at 5 AM, 11 AM, 5 PM, and 11 PM Hawaii Standard Time. When hurricane warnings are required, the NHC and CPHC announce public advisories every 3 hours. These cyclone public advisories include warnings, watches, and outlooks. Residents must understand and know the differences between a watch and a warning.

  • Hurricane/Tropical Storm Watch: This means that hurricane or tropical storm conditions may arise within 48 hours.

  • Hurricane/Tropical Storm Warning: This means maximum wind speeds of up to or more than 74 mph(hurricanes) or 39 to 73 mph(tropical storms) may hit a certain county or area within 24 hours. These warnings are usually issued 36 hours before the expected storm, giving residents sufficient time to prepare for the storm.

Additionally, the NOAA weather radio broadcasts potential local weather hazards timely. In North and Central Georgia, 17 NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) stations receive programming from the National Weather Service in Peachtree City. From the highlands to the coast, more than 20 transmitters provide weather watches, warnings, predictions, weather conditions by the hour, and other relevant data for the entire state of Georgia. Broadcasts are available every day of the year, around-the-clock all week. The Weather Radio is an essential resource for news and updates on weather and public safety. NOAA radios are accessible and cost between $20 to $80.

Likewise, Georgia’s Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency (GEMA/HS) provides residents with many options for receiving weather alerts and warnings:

  • The NOAA Weather Radio: Residents can tune into local NOAA weather stations for their specific counties. They can also set up the radio to receive alarms only for the areas of their choice. To do this, they must program the radio's Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) with their Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) code. Residents can find their county codes online or by calling the NWR SAME hotline at 1-888-697-7263.

  • County Alert Systems: Alert systems in Georgia differ from one county to the other. Some use loud warning sirens that the entire community will hear. While others use a mobile notification system. Residents can find out what alert systems apply to their county by reaching out to the director of their local Emergency Management Agency.

  • Emergency Alert Systems messages from the National Weather Service via regular radios.

  • Broadcasts on local and national television stations.

  • Free and paid mobile applications that update people on weather conditions and warnings based on their location.

  • Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA): These are emergency messages disseminated by the official government alerting authorities to Georgians and other residents through their mobile phones. This wireless system is not a subscribed service or a software application. Messages from the WEA are detailed. They state the hurricane category, the time, the institution sending the alert, and whether to remain indoors or evacuate.

How to Prepare for Hurricanes in Georgia

  • Be updated on alerts, warnings, and public safety instructions before, during, and after a disaster.

  • Know what the building codes for the district are and make sure your building complies with them.

  • Trim large trees and plants that can fall on the house or block the entrance to the house.

  • Install rolling hurricane shutters on windows to protect them from flying debris, wind, and rain.

  • Secure your roofing; make sure it can withstand high winds.

  • Ensure all lawn furniture and outdoor home accessories are movable and can be moved indoors during a hurricane.

  • Clean all loose and clogged drainages and gutters around the home.

  • Be aware of your county's flood risk levels. Contact your local emergency management agency to find out.

  • Hang up a list of emergency response numbers on the refrigerator or home landlines.

  • Find the shelter closest to your home and learn all the possible routes to it.

  • Make plans in advance for pets. Many shelters do not accept pets for health reasons. Find an animal shelter or accommodation outside the threat area that accepts pets.

  • Confirm whether insurance policies cover flood damage.

  • Make an inventory of all the valuables within the home.

  • Learn the terms associated with hurricanes.

  • Make sure that the doors leading outside are hurricane-proof.

  • Move to a safer accommodation before the hurricane hits if you live in a mobile home.

  • Have an evacuation strategy.

  • Pack an emergency supplies bag.

  • Install a generator to serve as a secondary power supply if there is a power outage.

What Should Be in an Emergency Supplies Bag?

Hurricanes often cause water and food scarcity, power outages, and communication downtime. People should prepare emergency supplies for times like this so they are not stranded. Sometimes residents may be asked to vacate an area once it's unsafe. They're important and sensitive documents that they must preserve. Georgia’s Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency (GEMA/HS) have prepared a ready kit checklist which includes:

  • Bottles of water

  • Nonperishable food items like snack bars, dried fruits, and nuts, canned foods, and biscuits

  • Cell phone and a power bank or spare battery

  • Flashlights and spare batteries

  • A battery-powered or NOAA weather radio

  • Important documents like passports, ID cards, and insurance policies

  • Prescribed medication

  • Extra clothes

  • First aid kit

  • Face masks

  • Emergency whistle

  • Local maps

  • Cash

  • Sleeping bags

  • Hygiene items

  • Infant formula and diapers

  • Food and water for pets

  • Books to entertain children.

Hurricane Evacuation Strategy

Residents should find out if they live in an evacuation zone. Remaining indoors after an evacuation order is given is risky and can lead to severe injuries or death. Hurricanes are so dangerous that sometimes emergency services cannot go on rescue missions. Surviving the hurricane is one phase; surviving the aftermath is another. Having a solid evacuation plan can save an individual’s life. Making evacuation plans is indeed tough, but it is necessary for survival. To be fully prepared for an evacuation order, do the following:

  • Use FEMA’s flood map to find out if you live in an evacuation zone or flood-risk area

  • Develop and rehearse the evacuation plan with family members and pets

  • Have your ready kit packed

  • Choose places that make suitable shelters. A shelter may be a friend's home, a hotel, or accommodation in another town

  • Know the Georgia evacuation routes

  • Fill your car's tank in case of emergencies

  • Find out if your county has evacuation shelter and transportation for residents

  • Leave in time to avoid being caught in the storm

  • Have multiple evacuation routes

  • Let someone outside your home know your plan

  • Pay attention to hurricane warnings and alerts.

Staying Safe During a Hurricane in Georgia

When a hurricane is active, please remain indoors. It is not advisable to take strolls or walks anywhere except there’s an evacuation order. To stay safe during a hurricane, Georgia residents should:

  • Stay indoors and away from all windows and doors

  • Board the windows with plywood to protect it

  • Support external doors with sturdy items for impact

  • Roll the storm or hurricane shutter over the windows

  • Stay in a room downstairs that is the furthest from the exterior walls

  • Wait for confirmation from local authorities before stepping out of the house

  • Block all vents and holes in the house

  • Park automobiles in the garage to prevent damage

  • Turn off all electric appliances

  • Turn off the cooking gas and propane tanks from the valve

  • Have an emergency supply kit handy

  • Listen to NOAA weather radio for alerts and updates

  • Gather the household, including pets, in one room

  • Be prepared to evacuate once the authorities give the order

  • If your home is not strong enough to shelter in, stay with a neighbor or find a community shelter.

Hurricane Shelters in Georgia

Volunteers mostly open designated storm shelters in Georgia. Every year when there is a threat of a hurricane, or during the Atlantic hurricane season, people and organizations volunteer their churches and schools to be used as shelter locations. Recreational centers are also used as shelters for displaced people during hurricanes. Some of these shelters allow pets, but you should find out in advance. Here are some of the shelters opened during Hurricane Ian 2022:

  • PSA Recreational Center
    1050 Wildcat Drive Kingsland
    GA 31548
    Phone: (912) 729-5600

  • Risley School Annex
    2900 Albany Street Brunswick
    GA 31520
    Phone: (912) 262-3415

  • Compassion Christian Church
    55 Al Henderson Boulevard Savannah
    GA 31419
    Phone: (912) 925-9657

Evacuating During a Hurricane

  • Once the order to evacuate is announced, move immediately

  • Wear protective clothing and strong shoes that are comfortable to walk in

  • Take the emergency supply bag

  • Disconnect all electrical appliances

  • Shut all doors and windows

  • Make sure everyone is out, from humans to pets

  • Once again, confirm possession of the emergency supply kit

  • Listen to the NOAA weather radio and follow the instructions for evacuation

  • Confirm that evacuation routes are not flooded

  • Look out for signs of roads that are blocked off and flooded, and avoid them

  • Follow the recommended Georgia evacuation routes and not shortcuts; they may be blocked off or flooded

  • If possible, see if neighbors need help

  • Watch out for fallen trees, electrical poles, and flying debris

  • Inform a friend of a relative of the evacuation shelter

  • Do not walk through flooded areas to avoid injuries or drowning.

Safety Tips for Driving in a Hurricane

It is not advisable to drive during a hurricane. Especially if a person is evacuating during an active tropical storm, the strong winds from the hurricane can fling or blow a car off the road into a vehicle or a building. Plus, it is harder to escape floods in a vehicle. However, if one chooses to drive, one must adhere to these rules to stay safe:

  • Make sure there's sufficient gas in the tank.

  • Drive slowly and keep a reasonable distance between the next vehicle.

  • Watch out for washed-up roads, fallen trees, and downed poles.

  • If the car starts to spin and slide, remove your foot from the accelerator and avoid applying the brake. The car will slow down gradually until it stops.

  • Avoid flooded roads. If there are no alternative routes, watch other cars drive through the flood and follow suit slowly.

  • If the lights at intersections do not work, wait for a few seconds to confirm there is no oncoming driver before moving.

  • If the weather becomes unsafe for driving, park the car in a garage to protect it. Do not park near trees or electrical lines.

What to Do After a Hurricane in Georgia

When a hurricane has ended, there's a lot of damage and destruction left behind. Worse, floods can re-emerge. Staying safe after a tropical cyclone has passed or dwindled is just as important as staying safe during a hurricane.

  • Wait for instructions from public safety officials before returning home or stepping out of a shelter.

  • Do not walk or drive through floods. Even small floods can sweep cars away.

  • Pay attention to the media for more safety and health instructions.

  • Report accidents, fallen electric poles, and gas leaks to 9-1-1.

  • Inform friends and family members of your well being.

  • Check on neighbors and friends in the area. Help out where you can.

  • After a hurricane, there will be shards of glass, metal, and other materials that can injure you lying around. Be careful.

  • Do not stand in floodwaters. It is usually contaminated with sewage and muck.

  • Take care to prevent or remove mold around the house.

  • Stay out of damaged buildings unless permitted by the authorities.

  • Ensure all grills, charcoal stoves, and generators are outdoors to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

  • Do not burn open flame until it is confirmed that there are no gas leaks.

  • Contact your insurance company to assess your property damage and initiate an insurance claim.

Avoid Electrical Hazards

  • Avoid fallen electrical poles.

  • Try not to walk below tilting or low-hanging power lines.

  • If the power is out, use flashlights or candles instead.

  • Report the power situation to the authorities or light utility provider.

  • If electrical circuits or appliances get wet from the rain or flood, turn them off at the main fuse.

  • If you have to walk through water to reach the main fuse, leave it alone. Call an electrician to handle it.

  • Avoid touching electrical equipment in wet clothes or while standing in a wet spot.

  • Allow a professional to inspect the possible damage to electricals before use.

Avoid Polluted Food and Water

  • Dispose of all food items (including canned foods) that have come in contact with the floodwater, even if they look fine

  • Dispose of perishable food items that stayed in the fridge for days during a power outage

  • Dispose of any food that looks or smells funny

  • Avoid using water from wells or reservoirs until it is inspected for contamination

  • Do not use contaminated water to shower, clean dishes, wash hands, make food or drink

  • Use only boiled, treated, or bottled water

  • Check if the septic tanks are broken and fix them immediately

  • Speak to local health officials for advice about water situations and how to treat water.

Help Injured Persons Get Treatment

If a person is injured in a hurricane, call 9-1-1 to get immediate care. If the injured person is in dirty floodwaters or a damaged building, they should be handled with extreme care. First aid can help reduce the chances of infection and help small wounds heal.

Tips to provide first aid include:

  • Make sure the wound is treated with clean and preferably gloved hands

  • Remove jewelry and clothing in the area of the injury

  • Apply pressure on large cuts to stop the bleeding

  • Remove small foreign objects in the injury

  • Do not remove larger objects because when removed, it can lead to rapid loss of blood

  • Rinse the wounds with clean water or saline solution

  • Clean the surface of the wound, and its surroundings

  • Cover wounds with clean cloths or waterproof bandage if available

  • Keep the injured area out of floodwater

  • Keep calling 9-1-1 or other emergency services for help

  • If wounds allow, go to the hospital immediately after first aid is applied.