The United States has a significant hurricane problem. Our shorelines attract large numbers of people. From Maine to Texas, our coastline is filled with new homes, condominium towers, and cities built on sand waiting for the next storm to threaten its residents and their dreams.
There are now some 45 million permanent residents along the hurricane-prone coastline, and the population is still growing. The most rapid growth has been in the sunbelt from Texas through the Carolinas. Florida, where hurricanes are most frequent, leads the Nation in new residents. In addition to the permanent residents, the holiday, weekend, and vacation populations swell in some coastal areas 10- to 100-fold.
A large portion of the coastal areas with high population densities are subject to the inundation from the hurricane's storm surge that historically has caused the greatest loss of life and extreme property damage.
Perception of Risk
Over the past several years, the warning system has provided adequate time for people on the barrier islands and the immediate coastline to move inland when hurricanes have threatened. However, it is becoming more difficult to evacuate people from the barrier islands and other coastal areas because roads have not kept pace with the rapid population growth. The problem is further compounded by the fact that 80 to 9O percent of the population now living in hurricane-prone areas have never experienced the core of a "major" hurricane. Many of these people have been through weaker storms. The result is a false impression of a hurricane's damage potential. This often leads to complacency and delayed actions which could result in the loss of many lives.
Frequency of Hurricanes
During the 70's and 80's, major hurricanes striking the United States were less frequent than the previous three decades. With the tremendous increase in population along the high risk areas of our shorelines, we may not fare as well in the future. This will be especially true when hurricane activity inevitably returns to the frequencies experienced during the 40's through the 60's.
In the final analysis, the only real defense against hurricanes is the informed readiness of your community,your family, and YOU.
All hurricanes are dangerous, but some are more so than others. The way storm surge, wind, and other factors combine determines the hurricanes destructive power. To make comparisons easier and to make the predicted hazards of approaching hurricane clearer to emergency forces-National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's hurricane forecasters use a disaster-potential scale which assigns storms to five categories. Category 1 is a minimum hurricane; category 5 is the worst case. The criteria for each category are shown below.