Everything You Need to Know About Hurricane Season

Preparedness is key for keeping your home and family safe through hurricane season.

Whether the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts hurricane activity above or below normal this year, preparing your home and family and having an emergency plan is the best way to stay safe this hurricane season. Read on to learn more about hurricanes, the difference between a hurricane watch and a hurricane warning, and how you can stay ahead of the storm to keep your family safe.

01 of 05

What is a hurricane?

Hurricane Florence's Path Over North Carolina and South Carolina
Hurricane Florence from outer space on September 13, 2018. Handout/Getty Images

A hurricane is a distinct weather event from just a regular storm. As NOAA explains, a hurricane starts as a tropical cyclone, "a rotating low-pressure weather system that has organized thunderstorms but no fronts (a boundary separating two air masses of different densities)."

But not all cyclones turn into hurricanes. Tropical cyclones with sustained surface winds less than 39 miles per hour (mph) are categorized as tropical depressions, while those with maximum sustained winds of 39 mph or higher are tropical storms. It's not until a storm's maximum sustained winds reach 74 mph that it's considered an official hurricane.

02 of 05

How are hurricanes measured?

Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a Category Five Storm
The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a category five storm, in the Ninth Ward neighborhood of New Orleans, Louisiana. New York Daily News Archive/Getty Images

Each storm is measured on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which rates them from 1 to 5 based on their maximum sustained winds. For example, a Category 1 storm, with sustained winds of 74 to 95 mph, can cause damage, including structural damage to rooftops and trees.

At the other extreme, a Category 5 storm, with sustained winds of 157 mph or higher, has the potential to cause catastrophic damage. (For reference, Hurricane Katrina was a Category 5 storm when it struck New Orleans in 2005.)

03 of 05

What's the difference between a hurricane watch and a hurricane warning?

Hurricane News and Hurricane Season Updates
South Carolina residents in an evacuation shelter on September 13, 2018 as they prepare for Hurricane Florence. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

As NOAA explains, "A warning means that hurricane conditions are expected whereas a watch means that conditions are possible." Warnings are typically issued 36 hours in advance, while watches are usually issued 48 hours in advance.

What this means to you is don't wait until NOAA issues a warning to act. If your area is under a hurricane watch, NOAA advises you to "...prepare your home and review your plan for evacuation in case a hurricane or tropical storm warning is issued. Listen closely to instructions from local officials." NOAA continues, "During a hurricane warning, complete storm preparations and immediately leave the threatened area if directed by local officials."

04 of 05

When is hurricane season?

Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, in the Hurricane Florence path
Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, as Hurricane Florence approaches on September 13, 2018. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

According to NOAA's National Hurricane Center, the Atlantic hurricane season (including the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico) runs from June through November, but that doesn't mean hurricanes can't happen before or after those dates. NOAA explained that hurricanes in the Atlantic basin average 12 per year.

05 of 05

How to prepare for a hurricane.

Here's How to Prepare for a Hurricane
North Carolina residents preparing for Hurricane Florence on September 13, 2018.. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

"The most important thing you can do as hurricane season approaches," according to the National Hurricane Survival Initiative, "is to prepare yourself, your family, and your home." They suggest you start early to avoid last-minute panicky crowds and, at a minimum, assemble the following hurricane preparation items:

  • Water - at least two quarts of bottled water per person per day
  • Food - a three-day supply per person of non-perishable food
  • First-aid kit - band-aids, gauze, prescription, and non-prescription drugs
  • Tools - mess kits, pliers, storage containers, batteries
  • Clothing - a few clean pairs of underwear, socks, and warm items
  • Entertainment - board games and books
  • Radio - to stay informed if the power goes out (Don't forget extra batteries!)
  • Pet needs - food, their own water, and bedding

For more information on preparing for and staying safe during the hurricane season, visit NOAA's National Hurricane Preparedness site.

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