North Carolina is one of the most likely states to be hit by tropical weather systems in the US, behind Florida, Texas, and Louisiana.  Besides direct hits, North Carolina is also vulnerable to the effects of hurricanes far away from the initial landfall, including flooding and tornadoes.

A prime example of this was in 2004, when no hurricanes or tropical storms made direct landfall in North Carolina, but the state, especially the mountain region, received extremely heavy rains and widespread flooding and tornadoes.
While Alamance County Emergency Management will always be here for county residents when disaster strikes, the best plan of action is always to be prepared before disaster strikes.

Step 1 Respect Nature 

Weather events, such as hurricanes, are powerful and dangerous. In fact, hurricanes and typhoons kill thousands of people worldwide every year and cause billions of dollars in property damage. Don’t underestimate the weather’s power. Having a healthy respect for hurricanes, tornados, winter storms and severe weather in general is the first step to being prepared.
Step 2 Decide Whether to Go or Stay
You must first decide if you will evacuate your home or stay and ride out the storm. Such a decision should be a family decision and must include considering such factors as:
  • Are you in a storm surge or flood zone?
  • Is your home structurally capable of withstanding hurricane force winds?
  • Do the openings in your home, such as the windows, sliding glass doors, and jalousie doors, have shutters to keep the powerful winds and rain out?
  • Do any of your family members have special medical needs that will require help you cannot provide?
  • Is your home capable of providing a “livable” environment after the storm when all utilities are lost?

Step 3 Make a Personal Plan
Whether you decide to evacuate or stay in your home to ride out a storm, you must get your family together to develop a family disaster plan. There simply won’t be time to think of everything when a storm gets close. You will be surprised at the number of issues that need to be discussed once you sit down and start listing them.

If you are going to evacuate:

  • Where will you go?
  • Will you be using a local shelter?
  • Where is the shelter located?
  • What route will you drive to get there?
  • How long will it take to pick up everyone?
  • What will you need to bring with you? (Think 3-day Survival Kit)
  • How will you care for your pets?
  • What property security needs to be done?
  • Will you need to notify other family members where you will be?

If you are going to stay:

  • Do you have shutters for all windows and openings?
  • How long will it take to put up shutters or boards?
  • Is rising water an issue in your home?
  • How will you cope with any family members with special medical needs?
  • What special supplies and food will you need to have on hand?
  • Do you need to have any special equipment available for after the storm?
  • Do you have a safe place for important documents?
  • Should you notify any out-of-area relatives that you are staying?
  • Are you prepared to live without utilities and normal services for as long as two weeks after the storm?

Step 4 Prepare Your Property in AdvanceThe time to begin acquiring shutters and protection for your home is now. All openings of your home need to have protection to keep fierce winds and rain out of the building. Experience proves that a home that does not have protected openings is at grave risk for serious damage.

Trees need to be trimmed to minimize the damage they may cause to your home or someone else’s. Vehicles left out in the open are often overturned by high winds. If you do not have a garage or carport, locate a protected spot to park your vehicles. A good location might be on the leeward side of the house, away from the main force of the wind.

Identify loose items located outside, such as lawn furniture, grills, toys, yard equipment, etc., that should be brought inside before a storm. When picked up by high winds, these items can become deadly missiles.

Examine your home to see if hurricane straps and connectors were installed to roof trusses, rafters and framing members. Homes that do not have such protective reinforcement are at risk of loosing roofs and walls to strong hurricane force winds.

Step 5 Store Up 14 Days of Supplies and Equipment
The experiences of Hurricanes Hugo, Bertha and Fran have taught us that we need to be prepared to live without our utilities and basic services for up to two weeks or more. Most of us are ill-prepared to do so. It is not immediately obvious what we would need for such an adventure. A useful exercise may be to try to live for one daywithout your utilities and begin making a list of essential items that become evident. Parents should try an occasional “one-day camp in” with their children. This will make it less traumatic for children (and their parents) when they are forced to live without all the things we take for granted. The following list should provide a start on this Step:

  • Food (canned, dry, non-perishable)
  • Baby needs – formula, diapers
  • Water (bottled or home-filled before the storm. One gallon/person/day
  • Canned sodas
  • Disposable plates, cups, utensils
  • Plastic garbage bags
  • Medicines – RX as well as aspirin
  • First Aid supplies
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Bleach
  • Pet food
  • Bedding (1 blanket or sleeping bag per person)
  • Cooler
  • Non-electric can opener
  • Ice
  • Dry goods (TP & paper towels)
  • Toiletries
  • Flashlight w/ spare batteries
  • Portable Radio or TV w/ spare batteries
  • Clean clothes and sturdy shoes
  • Clothes & dish detergent
  • Clothesline and pins
  • Games cards & quiet toys
  • Camp stove & fuel
  • Lantern & fuel (not candles)
  • Fire extinguisher – ABC type
  • Gloves & goggles
  • Small tools
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Brooms & mops 
  • Pails and buckets
  • Ladders
  • Plywood & nails
  • Rakes & shovels
  • Chain saw, gas & oil
  • Duct and masking tape
  • Rolls of plastic
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Battery operated clock
  • Butane lighter or matches
  • Axes, hatchets, pruners
  • Rope

It is also important to fuel all vehicles before the storm hits. In addition, remember to get to the ATM or bank and secure some cash since banks will probably be closed for some time after a severe storm. Finally, keep a photo I.D. that also shows your home address. This may become important when asking a police officer or National Guardsman for permission to re-enter your neighborhood.

Step 6 Rehearse Your Plan
The best plan in the word won’t do you or your family much good if no one can remember it. When a major storm approaches, things need to happen fast. There are usually too many tasks to be done by one person. Many people will be tied up at their workplace for some time prior to the storm’s arrival. {Emergency Management personnel and emergency responders will be tied up during and for several days following any major weather event.} The only real way to ensure that everything gets done is to assign everyone in your family a list of preparation activities, or allot a substantial amount of lead time if you don’t have anyone to help you.

Try actually putting up shutters one weekend to determine how long the process really takes. For those who will be evacuating, actually practice the drive to the shelter, including stops along the way to pick up other family members and friends. Driving time may be extended by hours when the real thing comes along, so be sure to plan accordingly. During Hurricane Andrew, many people discovered that what had been a 15-minute drive to the shelter actually took four hours because of the massive traffic jams.

Step 7 Watch Weather Reports Closely
Storms and weather fronts, especially tornados and hurricanes, can move very quickly. Hurricanes typically move at a forward speed of 8 to 25 miles per hour. While this may seem quite slow, such movement can advance an approaching storm up to 200 miles during the course of a normal work day. As a hurricane or other storm moves closer to you area, begin monitoring the weather reports every hour. Don’t get caught by surprise by not taking advantage of the excellent media coverage of weather related events.

Step 8 Take Action
A growing concern of hurricane forecasters and emergency management officials is the problem of many people refusing to take action until a definite hurricane or severe storm warning is issued. Don’t cut it too close. Numerous hurricanes have brushed by our coast or hovered off-shore for days. Such storms have been within one day of landfall if their directions had changed. This does not allow adequate time for preparation or evacuation. Goodjudgment and early action are everyone’s responsibilities!

When the time comes for action, do so without hesitation. There is never enough time to get ready for nature’s fiercest weather. Give yourself and your family a head start. It’s worth it!

Some final thoughts for those who work outside the home —

  • What is your organization’s hurricane / severe storm plan and how do you fit in?
  • Will you be asked to stay at work during weather emergencies?
  • If you are required to stay, when will you be allowed to return home?
  • If you are at home, when should you report to work?
  • What personal equipment or supplies do you need to bring with you?
  • Is your workplace secure from storm damage?
  • What skills or talents outside of your normal job role can you bring in to assist following a severe storm?
  • Will your family be able to cope with the storm aftermath in your absence?
  • Do you have any recommendations for hurricane / severe storm preparedness in your department?
  • If your work operation is closed down for several weeks, how will you handle the loss of pay? Will people at your work place be laid off if the business cannot get back in operation for an extended time?

Hurricanes and Tornadoes are measured on scales.  Tornadoes are measured on the Enhanced Fujita Scale (from EF0 to EF5) based on how much damage they produce.  Hurricanes are measured by the highest sustained winds.

The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale is a 1-5 rating based on the hurricane’s present intensity. This is used to give an estimate of the potential property damage and flooding expected along the coast from a hurricane landfall. Wind speed is the determining factor in the scale, as storm surge values are highly dependent on the slope of the continental shelf in the landfall region. Note that all winds are using the U.S. 1-minute average.


Susatined Winds0-38 MPH0-62 KPH 

#10 (2005) 

Storm Surge0-3 ft 0-.9 m
Central Pressure 
Potential DamageVery little wind damage.  Usually, minor Flooding. However, depending on the path and strength of the storm, major flooding can occur.
Example StormsTD 10 (2005) 


Susatined Winds39-73 MPH 63-117 KPH 

Tropical Storm
Alberto (2006) 

Storm Surge0-3 ft 0-.9 m 
Central Pressure 
Potential DamageSome light wind damage.  Usually, minor Flooding. However, depending on the path and strength of the storm, major flooding can occur.
Example StormsAlberto (2006), Allison (2001)

Category 1

Susatined Winds74-95 MPH119-153 KPH 

Category 1
Hurricane Ophelia (2005) 

Storm Surge4-5 ft 1.2-1.5 m 
Central Pressure> 980 mb 
Potential DamageNo real damage to building structures. Damage primarily to unanchored mobile homes, shrubbery, and trees. Also, some coastal flooding and minor pier damage. 
Example StormsErnesto (2006), Ophelia (2005), Gaston (2004) 

Category 2

Susatined Winds96-110 MPH 154-177 KPH 

Category 2
Hurricane Erin (1995)

Storm Surge6-8 ft. 1.8-2.4 m 
Central Pressure965-979 mb 
Potential DamageSome roofing material, door, and window damage. Considerable damage to vegetation, mobile homes, etc. Flooding damages piers and small craft in unprotected anchorages may break their moorings 
Example StormsJuan (2003), Erin (1995), Floyd (1998) at landfall 

Category 3

Susatined Winds111-130 MPH179-209 KPH 

Category 3
Major Hurricane
Fran (1997)

Storm Surge9-12 ft. 2.7-3.7 m 
Central Pressure945-965 mb 
Potential DamageSome structural damage to small residences and utility buildings, with a minor amount of curtainwall failures. Mobile homes are destroyed. Flooding near the coast destroys smaller structures with larger structures damaged by floating debris. Terrain may be flooded well inland. 
Example StormsFran (1997), Katrina (2005) at landfall in Louisiana 

 Category 4

Susatined Winds131-155 MPH 210-249 KPH 

Category 4
Major Hurricane Hugo (1989)

Storm Surge13-18 ft. 4.0-5.5 m 
Central Pressure920-944 mb 
Potential DamageMore extensive curtainwall failures with some complete roof structure failure on small residences. Major erosion of beach areas. Terrain may be flooded well inland. 
Example StormsHazel (1954), Charley (2004), Hugo (1989) at landfall in Charleston, SC 

Category 5

Susatined Winds156+ MPH 250+ KPH 

Category 5
Major Hurricane
Isabel (2003) 

Storm Surge19 ft.+ 5.5 m + 
Central Pressure< 920 mb 
Potential DamageComplete roof failure on many residences and industrial buildings. Some complete building failures with small utility buildings blown over or away. Flooding causes major damage to lower floors of all structures near the shoreline. Massive evacuation of residential areas may be required. 
Example StormsCamille (1968), Andrew (1992), Isabel (2003), Katrina (2005), Rita (2005), Wilma (2005) 

Category 6

Susatined WindsUnknownUnknown 

There is no category 6

Storm SurgeUnknownUnknown 
Central PressureUnknown
Potential DamageInconceivable.  While there have been proposals to add a “Category 6″ with winds over 175-180 MPH, none have been successful. 
Example StormsNone.  Sample candidates for category 6 storms would include Wilma (2005), Allen (1980), Camille (1968) 

Other places in the world use scales that may have different measurements and terms.  You may hear of “Cyclones” and “Super Typhoons”.  In the Atlantic (and Eastern Pacific), these would be called “Hurricanes”.  You can learn more about the scales and terms used around the world on the web