A hurricane is a powerful rotating tropical storm with violent winds that sometimes blow up to 200 miles per hour. According to NASA, a hurricane is any storm that produces winds of at least 74 mph (119 km/h). Although these storms have been recorded at different times, "Hurricane Season" is usually between June 1 and November 30. The National Ocean Service operates a National Hurricane Center responsible for predicting and tracking storms as they build up into hurricanes. Outside the US, a hurricane is called a typhoon or a cyclone, depending on its location.
Mississippi is one of the most hurricane-prone states in the US. The state has suffered a few hurricanes and lost hundreds of millions of dollars to the resulting damage. Since hurricanes are very likely in the state, residents must understand these storms, how they form, how to stay safe during one, and the best course of action after a hurricane subsides.
Hurricanes typically form in or around warm tropical waters in the Atlantic Basin. The basin includes the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, the eastern North Pacific Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the central North Pacific Ocean. Generally, hurricane formation goes through four stages:
Tropical Disturbance: Hurricanes begin from a tropical disturbance in the atmosphere. When thunderstorms build, and the surface water temperature rises to 79 degrees Fahrenheit, the resulting water vapor forms clouds that eventually become thunderstorms with winds of up to 23 mph. The potential for hurricane formation increases when tropical disturbances maintain the minimum temperature and speed for over 24 hours.
Tropical Depression: A tropical depression is a worsened tropical disturbance. At this stage, the winds begin to circulate at the center of the storm, and wind speed moves up to 38 mph. The bands of the thunderstorm that form at the tropical disturbance stage become more organized and converge at the center (this convergence eventually forms the eye of the hurricane). The storm continues to draw energy from warm ocean waters and maintain its structure until it becomes a tropical storm.
Tropical Storm: A tropical storm is the third stage of hurricane development, with wind speeds that may rise to 73 mph. Tropical storms closely resemble hurricanes: complete with a small eye, an eyewall, and outer rainbands. Despite these features, tropical storms are smaller than hurricanes and are not as powerful. Although milder, a tropical storm can still cause severe damage from heavy rainfall and severe flooding.
Hurricane: A hurricane is the final stage, where the eye of the storm completely forms. Hurricanes have wind speeds of at least 74 mph and are very chaotic and destructive when they make landfall. A mature hurricane will have spiral rain bands that rotate around the eye of the storm.
Hurricanes can become stronger very quickly, especially if there is a steady supply of energy from warm ocean waters, reaching wind speeds faster than 157 mph in some cases.
There are three main parts of a hurricane. They are the eye, eyewall, and rain bands.
Eye: The eye of a hurricane is the center of the storm. It is essentially the hurricane's hole and comprises calm winds and partly cloudy or clear skies. Sometimes, the eye's calmness makes people believe the storm is over.
Eye Wall: This part is a ring of thunderstorms and dense clouds spinning around the eye. It also has the strongest winds and rain.
Rain Bands: The rain bands are the outermost parts of the hurricane. These parts also have heavy rains and winds, although not as strong as in the eye wall. Rain bands typically stretch for hundreds of miles and may also contain tornadoes.
There are 5 categories of hurricanes based on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale:
Category 1 is the least severe of the 5, but it is still very dangerous. Winds at this speed range can cause severe damage to manufactured homes and snap branches of large trees. A Category 1 hurricane is strong enough to break trees with shallow roots and can cause prolonged outages by damaging power lines. An example was Hurricane Nate in 2017, which made landfall near the Mississippi River with winds up to 85 mph.
Category 2 hurricanes have winds strong enough to uproot or snap most shallow-rooted trees and damage buildings. As such, areas that experience Category 2 hurricanes will suffer more damage than Category 1. Typically, affected areas suffer power outages that last days and even weeks in severe cases. For instance, Hurricane Ian was a Category 2 hurricane when it hit Florida in 2004—before it eventually worsened to a Category 4 Hurricane.
Category 3 hurricanes are very destructive and may remove the roof decking of framed homes. Usually, winds from hurricanes of this category snap or uproot trees. The resulting debris and flood can also block roads, cutting off access to escape or help routes. Furthermore, areas affected also experience power and water outages for days to weeks. All hurricanes that are at least Category 3 are called "Major Hurricanes." Hurricane Elena was a Category 3 hurricane that made landfall near Biloxi with winds up to 125 mph and caused damages worth $1 billion.
According to the National Hurricane Center, a Category 4 hurricane will cause catastrophic damage if it makes landfall. The winds from these hurricanes are strong enough to damage the walls and roofing of well-constructed homes and destroy public infrastructure. Communities hit by Category 4 hurricanes can remain uninhabitable for several weeks or even months.
In 1998, Hurricane Georges made a second landfall near Biloxi, with a recorded speed of 155 mph. According to disaster reports, the hurricane displaced over 6,500 residents and left over 230,000 residents without power. Damage from the hurricane was also estimated at over $1.2 billion in 2022 dollars.
Category 5 is the most devastating of all categories of hurricanes, with lasting effects that include flooding, as well as water and power outages. The structural damage to homes and public amenities is also catastrophic. Generally, areas affected by Category 5 hurricanes are uninhabitable for long periods, as with other Major Hurricanes.
However, unlike other Major Hurricanes, Category 5 hurricanes are quite rare. The last one in the US was Hurricane Michael, which made landfall in Florida in 2018, and Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
Names are only assigned when a tropical depression becomes a tropical storm. These names help to track the storms and will remain if the storm becomes a hurricane. There are names assigned yearly in alphabetical order from a list of names reused every six years. For instance, the 2022 list includes names such as Alex, Bonnie, Colin, Danielle, Earl, and Fiona, and they will be reused in 2028.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) committee chooses the names following a strict selection procedure. The WMO only changes the list or retires a name if a hurricane causes so much damage that reusing the name would be insensitive.
Hurricanes are especially disastrous when they make landfall. Although communities closer to the coastline typically have it worse, hurricanes that make landfall and travel inland also cause catastrophic damage on the mainland. One such hurricane was Hurricane Camille.
The hurricane made landfall along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and traveled inland to Stone and George Counties. Communities along the coastline, southeast Mississippi, Dauphin Island, the Alabama coastline, and the Mobile metro area sustained the most damage, but Stone and George counties also reported damage due to flooding.
Regardless of location, the impact of hurricanes worsens with storm surges, rip currents, and tornadoes.
Of all the typical characteristics of hurricanes, storm surges may be the most devastating. A storm surge is an unusual rise in sea level caused by a hurricane or other storms. A hurricane moving from the sea towards a coast could cause a storm surge that raises the sea level up to 30 feet (9 meters). As the water rises and hits land, it submerges most areas, especially since it does not recede into the sea. For example, storm surges from Hurricane Camille reached 25 feet after the hurricane made landfall near Waveland, Mississippi.
Storm surges also come with heavy waves that are strong enough to destroy roads, houses, and crop fields. Although a storm surge only lasts a few hours, it can do extensive and long-lasting damage. Weather scientists forecast the severity of a storm surge by considering wind speed, distance traveled, and the shapes of the ocean floor and the coast.
A rip current is a water current that forms when water travels from the shoreline back into the sea. Rip currents usually move at about 1 or 2 feet per second. However, it is possible to have a rip current traveling 8 feet per second.
A tornado is a narrow and violent rotation of air that stretches to the ground from a thunderstorm. While they sometimes accompany hurricanes, tornadoes can occur at any time of the year. Some of the most violent tornadoes hit speeds up to 300mph and can send cars airborne. According to the National Severe Storms Laboratory, about 1,200 tornadoes form in the US every year.
Mississippi is located in the Southeastern part of the United States, bordered by the Gulf of Mexico to the south. According to the Census Bureau, Mississippi had a population of 2.9 million living in 46,923.96 square miles as of April 2021.
Data on hurricanes between 1851 and 2018 show that Mississippi is the 8th most-prone state, with 19 hurricanes. Of this number, 8 were major hurricanes—between Categories 3 and 5. The following is a list of notable hurricanes that have hit Mississippi since Hurricane Camille:
|Year||Name||Category||Wind Speed||Affected Areas||Damage ($)|
|2019||Hurricane Barry||Category 1||75 mph||Landfall in Louisiana, heavy flooding and rainfall in the Mississippi Valley||$600 million|
|2017||Hurricane Nate||Category 1||85 mph||Landfall near Mississippi River, second landfall west of Biloxi||$787 million|
|2005||Hurricane Katrina||Category 3 at Landfall. Worsened to Category 5||175 mph||Landfall in Florida, second landfall in Southeast Louisiana and along the Mississippi Coast near Hancock County||$125 billion|
|1998||Hurricane Georges||Category 4||155 mph||Landfall in Florida, second landfall near Biloxi||$13.9 billion|
|1985||Hurricane Elena||Category 3||125 mph||Landfall near Biloxi||$1 billion|
|1979||Hurricane Frederic||Category 4||130 mph||Landfall near Mississippi-Alabama border at Dauphin Island||$1.77 billion|
|1969||Hurricane Camille||Category 5||175 mph||Landfall near Waveland||$950 million in Mississippi|
There are several ways to prepare for a confirmed hurricane in Mississippi. Preparedness includes paying attention to warnings and alerts, packing an emergency kit, sheltering in place, or evacuating when necessary.
The Integrated Public Alert & Warning System (IPAWS) is the nationwide system responsible for hurricane alerts. Provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), IPAWS sends Wireless Emergency Alerts to mobile phones and also transmits these warnings to radio, television, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Weather Radio.
At the state level, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) has an Office of Response responsible for issuing warnings and alerts and organizing response efforts. In addition to MEMA, the National Weather Service (NWS) also issues alerts and publishes hurricane forecasts. The NWS maintains a Mississippi Forecast Listing with specific alerts for all counties in the state.
The MEMA has a public disaster guide with recommended hurricane preparedness and management options. These steps broadly vary depending on the individual and their lifestyle. For instance, single-person families might require fewer steps than larger families. In addition, people with pets, vehicles, or both must consider them while preparing for a hurricane.
In any way, everyone must start by planning ahead. Residents may write down emergency phone contacts and place them in accessible places around the home in addition to saving these numbers in cell phones. There should also be well-curated emergency supply kits with enough supplies to last at least three days. Families may consider multiple emergency supply kits, one for each member. According to the CDC, an emergency supply kit should include the following:
Power sources, including travel chargers and flashlights with extra batteries
Personal and safety items
Food and water supply (non-perishable)
Important documents, such as passports, personal identification, wills, and medical documents
A fire extinguisher.
Residents with pets must have plans that include a supply kit with food and water, treats, litter boxes, poop bags, paper towels, veterinary records, and up to 2 months' supply of pet medications, as these sometimes become difficult to find when the storm eases. Pet owners can also consider microchipping, a minor procedure that implants a tiny chip under the pet's skin. Scanning the chip reveals an identification number included in a national database that helps the office contact the owner in case of a separation.
Likewise, boat owners should consider storing the boat out of the water if possible. Where hauling is not an option, owners must confirm that all pilings, lines, and attachments designed to hold the boat in place are as sturdy as possible and can withstand the wind. In addition, no one should be onboard a boat during a hurricane.
Residents must ensure that all vehicles are ready before the storm hits. It is recommended that the car should have a full gas tank with a car emergency kit that includes several items, such as jumper cables, flares, blankets, and maps. If the alert specifies an evacuation, residents should drive out immediately. Anyone without a car may plan with a neighbor or friend for easy movement. Mississippi residents should follow official car safety guidelines to prepare for a hurricane.
It is important to keep personal financial information somewhere easily accessible. If something goes wrong, it will help to quickly reach this information to access funds or other financial assistance. In addition, residents should keep some cash at hand for food and other necessary items. It is best to assume that card services or ATMs may be temporarily unusable during or shortly after a storm.
Disaster insurance is also advisable. While typical homeowners insurance covers some damage to the home, exhaustive preparation for natural disasters requires additional policies. Typically, home insurance covers damage caused by lightning, wind, hail, and fire. To be better prepared, homeowners may contact their insurance companies for additional insurance plans that cater specifically to storms (hurricanes and tornadoes), earthquakes, landslides, and flooding.
Local officials may issue a voluntary or mandatory evacuation alert for hurricane safety, depending on severity. If the evacuation notice is voluntary, residents may leave a potentially dangerous area based on their discretion. Although leaving is recommended because of a likely threat, most services are still available, and there may be no severe consequences to staying put.
On the other hand, a mandatory evacuation is a serious warning in response to an imminent threat to life and property. When officials issue a mandatory evacuation, residents must immediately move to another area to avoid further impacts of the expected storm. While residents who do not move are unlikely to be forcefully removed or arrested, anyone ignoring a mandatory evacuation alert must take full responsibility for their safety. People should also remember that police, medical, fire, and first-responder services are usually unavailable.
Whether or not the alert is for a voluntary or mandatory evacuation, the following tips help to survive the storm:
Stay up-to-date with alerts from authorities.
Use a battery-powered radio to listen for local evacuation instructions. Residents should not rely on smartphones as cell or internet services may become unreliable.
Find the closest open shelter. People fleeing potentially dangerous areas must reduce travel time to the barest minimum possible.
Leave immediately to avoid getting trapped in heavy traffic or turbulent weather.
Inform friends and family about potential destinations.
Only use routes specified by authorities. Shortcuts may be blocked or unsafe.
Ensuring personal and family safety during a storm is as crucial as preparing before the hurricane. For starters, concerned residents must pay attention to alerts and warnings and find the closest hurricane shelter before the storm hits in case officials issue an evacuation order.
Authorities include sheltering orders to hurricane alerts. Typically, officials order residents to either shelter in place or evacuate. A shelter-in-place order means that residents can find a safe part of their home and stay there until further notice. It is advisable to remain indoors and stay somewhere without windows. If impossible, residents should be as far away from the window as possible.
If the order is to evacuate instead of sheltering-in-place, everyone must leave their homes with the emergency supply kits and travel to the closest local shelter, only using approved evacuation routes. Remember to only move with essentials contained in an emergency travel kit. Residents may call MEMA at (601) 933-MEMA (6362) or the 24-hour emergency line at 1-800-222-MEMA(6362) to find the closest designated shelter. Alternatively, residents may also use MEMA's Statewide Safe Room Map.
Although the worst is over after a hurricane, residents must be extremely cautious. The following are tips required to stay safe immediately after a hurricane:
Residents who leave home to a shelter or an unaffected area should not remain home after the hurricane until officials say so.
On the way home, only use routes approved by officials. Avoid all flooded areas or bridges affected by the storm.
Once home, first, inspect the surroundings to assess the damage. There may be structural damage to the building, broken power lines, or gas leaks.
If power lines are affected, ensure that all appliances and outlets are off until further notice. If there is a gas leak, especially if it smells, do not enter the building before getting a professional damage assessment.
If using an electrical device is inevitable, ensure that it is not wet.
Do not light fires or use candles. Rely on battery-powered flashlights.
After contact with floodwater, all persons should wash their hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based sanitizer.
Beware of carbon monoxide poisoning. Do not use charcoal grills, generators, or camp stoves inside the building.
Stay away from damaged buildings until declared safe, as the buildings could be weak.
Drink and eat only safe water and food. Discard all edibles not properly refrigerated, even if they look or smell normal. Do not drink tap water until further notice.
Immediately treat wounds and cuts to prevent infections.
Emotional and mental health is important. Stay connected with friends, family, and neighbors to help process emotions.
Lend a helping hand to neighbors, especially senior citizens and people living with disabilities. However, do not go far from home.
Keep listening to alerts and orders from local authorities.
Once safety is guaranteed, residents must take several other important steps. The first few days after a storm subsides are usually tough as people try to recover. After confirming primary safety, the following are a few points Mississippi residents should consider:
Expect extended power outages. A hurricane may damage power lines and other essential infrastructure.
After assessing the damage done to the home, consider returning to a shelter or finding somewhere else to stay if the damage is extensive. This may be more important for people with kids, pets, elderly family members, or persons with special needs.
Beware of scammers. Fake, unlicensed, or dubious people pose as government representatives or repairers to take advantage of general vulnerability after a hurricane. Ensure to verify everyone before parting with money or giving up sensitive information.
Beware of stray animals. Wild animals may wander into town, especially since hurricanes also damage their shelters.
Ensure to properly dispose of waste or debris.
Where there is an active disaster insurance policy, take many pictures and videos to help with insurance claims.