Severe weather is inevitable. It’s important to know the facts about hurricanes — that way, you can make informed decisions to protect your family before, during, and after the storm.
Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions surrounding hurricanes because there’s widespread misinformation on the topic.
Read on for the top ten myths about hurricanes — and the truth behind them. For more details on hurricanes and other natural disasters, read our article on natural disaster facts.
Myth #10: Hurricanes only happen in coastal areas
While the drama of a hurricane crashing onto the coast makes compelling news, effects like flooding, tornadoes, and winds occur deep inland. Hurricanes often spawn tornadoes, which can be highly destructive. Inland rivers flood from heavy rains, sometimes 100+ miles away. Only coastal areas feel the storm surge — but flooding and wind threats extend far from the beach.
Myth #9: The storm surge is the deadliest part
The image of a wall of water hitting the coast sticks in people’s minds as a hurricane’s biggest threat — but storm surges mainly affect coastal areas, while inland flooding can affect a significantly larger region. Just because you don’t live near a beach, your safety is not guaranteed.
Storm surge refers to the rapid rise in sea level as a hurricane’s center moves onshore. The low air pressure and high winds push ocean water onto the coast, creating a devastating wave of water up to 30 feet high in the most severe storms. Storm surge causes extensive damage to coastal structures and communities. Farther inland, river and stream flooding sparked by heavy rains claims more victims who try to drive or walk through moving water.
Myth #8: High-rise upper floors are safe
So-called “vertical evacuation” to a high-rise’s upper floors seems logical but contains hidden dangers. At higher elevations, wind speeds increase drastically and can shatter windows and rip off siding. Rising floodwaters below can also destabilize the building’s structure. Rescue is extremely difficult, if not impossible, from upper levels during a storm.
Myth #7: Open windows to equalize pressure
Contrary to myth, opening windows before a hurricane is extremely dangerous. It allows higher speed winds inside the home which can blow out walls and cause interior damage. Closed windows provide critical reinforcement against wind pressures. The minor benefit in older homes from equalizing indoor and outdoor pressure does not outweigh the risks. Keep windows shuttered and secure throughout the storm.
Myth #6: Underground shelters and basements are safe
Underground spaces seem like a logical shelter from high winds but can turn deadly in a hurricane. Heavy flooding collapses walls, fills confined areas with water and debris, and makes rescue impossible when structural integrity fails. Shelter on the lowest floor possible, but avoid all underground spaces unless engineered to handle immense groundwater pressure.
Myth #5: Lakes and rivers are safe from storm surge
While coastal regions bear the initial brunt, inland waterways flood significantly as well. Rainwater flows into lakes and rivers while backflow swells upstream rivers at inlets. Breached dams and levees overwhelm surrounding communities. Just being away from the ocean does not preclude flooding threats.
An atmospheric river storm refers to a long, narrow corridor of extreme moisture transport that can unleash hurricane-level rainfall over an area, leading to catastrophic flooding. Though not technically a hurricane, an atmospheric river can match the destruction and flooding potential from hurricane-related downpours. Storm surge may be an ocean phenomenon, but inland regions are still vulnerable to severe flood threats.
Myth #4: Hurricanes are the only major storm threat
Given their immense power, it’s easy to see hurricanes as the most dangerous storms — but tornado outbreaks, atmospheric river storms, blizzards, and derechos can match or exceed hurricane destructive potential through high winds, intense rain, and flooding. Never underestimate the risk of any approaching severe weather system, no matter the season.
Tornado outbreaks pack dozens of violent, unpredictable tornadoes that can level entire communities. A blizzard generates hurricane-force winds while immobilizing regions with heavy snow. Derechos feature wind gusts over 100 mph that topple trees and power lines for hundreds of miles. While hurricanes get the headlines, these extreme weather events can be just as devastating. Assessing total risk requires considering all possible storm threats in your area, not just hurricanes.
The video below captures a massive tornado tearing through a rural area:
Myth #3: Hurricanes are becoming more frequent
Recent major hurricanes make it seem like these storms are multiplying, but the long-term data shows occurrence has stayed relatively steady over the past century. Higher population densities mean more people impacted today per storm, but the overall number is not increasing, according to NOAA statistics.
Myth #2: Hurricanes can be precisely forecasted
Modern forecasting has certainly improved, but factors like wind shear and sea temperatures make hurricane paths and intensities inherently chaotic. Margins of error still average 100 miles in tracking three days out, with the potential for greater deviations.
Rapid intensification and precipitation forecasts contain even more uncertainty. Expect some unpredictability, despite advanced technology.
Myth #1: Home insurance covers hurricane damage
Given their immense power, it’s understandable to expect insurance policies to make you whole after a hurricane. However, major gaps exist in standard coverage, including percentage-based deductibles, uncovered flooding, property caps, and damage exclusions.
Don’t rely solely on insurance reimbursement — personally prepare financially as if you’ll primarily depend on savings for recovery.
So, Is Riding Out a Hurricane Ever a Good Idea?
Evacuating should always be the top choice when possible. Sheltering in place is a reasonable last resort only if you live in sturdy construction away from vulnerable areas, and the forecast calls for relatively minor local impacts without time to evacuate. Otherwise, underestimating the unpredictability of an approaching hurricane can prove deadly. Evacuate out of its path whenever you can.
FAQs About Hurricane Safety
How far inland do hurricane effects reach?
Hurricane impacts like flooding rainfall, tornadoes, and strong winds can extend 500+ miles inland, not just at the coast. Never assume being away from the beach guarantees your safety.
What category of hurricane should I evacuate for?
Evacuate for any Category 2 or stronger hurricane forecast in your area. Also, consider total rainfall and storm surge potential, not just wind speeds, when deciding if it’s safe to stay.
Where should I evacuate to?
Choose destinations at least 50 to 100 miles inland on high ground outside flood zones. Avoid crowded highways and have backup destinations planned in advance.
When is the best time to evacuate?
Leave immediately when mandatory orders are given to avoid traffic jams. Arrive at your destination before tropical storm winds start — at least 12 hours ahead of time.
How do I prepare my home for a hurricane?
Take time before hurricane season to harden your home by stocking supplies, clearing yards, installing storm shutters, reinforcing garage doors, and pruning trees. Steps like these help minimize damage.
Can hurricanes form outside of the Atlantic hurricane season?
While peak season is June through November, tropical storms can still develop if conditions are right, even as early as March or as late as January historically.