Hurricane season is June 1 - November 30. Plan Now.
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Listen - Hurricane/Flooding Preparedness - 30 seconds .mp3 [842 kb]
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What is a hurricane?
A hurricane is a severe tropical storm that forms in the southern Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico or eastern Pacific Ocean. To form, hurricanes need warm tropical oceans, moisture and light winds. They gather heat and energy from the warm waters. Evaporation from seawater increases their power.
Hurricanes rotate in a counterclockwise direction around an "eye." They have winds at least 75 mph. When they come onto land, they can bring heavy rain, strong winds and floods, and can damage buildings, trees and cars. They also produce heavy waves called storm surge. Storm surges are very dangerous and a major reason why people must stay away from the ocean during a hurricane warning.
Download the Virginia Hurricane Guide [5 mb .pdf]
Hurricanes need not make landfall or move directly across Virginia to cause great damage. The eye of Hurricane Gloria in September 1985 passed 45 miles east of Cape Henry. She was a category 3 hurricane with wind gusts to 104 mph. Damage to eastern Virginia was $5.5 million. The fastest wind ever recorded in Virginia was 134 mph from a hurricane in September 1944 at Cape Henry. Winds gusted up to 150 mph, though the storm stayed just offshore.
Fast-moving inland storms such as Hurricane Hazel in October 1954 maintained hurricane force winds after making landfall. Winds gusted to 130 mph in Hampton and 100 mph in Richmond and Fairfax. Virginia lost 13 people, and statewide damage was conservatively estimated at $15 million.
Eye: The eye is the calm center of a hurricane. Don't be fooled if wind and rain stop during a hurricane. You may just be in the eye of the storm. Listen to the radio to find out when the storm has really passed.
Floods: More people are killed by freshwater floods during a hurricane than by any other hazard. Never play in floodwater.
Watch – The danger of inland flooding from hurricanes: video from the National Weather Service
Classification: Hurricanes are classified into five categories, based on wind speed and potential to cause damage:
- Category One – Winds 74-95 mph
- Category Two – Winds 96-110 mph
- Category Three – Winds 111-129 mph
- Category Four – Winds 130-156 mph
- Category Five – Winds greater than 157 mph
Evacuation order: This is the most important instruction people affected by hurricanes will receive. If issued, leave immediately.
Watches and Warnings
Learn the terms that are used to identify a hurricane.
Beginning 1 June, the following new NWS watch/warning definitions will go into effect:
- Hurricane/Typhoon Warning: An announcement that sustained winds of 64 knots (74 mph or 119 km/hr) or higher are expected somewhere within the specified area in association with a tropical, subtropical, or post-tropical cyclone. Because hurricane preparedness activities become difficult once winds reach tropical storm force, the warning is issued 36 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical-storm-force winds (24 hours for the Western North Pacific). The warning can remain in effect when dangerously high water or a combination of dangerously high water and waves continue, even though winds may be less than hurricane force.
- Hurricane Watch: An announcement that sustained winds of 64 knots (74 mph or 119 km/hr) or higher are possible within the specified area in association with a tropical, subtropical, or post-tropical cyclone. Because hurricane preparedness activities become difficult once winds reach tropical storm force, the hurricane watch is issued 48 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical storm force winds.
- Tropical Storm Warning: An announcement that sustained winds of 34 to 63 knots (39 to 73 mph or 63 to 118 km/hr) are expected somewhere within the specified area within 36 hours (24 hours for the Western North Pacific) in association with a tropical, subtropical, or post-tropical cyclone.
- Tropical Storm Watch: An announcement that sustained winds of 34 to 63 knots (39 to 73 mph or 63 to 118 km/hr) are possible within the specified area within 48 hours in association with a tropical, subtropical, or post-tropical cyclone