Claire Connolly Knox is an associate professor in the School of Public Administration and serves as the emergency management and homeland security program director.
Her research has focused on emergency management, coastal hazards and coastal resiliency and has been recognized by Florida Emergency Preparedness Association for her dedication to improving the state’s emergency management community. She earned her doctorate in public administration from Florida State University.
In this story, Knox weighs in on four misconceptions about hurricanes and tropical storms. For her tips on how to stay safe when dangerous weather affects your community, watch the video above.
Myth 1: Winds are the deadliest aspects of hurricanes.
Most people think of wind, and it’s actually water. Eight out of 10 people who die in hurricane related deaths are actually caused by water. It’s caused by flooding, storm surge, people not evacuating the coastal areas and the waters rise faster than they were expecting. Look at Hurricane Harvey in 2017, look at the 2016 Louisiana floods — it happened almost overnight that these areas that were not in a flood-prone area actually got flooded. We also know that floods are the most costly and deadliest disasters in the United States. So taking hurricanes and tropical storms out of the equation, flooding is your most costly and deadliest disaster.
Myth 2: If sea surface temperatures are warm, the hurricane will intensify.
Warming ocean waters and the idea that leads to more intense hurricanes is one element, so it’s half right.
Yes, you need the warm waters, but you also need moist air, low air pressure, and a number of other components that go into having the perfect storm. The idea that it’s just the warm waters actually doesn’t equate to more hurricanes.
Myth 3: Taping your windows will prevent them from breaking.
A lot of people do that and it actually is not recommended at all because if you have a projectile that’s going to hit your window, it’s going to hit the window and it’s going to shatter into bigger pieces that could cause more bodily harm if it’s taped. We recommend having plywood and/or hurricane shutters.
The first death recorded for Hurricane Charley in 2004 was actually a person standing behind their sliding glass door. They had put up a film as a tape protection and a projectile came and struck them dead. So do not tape your windows.
Myth 4: It’s only a tropical storm.
Tropical storms really can pack a huge punch. A lot of times they’ll bring in a lot of moisture and they’ll stall. One story that I hear often is, “Oh it’s just a tropical storm. It’s fine. You can continue business as normal.”
In 2001, Tropical Storm Allison affected Texas and Louisiana’s coastline. At the time I was working for the federal government, and my boss told me to go to the Army Corps of Engineers in New Orleans, which was about a 2-hour drive. I said, “There’s this tropical storm off the coast, I probably shouldn’t be getting on the road for two hours.” He said, “It’s just a tropical storm.” So I drove for two hours and ended up about 10 minutes outside of New Orleans when my car started floating because the flood waters had risen so quickly. The Army Corps of Engineers sent out a boat to get me, and I got to hunker down at their property for a couple days until the waters receded.
A tropical storm needs to be taken as seriously as a hurricane.