15 dangerous hurricane myths and the truth behind them

August 6, 2021

Learn the truth behind these dangerous hurricane myths

A view of a hurricane from space

With storms brewing in the Atlantic, hurricane season is ramping up. As we watch the weather and the monitor the National Hurricane Center, we hope that these storms keep to themselves in the Atlantic. However, sooner or later, the next hurricane will barrel forward towards the Gulf of Mexico with the Texas coastline in its sights. 

When that time comes, there will inevitably be a surge of hurricane-related information on the news and in your social media feeds and unfortunately, not all of it will be accurate. While good information can help save lives, myths and misunderstandings can be dangerous. 

Fortunately, the answer to misinformation is better information. That's why today, we'll help you sort through it all as we take a look at 15 dangerous hurricane myths and the truth behind them. Read on! 

1. You don't have to worry about category 1 hurricanes

The myth: If a storm is only a tropical storm or a category 1 hurricane, it isn't dangerous and you don't need to consider evacuating or prepare. 

The truth: Tropical storms and hurricane categories are based on a hurricane's maximum sustained wind speed. A tropical storm is classified as a storm with winds ranging from 39-73 mph, and a category 1 hurricane can have winds from 74-95 mph. Needless to say, even the winds from a tropical storm can produce seriously damaging winds, and a category 1 hurricane is even worse. 

According to NOAA, the winds from a category 1 hurricane may cause damage to roof shingles, vinyl siding, and gutters and may break large branches off of trees. Power lines may also be toppled, resulting in power outages that could last days. 

Wind speed is the only measurement considered in these classifications. In other words, it does not take into consideration the amount of rain, storm surge, and possible tornadoes. So, just because a named storm is considered a tropical storm or has a low hurricane rating does not mean that you should dismiss the danger. All named storms are perfectly capable of inflicting serious damage to homes and communities that lay in their path. 

2. Only coastal communities are at risk

The mythOnly homes and communities on the coast need to be worried when a hurricane is approaching. People living further inland are safe. 

The truthHurricanes are some of, if not the largest weather phenomenon on the planet. Some hurricanes can create strong winds within an area with a 1,000 mile diameter. Although they lose power when they make landfall, they can still bring incredible destruction with them, reaching hundreds of miles inland. 

Additionally, the turbulent nature of a hurricane can spawn other destructive weather events, such as tornadoes, many miles away from the coast. 

3. Flooding only happens on the coast

The myth: Storm surges and flooding from a hurricane only impact homes on or next to the coast. 

The truthStorm surges can travel tens of miles inland, and rains from the hurricane itself can cause flooding hundreds of miles away from the coast. In fact, in 2015, Tropical Storm Bill caused major flooding in the central part of the country - hundreds of miles away from any coastline.

Whether you live 5 or 500 miles away from the coast, it's important to stay tuned to weather broadcasts and alerts when a tropical storm or hurricane is inbound. 

4. Taping windows

The myth: Taping an "X" over your windows will prevent them from breaking during a hurricane. 

The truthThis is an often repeated, but nonetheless false myth. The truth is that taping your windows doesn't prevent them from breaking, no matter the shape. If you live in an area that regularly faces the threat of hurricanes, it is best to install storm shutters over glass windows and doors. 

If you don't have storm shutters, you can provide some protection by nailing plywood or OSB planks in front of windows, assuming you have time to act before the storm hits. 

5. Opening a window or door can relieve pressure within your home

The myth: During a hurricane, dangerous pressure can build within our home that can potentially cause catastrophic structural failure. You can relieve this pressure by opening a window or door. 

The truthThis idea is incorrect on a number of different levels. For starters, no house is sealed well enough for pressure to build to the point of becoming dangerous. Furthermore, opening a door or window during a hurricane is never a good idea. Not only does this allow rain inside, the wind can easily blow dangerous debris through the opening, or cause damage all on its own. 

It's worth noting that this myth began as a possible way to minimize damage from a tornado (for similar reasons), and was assumed to be correct until proof to the contrary was discovered following the 1974 Wichita Falls tornado.

6. Only reinforce windows and doors facing the coast

The mythBecause hurricanes travel inland from the coast, you only need to reinforce the doors and windows facing that direction. 

The truthHurricanes are huge and the wind fields they create are vast. Although there may be a moment when only one side of your house is experiencing those winds, it is sure to be a short one. When a hurricane is overhead, every door and window will eventually face the wind and everything that is blowing with it. For this reason, prepare your home for a hurricane by reinforcing every opening you can.

7. If it is clear outside, you're safe

The mythIf you look outside and the sky is clear and the winds are calm, the hurricane has passed and you are safe. 

The truthAs you may know, hurricanes are massive storms with a clear, calm space in the center known as the eye. The eye of a hurricane can be huge, spanning 20-40 miles, so it is possible that the calm you are experiencing isn't the calm after the storm, but the calm in the very center of it. 

Unfortunately, this means that a calm sky doesn't always signify that the worst has passed. In fact, some of the most severe winds - the winds of the eye wall - could be inbound, followed by the second half of the storm. If you are sheltering in place during a hurricane, make sure to stay tuned to emergency broadcasts to keep track of the storm's location relative to yours. Should you find yourself in a more or less sudden calm, don't let your guard down just yet and be prepared to take shelter again. 

8. The top story of a house or building is the safest place to be

The myth: The safest place to take shelter during a hurricane is the top story of a building.

The truth: The truth here is difficult, because the best course of action, or the best place to shelter in place depends on the conditions around you. If you're experiencing high winds but your home hasn't begun to flood, it is recommended that you take shelter in an interior room on the lowest possible floor of a building away from windows and doors. This is because the higher off the ground you are, the higher the wind speeds become. On the other hand, if you're only experiencing flooding, the safest place may indeed be the highest floor of your building.

Of course, this presents a challenging situation if you are faced with both high winds and rising flood waters; you can't very well shelter on the lowest level of your home if it is filled with water. However, if you have to move to a higher story to avoid water, do your best to stay away from exterior walls and windows. If you are sheltering in a room, be mindful of your possible escape routes so that you don't become trapped by the rising water. 

Being in a flooding house with hurricane winds outside is an incredibly dangerous situation and there may not be an optimal solution; there are significant hazards in all directions. The truth is that there is no safe place to be during a hurricane - except somewhere far away from the storm. That's why it's so important to stay informed by listening to emergency broadcasts so that you can evacuate long before this potential scenario can occur.

9. Winds are the deadliest part of hurricane

The myth: Strong winds are the most dangerous part of a hurricane, and are responsible for the greatest number of casualties. 

The truthWhile the winds from a hurricane are certainly damaging and dangerous, it is actually the flooding that is responsible for the greatest death toll during a hurricane, both from torrential rains and the storm surge. In the U.S., it is estimated that 88% of all tropical storm-related fatalities are a result of the water rather than the wind. 

People often underestimate the raw power of water, which can level entire buildings without the aid of the wind. Furthermore, people caught out in the flooding during and after a hurricane often underestimate the depth and force of water on flooded roads and bridges, which can have deadly consequences for those that attempt to cross. 

If the water is rising in and around your community, never attempt to walk, swim, or drive through it. The water is often filled with hazards, such as debris, sewage, and sometimes live power lines. Furthermore, flood waters during a hurricane are far from tranquil streams; they are violent, powerful, and unpredictable. A mere six inches of water can knock an adult off of their feet, and a foot of water flowing at a high enough rate can carry a vehicle away. Remember: Turn around, don't drown!

10. It's okay to wait to evacuate

The mythHurricanes move slowly, so you have plenty of time to evacuate if you wait until the storm is near the coast. 

The truthWhether or not an evacuation order has been issued, if a hurricane could potentially strike your community, it is essential to evacuate well in advance of its arrival. Although the storm surge often peaks when the storm makes landfall, it is possible for the waters to rise and flood your community hours beforehand. Additionally, evacuation routes can easily become congested to the point of shutting down completely, simply due to the volume of people trying to leave simultaneously. 

If you live in an area that could potentially be hit be a hurricane, it's important for you and your family to put together a hurricane emergency evacuation plan. Even evacuating before the storm arrives can present a number of challenges that you won't want to have to figure out in the moment. By creating a plan and practicing it with your family, you can be confident that you'll be prepared to get to safety should the worst happen.

11. It can't happen here because it hasn't happened here before

The mythHurricanes don't historically hit my area, and therefore they won't hit it in the future. 

The truthThis myth, or some variation of it, is perhaps one of the most dangerous myths out there. While it is true that storms tend to follow certain general paths, and may hit certain areas or coastlines more regularly, it does not mean that an area that has been previously unaffected is immune. 

For example, while hurricanes typically impact Florida and states states surrounding the Gulf of Mexico, they can easily hit any state along the Atlantic, from Georgia to Maine. Even within states that are most often hit, some communities may not experience the full force of a hurricane regularly, leading some people to incorrectly assume that it can't happen. The truth is, however, that all coastal states and communities on the Atlantic need to remain cautious and prepare for the worst, regardless of previous storm paths. 

12. A hurricane's wind speed indicates the damage it will do

The mythThe hurricane category system is based on wind speed, and wind speed is the best indicator of how dangerous or damaging a hurricane will be. 

The truth: Although it is true that the hurricane rating system is only based on wind speed, this can often give a false impression of the potential damage a storm can bring; the rating system does not take into consideration potential rainfall, storm surge, or the size of the storm's wind field. 

The wind field refers to the total area experiencing the hurricane-force winds. The larger the area, the worse the storm surge may be, even if the speed doesn't cause the hurricane to climb in the ratings. 

All of these factors in addition to the wind speeds should be taken into consideration when determining just how destructive a named storm will be. 

13. If I'm on the edge of the "cone," I'm safe

The mythMy home is on the outside edge of the "cone of uncertainty," so I am relatively safe from the storm. 

The truth: You may have heard the term "cone of uncertainty," which is a representation of the potential path of a hurricane. Even for experienced meteorologists, predicting the path of a storm is difficult; there are far too many variables at play to know for sure. However, they are often able to make general predictions about the path, which they illustrate using this cone. 

Unfortunately, some people assume that the center of the hurricane is situated at the center of the cone, and that the surrounding area represents the size or outer bands of the storm. This leads them to believe that the outer edge of the cone is safe, which is far from true. In actuality, the center of the storm could pass over any point within the cone. If you live anywhere close to the possible path, you should be prepared for the worst. Don't rely on the cone to determine whether or not you should evacuate, but instead listen to your local emergency management system. 

14. Leaning on a door will prevent it from blowing in

The mythWhen the wind blows against my door, leaning against it can prevent it from blowing in. 

The truthHurricane-force winds can be incredibly powerful and can easily blow open doors, windows, and garage doors. As much as we would like to be able to prevent hurricanes from blowing open our doors and ruining the inside of our house, there is little you can do to prevent it with your own body. Ultimately, you put yourself in an extremely dangerous and possibly life-threatening situation. 

Fortunately, there are structural solutions, such as hurricane doors and windows, that can be installed to give your home a better chance of resisting the force of the winds.

15. My insurance will cover all the damage from a hurricane

The mythMy home or homeowners insurance policy will cover any and all damages from a hurricane. 

The truth: Standard property insurance policies, like home or homeowners insurance, provide protection from many things, including some of the damages caused by a hurricane. For example, they can cover damage caused by the wind, or caused by objects blown by the wind such as tree limbs. They will not, however, cover flood damage, whether it comes from the storm surge or rainfall. 

Depending on your policy and the perils it covers, the property within your home's interior may be protected from rain damage if that rain was allowed in as a result of wind damage. For example, if the wind tears away a portion of your roof and rain falls through the gap, damaging your home's interior, you may be covered. 

Homeowners that live in areas where flooding is a possible threat will likely need to look into flood insurance, which is made available by the National Flood Insurance Program

It is important to speak to your insurance agent or provider to understand exactly what your policy covers and what your coverage limits are. Your agent may also be able to help you purchase flood insurance through the NFIP. 

Dangerous hurricane winds blowing palm trees

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by Geoff Ullrich

About the Author

Geoff Ullrich is a writer and Content Marketing Specialist at Germania Insurance.