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Q: What’s the difference between a hurricane warning and a hurricane watch?
A: A warning is more serious than a watch. A hurricane watch means a hurricane may threaten the area within 48 hours. A hurricane warning means sustained winds of 74 mph or stronger will likely strike a specific coastal area within 36 hours.
Q: Does a higher category number mean a worse storm?
A: Yes. The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane scale rates storms based upon their wind speeds. Most storms which make landfall fall within the Category 1, 2 and 3 range. Stronger storms striking North Carolina are rare, but not unknown. Hurricane Hazel, which slammed ashore on Oak Island in 1954, was a Category 4 storm. A Category 1 storm starts with winds over 74 mph. The rankings go up about every 20 mph.
Q: Is the wind speed the only thing I have to worry about with a hurricane?
A: No. In fact, storm surge and flooding often cause more problems than high winds, in part because modern building techniques often limit wind impacts. Hurricane Floyd was a weak Category 3 storm when it made landfall at Oak Island in 1999. But the heavy rains before and during the storm caused severe flooding across eastern North Carolina and into the Northeast. Damage was estimated at $4.6 billion. And, just last year, after making landfall on Oct. 8 southeast of McClellanville, S.C., as a Category 1 storm, Hurricane Matthew dumped upwards of 7 inches of rainfall an hour in eastern North Carolina, causing widespread flash flooding and record river flooding. Floodwaters devastated communities. Nearly 30 people in the state died in the wake of the storm and damage was estimated at $1.5 billion.
Q: When should we evacuate?
A: There’s no golden rule, especially with the inherently unpredictable nature of tropical systems. But officials said people should reassess the situation when a voluntary evacuation order is given and move quickly when a mandatory evacuation is ordered.
Q: What should we buy to ride out a storm?
A: The N.C. Department of Emergency Management recommends having a three-day supply of food and water per person in each household available at all times, especially during hurricane season. Other items to stock up on for any storm strike are a good supply of flashlights, batteries, extra medications, cash, full gasoline tanks for all vehicles and a radio.
Q: What should we do after a hurricane blows through?
A: If there has been a direct hit or substantial damage, officials recommend staying off the roads to facilitate cleanup and rescue efforts by emergency crews. Evacuees should also check road conditions for flooding or road closures before heading home from inland areas. Many residents who fled inland during Hurricane Floyd in 1999 were trapped away from the coast after the storm’s rains flooded hundreds of roads. Avoid driving on flooded or washed-out roads. Most beach towns and coastal counties now provide updated information about area post-storm conditions on their websites.