Friday Conversation: Trying To Reason With Hurricane Season

Hurricane Joaquin has come and gone, the Bahamas and South Carolina are the worse for it, and now hurricanes are off most people’s radar, so to speak, until the next one comes along.

However, Sam Champion would prefer that you keep them on your radar a little bit longer — all the time, in fact, if you live in hurricane country or are headed to a hurricane-prone destination. The Weather Channel’s managing editor and host of AMHQ is passionate about weather, and especially passionate about hurricane safety.

With hurricane season showing no signs of abating, we spoke to Champion and TWC Weather Producer Kathryn Prociv about hurricanes, hurricane safety, and what to do if you find yourself in the middle of a killer storm.

Sam Champion, on the go — as usual. (Photo credit: The Weather Channel.)

BHTP: So how long does hurricane season usually last? When is the unofficial start and end?

Sam: Hurricane season would be from June to November. The funny thing is, though, that things have really been juiced up in the past 15-18 years. There are so many storms that happen outside of that June-to-November mark. So truly, we can have them before and we can have them after – and we do.

Kathryn: You can actually get a tropical system, a tropical storm, or even a hurricane in any month of the year. We’ve seen winter tropical systems and wintertime hurricanes. Hurricane Sandy – Superstorm Sandy — is a great example.

Sam: Remember that a lot of these seasons — spring or summer or tropical season — are based on statistical averages that generations before us have calculated and handed to us. As we look at some seasons lengthening and some seasons shortening, and having weather like a year-around threat of tornadoes or a year-round threat of hurricane systems, I don’t want people to take their foot off the pedal. I want them to pay attention to the world around them.

BHTP: So is a Category 1 storm these days what a Category 1 storm was, say, 10 years ago?

Sam: The [category] scale remains the same since it was put out. It’s basically a wind-category measurement. A Category 1 starts at 74 miles an hour and goes to 95. A Category 2 starts at 96 and goes to 110. Category 3 starts at 111 and goes to 130. Category 4 is when the sustained winds reach from 131 to 155. And then a Cat 5, which is the highest we measure right now, is anything greater than 155 miles an hour. But again, that’s just wind.

Kathryn: It’s just wind, and like Sam said, wind is only one facet of a hurricane. Storm surge can be the most damaging and most devastating –

Sam: And most deadly.

Kathryn: And most deadly, because it’s water.

BHTP: So what precautions should travelers take if they’re planning a Caribbean cruise in the height of hurricane season?

Sam: Your general wisdom should be, “Hey, Bob! Hey, Carol! Don’t book that cruise during the peak of the hurricane season!” But it all depends on the season. For many people, this year might have been okay. The Caribbean was in a drought. So you always have to monitor the pattern that you’re in that year at that moment — and if you’re a smart traveler, and you’re paying attention to what kind of hurricane season you have, you may be able to scoop up a bargain.

“No two storms are alike.” — TWC Weather Producer Kathryn Prociv. (Photo credit: The Weather Channel.)

Kathryn: My very best friend got married last year and she said, “Okay, Kathryn, I need a forecast for St. Thomas for September 18th, because that’s where we’re going for our honeymoon.” I said, “You booked your honeymoon in the Caribbean in the height of hurricane season?” Now she ended up being okay, but her week in St. Thomas was inbetween two hurricanes, and I was like, “Erin, your best friend is a meteorologist, and you didn’t ask her first?” Like Sam said, awareness is key, especially if you’re booking a big trip in a part of the world you’re not familiar with. It’s a good idea to look at what kind of weather there might be at certain times of the year.

BHTP: If you can’t say no to those awesome travel deals, and you find yourself in the middle of a hurricane, what should you do?

Sam: There’s a huge difference between finding yourself in water in a hurricane and on land in a hurricane. And here I have to be fairly congratulatory to the cruise industry. They’re very aware of where storms are, and they route their ships around them. So you don’t have your fate in your own hands when you’re on a cruise ship. They’re working for you.

If you’re on the coastline, I want you to know how strong the building is that you’re taking safety in. I want you to know if it’s got hurricane ties around the roof structure. I want you to know if you have hurricane windows or you have regular glass. I want you to know if you’re in a building that’s just a wood-stud building, or a concrete building reinforced with rebar. And you’re saying to yourself, “Wow, Sam; this is just crazy. I don’t want to pay attention, to know these things.” But your life depends on it. Because projectiles in wind will go through a regular structured wall. They will not breach a concrete-block wall reinforced with rebar. If your windows don’t have hurricane shutters on them, that might be okay, because now we have hurricane glass that can withstand winds of a certain miles per hour. But you’ve got to know that. It really is up to you.

The other thing I want you to pay attention to – because we do, when we put millions of dollars of equipment and lives in the way of a storm – is what the tidal surge is going to be with that storm. Where will the water be in your town? And every town in coastal areas has done a study on what the floods are, and has maps of this now. So if you say, ”I want to live on the coast,” or, “I want to visit the coast and I want to spend a lot of time there,” it’s really, really up to you, to save your family’s life, to know where it’s safe to be in a storm. Know where the water will be. Know what the winds are. Know what you’re protected by. And you know what? If you don’t want to do that work, if that’s just too much work, then get the heck out of there, and don’t try to be a smart-butt and stay in place when there’s a storm coming.

I’m saying this in a difficult way for a reason. There are ways to stay safe in a storm, but you have to work for it. You have to know what’s protecting you. You have to know what the storm is like. And honestly, I want to tell you something that will make a big difference in your life: If that’s too much work and you don’t have that information, evacuate when they tell you to evacuate.

Joaquin 2
The tools to accurately identify and predict hurricanes have become much more sophisticated over the years.

It’s very personal to me, because we see these families and we see these communities once a storm has moved through, and invariably, you will talk to people who will say, “Look, I’d seen a storm, I’d seen Hazel come through here, and this house was fine in Hazel, so we decided to stay.” Well, you weren’t paying attention to this storm, because this storm moved in a different way from Hazel. The wave heights were different. The wind strengths were different. And if you want to do your homework and make the decision to stay, I really can’t argue with you. You have the right to do that. That’s free choice, free will. But if you don’t do the homework, it’s not very bright.

Kathryn: And that’s the thing: No two storms are alike. Every single storm has a different face to it, with different winds, different behavior, and as meteorologists Sam and I are the first people to admit that we still don’t know everything about weather. So step one is respecting it and understanding the forces of nature. Don’t be complacent; listen to those who have been through it, who have experience, and if they’ve giving you a warning it’s best to listen to it and get yourself, and your loved ones, out of harm’s way.

Sam: I will tell you right off: If someone says evacuate, just evacuate. They’re saying it for a reason. That reason may be that you’ll be fine, you’ll survive the storm, but they couldn’t get someone in to give you food and water. It could be that if you stay there and need to be rescued or you need help, that you’re putting someone else’s life in danger because they have to come and get you. Don’t be selfish; don’t be silly. If someone walks up to you and says, “Evacuate,” evacuate.

Editor’s Note: To hear the full interview with Sam Champion and Kathryn Prociv, check out the debut installment of the “BHTP Connections Podcast,” coming later this month, In the meantime, don’t forget to protect all your #RisksWorthTaking with BHTP. Start here.


Author: Kit Kiefer

As content engineer for Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, I have one of the world's great jobs. Not only do I get to write about travel, but I get to edit the work of fantastically talented contributors from around the world. Plus I get all the maple syrup I can drink.