By Vincent Pica, Commodore, First District, Southern Region (D1SR), United States Coast Guard Auxiliary

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma caused catastrophic damage in parts of Texas, Louisiana and Florida with the latter. This is a grim reminder that we are not immune. Almost without exception, we get the tail, shoulder or rump of one or two of the dozen or so that form up in the Atlantic between Africa and the Caribbean and bring so much destruction and misery with them as they thunder west and north…and the 2017 Hurricane season runs to November 30. In the Northeast, we live on or around the sea. This column is about that.

Tidal Surges

For coastal dwellers, as bad as the winds will be (more on that below), it is the tides and tidal surges that will do most of the damage, which is why even these tails that go by every year leave so much trouble behind. The storm tide is added to the astronomical tides. And when those waves hit something solid, they generate force dozens of times more powerful than wind of the same speed. Andrew generated a storm tide of 17 feet. Camille in 1969? 24 feet. And of course, there was Sandy who just sat there. At high tide. During a full moon…Add to that the population growth in our area and the increase in the value of homes, and it can spell either “an absolute disaster” or “they were prepared.”

What Is It?

A hurricane is, in the words of scientists, an organized rotating weather system that develops in the tropics. Technically, it is a “tropical cyclone” and it is classified as one of three states, with hurricanes being further classified into levels of destruction…

  1. Tropical Depression:       sustained winds of 38 mph (33 knots) or less
  2. Tropical Storm:                sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph (34-63 knots)
  3. Hurricane:                        sustained winds of 74 mph (64 knots) or greater

Hurricanes are called typhoons in the western Pacific and cyclones in the Indian Ocean. Six of one, a half dozen of the other…

Categories of Hurricanes

We’ve all heard the weather reporter state that, “Hurricane ‘X’ is now a Category 3 hurricane and headed for ________.”  What does that mean?

Category     Winds (mph)                             Type of Damage Expected                                                                                          Examples

1                       74-95                    Anything not tied down is going to be lost; don’t get hit by it.                                           Irene, 1999 and Sandy, 2012


2                      96-110                           Trees will go down. Roofs in trouble                                                                               Georges, 1998 and Floyd, 1999


3                    111-130                      Many trees will go down, along with small buildings                                                           Betsy, 1965 and Alicia, 1983


4                    131-155                        Complete failures of some small buildings                                                                          Hugo, 1989


5                   156 and up                          Catastrophe.  Wrath of God.                                                                                           Andrew, 1992 and Katrina, 2005


USCG hurricane aircraft reported Andrew and Katrina had generated winds over 200 mph at various times of the storms.

Are You Ready For the Glancing Blow?

Look, if a Category 4 or 5 gets up here like in 1938, there are no levels of preparedness except evacuation. A storm surge like Camille’s basically means that everything “south of the highway,” as real estate agents like to classify the choicest properties on Long Island, is gone for all intents and purposes. But what if the glancing blow like Ivan’s in 2004 or, Earl, who came by earlier in 2012, came in head-on? How can you be ready?

Before the Storm Arrives

Have a family action plan. If you’re at caught at school or at work, who do you call?

Flashlights working?

Canned goods and water supplies?


Portable radio?

Where are you going to move the boat? Don’t even THINK about staying on her!

How about your prescription medicines? A First Aid kit is WHERE?!

During the Storm

Have the radio or TV on.  If power goes out and you don’t have a portable radio, I’d get the kids in the car and “to grandmother’s house we go…!”

Propane tanks on your property? Shut them off, completely.

Turn the refrigerator up all the way, and don’t open the door idly.

Fill the bathtub with water. How about the big spaghetti pot? Anything that can hold water and keep it clean.

If ordered to evacuate, do so. Immediately. And tell someone where you are going.

When evacuating, don’t drive across flowing water. Two feet of flowing water can carry your car away. Yes, only two feet of moving water. Turn around and go another way. If there is no other way, call 911 or the U.S. Coast Guard.

After the Storm

If you’ve been ordered to evacuate, don’t go back until the area is declared safe.

If you see someone that needs rescuing, unless the threat of loss of life is imminent, call 9-1-1.

See standing water? Do you know if any power cables lie in it?

Never use candles and other open flames indoors. Keep the flashlight at your side.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. But Earl just sent us a wake-up call.

If you are interested in being part of the USCG Forces, email me at or go direct to the D1SR Human Resources department, who are in charge of new members matters, at and we will help you “get in this thing.”

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