BEWARE OF CYCLONES
Owning a home on a pristine beach in a tropical paradise is a dream come true for a lucky few people.
Living just a few feet away from everlasting warmth, brilliant sunshine, rolling waves, and sandy shores is a cozy thought that keeps many of us working hard, hoping for that big break (or the right lottery numbers).
One of the downsides to living along the coast in a warm part of the world, though, is a threat that reliably lurks offshore several times a year—tropical cyclones.
A tropical cyclone is a highly organized center of low pressure over the ocean that can feature destructive winds, torrential rainfall, devastating storm surges, and often tornadoes.
Nature’s way of balancing the atmosphere’s temperature, these storms form in the tropics and race toward the poles in an ultimately futile attempt to redistribute heat and achieve thermal harmony.
Tropical cyclones have different names around the world. Those of us who live in North America and Europe know these storms as “hurricanes,”
while those tropical cyclones that develop in the western Pacific Ocean are called “typhoons.”
In the Southern Hemisphere and Indian Ocean, these systems are simply “cyclones.”
Throughout the rest of this chapter, we’ll interchangeably use the terms “hurricane” and “tropical cyclone.”
To further confuse things, these terms—hurricane, typhoon, and cyclone—all refer to the storm when it’s at its strongest stage.
What are the other stages? Glad you asked. Around North America, we have four levels of tropical cyclone development, all based on the strength of the storm’s winds at the surface.
RATE YOUR HOME’S SAFETY
How likely is your home to survive a major hurricane? The answer depends on a wide range of variables (how bad is the storm? What’s its exact path? Where did it make landfall?), but here are some basic points to consider.
HOME’S AGE In 2002, many areas upgraded their hurricane codes; homes built after that have an advantage.
ROOFING MATERIALS Is your roof made of shingles or tiles? Older shingles can blow off in storms and cracked tiles can cause damage to the entire roof if the wind gets underneath them.
Climb up there before storm season starts and make repairs as needed (even one or two bad tiles can lead to trouble).
CONSTRUCTION Gabled roofs are a bit less secure; you’re safer if you have a “hip roof.”
A hip roof is closed on all sides, versus a gabled roof, which has an open triangle, making it more likely to catch the wind. You’ll also want hurricane shutters.
DEBRIS What surrounds your home? You already know that you need to stash lawn furniture, bikes, and such before a storm (you know that, right?), but are there items you don’t have control over that could blow into your home and damage it?
EXTREME WEATHER AROUND THE WORLD:
The waters off the coast of western Mexico are extremely warm, which fosters quite the rambunctious hurricane season most years.
Storms generally form from tropical waves that bubble up near the coast, slowly organizing into formidable cyclones as they move west or northwest away from land.
But if the steering currents are blowing in the wrong direction, these storms will hook back toward land, creating life-threatening conditions for the millions of people who live along Mexico’s coasts.
The western Pacific Ocean can see 30 or more typhoons or tropical storms develop every year, threatening hundreds of millions of people with every swipe close to land.
Japan and the Philippines are at greatest risk from typhoons, but every country in the region north of the equator is at risk each year.
By contrast, the southeastern Pacific Ocean is far too cold (and the air far too stable) for cyclones to form.