5 Effects of Storms

When talking about storms in the United States, you’ll hear the word “hurricane” being used, though in other parts of the world, they’re known as typhoons or cyclones. All storms share the same characteristics or features like low barometric pressure, strong winds, rain, and sometimes lightning and thunder too. 

Storms follow a circular motion, rotating around a low atmospheric pressure. Meteorologists, or people who study and forecast the weather, refer to a storm with sustained winds of 38 miles per hour (61 kilometers per hour) or less as a tropical depression. When winds reach 39 mph (63 kph), meteorologists will assign the storms a name. They become full-fledged hurricanes when their sustained winds reach 74 mph (241 kph) or greater.

The effects of storm damage is all encompassing and may cause widespread devastating property damage.  In this post, we’ll be tackling the effects of the following types of storms in the United States and how they impact people, property, and the environment. 

  1. High winds
  2. Rip currents
  3. Storm surges
  4. Inland flooding
  5. Tornados

High winds

1. High Winds

The potential property damage of hurricane winds based on sustained wind speed is measured by the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Based on this scale, hurricanes with 74 to 95 mph (119 to 153 kph) the exterior of well-constructed houses, snap large tree branches, topple shallow rooted trees, and destroy power lines and poles leading to power outages from a few to several days. According to the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), most power lines won’t be able to withstand winds above 55 mph (around 90 kph).

Category 2 hurricane winds range from 96 to 110 mph (154 to 177 kph). These winds can result in extensive damage, such as major damage to roof and siding, uprooted and snapped trees that can block roads, and power outages for several days to weeks.

Hurricanes from category 3 onward are considered to be major hurricanes. Category 3 hurricane winds range from 111 to 129 mph (178 to 208 kph) and can cause devastating damage. This includes major home damage like the destruction of roof decking and the unavailability of essential utilities (water and electricity) for several days to weeks after the storm. Category 3 hurricane winds also have the power to uproot and snap trees that could lead to road blockage.

The last two categories both result in catastrophic damage. Category 4 hurricane winds can destroy most of the roof and/or some exterior walls of houses. It can also snap or uproot trees and power poles, which might leave residential areas isolated. Furthermore, it can take weeks to months for power to get back and for the area to be habitable again. 

With hurricane winds of 157 mph (252 kph) or higher, category 5 deals the most damage. Many houses will be ruined and left without roofs or walls as well as category 4 impacts but worse.

Rip Currents

2. Rip Currents

Rip currents can form even when there’s no storm like on a calm, sunny day. When waves hit sandbars, headlands, or structures like piers and jetties, they create a narrow channel where the water moves rapidly away from the shore. 

With speeds of up to 8 feet per second, rip currents can be faster than Olympic swimmers, so it’s useless to swim against the current. You’ll just wear yourself out. Instead, you need to stay calm, float and swim parallel to the shore until you’re out of the rip current. While the length varies, rip currents are typically 10 or 20 feet but can be up to 10 times as wide, according to the National Weather Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

During a hurricane, rip currents can be deadly and can extend for a long distance from the storm. For instance, Hurricane Bertha resulted in rip currents that required 1,500 rescues for more than one week and three people dead.

Storm surges

3. Storm Surge

Strong sustained winds create the no. 1 threat of hurricanes: storm surge. Hurricane winds push seawater toward the land so that it rises to more than 20 feet (6 meters) along hundreds of miles of coastline. Hurricane Katrina even went beyond this, with storm surge flooding of 25 to 28 feet above normal tide levels, according to the NOAA’s National Hurricane Center.

Storm surges are infamous for their devastating impact on life, property and the environment. They can travel inland and destroy houses and buildings, roads and bridges as well as ruin beaches and cause dune erosion. Storm surges can even reach bayous, estuaries and other freshwater bodies. The influx of saltwater damages these habitats and their denizens. 

Inland flooding

4. Inland Flooding

Torrential rains over 6 inches that fall over a vast area can lead to floods. A fast-moving flood of this depth can carry away or knock over an adult, 12 inches can move a small vehicle, while 18 to 24 inches of floodwaters can carry away larger vehicles like trucks, vans, and SUVs. 

Heavy rains can cause rivers and other inland bodies of water to overflow. This, combined with storm surges can increase the possibility of inland flooding, with standing water levels that can reach one-story high. 

Floods can cause prolonged power outages and deterioration of irrigation canals. Flash floods also bring with them debris and a huge amount of raw sewage, which can contaminate or pollute local wells and other waterways. 

Tornados

5. Tornadoes

According to the NOAA’s National Weather Service and NASA, tornadoes are typically weak and small-scale circulations that are rarely over a few hundred feet across once on the ground. They are also short-lived, typically lasting only a few minutes, and seldom move over 10 or 20 miles. 

Despite this, tornadoes still pose a significant threat. With wind speeds reaching 100 to 300 mph (about 160 to 480 kph), they can damage houses and cars or take a person’s life. 

Most tornadoes form in thunderstorms embedded in rain bands far from the center of the hurricane, though they can also develop near the storm’s eyewall, or the area located just outside the eye of the storm. In the U.S., tornadoes usually form from storms landfalling in the Gulf of Mexico and moving north/northeast, which means they typically affect eastern Georgia and central South Carolina.