Hurricane Isabel in Wachapreague, 2003
A hurricane is a severe tropical storm that forms in the southern Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico or eastern Pacific Ocean. To form, hurricanes need warm tropical oceans, moisture and light winds. They gather heat and energy from the warm waters. Evaporation from seawater increases their power.
Hurricanes rotate in a counterclockwise direction around an "eye." They have winds at least 75 mph. When they come onto land, they can bring heavy rain, strong winds and floods, and can damage buildings, trees and cars.
Hurricanes are classified using the Saffir-Simpson scale into five categories, based on wind speed and potential to cause damage:
- Category One – Winds 74-95 mph
- Category Two – Winds 96-110 mph
- Category Three – Winds 111-130 mph
- Category Four – Winds 131-155 mph
- Category Five – Winds greater than 155 mph
Hurricanes also produce heavy waves called storm surge. Storm surges are very dangerous and a major reason why people must stay away from the oceans and bays during a hurricane warning.
Along the coast, storm surge is the greatest threat to life and property from a hurricane. In the past, large death tolls have resulted from the storm surge associated with many of the major hurricanes that have made landfall. Hurricane Katrina (2005) is a prime example of the damage and devastation that can be caused by surge. At least 1500 persons lost their lives during Katrina and many of those deaths occurred directly, or indirectly, as a result of storm surge.
Storm surge is an abnormal rise of water generated by a storm, over and above the predicted astronomical tides. Storm surge should not be confused with storm tide, which is defined as the water level rise due to the combination of storm surge and the astronomical tide. This rise in water level can cause extreme flooding in coastal areas particularly when storm surge coincides with normal high tide, resulting in storm tides reaching up to 20 feet or more in some cases.
The maximum potential storm surge for a particular location depends on a number of different factors. Storm surge is a very complex phenomenon because it is sensitive to the slightest changes in storm intensity, forward speed, size (radius of maximum winds), angle of approach to the coast, central pressure (minimal contribution in comparison to the wind), and the shape and characteristics of coastal features such as bays and estuaries. Accomack’s proximity to both the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay, along with it’s low elevation, makes it extremely vulnerable to storm surge, regardless of the Category of storm and the storms location.
View an article on another way to measure hurricane strength using the Integrated Kinetic Energy (IKE) scale.
Hurricanes need not make landfall or move directly across Accomack to cause great damage. Along with damaging winds and storm surge, hurricanes bring inland, flooding, tidal flooding, and often spawn tornadoes even after the hurricane has passed through an area. People who live in hurricane prone communities must know their vulnerability, and what actions should be taken to reduce the effects of these devastating storms.
When news that a hurricane may possibly impact Accomack County, residents should:
- Make sure you have a 3 – 7 day supply of food and water available for you and your family (3 day supply if you live inland and low-lying roads are not your access route to your home; a 7 day supply if you live in a flood prone area or access to your home is via a flood prone roadway). If you already have a supply, check the expirations dates.
- Obtain other items needed for your emergency supply kit if you have not already done so. See Family Disaster Kits page of this website for a complete list of necessary items.
- Review and add items as necessary your Pet’s Emergency Supply kit.
- Review and add items as necessary to your Emergency Supply kit for any family members with special needs.
- Make sure all family members are familiar with your family emergency communications plan. See Family Communication Plan page of this website for more details.
- Review your evacuation plans – know where the local shelters are located or make hotel reservations if necessary. See the Evacuation Plan and Emergency Shelter Plan pages of this website for more information.
There are six emergency shelter locations in Accomack County:
- Accawmacke Elementary School
- Arcadia Middle School
- Arcadia High School
- Metompkin Elementary School
- Nandua Middle School
- Nandua High School
Not all shelters may be open and their opening times will be staggered.
- As the hurricane approaches, listen to your local media for up to date information. Watch local TV stations for storm track, strength, and other weather related info. Listen to local radio for shelter openings, evacuation orders, road closures and other storm related information.
- Take precautions for protecting your home – remove or secure loose outdoor items such as furniture, put up storm shutters for your windows, etc. Prepare your boat – see the Boat Preparation page of this website for more information.
- If advised to evacuate your home, do so quickly. Below are the evacuation levels that are possible for Accomack County.
Partial Evacuation (may include some or all of the following):
- All islands - not just barrier islands
- Waterfront properties including creeks and canals
- All low lying areas adjacent to marshes and wetlands
- Flood prone areas including rainfall flood prone areas
- Mobile & manufactured type homes or substandard housing
- Evacuation Zones as identified on the map below. Property in these zones may be susceptible to storm surge and are primarily divided by utilizing roads or waterways as boundaries.
- Entire County – the evacuation route out of Accomack County is Route 13 NORTH
- Voluntary Evacuation
- Local government officials strongly recommend that citizens located in specified evacuation zones relocate to a safer location. The evacuation route out of Accomack County is Route 13 NORTH.
- Local government officials order citizens in specified evacuation zones to relocate to a safer location. The evacuation route out of Accomack County is Route 13 NORTH. This evacuation order would apply to the general public. Essential personnel, i.e. public safety officials, disaster response personnel, etc. are exceptions but would be expected to eventually seek adequate shelter before the onset of the storm. Citizens that refuse to evacuate will not be arrested nor removed forcibly from their homes. However, please note that emergency services personnel will not respond when wind speeds are in excess of 50 mph and transportation routes are flooded.
Watches and Warnings - Learn the terms that are used to identify a hurricane.
- Tropical Storm Watches are issued when tropical storm conditions, including winds from 39 to 73 mph, pose a possible threat to a specified area within 48 hours.
- Tropical Storm Warnings are issued when tropical storm conditions are expected to affect a specified area within 36 hours or less.
- Hurricane Watches are issued for a specified area when hurricane conditions, including sustained winds of 74 mph or great, are possible within 48 hours.
- Hurricane Warnings are issued for a specified area when hurricane conditions are expected within 36 hours. In coastal or near-coastal areas, a hurricane warning can remain in effect when dangerously high water, or a combination of dangerously high water and exceptionally high waves, continues, even though the winds may have subsided below hurricane intensity.