How to Survive a Hurricane: Essential Safety Tips

What's the difference between a hurricane, a typhoon and a cyclone? How do you stay safe if one hits? Our tips on how to prepare for and survive a hurricane.


Aftermath of hurricane in Florida Keys leaves piles of trash and debris to be cleaned up Photo © Getty Images/Jodi Jacobson

Hurricane, cyclone and typhoon

Hurricane, cyclone and typhoon. What is the difference? They are all tropical systems which only form in warm tropical waters. In the southern hemisphere they rotate clockwise, and in the northern hemisphere they rotate counter-clockwise. This is due to a force known as the Coriolis Effect.

  • Hurricanes occur in the Atlantic Ocean and northeastern Pacific Ocean
  • Typhoons occur in the northwestern Pacific Ocean
  • Cyclones occur in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean

But what's a tornado?

While it's true that a tornado is similar to a hurricane – they are both rapidly rotating columns of air – tornadoes will form over land and are usually associated with supercells (a type of thunderstorm). Hurricanes, on the other hand, form over warm water, either tracking inland or further out to sea to die out due to less favorable conditions. Hurricane warnings can be in place for several days. Tornadoes are short-lived and form with little warning.


United States

Hurricane season in the US begins on June 1 and lasts until November 30, covering the entire summer season. For that reason, it's wise to keep an eye on weather reports during any coastal vacation. Several hurricanes have caused widespread damage from as far south as the Caribbean to as far north as New York and eastern Canada.


The Caribbean hurricane season runs the same time as the United States, June to November. Many of the hurricanes which affect the US (including those massive destructive ones like Katrina, Sandy and Harvey) are formed in the Caribbean.

Eastern Pacific

Typhoon season, which impacts several parts of southeast Asia and mainland Asia, starts in May and runs until the end of November. Occasionally, there are outliers like Pabuk which smashed into Thailand's southern coast in January 2019 before tracking its way northwest.

South Pacific

Cyclone season in the Pacific Islands and Australia generally runs from November 1 to the end of April, with activity generally peaking around February and March.

Indian Ocean

In the northern Indian Ocean, systems can happen all throughout the year, however most common between April and December with peak activity during May and November. The southern Indian Ocean has a shorter season.

Warnings and intensity

There are two levels of alert for tropical storms, and hurricanes; 'watch' and 'warning'. 

WATCH: indicates a potentially destructive storm could strike your area within 48 hours. 
WARNING: indicates a potentially destructive storm could strike your area within 36 hours.

The intensity and potential for destruction of a storm are indicated by its "category". Category 1 is the lowest intensity (below that it's high winds, gale or storm), Category 5 is the highest intensity. There are some variations to this across the world, but generally, the higher the "storm signal" number, the sooner and more intense the storm is likely to be. China uses a color-coded system, orange and red are not good news.

How to survive a hurricane

The best way to survive a hurricane is to avoid one – get away from it – but make the decision to leave early. Don't wait until the last minute because you may find yourself caught without proper shelter.

If you decide to stay and ride it out, it's advisable to get to an authorised evacuation center. The locations of these will be broadcast, or locals will know where they are. If there is no shelter, prepare to "shelter in place" in an internal room without windows.

Once a storm watch has been issued, make sure you are prepared in the event that the watch becomes a warning.

  • Fill the gas tank on your car
  • Check batteries in flashlights and radios
  • Have extra batteries on hand
  • Secure all doors and windows
  • Close shutters or board up the windows
  • Have extra supplies on hand such as non-perishable food, clean drinking water, two litres (half a gallon) per person per day and have enough for a couple of days, and prescription drugs.

During the storm

  • Never go out during the storm. The winds can send flying debris right into you causing injury and even death
  • Stay away from windows and doors
  • Keep on the alert for additional storm warnings. Hurricanes are known to spawn tornadoes so be prepared to take cover if one should strike
  • While the storm is in progress avoid using electrical appliances
  • Stay off the telephone
  • All pets should be secure in carriers. The storm will be a frightening experience for them as well, and they could injure themselves or even you if the animal panics
  • Do not light candles or lanterns; they could get blown over causing a fire
  • The eye of the storm passing over could make you think the storm is over when the worst is still yet to come. Only use this calm in an extreme emergency to make critical repairs
  • Only after an official all-clear has been issued is it safe to come out.

After the storm

  • Beware of downed power lines and gas leaks
  • Stay away from heavily damaged areas
  • Listen to your radio for instructions.

If you are injured

If you are injured or become ill, please seek medical aid and contact your travel insurance 24-hour emergency assistance. Be aware that any functioning hospitals and clinics will be busy caring for other people and there may be long delays. If you are in a region with no operating medical facilities please contact your travel insurance 24-hour emergency assistance immediately.

What is happening to me and who do I call?

The situation you are in can be extremely stressful. Call home and your country's consulate or embassy to let them know where you are, if you are alright and if you need any assistance. Keeping an item of comfort nearby, such as a family photo, religious item or listening to your favorite music, can often offer comfort in such situations. Call the emergency assistance line for your travel insurance should you need immediate attention.

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  • stephen clark said

    When is hurricane season in Florida USA?

  • Ted Dixon said

    Incorrect info in article.
    Hurricanes spin counter clockwise in Northern Hemisphere,
    Cyclones clockwise in Southern Hemisphere.

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