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NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTERReturn to National Hurricane Center
Hurricane Awareness  

High Winds

Plywood through a palm treeThe intensity of a landfalling hurricane is expressed in terms of categories that relate wind speeds and potential damage. According to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, a Category 1 hurricane has lighter winds compared to storms in higher categories. A Category 4 hurricane would have winds between 131 and 155 mph and, on the average, would usually be expected to cause 100 times the damage of the Category 1 storm. Depending on circumstances, less intense storms may still be strong enough to produce damage, particularly in areas that have not prepared in advance.

tree with a boardTropical storm-force winds are strong enough to be dangerous to those caught in them. For this reason, emergency managers plan on having their evacuations complete and their personnel sheltered before the onset of tropical storm-force winds, not hurricane-force winds.

Hurricane-force winds can easily destroy poorly constructed buildings and mobile homes. Debris such as signs, roofing material, and small items left outside become flying missiles in hurricanes. Extensive damage to trees, towers, water and underground utility lines (from uprooted trees), and fallen poles cause considerable disruption.

falling windows
Windows falling from a high-rise building

Burger King Headquarters
Burger King Headquarters' CEO office
in Miami after Hurricane Andrew

Damage from Hurricane Fredric
Damage from Hurricane Frederic (1979)

High-rise buildings are also vulnerable to hurricane-force winds, particularly at the higher levels since wind speed tends to increase with height. Recent research suggests you should stay below the tenth floor, but still above any floors at risk for flooding. It is not uncommon for high-rise buildings to suffer a great deal of damage due to windows being blown out. Consequently, the areas around these buildings can be very dangerous.

The strongest winds usually occur in the right side of the eyewall of the hurricane. Wind speed usually decreases significantly within 12 hours after landfall. Nonetheless, winds can stay above hurricane strength well inland. Hurricane Hugo (1989), for example, battered Charlotte, North Carolina (which is 175 miles inland) with gusts to nearly 100 mph.

The Inland High Wind Model can be used by emergency managers to estimate how far inland strong winds extend. The inland wind estimates can only be made shortly before landfall when the windfield forecast errors are relatively small. This information is most useful in the decision-making process to decide which people might be most vulnerable to high winds at inland locations.

Does your community building code set standards that will help buildings withstand winds in a major hurricane?

Do your shelter facilities include long-span roofs or unreinforced masonry walls (such as gymnasiums) that are vulnerable in high winds?


• AGAINST THE WIND (0.2mbAcrobat PDF file)




HIGH WIND SAFETY ACTIONS - before hurricane season

  • Find out if your home meets current building code requirements for high-winds. Experts agree that structures built to meet or exceed current building code high-wind provisions have a much better chance of surviving violent windstorms. Please visit IBHS (Institute for Business and Home Safety)
  • Protect all windows by installing commercial shutters or preparing 5/8 inch plywood panels. More info
  • Garage doors are frequently the first feature in a home to fail. Reinforce all garage doors so that they are able to withstand high winds. More info
  • If you do not live in an evacuation zone or a mobile home, designate an interior room with no windows or external doors as a “Safe Room”. More info #1   More info #2
  • Before hurricane season, assess your property to ensure that landscaping and trees do not become a wind hazard.
    - Trim dead wood and weak / overhanging branches from all trees.
    - Certain trees and bushes are vulnerable to high winds and any dead tree near a home is a hazard.
    - Consider landscaping materials other than gravel/rock.

HIGH WIND SAFETY ACTIONS - as a hurricane approaches

  • Most mobile / manufactured homes are not built to withstand hurricane force winds. Residents of homes not meeting that level of safety should relocate to a nearby safer structure once local officials issue a hurricane evacuation order for their community.
  • Once a hurricane warning is issued, install your window shutters or plywood panels. More info
  • When a hurricane warning is issued for your community, secure or bring inside all lawn furniture and other outside objects that could become a projectile in high winds.
  • Listen carefully for safety instructions from local officials, and go to your designated “Safe Room” when directed to do so.
  • Monitor NOAA Weather Radio.
  • Do not leave your “Safe Room” until directed to do so by local officials, even if it appears that the winds calmed. Remember that there is little to no wind in the eye of a hurricane.


  • ANDREW 1992
    Andrew was a small but vicious Category 5 hurricane that hit south Florida followed by landfall in Louisiana as a Category 3 hurricane. Estimated sustained winds of 145 mph with gusts in excess of 175 mph devastated portions of central and southern Dade county. Twenty-three people died in the U.S. due to Andrew, and the estimated property damage of $25 billion makes it the costliest hurricane in U.S. history. More ...
  • HUGO 1989
    Devastated the West Indies and the Southeastern United States, including South Carolina cities Charleston and Myrtle Beach. Hugo was responsible for sixty deaths and $7 billion in damages, with a storm surge estimated at 19.8 feet at Romain Retreat, South Carolina.
    More ...
  • ALICIA 1983
    Alicia made landfall as a Category 3 hurricane near Galveston Island, Texas. The storm had wind gusts up to 127mph and spawned 23 tornadoes near Houston and Tyler, TX. Broken glass littered the streets of downtown Houston as many windows were broken by flying debris.
    More ...
  • CAMILLE 1969
    A Category 5 hurricane, the most powerful on the Saffir/Simpson Scale with maximum winds of more than 200mph devastated the Mississippi coast. The final death count for the U.S. is listed at 256. This includes 143 on the Gulf coast and another 113 from the Virginia floods.
    More ...
  • HAZEL 1954
    Hurricane Hazel was an accelerating Category 4 hurricane that made landfall near Myrtle Beach, SC on 15 October and roared northward through the eastern United States. Strong winds spread well inland, with Washington, D.C., measuring sustained hurricane-force winds and Philadelphia measuring gusts of 100 mph. Ninety-five people died due to Hazel.
    More ...
  • CAROL 1954
    Another fast moving category 3 hurricane that made landfall in Long Island and New England on August 31. Sustained winds of 80 to 100 mph were reported over much of eastern Connecticut, all of Rhode Island, and eastern Massachusetts. A peak gust of 135 mph was measured at Block Island, while gusts of 100 to 125 mph occurred over much of the affected area. Sixty people died due to Carol. More ...




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