(Hurricane Ian just off the coast of western Cuba, shortly after becoming a Category 3 storm. [College of DuPage])
A lot of us have been keeping a careful eye on Hurricane Ian. AccuWeather warns it could become a Category 4 behemoth as early as this evening, and forecasters say it could be the worst storm to hit the Tampa Bay area in more than 100 years.
I have family in Florida, and they’ve often told me how glad they are to live in a place where there are no blizzards. On the other hand, I’m thrilled I don’t have to deal with hurricanes. I went through Tropical Storm Irene here in Vermont in 2011, and that was enough. But all the Ian talk has made me curious: How do blizzards and hurricanes compare, anyway? I mean, if you put a hurricane and a blizzard in a cage match, which would be tougher/meaner/stronger/more devastating? Both can cause a great deal of damage. But really, how do the two stack up?
Let’s take a look at some facts about both.
In this corner, hurricanes:
• A hurricane is characterized by thunderstorms, strong winds, and heavy rains.
• Each year, an average of ten tropical storms develop over the Atlantic Ocean, Carribean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico. Many of these remain over the ocean. Six of these storms become hurricanes each year.
• In an average 3-year period, roughly five hurricanes strike the US coastline, killing approximately 50 to 100 people anywhere from Texas to Maine. Of these, two are typically major hurricanes (winds greater than 110 mph).
• A hurricane can cause wind speeds of 74mph to over 155mph.
• A typical hurricane can dump 6 inches to a foot of rain across a region.
• Every second, a large hurricane releases the energy of 10 atomic bombs.
• Hurricanes can also produce tornadoes. They are not as strong as regular tornadoes and last only a few minutes.
• Slow moving hurricanes produce more rainfall and can cause more damage from flooding than faster-moving, more powerful hurricanes.
• Most people who die in hurricanes are killed by the towering walls of sea water that comes inland.
• The man who first gave names to hurricanes was an Australian weather forecaster named C. Wragge in the early 1900s.
• The deadliest hurricane in US history hit Galveston in 1900, claiming 8,000 to 12,000 people. In 2017, Hurricane Maria took over 3,000 lives. In 2005, 1,833 people died when Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama. According to the Weather Channel, Katrina created a storm surge that penetrated six miles inland across most of South Mississippi, and up to 12 miles inland along bays and rivers. There was catastrophic flooding in 80 percent of New Orleans and a total of $108 billion in damages in all areas affected.
And in this corner, blizzards:
• When a snow storm with winds in excess of 35 mph and visibility of less than a quarter mile for more than 3 hours occurs, it’s considered a blizzard.
• Blizzards can also occur after a snowfall when high winds cause whiteouts and snowdrifts, which decrease visibility.
• Although most blizzards last from 4 hours to 10 hours, they’ve also been known to last 10 days.
• Blizzards are generally limited to a much smaller area of coverage than hurricanes.
• Overall since 1960, more than 700 blizzards have occurred in the US, excluding Alaska and Hawaii. From 1960-94, the US averaged about nine blizzards per year. But since 1995, the average has increased to 19 blizzards a year.
• Blizzards have been reported in all months except September and August, but most occur in December, January, February, and March.
• Blizzards that occur on the East Coast are commonly known as Nor’Easters. The storm blows in from over the Atlantic Ocean and can last for up to 24 hours, dumping huge amounts of snow over the entire area.
• The Great Blizzard of 1888 is considered the worst blizzard in US history. Affecting many states in the northeast, 400 people died, 200 ships sank, and snowdrifts were 10 to 15 feet high.
• Blizzards have the extra added attraction of brutally cold temperatures. So yes, if you’re stuck outside for any length of time, you could actually freeze to death.
So which is the cage match winner?
Which is potentially more deadly and/or devastating?
Without a doubt, hurricanes. They’re more ferocious, affect more people, and cause an incredible amount of damage. After a blizzard, you end up with terrific skiing. I’ll stick with that.