Frequently Asked Questions

University of Florida geography professor, Dr. Peter R. Waylen, answers commonly asked questions about natural disasters.

    Q: What is the difference between hurricanes and typhoons?
    A: Just the name. Hurricanes are what we call the tropical cyclones when they develop in the North Atlantic--the Caribbean Basin--and typhoons are the names that you are given when they develop in the North Pacific Basin.
    Q: Is there a difference in preparing for a typhoon versus preparing for a hurricane?
    A: No. It’s the same physical phenomenon.
    Q: Before a tornado hits, where should you seek shelter if you don’t have a basement?
    A: Your best bet is to go into an interior room. Perhaps something like a closet or if you’ve got a bathroom that doesn’t have a window off the side. A lot of the damage is caused by glass shattering and breaking, so the closer you can get inside the building and away from windows and so forth and flying objects outside, the better.
    Q: Right before an earthquake, should you seek shelter in high or low places?
    A: Unfortunately we don’t get any warning of earthquakes, as far as I know, so your best bet is to go somewhere where you’re going to be protected from falling masonry like under a desk.
    Q: How do El Niño/ El Niña affect the number and intensity of storms?
    A: In an El Niño, those guys (the Caribbean low-level jet) become stronger, and therefore hurricanes are less likely because the water surface temperatures are cooler, and you’re getting more of this vertical sheer that breaks up the storms. La Niña, the exact opposite happens. The trade winds become weaker. That means the water’s going be warmer on the surface. It means there’s not as much vertical sheer. In La Niña, you can expect to see one of the factors that affect the number of hurricanes, that tropical storms in the Atlantic Basin should go up.