A. A warning is worse than a watch. A hurricane watch means a hurricane may threaten the area within 36 hours. A hurricane warning means sustained winds of 74 mph or stronger will likely strike a specific coastal area within 24 hours.

A. Yep. The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane scale rates storms based upon their wind speeds. Most storms that make landfall fall within the Category 1, 2 and 3 range. Stronger storms striking North Carolina are rare, but not unknown. Hurricane Hazel, which slammed ashore on Oak Island in 1954, was a Category 4 storm.

A Category 1 storm starts with winds over 74 mph. The rankings go up about every 20 mph, with a Category 5 storm having winds greater than 155 mph.

A. No. In fact, storm surge and flooding often cause more problems than high winds, in part because modern building techniques often limit wind impacts.

Hurricane Floyd was a weak Category 3 storm when it made landfall at Oak Island in 1999. But the heavy rains before and during the storm caused severe flooding across Eastern North Carolina and into the Northeast. Damage was estimated at $4.6 billion.

However, there are some situations where evacuation is always preferable. They include if you live in a mobile home, in low-lying areas or on a barrier island, and if you are elderly or caring for an elderly person.

A. There's no golden rule, especially with the inherently unpredictable nature of tropical systems. But officials said people should reassess the situation when a voluntary evacuation order is given, and move quickly when a mandatory evacuation is ordered.

A. The N.C. Department of Emergency Management recommends having a three-day supply of food and water available at all times, especially during hurricane season. Other items to stock up on for any storm strike is a good supply of flashlights, batteries, extra medications, cash, full gasoline tanks for all vehicles, and a radio.

A. If there has been a direct hit or substantial damage, officials recommend staying off the roads to facilitate cleanup and rescue efforts by emergency crews.

Evacuees should also check road conditions for flooding or road closures before heading home from inland areas. Many residents who fled inland were trapped away from the coast after rains from Hurricane Floyd flooded hundreds of roads in 1999.

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