How to Prepare for a Hurricane
This article will provide some tips on how to prepare for a hurricane, as well as what to do during and after the storm. Please heed all warnings from local officials, as they are your best source of information during a hurricane. Stay safe!
Water is the essence of life. We drink it, bathe in it, and use it every day; but what happens when water joins the wind to become the source of our woes? It destroys our homes and businesses and has left millions of people in need of aid over the last century alone. I’m talking, of course, about hurricanes.
Water covers over 70% of the planet, leaving large landmass portions exposed to hurricanes. They form quickly, move fast, and be the most devastating event in a family’s life.
If you aren’t sure that you’re completely prepared to survive one and minimize damages to your property, it’s time to take those steps now. No more procrastinating. What can you do to prepare for a hurricane? And are your current safety precautions truly up to snuff?
What is a Hurricane?
A hurricane is a tropical or subtropical storm that generates ocean winds reaching 74+ mph. You may also hear it called a ‘tropical cyclone’ in scientific communities. As warm air rises, cooler air takes its place and begins to heat up. When the cool air heats, the cycle repeats itself and creates storm clouds. It is from these storms that hurricanes are born.
There are 5 classifications for hurricanes based upon wind severity:
- Category 1: 74 to 95 mph
- Category 2: 96 to 110 mph
- Category 3: 111 to 129 mph
- Category 4: 130 to 156 mph
- Category 5: 157 or higher mph
Though hurricane season in the Atlantic typically only lasts from June 1st to November 30th and in the Pacific from May 15th to November 30th, a hurricane can form any time during the year. Damage from hurricanes is caused by extreme winds, flooding, and storm surges. They can even develop small tornados that cause more damage. Storm surges are the leading cause of hurricane-related deaths.
5 Not-So-Fun Hurricane Facts
- Hurricane names are “retired” if the storm causes severe damage. Retired names include Mitch, Katrina, and Sandy.
- 40% of hurricanes that hit the U.S. strike Florida.
- Over ⅓ of pet owners do not have a hurricane disaster plan in place for their pets.
- Hurricanes can only form in warm-water oceans.
- Hurricane Katrina was the most destructive storm in history, amassing over $125 billion in property damage. The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 was the deadliest, killing over 8,000 people.
Hurricane Watch vs. Hurricane Warning
You may have heard the phrases “hurricane watch” and “hurricane warning” before. What do these terms mean? And what is the big difference between them?
A hurricane watch is issued when hurricane conditions are possible in your area. This means that winds are picking up speed oceanside (between 36 and 74 mph), and the conditions are being monitored for further development. These come about 48 hours before the projected storm.
A hurricane warning is issued when hurricane conditions are expected in your area. Not only are the storm conditions developing, but it is also probable that a hurricane will make landfall. The situation will continue to be monitored, but an emergency plan should be underway to ensure you and your family’s safety at this point.
When in doubt, just remember: A warning is always worse than a watch.
How to Prepare for a Hurricane
If you live on the coast, hurricane safety precautions should not be optional. Following a checklist, every year before hurricane season starts will have you ready to take action, even in the most severe weather.
Assess Hurricane Risk
Do you know the hurricane risk of your area? This changes annually based on geographic location, time of year, and weather patterns. Understanding the likelihood of hurricanes reaching your home is crucial. Even homes not immediately on the coastline may be hit by severe storms, high winds, and flooding.
Map Your Evacuation Zones
In the event of a severe hurricane, your family may need to evacuate your home. Accepting this possibility and mapping out your nearest evacuation zones is extremely important to ensure your safety.
Local emergency managers will update these periodically and should be your first point of contact in determining the best route for your area. News stations via satellite and radio may also broadcast instructions in an emergency, but preparing your route beforehand is always recommended.
Please note that due to Covid-19, procedures in your area may have changed. Public shelters may be closed or serving a limited amount of the public. Adhere to CDC guidelines relating to Covid-19 as applicable.
Pay Attention to Warnings and Alerts
Meteorologists can often predict hurricanes at sea before they reach populated areas. Stay in tune with your news, radio, and local postings. The National Weather Service updates weather conditions several times during the day and offers a convenient app to track extreme weather as it unfolds.
Sign up for community alerts in your area; they are a valuable tool. Additionally, the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) require no sign-up.
Craft Your Unique Emergency Plan
How should your family respond to a hurricane warning? Crafting your unique hurricane response plan should be done annually. This allows for your plan to evolve as your situation, family, and property do as well. These are not one size fits all or a one-and-done scenario. A few useful starting points are:
- Compiling emergency phone numbers and keeping them near telephones and on the fridge. Add them to your mobile phones as well.
- Prepare an emergency supply kit. These often include first aid, copies of important documents, food/water, flashlights, etc.
- Locating the nearest severe weather shelter and planning the route to said shelter in case of emergency. Include alternate plans for your pets if necessary/applicable.
Create your emergency plan so that it is easy to follow and execute. It is also advisable to replicate and adjust your plan to fit different locations and scenarios, including work, school, and daycare.
Review Emergency Plan with Family
This is important: Ensure that all family members, neighbors, and dependents are aware of your emergency plan and able to execute it. A plan is useless without understood guidelines, after all. Reviewing your emergency plan a few times a year is a good practice, as well as posting a physical copy in a frequented area of your home, such as the kitchen.
Don’t forget to tell the children! A common mistake families make is not informing the children of their emergency plans. In the event of a separation, it is imperative that all family members understand the next steps and how to contact one another.
Secure Important Documents & Make Copies
Securing your important documents should always be a priority, but it is even more imperative in the event of a hurricane. Should your family need to evacuate in an emergency, these should be quick to access. If staying home, essential documents should be held in a high, dry place. Safes, lockboxes, and waterproof containers are common storage solutions.
Documents to keep secure and handy include birth certificates, insurance information, social security cards, home ownership paperwork, etc.
Copies of these files can also be backed up to a secure drive on a laptop or smartphone, and paper copies can be held in an emergency evacuation bag pending sudden departure.
Gather Emergency & Hurricane Preparedness Supplies
Certain additional supplies/resources will be necessary to keep your family healthy and safe in the event of a hurricane, before and after. Hurricanes have the potential to cut off communication, rescue personnel, and suppliers from your home and the local area. A well-stocked emergency supply kit is a non-negotiable for hurricane safety.
Having supplies ready at home prevents unnecessary trips outside. Suggested provisions include:
- Packaged/canned, non-perishable food
- Bottled water
- Basic medical supplies
- Emergency generator
- Pet supplies
- Fire extinguisher
Not all families can afford to stock up on necessities all at once. If your family is in a position to do so, accumulate these items months in advance through small spurts. An extra package of toilet paper can last years in proper storage and keep your family comfortable in an emergency. Procuring items over a long period will also allow families who cannot stock up on supplies in advance to have more essentials available to them in an urgent situation.
Charge Electronics & Backup Generators
When under a hurricane watch or warning, charged electronics are essential. Power is knocked out early and often. Avoid having your family sit in the dark. Charge laptops, phones, and other devices while you can. Hand-crank flashlights are also a great tool to have; they are powered by mechanical energy, with no batteries required.
If your family lives in a hurricane risk zone, you also need to invest in a backup generator. A generator can be a lifesaver, literally. They come in all different sizes to keep power running to the most important things in your home. Whether it’s a medical device, refrigerator, or lights, know your non-negotiables. Plan to invest in a generator that can run these non-negotiables for up to 48 hours.
Depending on your preference, you can also buy a generator fit for solar recharge or gas refueling.
Pack the Car
Get your gas tank filled and pack up the car for a speedy exit. If the weather quickly turns from bad to worse, moments spent getting ready for departure are the most critical.
Make sure your car has essentials, a medical kit, and a roadside assistance kit if you fall under a hurricane watch. If your vehicle is parked outside, move it into a garage or under cover if possible to prevent storm damage.
If your family does not own a car, make arrangements with friends before severe weather strikes or call local authorities for emergency transportation.
If your family has a pet, don’t forget to prepare them too! Pets are lost, injured, or worse too often during a hurricane. A few simple safety precautions will protect your beloved companion in case of an emergency. These tips are catered for a hurricane situation, but many can be applied to several emergency types:
- Ensure the pet is wearing a collar and has up-to-date tags and contact information.
- Many families microchip their pets for added safety. Don’t forget to register your chip and keep contact information current.
- Keep a leash or pet carrier near the exit.
- Identify pet-friendly shelters, local veterinarians that board in case of emergency, and make a buddy plan with a trusted neighbor to evacuate your pets if necessary.
- Create an emergency kit for your pet. This can include:
- Pet food
- Clean water
- A favorite toy
- Medical records
- Waste disposal supplies (litterbox, plastic bags, etc.)
Crates and cages can make many pets anxious, complicating a hasty evacuation further. It is crucial to get your pet comfortable with their emergency transportation prior to a potential disaster. Doing a practice run or feeding them treats inside their crate are good ways to make it less scary.
Increasing Home Safety
There are several steps in storm-proofing your home as much as possible for hurricane prep. Preventative maintenance will reduce your risk of storm damage to your home, belongings, and landscape.
Clearing your yard is the most important step. Loose objects can be picked up and thrown by high wind speeds and cause severe damage to your home, car, or personal health. Remove outdoor grills, lawn chairs, bikes, etc. Anything can be dangerous if blown around by 70 mph winds!
Cover windows and doors with plywood or storm shutters. This will decrease the chances of debris blowing into your home. It is recommended to do this outside of your home to add a layer of protection for window glass. If covering doors, do this from the inside to allow for accessibility for covering removal.
A carbon monoxide detector is also a handy tool to have at the ready. This will detect dangerous levels of CO2 in the air and keep your family safe in the event of CO poisoning.
Check on at-risk friends and neighbors
Do you have friends or neighbors that may be particularly at-risk in the event of a hurricane? They may include (but are not limited to) those with disabilities, advanced age, or medical conditions. A person’s living situation may also put them at higher risk, such as those living in multi-story apartments, alone, or closer to the shoreline.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to these individuals and check on their needs. If possible, you may also consider offering them shelter in your home. Share supplies if you have extra and keep an open line of communication.
Returning Home and Going Outside After a Hurricane
The hurricane is over, and it’s time to return home if you’ve evacuated or venture outside if you sheltered indoors. But what’s next? Dealing with stress, trauma, and property damage can sometimes be worse than the hurricane itself. What should your family prepare for after coming home?
It is imperative that you listen to the direction of local authorities and rescue workers. They will keep you informed of safety protocols and news for your area.
Clean-up is a hassle and can be a long process. Going slow and staying safe are the most important things. Wearing protective clothing like hard sole shoes and gloves will decrease your chances of injury during cleaning. Face coverings may also be recommended to protect against harmful debris or mold.
Do NOT clean alone. Always stay within 6 feet of a partner for quick response time in the event of an injury or other emergency. Pets and children are particularly vulnerable to exposed wires, sharp debris, and damaged floors. Keep the area clear of these family members until safe to bring them back.
Avoid wading in deep or murky water; it can contain dangerous debris. There is also a risk of electrocution when handling electronics that have been wet or water-damaged. Leave these areas to professional clean-up teams or emergency personnel.
If you can, document the home’s damage with photographs. This will be important for your insurance agency as you file to rebuild or fix any problem areas after the hurricane.
How is Your Hurricane Safety?
Now that you’ve reviewed our hurricane preparedness best practices, how ready is your home for this natural disaster? If you’re feeling less than confident, let’s review some of the key points:
- Identify the difference between a hurricane watch and a hurricane warning
- Map your evacuation route
- Make and practice an emergency plan with family
- Stock up on essentials
- Clear the yard
- Storm-proof your windows and doors
- Prepare an emergency plan for pets (if applicable)
- Take safety precautions during hurricane cleanup
These key points will help keep you safe in a disaster and don’t forget to print our free hurricane checklist to aid your family in preparation. Stormy weather may be approaching, but you’ll feel a whole lot better with a sturdy umbrella.