Everything You Need to Know to Prepare for Hurricane Season
In this season of beach vacations, tan lines, popsicles, and sunshine, it’s easy to forget that hurricane season is upon us. Start gathering your supplies now so you’re prepared when the next tropical depression morphs into a superstorm.
Getting ready for a hurricane shouldn’t strike fear into your heart. It’s actually a great excuse to make the home repairs that have been languishing on your to-do list and to stock up your pantry. Make the best use of the time and resources available to you when the weather is nice—it’ll be a lot more difficult once the gale-force winds are chasing your heels and the stores have run out of food and water, and the gas stations have run dry.
Difference Between Hurricanes and Tropical Depressions
A hurricane is a massive, low-pressure weather system that rotates around itself and has a series of coordinated thunderstorms that lack fronts. Those living in an area prone to this type of weather may not understand the difference among tropical cyclones, tropical depressions, and hurricanes. The distinction lies in the wind speed. Surface winds of less than 39 mph are called tropical cyclones while tropical storms have winds of 39 mph or more. A storm isn’t classified as a hurricane until the wind speeds surpass 74 mph.
Once a storm has been classified as a hurricane, it can then be categorized based on its strength. With the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, a hurricane can be ranked on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the strongest category for these storms. A category 5 hurricane is expected to cause the greatest amount of property damage. Names like Maria, Harvey, Irma, Andrew, and Katrina might sound familiar as they have been some of the most destructive storms from the last few decades. All of these hurricanes left a trail of devastation in their wake, and all—with the exception of Harvey (category 4), were category 5 storms.
When is Hurricane Season?
Hurricane season begins June 1 and ends November 30, but the busiest time of year for these storms usually runs from August to September. During these months, you’ll often see multiple systems developing on after the other, inching closer toward the Gulf of Mexico or up the coastline.
Some hurricanes form outside of this window (in fact, 3% of all Atlantic hurricanes occur between December and May), but the vast majority occur between these dates, with an average of twelve storms per year.
When Should I Prepare for a Hurricane?
The short answer is now. It’s never too early to start preparing for a hurricane, especially if you’re likely to experience more than one a year!
Preparing well in advance does more than give you peace of mind. It also puts you in a better position to take care of your family and pets if disaster strikes or an unexpected flood or power outage occurs.
While you’re getting prepared in advance, you can (and should!) create a hurricane plan. If you’re anticipating a dangerous storm, you should know exactly where you can seek shelter and have an evacuation plan ready.You’ll also know exactly what to do if a storm suddenly changes direction and you need to batten down the hatches at home with less than 48 hours notice.
What Supplies Do I Need for Hurricane Season?
You need a few different types of supplies to be fully prepared—food and water, pet supplies, first aid, means of communication, and a packed “go bag.”
Food and Water
The most basic of supplies, you need to make sure you have enough food and water to ride out the storm. Food delivery services, restaurants, and grocery stores aren’t usually open or available 24 hours before or after a major hurricane, so don’t count on them to save you. If you live in an area that’s expected to receive sustained winds and rain for days at a time, you’ll need to keep enough water and non-perishable food on hand.
As a standard rule, you need at least one gallon of drinking water a day, so multiply that by how many people you have in your household. Buy a few of those large 3-gallon water jugs off the shelf to keep in your pantry. Unlike individual water bottles, they’re inconvenient enough that you won’t make the mistake of grabbing a bottle to take with you to the gym.
For food, you can basically keep anything on hand that’s non-perishable, but it’s a good idea to keep filling, healthy food on hand. Spending several days trapped in your home without power or entertainment gets exasperating, so be sure to stock up on appetizing non-perishable foods that will keep morale up. Most canned foods are safe to eat without heating up, so you can eat canned soups and chili cold. Start a list and gather some of the following non-perishables:
- Shelf stable bread
- Peanut or almond butter
- Jams and fruit preserves
- Canned tuna
- Canned soupls
- Dried fruit
- Energy bars
- Canned beans
- Canned vegetables
- Trail mix
- Boxed nut or seed milk (placed in cooler after opening)
Pro Tip #1: In the days leading up to the storm, pick up some fresh fruit like apples, oranges, grapes, and bananas to keep yourself from getting burned out on energy bars. Most last-minute shoppers raid the soup and snack aisles, so you’ll have plenty of fresh produce to choose from before the storm.
Pro Tip #2: Be sure to fill your bathtubs with water and keep a bucket or pitcher nearby so you can fill the toilet tank with water. Your city may decide to shut off the water if the water purification system becomes damaged or contaminated.
For most purposes, a basic first aid kit will serve. If you’re assembling your own kit, include the following items:
- Bandages, multiple sizes and shapes
- Alcohol or antiseptic wipes
- Hand sanitizer
- Disposable gloves
- Gauze pads
- Antibacterial ointment
- Sterile dressings
- Small pair of scissors
- Adhesive paper tape (for gauze or dressings)
- OTC pain relievers, ibuprofen or acetaminophen
- OTC allergy relief, diphenhydramine tabs or Benadryl
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Eye drops
For those with serious conditions that require prescribed medication, be sure to keep enough medication on hand to make it at least a week without a visit to the pharmacy. If you take anything that requires a syringe like insulin, set aside a week’s worth of syringes for emergency use only. You don’t want to be caught in the middle of the hurricane without the supplies you need to keep yourself healthy.
Pet supplies include a week’s worth of food, water, and any medication they’ll need. Most importantly, you need a way to contain your pet to keep them safe if you need to evacuate before the hurricane. For dogs, that might just be a leash, but it’s a good idea to keep a crate or carrier within reach. For cats, make sure you have a reliable hard or soft carrier for each cat, since traveling and changes in schedule tend to make some cats upset and unpredictable. You’ll also need litter, a litter box, and some toys to keep them distracted.
Means of Communication
This is one of the first things you should get when preparing for a hurricane. You need to be able to listen to or see emergency instructions and alerts from the authorities. Don’t just count on having your phone or laptop charged and your Wi-Fi fully functional. You need backup external batteries like a power brick or juice pack ready to go in case the power goes out and the internet goes down. Ideally, you should also have either a battery-powered radio or a hand-crank radio so you can listen to the news if cellular signals fail or become jammed.
A Packed “Go Bag”
Most elected officials delay mandatory evacuations for as long as possible before natural disasters because it’s often more dangerous for people to be out on the road than at home. If ever there’s a mandatory evacuation for your area, you’ll save yourself a lot of valuable time by keeping a go bag ready for everyone in your household.
A “go bag,” also called a “bug out bag,” is a packed emergency kit that contains everything you’ll need for the next three days should you need to evacuate. This includes ID, several changes of clothes, toiletries, a small first aid kit, water, food, flashlight, a power brick, charge cords, a map of your city or state, and your pet’s vet records and the supplies they’ll need, too. If your home is in the path of a hurricane or significant flooding, take your computer, social security cards, passports, health insurance cards, deeds, car titles, birth and marriage certificates, health records, and a list of the local emergency numbers and your own emergency contacts. Keep these items together in a box or a packed suitcase so you can just grab it and go.
Pro Tip #3: Gas up your vehicle the moment you hear about a hurricane or tropical storm heading your way. Even better, bring gas cans to the station before the lines at the pumps get out of control. Gas stations often run dry a day or two before landfall, so don’t delay. You don’t want to be stuck with a quarter tank of gas when you’re trying to evacuate.
How Do I Protect My House From a Hurricane?
Considering that hurricanes are categorized based on their potential to cause property damage, it makes sense that many homeowners want to protect their house. While some storms are destined to wreak havoc, research and safety innovations have come a long way over the last few years to minimize potential damage to your property. Here are some ways you can protect your home from the effects of a hurricane:
If you’ve ever personally endured a hurricane or seen news coverage of the aftermath, you’ve likely noticed that the majority of homes have protected their windows somehow. Due to the high wind speeds associated with hurricanes, the risk of debris shattering a window is high. Not only is shattered glass a safety concern but a broken window now opens your home to the outside elements, including heavy rain. If you want to avoid broken glass and water damage, you’ve got a few options.
One of the most common approaches to safeguarding windows is to protect them with wooden boards like plywood. If you don’t have hurricane tempered glass, this is the best and most affordable option. All you’ll need is enough wood to cover your windows, and you’re good to go.
If you do have hurricane glass windows, you don’t need to board your windows. Those who don’t board their windows may be tempted to use duct tape to tape a large “X” on the window. People who use this technique do so because they believe that the tape will help reduce the amount of shattered glass if an object strikes the window. Not only is this not true, it’s actually dangerous. When taped, glass windows may break into larger shards, which can be more dangerous than small pieces.
Another myth is that keeping a window cracked helps equalize the pressure inside the home. This is false; it actually worsens the problem. An open window that allows debris to enter the home at high speeds also puts you at greater risk.
Open or Install Your Hurricane Shutters
In some areas, you might have hurricane shutters that come with the house. Some of these open and close accordion-style while others roll down like a garage door. Hurricane shutters should be permanently-installed on your windows so they can be opened quickly and be secured. If you bought a house and found a large collection of perforated sheet metal stashed in the garage, that’s probably your hurricane shutters. They’re usually numbered and fairly easy to install, but you’ll need a ladder, protective gloves, and another pair of hands to help you to put them up.
Strap Down Roofs
Roofs may seem like secure structures, but if you’ve never faced a hurricane before, you’d be surprised by just how vulnerable they can be to strong winds. Some homes lose large portions, or their entire roofs, during a Category 5 hurricane. Rather than leave it up to luck, prepare in advance by securing your roof down.
The best way to secure your roof is by using hurricane straps or clips to help minimize your risk of roof damage. Both the straps and clips help to fasten the roof to your home, giving it a better chance of making it through the storm unscathed.
Caulk Around Windows and Doors
If you’re worried about water leaking through door jambs and window crevices, plan to circumvent the issue by caulking these spaces. Even if your hurricane gets downgraded by the time it reaches your home, a heavy rain can still cause major flooding or home damage. Caulking the gaps and leaks around your home will help minimize any interior damage from rain.
Secure Outside Structures
Many homeowners purchase pools, outside furniture, and yard decor in anticipation of some backyard summer fun. But during hurricane season, these items can quickly become a dangerous liability. If you have outside items that can be moved indoors, do so—it’s often the easiest and safest approach. For items that are too large or dirty to come inside (like lawn care tools, kayaks, pool chairs), you’ll need another plan for securing them.
If you have a pool, a creative way of keeping your (waterproof) belongings safe is by submerging them in the pool. For pools with a liner, you may want to put tennis balls on the bottom of chairs and chaise lounges to prevent scratching your pool’s liner. Once you’ve evaluated your belongings, you can then toss them all into the pool. The furniture will sink and stay safe during even the heaviest wind and rain.
If you don’t have a pool or your item won’t fit in your pool, you’ll need to either secure it or move it to a safe location. You can always stake down a sizeable item, use rope to keep it from moving, rent protected storage space, or just move items to an area that isn’t expected to get hit by the storm.
Some of the worst damage caused by hurricanes is due to fallen trees and branches hitting your home or vehicles. Schedule regular tree maintenance to lower your risk. As you approach the hurricane season, trim all trees and shrubbery in anticipation of heavy winds and rain. If there’s a particular tree or plant that you’re worried about, remove it entirely.
Trimming branches not only protects you and your home, it also helps protects the trees and bushes themselves. Strong, sustained winds can tear trees and shrubs with large bushy canopies out of the ground and destroy their root systems, which can be a death sentence for larger plants.
Homeowners living in an area that’s frequent target for hurricanes should choose a more robust insurance policy to cover serious damage. Depending on your needs, you can purchase wind and flood insurance that can help if your home has been affected by either issue.
How Do I Stay Safe During a Hurricane?
With winds surpassing 156 mph in a category 5, hurricanes can cause quite the ruckus. Keeping yourself, your family, and your pets are safe during a hurricane should be your main concern. Below are some important hurricane safety tips:
Bar the Door
Just because you’re indoors during a hurricane doesn’t mean you’re completely out of harm’s way. If you have outside facing doors that open inward to the house, be sure to block the door with a piece of heavy furniture or sandbags if the winds are exceptionally strong. Your door can be blown in by the force of the wind or large flying debris. Even if the weather isn’t too rough, secure and lock all doors. Looting may be a problem in areas with mandatory or voluntary evacuations.
While some people want to go outside to experience the elements, this is not a good idea. Even if you’re able to walk in the winds, you’re at risk of being pelted with debris, knocked over during a strong gust, or carried away by rushing water in flooded areas. Stay safe by staying indoors until the storm has passed and the authorities have announced you can safely go outside again.
Pro Tip #4: Make sure you have plenty to do at home to stave off boredom. A few days trapped at home can give anyone cabin fever, so stock up on a few books, packs of cards, or board games to keep everyone in your house entertained. If you have a sizeable stash of backup batteries (just in case the power goes out), you can even use the time to catch up some of your favorite TV shows or handheld video games.
Beware of Downed Electricity Lines
Downed power lines are a significant hazard following hurricanes and other violent storms. Never step in puddles near damaged power lines or broken poles following a hurricane. If you walk your dog after a hurricane passes, do not let her step in puddles either.
If you see someone unconscious near or around damaged or leaning power line poles, do not approach. Call for help and stay a safe distance away. Too many well-meaning people have tried helping those who have been electrocuted only for the same to happen to them.
Prepare for Hurricane Season Now
Hurricane Season forces us to examine our level of preparedness for natural disasters. While hurricanes should always be met with an appropriate level of seriousness, there’s much you can do in advance to prepare. It’s never too early to start, but you’ll know when it’s too late—the stores will be picked clean and the sky has turned an ominous shade of grey.
Don’t get caught scrambling for supplies at the last minute. Stock up on the things you’ll need now. By safeguarding your family and home, you’re taking the necessary steps to ride out the hurricane with both safety and comfort in mind.
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