Essential Steps to Prepare for Hurricane Season
When the sun is shining, it’s easy to forget that hurricane season is upon us, but it’s actually the best time to prepare. Don’t wait until the sky turns grey to protect your home and stock up on food and supplies. Begin now so you're prepared when a hurricane hits.
Difference Between Hurricanes and Tropical Depressions
A hurricane is an immense, low-pressure weather system of thunderstorms that rotates around itself and wreaks havoc among everything in its erratic path. Even those living in areas prone to this type of weather may not understand the difference between tropical cyclones, tropical depressions, and hurricanes. The difference lies in the speed of the wind. Winds of less than 39 mph are tropical cyclones, while tropical storms have winds of 39 mph or more. A storm is not classified as a hurricane until the wind surpasses a speed of 74 mph. Once a storm is classified as a hurricane, it is then categorized by its strength. Using the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, hurricanes are ranked on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the strongest and 1 the weakest. A category 5 hurricane is expected to cause the greatest damage. For example, Maria, Harvey, Irma, Andrew, and Katrina were some of the most destructive storms in recent years, and all except Harvey (category 4) were category 5 storms. Even if a hurricane is only rated a category 1, it is still incredibly dangerous and you must be prepared. Category 1 hurricanes can worsen and quickly climb the scale into more worrisome categories. Never underestimate a tropical storm or hurricane – it’s always best to expect the worst.
When is Hurricane Season?
Hurricane season begins June 1 and ends November 30, but the most active time of year for these storms usually runs from August to September. During these months, multiple systems develop one after the other, creeping closer toward the Gulf of Mexico or up the coastline. Some hurricanes do occasionally form outside of this window but the vast majority occur between these dates, with an average of twelve storms per year. Only 3% of all Atlantic hurricanes occur between December and May.
When Should I Prepare for a Hurricane?
If a storm is already in the news and has a name, the best time to prepare for that hurricane was yesterday. Since you can’t time travel, your next best option is to start gathering supplies now. Preparing in advance allows you to enjoy the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’re ready for anything. It also better positions you to take care of your family and pets when a hurricane hits. In addition to stocking up on supplies, it’s important to create a hurricane plan. When anticipating a dangerous storm, find out where you can seek shelter and have an evacuation plan ready. Storms and hurricanes can suddenly change directions, so be prepared even if you’re not in its direct path.
The most important items to have stored in case of a hurricane are food and water, pet supplies, first aid, means of communication, and a packed “go bag.”
Food and Water
Make sure you have enough food and water to ride out a lengthy storm. Don’t count on food delivery services, restaurants, and grocery stores, as they aren’t usually open or available 24 hours before or after a hurricane. If you live in an area that’s expected to receive sustained winds and rain for days at a time, make sure you keep enough water and non-perishable food on hand. To calculate how much water you need, multiple a minimum of one gallon of drinking water a day by how many people and pets you have in your household, and then add a bit extra. To avoid drinking your water supply before you need it, stock up on large 3-gallon water jugs. Unlike individual water bottles, they’re inconvenient enough that you won’t be as tempted to drink them before the hurricane hits. For food, anything that’s non-perishable will work, but it’s best to choose items that are filling and healthy food. Spending several days locked up in your home without power or entertainment can be tedious, so be sure to stock up on some appetizing non-perishable foods to keep your household happy. Most canned foods are safe to eat without heating, so you can eat canned soups, meats, and vegetables cold. Here are some items to include on your grocery list:
- Shelf-stable bread
- Peanut or almond butter
- Jams and fruit preserves
- Canned Tuna
- Dried fruit
- Energy bars
- Canned beans
- Canned vegetables
- Trail mix
- Boxed nut or seed milk (place in cooler after opening)
- Dry cereal and granola
Tip #1: On the days leading up to the storm, consider picking up fresh fruit like apples, oranges, grapes, and bananas to keep yourself from getting burned out on non-perishables. Last-minute shoppers will raid the soup and snack aisles, so you’ll have plenty of fresh produce to choose from.
Pick up a complete first aid kit at your local pharmacy or assemble your own with 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 conditions that require medication, be sure to keep enough on hand to make it at least a week without a visit to the pharmacy. If you require a syringe, set aside a week’s worth for emergency use only.
Tip #2: Fill your bathtubs with water and keep a bucket nearby to fill your toilet tank with water in case your city decides to turn off the water if the purification system becomes damaged or contaminated.
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.
Tip #3: Storms and hurricanes can cause anxiety for your pets, which can sometimes lead to changes in behaviour. For example, if your dog is usually calm and friendly, they may become aggressive under stressful circumstances, especially when a hurricane disrupts familiar landmarks and scents for them.
Means of Communication
It’s extremely important that you are able to receive emergency instructions and alerts from authorities. Don’t count on having your phone or laptop charged and your Wi-Fi fully functional. Have backup external batteries ready to go in case the power goes out or the internet goes down. Tip #4: Have a battery-powered or hand-crank radio on hand so you can listen to news and alerts even if cellular signals fail or become jammed.
A Packed “Go Bag”
It’s often more dangerous for people to be out on the road than at home, so do not leave your home unless authorities recommend it. If there is a mandatory evacuation for your area, you’ll save yourself valuable time and peace of mind 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 three days should you need to evacuate. This includes water, food, flashlight, power brick, ID, several changes of clothes, toiletries, a small first aid kit, charge cords, a map of your city or state, and your pet’s vet records, food, and supplies. If your home is in the path of a hurricane or significant flooding, be sure to also take your passports, health insurance cards, computer, social security cards, deeds, car titles, birth and marriage certificates, health records, and a list of local emergency phone numbers and your own emergency contacts. Keep these items together in a box or a packed suitcase so it’s easy to grab and go. Remember, the items in your go bag depend on your personal needs. For example, if you have a baby, pack diapers, formula, and anything else they may need. If you wear glasses or contact lenses, pack those as well. Tip #5: Gas up your vehicle as soon as you hear about a hurricane or tropical storm heading your way. Gas stations often run dry a day or two before landfall, so bring gas cans to the station before the lines at the pumps get out of control. You don’t want to risk getting stuck with a quarter tank of gas when you’re trying to evacuate.
How Do I Protect My House From a Hurricane?
Hurricanes can be devastating for your personal property and surrounding neighborhood. Follow these steps to protect your home:
Cover Your Windows
High wind speeds can cause debris to shatter windows. Shattered glass is a safety concern and it opens up your home to the dangerous elements outside. If you don’t have hurricane-tempered glass windows, the best and most affordable option is to safeguard your windows with wooden boards such as plywood. If you do have hurricane-tempered glass windows, you don’t need to board your windows. In areas where hurricanes are a common occurrence, your house may come with hurricane shutters. Some hurricane shutters open and close accordion-style while others roll down. Make sure your hurricane shutters are permanently installed on your windows so they can be quickly opened and secured at a moment’s notice. There is a common myth that duct taping an ‘X’ on your window can reduce the amount of shattered glass should the window break. Not only is this untrue, it’s dangerous. When taped, glass can break into larger shards, which can be even more dangerous than small pieces. Another myth is that keeping your windows open a crack can help equalize the pressure inside the home. This is also untrue. An open window may allow debris to enter your home at high speeds, putting you and your home at greater risk.
Strap Down Your Roof
Roofs have been known to partially or completely blow off during strong hurricanes. The best way to secure your roof is by using hurricane straps or clips to minimize the risk of damage. Roof straps and clips help fasten the roof to your home, giving it the best chance of making it through the storm.
Secure Your Outdoor Items
Pools, outside furniture, and yard décor can quickly become a dangerous liability during hurricane season. Before a hurricane is expected to hit, bring as many of your outdoor items indoors as possible. For items that are too big or dirty to come inside, such as lawn care tools, kayaks, and pool chairs, you’ll need another strategy for securing them. If you have a pool, a smart way to keep your waterproof belongings safe is by submerging them. The furniture will sink and stay safe during even the heaviest wind and rain. For pools with a liner, put tennis balls on the bottom of chairs and chaise lounges to prevent scuffing before submerging. If you don’t have a pool or your items won’t fit in your pool, you can either secure them or move them to a safe location. Stake down sizeable items and use rope to keep them from moving, rent a protected storage space, or transport items to an area the storm isn’t expected to hit.
Trim Your Trees
Fallen trees and branches can cause major damage to people, homes, and vehicles, as well as the trees themselves. Schedule regular tree maintenance and as hurricane season approaches, trim all trees and shrubbery in anticipation of heavy winds and rain. If there’s a particular tree or plant you’re concerned about, the best remedy could be to remove it entirely.
Caulk Around Your Windows and Doors
If there’s a chance water could leak through door jams or window crevices, caulk them. Even if the hurricane is downgraded by the time it reaches your home, heavy rain can still cause major flooding and home damage.
If your neighborhood is susceptible to hurricanes, consider investing in a robust plan that includes wind and flood insurance.
How Do I Stay Safe During a Hurricane?
Keeping yourself, your family, and your pets safe during a hurricane should always be your top priority. Here are some important hurricane safety tips:
Bar the Door
Lock and block your exterior doors on the inside with a piece of heavy furniture or sandbags to avoid the force of wind or flying debris blowing in your door. This may also protect you against looting, which can occur in areas with mandatory or voluntary evacuations.
It can be tempting to leave your home and experience the elements during a storm or hurricane. Don’t do it. Even if you’re able to walk in the winds, you’re risking being pelted with debris, getting knocked over during a strong gust, or carried away by rushing water during a flood. Stay safe indoors until the storm passes and authorities announce you can safely go outside again. To avoid cabin fever that can lead to the temptation to go outdoors, make sure you have activities to do at home. Books, packs of cards, and board games are great to keep everyone in your household entertained. If you have a sizeable stash of backup batteries in case the power goes out, you can watch TV shows or play handheld video games.
Beware of Downed Electricity Lines
Downed power lines are a noteworthy threat following hurricanes and other extreme storms. Never step in puddles near damaged power lines or broken poles, as you risk being electrocuted. The same goes for your pets. Do not approach someone who is unconscious near or around damaged power line poles. Stay away and call for help to avoid electrocution.
Prepare for Hurricane Season Today
Now that you know how to prepare for hurricane season, start immediately. If you procrastinate, your local stores may run out of non-perishables and your local gas station may run out of gas. Plus, attempting to secure your home when the strong winds are already blowing can be uncomfortable and dangerous. Share this guide with friends and family to remind them to stay safe as well.
Sources: “Hurricane Research Division of AOML/NOAA.” Atlantic Oceanographic & Meteorological Laboratory, 2014, www.aoml.noaa.gov/hrd/. “Pets Safety Tips During Hurricane | NWC.” NW Climate, www.nwclimate.org/severe-weather/hurricane-preparation-guide/pets-safety/. “Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.” Glossary of NHC Terms, www.nhc.noaa.gov/aboutsshws.php. “What Are Hurricanes? What Happens during a Hurricane?” NDBC - Science Education, National Data Buoy Center, 28 June 2016, www.ndbc.noaa.gov/educate/hurr.shtml. “What's the Difference Between a Tropical Storm and a Tropical Depression?” Edited by Charles Cosner, NASA, NASA, pmm.nasa.gov/education/content/what-difference-between-tropical-storm-and-tropical-depression.