How To Prepare For A Hurricane? The A-Z Guide
It’s only been weeks since Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana as a category 4 storm, and we’re already seeing reports of another tropical storm forming over the Atlantic.
There have been a total of 14 storms so far this year in the Pacific typhoon season, and even Europe hasn’t escaped extreme weather conditions. Both Germany and Belgium were most heavily affected when heavy rain over a 24-hour period resulted in dozens of deaths and billions in flood damage.
You simply cannot just blame the natural hurricane season on these events anymore. Climatologists have been warning about this for years, and it looks like this will be a lasting phenomenon, no matter how well the world tackles climate change.
So, a few months ago, I took matters into my own hands and started to make a plan to prepare for a hurricane.
But let me first show you why I think this is important for every household.
How Climate Change Is The Culprit Behind Frequent Hurricanes and Tropical Storms
Breaking down the relationship between climate and storms is complicated, but there are a few concepts that you can look at that will help you understand how things are getting worse and not better.
Let’s start with the basics.
How Do Hurricanes Form?
All tropical cyclones are born in tropical latitudes close to the equator and over an ocean. With the right combination of surface sea temperatures from mid to late summer, moisture builds up in the atmosphere given the right atmospheric pressure.
These conditions increase from mid-summer to fall, which is why we typically refer to it as hurricane season when the number of severe storms increases. Once the wind speeds in these tropical cyclones hit 74 mph, the storm officially becomes a hurricane.
How Are Oceans Impacting Storms?
I just mentioned that it’s a combination of moisture in the air, air pressure, and ocean surface temperatures that set the stage for a storm.
Now, considering that air temperatures are rising, we already have one ingredient for an increase in humidity over the Oceans. And because the surface water temperature has also been rising, there is an even greater chance of storms forming with extremely high winds.
Have Hurricanes And Storms Become Stronger?
Rather than focus on the number of storms we see in a typical hurricane season, it’s far more important to look at how severe those storms have become.
And data from the National Hurricane Center clearly shows that the number and the severity of the hurricanes has been in an upward trend in the last century.
Are Hurricanes Delivering More Rain?
So, in theory, when there is more moisture in the air, then there’s a higher potential for rainfall. And while the severely high winds of a hurricane do a lot of damage, the biggest threat to life and property comes from water.
A PNAS study from 2017 has calculated that the chances of a hurricane delivering 20 inches of rain in Texas have increased from once in 100 years to once in just under six years.
Are Hurricanes Moving At A Faster Speed?
The same study just mentioned above has also pointed out that storms are intensifying at a much faster pace than ever before. And this poses a very serious further risk.
As these storms gain speed more quickly, they become increasingly more difficult to predict, and as a result, they can catch people off guard.
The Most Devastating Hurricanes in the Recent Years
To show you that there has been a serious change in the pattern of tropical storm patterns developing into hurricanes, I’m going to show you what’s happened this year so far and how the last couple of years have been.
As of writing this article, we’re about halfway through the 2021 hurricane season, and we’ve already had some serious events.
So far this year, there have been six hurricanes over the Atlantic, and two of them have made landfall as hurricanes.
The first was Hurricane Grace which was a category 3 storm, and it hit Mexico in August. Fortunately, it rapidly lost strength, and the damage was relatively limited.
But then, just a few weeks later came Hurricane Ida. It intensified to a category 4 storm, and it made landfall in Louisiana on August 29. The result was that it became the 5th most costly hurricane in history, with over $50 billion in damage and a death toll of over 60.
2020 was another serious year for both the number of hurricanes and the damage they caused. There were a total of 14 hurricanes, and the worst of them was Hurricane Laura. This hurricane plowed through the Caribbean before hitting Louisiana and Texas. It destroyed over 10,000 homes and damaged another 130,000, making 2020 the 5th most costly year for damage from severe storms.
2019 was a relatively quiet year for hurricanes, with a total of 6 hurricanes recorded. But what the year lacked in numbers, it made up for in hurricane strength.
The strongest one was Hurricane Dorian which developed into a category 5 storm and hit Florida and South Carolina and brought a major storm surge with it. With thousands of power lines down, over 160,00 homes in Florida alone lost electricity for days and even weeks. It also destroyed vast areas of crops, and it even triggered over 20 tornadoes.
There were a total of 8 hurricanes in 2018, and by far the worst was a category 5 one called Hurricane Michael. It registered maximum sustained speeds over Panama City, Florida, of over 160 mph and brought devastating damage with it.
There have been obviously many more over the years, with Hurricane Katrina and Sandy being two of the most horrifying ones in U.S. history.
The Three-Phase Hurricane Preparedness Strategy
So, we’ve established that hurricane seasons are getting worse and that all kinds of storms have become stronger in all parts of the world.
When that became clear to me, I was convinced that I needed to take some actions to stay safe if the worst-case scenario happened near me.
1. Now: Prepare for the Worst!
The right time to prepare for a hurricane is right now. Once you're done reading this article, start making your plans and use the checklist below to start accumulating everything you need.
And you want to do that even if there is no sign of a hurricane or tropical storm forming. As I described above, these storms are developing faster than ever before, and there are many things that you might not have time to get with just a few days' notice.
During the planning phase, you need to focus on emergency supplies, making an evacuation plan, and knowing how to prepare your home for the worst.
2. During: Stay Calm and Follow Govt. Instructions
As a hurricane heads in your direction, it’s important to monitor weather reports and advice from your local government. And way before the storm makes landfall, you have to make a plan for when and under what circumstances you will evacuate.
This could be based on whether the eye of the storm is heading your way or what category the storm is. Your decision should also be based on whether you live in low-lying areas that could be more affected by high winds and flooding.
By making those evacuation decisions before the storm hits, you’ll take emotion and fear out of the decision process and be able to keep your family safe.
3. After: Return Home and Start Cleanup
You also need a plan for once the hurricane has passed. It’s important not to make emotional and rash decisions to head back to your home if you have evacuated. Many people face the most dangerous situations when they head back to flooded areas and partially damaged homes.
Only when it’s safe should you consider returning to your home to start with the cleanup process. And ideally, you’ll have planned ahead for materials and equipment that you might need for dealing with the aftermath of a hurricane.
Let’s get into some details of creating a plan.
The Planning Phase: How Did I Prepare For A Hurricane?
Here are the seven preparation tips I followed to make sure that I can keep my family safe if we have to deal with a hurricane.
1. Create An Evacuation Plan
There are many situations where you might need to evacuate your family. In some cases, local governments will issue evacuation orders, and this is most common when hurricanes exceed category 4 or when a major storm surge is expected to cause widespread flooding. See, it’s the rain and floodwater that can become the biggest danger and not the high winds.
But even if there is no official order to evacuate, you should make your own plan to do so if certain things happen.
Here’s what I did.
If a hurricane is expected to make landfall as a category 4 or higher storm indicating extremely high wind speeds, then we pack up and leave two days before. The same is the case if a category 3 storm coincides with a high tide resulting in higher risks of flooding in low-lying areas.
I created a list of all the nearest shelters and multiple routes to get to them, along with contact information for the organizations running those shelters. You can also use the FEMA app to find the nearest ones.
Another thing I did was to reach out to family and friends who live within an 8-hour drive who would be willing to accommodate my family for a couple of days, assuming they wouldn’t be affected by the worst of the storm.
Finding safety in the home of someone you know is going to be a lot more comfortable than a shelter. And it leaves more spaces available for those in need to get into a shelter.
Once you have a plan in place, make sure you stick with it. Don’t start second-guessing whether it might be OK to wait a bit longer to see if the storm loses strength. If it does happen, then you’ve lost nothing by being on the safe side.
There’s one last thing I would add.
Even if you have a safe room or a bunker-like structure where you can hide out the hurricane, it’s still best to evacuate if such an order is given. Severe flooding could make your safe area a risky environment. And if you need emergency help after the hurricane, then it might be difficult or impossible for EMS teams to get to you.
2. Have a Go-Kit Ready (3 Days of Supply)
If you need to evacuate, then it’s important to have a go-kit ready. In most cases, you’ll likely evacuate by car, and it’s important that your go-kit is small enough for you to load up the car in a matter of minutes.
You’ll ideally have about three days of supplies for the most important things like water and food. Even though the shelter you evacuate to might have plenty of supplies, it’s always good to have a backup.
Only pack non-perishable and dry food and ideally things that don’t require cooking.
You also need an emergency kit with first aid supplies and any important prescription drugs you or a family member is taking.
Then you’ll need things like flashlights, a two-way radio, extra batteries, and a mobile charger for your phones. And you also need to pack up important documents like passports and insurance policies.
Only when you have taken all the necessary precautions to put that emergency kit together should you consider packing extra clothing. Remember, you want to be able to leave your home within minutes to get to safety.
3. Have A Stay-At-Home Kit Ready (2 Weeks Of Emergency Supply)
The great thing about having an emergency kit ready is that the same one will work for your stay kit. The absolute most important stuff is all in one place, and if you need to lock yourself in one room for a day or more, then you don’t have to go and gather up emergency supplies.
One advantage you do have with the stay-at-home emergency kit is that along with important documents, first aid stuff, and a radio, you can and should pack even more extra batteries and food supplies.
And speaking of food and water, you should aim to have at least two weeks' worth of supplies at home. That means bottled water and canned or dried food that will keep you fed and hydrated if you end up cut off from your nearest store due to flooding.
And with power outages likely, it’s important to have enough food that won’t require cooking or refrigeration.
4. Fortify Your Home Against Hurricanes
OK, so you’ve made your plan and have your stay at home and go-kit ready. Now it’s time to protect and prepare your personal property as well as possible.
First things first.
Don’t leave this step until a few hours before the hurricane is going to make landfall. You want to do this several days before when it’s not raining, or the high winds have started.
Fortifying your home is all about finding all your weak points. You’re only as safe as your home's vulnerability at its weakest point. And here are a couple of areas to look at.
You need to check every one of your exterior doors to make sure there are at least three hinges and a heavy locking or deadbolt system. If you have a door that doesn’t comply with this rule, or you have a glass door, then you need to consider covering it with plywood panels that you nail to the frame.
You can also consider making some large investments in floodproof barriers for your doors, as this is where the most significant risk of water damage comes from.
Ideally, you would invest in storm shutters long before there is a chance of a storm. Proper storm shutters offer maximum protection, and it will only take you a few minutes to close them tight.
Alternatively, you’ll need some plywood panels and nail these to the window frames.
Don’t worry about minor damage to window frames. That will be nothing compared to debris smashing through your windows.
All modern garage doors come with a wind pressure rating. The problem with old ones is that they can buckle, or the slide rails won’t hold up to the pressure.
And when something as large as a garage door tears open in the middle of a category 4 hurricane, then the wind getting into your home can pose serious risks to your property and personal safety.
Yard And Garden
If you have any furniture, toys, equipment, potted plants, and trash cans around your home, then make sure you lock them away safely.
They will end up miles away in a serious hurricane, and they can become a lethal flying object doing damage to your property or that of neighbors.
And finally, you need to store important documents like passports and insurance policies, as well as valuables in a safe location where they are least likely to become exposed to water.
Ideally, buy a waterproof safe or storage box that you can keep in a closet for the duration of the storm.
Don’t underestimate the importance of these tips. Not only will they keep you and your property safer, but they could also be requirements under insurance policies.
5. Communication Is the Key to Survival
Whether you have decided to stay or evacuate, you have to keep communication channels open during and following a hurricane.
Here’s the tricky thing.
You’ll have to assume that the wind will take down many communication lines, including your landline phone, Internet, and cell phone coverage. It’s also likely that power lines are down with power outages often lasting days or even weeks.
And there’s only one thing you can rely on then.
Make sure you invest in a portable and battery-powered two-way radio and that you learn how to use it. Local government and emergency services will use these predominantly for communication, and it will give you a way to stay informed about what’s going on during and after the hurricane.
It’s also a good idea to speak with your neighbors before the hurricane and get the contact information and call signs from those that also have a two-way radio. It’s an extra security net for neighbors to come to each other's aid and support when EMS organizations might still be struggling to deal with the aftermath.
6. Learn Emergency Skills
It’s one thing having emergency supplies and a first aid kit. But do you actually know how to use those supplies?
Find out if any local authorities or community schools offer first aid and emergency medical skills training. It’s not just about being able to do CPR, dressing a wound, or supporting a broken limb.
You should also learn about disease control, especially if there is a high risk of flooding. Diseases were some of the most problematic issues that people had to deal with in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
7. Plan For The Cleanup
And finally, you will be faced with quite a clean-up effort once the hurricane has passed and any flooding has drained away. And once your home is a safe place to enter, you want to immediately start on the cleaning up job.
To prepare for this, you’ll want to get a few supplies ready.
Buy a few rolls of large heavy-duty trash bags. If you’re lucky, then your home fortifications have held up, and you only have to gather up debris in your yard. But prepare for worse and have several rolls of these in storage.
You might also need some DIY tools to deal with urgent repairs and cleaning up. This could include a small gas-powered chainsaw but also plenty of different size nails to make some temporary fixes to any damaged property.
Another good idea is to invest in a water pump if you think there’s a risk of flooding. Being able to get any flood water out of your home as quickly as possible is the best way to limit the damage and potential health hazards from waterborne diseases and mold.
What To Do During The Hurricane?
OK, once the hurricane makes landfall, you’re either at a designated shelter, or maybe you've moved somewhere else far enough away to keep your family safe.
But if you’re at home, then there are a few things to keep in mind.
Choose The Safest Room
Ideally, you need to pick an internal room with no exterior doors or windows where you can stay for hours where wind speeds are at the highest. Make this area as comfortable as possible and keep your emergency supplies there as well.
And make sure you unplug appliances to avoid electrical shorts.
Also, store important documents in this location in case you need to evacuate after the storm has passed.
If you don’t have an internal room, then pick one with the best fortifications and facing away from the storm. For example, if you expect winds to be coming from the Southwest, then keep your family and valuables in a room to the Northeast of your home, ideally with storm shutters.
Monitor Emergency Communications
Keep the radio and any other outside communication channels open for the worst parts of the storm. Many radio stations and local authorities will provide regular updates about the path and severity of the hurricane.
You’ll also get some information about disruptions to power lines and flooding. This is vital for the days after the hurricane where you might need to leave your home to get supplies.
Make sure to keep note of such information so that you can avoid the worst-hit areas.
Avoid Taking Risks
This is possibly the most important tip. All your preparations should have led you to a point where you remain safe for the most intense period of the storm. If you’ve prepared everything, then during the storm is not the time to second guess your decisions.
You’ll hear garage doors rattle and even buckle, and despite your best efforts, some windows might break. But don’t be tempted to take risky actions. Stay where it’s safe and wait for the wind and rain to die down.
Post-Hurricane Recovery Strategies
I’ve broken this section into two parts.
Your personal safety is vital after a hurricane, and this is not a time to take unnecessary risks. Stay at a shelter until it’s safe to leave, and avoid leaving your home if you stay at home. And once the storm is over, take these safety precautions.
1 - Inspect Your Food
There’s a high likelihood that you’ll lose electricity, and that will make keeping food refrigerated very difficult. And flooding will also put some of your food supplies at risk of water damage.
Once the storm is over, carefully assess all the food and discard anything that you haven't been able to keep dry or at the right temperature.
2 - Avoid Drinking Tap Water
This is an important one. Flood water can quickly compromise water reservoirs, especially if you live close to the coast, where a storm surge could contaminate water supplies with saltwater.
There’s also an increased risk of bacterial contamination for several days or weeks. So, only rely on bottled water after a hurricane.
3 - Avoid Wading Through Water
If the area around your home has flooded, then make sure you avoid heading out until most of the water abates. Even if you have the proper gear to wade through water, you simply cannot see what’s below the water surface.
There’s likely to be lots of broken glass and sharp metal edges from debris. And you don’t want to deal with severe cuts exposed to contaminated water.
Start The Clean-Up
Once it’s safe to do so, it’s time to start cleaning up in and around your home.
1 - Get Rid Of Water
Your first priority has to be to remove any rain and flood water from your home. The longer this remains in your house, the more long-term damage it will make.
If you’re prepared with a gas-powered water pump, then get that into action as soon as possible. And then start mopping up the remaining water by hand.
2 - Remove Saturated And Water Damaged Furniture
Depending on how bad the flooding is, you could have quite a bit of furniture that you couldn’t protect from the water. It’s going to particularly impact things like upholstery, mattresses, and anything made of plywood.
Those things absorb water, and you’re unlikely to be able to salvage them.
3 - Dry Out Your Home
Open all the windows to start drying out your home. The more airflow you can generate through your home, the quicker things will dry out. It’s also a good time to remove any carpets, as they will hold too much water to make them easy to dry.
4 - Disinfect Exposed Areas
You have to look at any areas that were exposed to water as potential health hazards. You simply cannot rule out that the water wasn’t contaminated with bacteria. Have your cleaning supplies and a strong disinfectant cleaner ready to clean down any surfaces that were wet.
5 - Clean Up Debris
Once you have taken care of all the interior cleanup, it’s time to turn your attention to the rest of your property. There will be fallen trees and branches, as well as all sorts of debris that could have blown from miles away.
But be careful how you handle debris as there can be plenty of sharp edges and broken glass.
Get Hurricane Ready Before It’s Too Late
Preparing for hurricane season doesn’t have to be a huge hassle, especially if you give yourself plenty of time to prepare for disasters like this. And the great thing is that many of the most important steps to prepare for a hurricane won't cost you a penny.
You can create you own checklist based on my plan of actions mentioned in the guide.
The final piece of advice I would give you is that the best time to get started with preparing for disasters is right now.
Chris is one of GreenCitizen’s writers who has been a long-time advocate of individual responsibility when it comes to the environment. He shares GreenCitizen’s passion for making the world a better place every day of the year.