Hurricane season happens from June through November in the Atlantic Basin with peak season happening from mid-August to late-October. The Pacific Ocean’s hurricane season starts a little earlier in mid-April and goes through the end of November. If you live in an area where hurricanes are a real possibility, define a family hurricane plan and be ready to execute it.
What a Hurricane Is
A hurricane, also called a tropical cyclone, is a storm that forms over either tropical or subtropical waters. The right conditions have warm surface water evaporate up to the cool atmosphere where it begins to spiral into the cyclone. Once winds exceed 74 miles per hour, the cyclone becomes a hurricane.
Hurricanes are rated based on strength from Category 1 (the weakest) to Category 5, the strongest. While all hurricane categories have dangerous winds, extensive rain and extreme ocean conditions, hurricanes reaching Category 3 with winds exceeding 111 miles per hour and higher are considered major hurricanes expecting significant structure and infrastructure damage.
Know the Risks During a Hurricane
There are significant risks that any category of hurricane poses. The winds can easily damage roofs, uproot trees and cause objects to be propelled across the landscape. Power lines often become toppled and transformers can blow leading to power outages that last for days. Major hurricanes often have power issues for months in some areas.
Significant amounts of rain can lead to flash flooding and mudslides. On top of the rain, storm surge creates another flooding problem from the shores. As waves pound the coastline and water tries to run off into the ocean, storm surge pushes coastal waters into coastal communities with its water levels measured in feet not inches.
Your Family’s Risk During a Hurricane
Everything the storm brings is a hazard to you and your family. Determine if your home is in a flash flood or storm surge zone. Assess trees in and around your neighborhood that could potentially topple or have branches break off. Being out in the elements poses the greatest risk to you and your loved ones.
Being hit from a broken and flying object is one of the biggest risks to people and pets. Don’t drive through moving water areas or large pools of water. If you are outside, be aware of where power lines are. If any are down, be extremely careful not to get electrocuted. Flash flooding and storm surge can knock you off your feet or drag cars away out of control.
Make A Plan
Most families will have two plans in the event of a hurricane: hunker down or evacuate to a safe place. If you are in a known zone that floods or is expecting to be the hardest hit part of the storm, evacuation might be the best or only option. Establish a phone list of people in the area you need to account for in an emergency and those out of the area who can serve as a central contact point if communications become difficult.
Hunker Down and Shelter in Place
Sheltering in place simply means you are staying home to ride out the storm. Your home should be prepared with enough food, water and emergency supplies to last several weeks in the event that rescue help is unable to reach you.
Here are the basic steps to sheltering in place:
Step 1: Prepare the Exterior of the House
While most people will tape windows or board up some windows to protect against something crashing through the window, the bigger issues is internal air pressure. If there is a window open or place where the wind can get into your home, it can create enough pressure to push against the roof and lead to part of the roof (or all of it) flying off.
Take all lawn furniture, tools, toys and anything that is moveable and place it in the garage or somehow secure it. If you don’t have a place to put stuff inside, get a large tarp and wrap everything up in one big pile and duct tape it as tightly as possible. By making it one large item, you reduce the chance of things getting caught in a gust and flying off.
Step 2: Review All Home Shut Off Switches
This is the time you want to remind yourself of where the water, gas and electricity shut off valves and panels are. You don’t want to be out in the rain, wind and dark trying to figure out what to do in an emergency. Test them to make sure you remember how to turn things off and reset them later.
Note: Don’t shut the gas off ahead of time since you’ll need the gas company to come and reset it. Make sure you have the right tools to do so if needed.
If you have solar panels, review whether or not you need to shut the panels down. Some systems don’t have an automatic shutoff and surge protection. If yours doesn’t, you’ll want to power down as the storm gets stronger so surges don’t overload appliances or become a fire hazard.
Step 3: Stock Up on Emergency Supplies
Check food supplies including canned foods, emergency foods and water. You’ll need enough for everyone for at least a few days if not a few weeks. Your home supply includes the food already in your pantry, refrigerator and freezer. Don’t assume this will survive more than a few days especially if you lose power.
Packing items in the freezer help it stay cold longer. Access it as little as possible and only as needed.
Step 4: Stay Inside
Once you have done all the preparations and the storm is upon you, stay inside. Gather everyone to camp in the livingroom or other safe central location in the house. Play card games or board games and listen to the news to get updates. Once you are in, there is little reason to go outside. Only do so if there is an emergency situation you need to address outside like shutting the gas off.
Evacuate to a Safe Place
If you think you will need to evacuate, prepare your home just as you would if you were staying. It may be wise to shut utilities down in the event that something happens when you are gone. Evacuating should be done early and before roads and conditions become more hazardous. Listen to emergency personnel when it comes to your safety.
Determine where you will go, whether it is to a friend’s home, a hotel or a shelter. If you have animals, plan for their safe evacuation as well. Many animals die and many more fill shelters after hurricanes because pet owners didn’t plan to evacuate them. If it isn’t safe for you, it isn’t safe for them. Many shelters offer a safe place in a different wing for pets.
Take your bug-out bag that should have essentials and important documents. Everyone in the family should have a bag especially for them, including your pets.
Build a Hurricane Kit
If you are sheltering in place, you will use all perishable items in your home first and then use foods in your freezer before moving to your stock of non-perishable food supplies. If you are evacuating, you probably don’t have space to take a lot. Pack enough non-perishable food and water to last a few days for each family member.
Key Supplies for an Emergency Kit
Think about your emergency kit in two components. It should have food and water and emergency gear.
The key food items for your emergency kit are:
- Water: 1 gallon per person per day
- Canned Goods
- Peanut Butter
- Granola and energy bars
The key emergency gear for your kit include:
- First Aid Kit
- Solar/Hand Crank Radio
- Rain Gear
- Tool Kit
- Cash (small denominations)
- Paper Towels
- Baby Wipes
- Hand Sanitizer
- Plastic Utensils and Paper Plates
- Garbage Bags
- Plastic Tarp
- Aluminum Foil and Sealable Plastic Bags
- Barbeque Gear
- Manual Can Opener
Other items to include in the kit is food and water for pets, extra leashes, harnesses, food bowls and pet carriers for evacuation.
Include personal necessities such as extra eyeglasses, medications, diapers or anything else you may need. Also keep a USB flash drive with pictures of all pertinent personal details, insurance policies and bank information.
Having a fully charged cell phone is wise. Get an extra battery charger and be sure to get it fully charged. Some emergency radios now come with USB ports to charge cell phones.
Check Your Hurricane Insurance Policy
Call your insurance company to make sure you have hurricane insurance. You can wait until the start of hurricane season if you like but keep in mind that if there is a threat on the way, insurance companies will not underwrite any new policies. They won’t allow you to adjust deductibles or increase coverage either until the moratorium is lifted.
If you live in a hurricane zone and own a home, it is best to keep hurricane insurance current and updates even if you don’t think you’ll get affected. Homeowners insurance will not cover the damage resulting from hurricanes high winds, rising waters or other perils.
Stay Tuned: News and Government Officials
Know what is going on at all times. You might be in a safe place to shelter in place but that can change very quickly. If you don’t have power, use your emergency radio to listen to updates from weather and emergency personnel. If you get the notice to evacuate, do so quickly. That means you need to be prepared with the car packed with bug-out bags as well as kids and pets gear.
If an evacuation order has been given, that isn’t the time to start gathering things. It is grab and go time. If you’ve been hunkered at home and the situation changes, it already means you’ll be driving out in less-than-favorable conditions. The longer you wait the more danger you are in.
Final Thoughts on Hurricane Preparedness
There is only so much rescue personnel can do during a storm and immediately after. They have to keep themselves safe as well. Make choices that keep you safe and self-sufficient. Chances are that shopping for groceries won’t be easy or cheap right after a hurricane. Plan ahead and be prepared.
For more information on emergency preparedness, check out our guide.
Be safe smart!