Hurricane season occurs every year between June 1st and November 30th. This means that for six months out of the year, residents of hurricane-prone states are at risk for the loss of life and property. The good news is that there are simple ways to prepare in advance for a hurricane as well as ways to stay up-to-date and safe during a tropical event. If you're ready to take these precautions, here are the top hurricane safety tips to follow every tropical storm season.
Hurricane Safety: How to Prepare Before the Hurricane Strikes
Anyone who lives in areas at risk of hurricane impact should take precautionary steps well before hurricane season starts. This includes all U.S. states bordering the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, as well as Hawaii and Mexico. It is also important to remember that the effects of hurricanes can be be felt far from the coast. High winds, flash flooding, and tornadoes can all be seen well after hurricanes make landfall and even after they are downgraded to a tropical storm or tropical depression.
Update Your Insurance Plan
One of the best ways to prepare for a hurricane is to make sure you're fully covered if one causes damage to or destroys your home. Many people don't realize that a simple homeowners' policy will not cover certain types of weather events. It is important for renters and homeowners to call their provider and inquire about the following.
- Coverage Limits: Is all of your property accounted for under your policy? Make sure the monetary amount you've chosen accounts for all your belongings.
- Jewelry, Fine Art, and Collectibles Insurance: Did you know that these are not covered under a general policy? You need a rider or floater policy to protect these high-end items.
- Flood Insurance: Folks who live in hurricane-prone areas should always hold a flood insurance policy. A general homeowner's policy will NOT cover any damages or loss that occurs when flooding impacts a home.
- Wind Insurance: High winds from hurricanes and tornadoes can bring catastrophic damage to property. Having this type of policy can ensure that you are covered in these types of weather events.
Determine Evacuation Routes
Make sure you know potential evacuation routes in all directions away from the coast.
- Your local emergency management agency (EMA) is the best source for this information.
- Familiarize yourself with hotels along the route that can meet individual needs such as accessibility, pet-friendliness, and long-term stays.
Locate Public Shelters
Familiarize yourself with the locations likely to be open as storm shelters in your local area in the event of a hurricane, as well as any applicable restrictions. For example, most shelters do not accept pets, and there may be particular locations designated for people with certain types of special needs. This information is generally available from the local EMA.
Build a Household Emergency Kit
A hurricane emergency kit that's stocked with non-perishable items can ensure that you have what you need when power is lost or you find yourself needing to evacuate. The top items to include are:
- Canned food
- Manual can opener
- Bottled water (one gallon for every person per day for several days)
- First aid kit
- Hand sanitizer
- Portable battery-operated or hand-crank radio (a weather radio is a great option)
- Batteries (including external cell phone batteries)
- Portable chargers and charging cables
- Sleeping bags
- Water purification tablets
- Feminine hygiene products
- Necessary prescription medications
- Important documents (insurance information, identification, etc.)
- Birth certificates
- Social security cards
- Business licenses
- Insurance policies
- Medical information
- Change of clothes and closed-toed shoes for every person
- Other necessities
Parents of children under one also need a stockpile of diapers, wipes, baby formula, baby bottles, and additional bottled water. We also advise storing a small container of dish soap and a shallow tupperware bowl since you will need to wash and reuse the bottles regularly in the case of an emergency.
Gather or Purchase Emergency Equipment
Power outages, uprooted trees, and structural damage to homes should all be expected when a hurricane hits your region. These items can help you handle these situations.
- Gasoline-powered chain saw
- Gas cans
- Charcoal grill
- Camp stove
If your state offers a tax-free holiday for severe weather supplies, this is a great time to purchase on these kinds of items.
Stock Up on Safety Gear
It is also a good idea to stock up on safety gear for yourself, including:
- Waterproof work or hiking boots
- Rubberized boots
- Long-sleeve work shirts
- Long pants
- Work gloves
These items will help protect you during the immediate aftermath of a hurricane and throughout clean-up efforts.
Prepare for Your Pets
It is also important that you make sure that you have supplies for the furry members of your family. A pet emergency kit should contain:
- Current veterinary records
- Food dishes
- Dry or canned food for at least a week
- Any medications your pets take regularly
- Reflective vest
- Other necessary supplies
Make a plan for taking your pet with you if you have to evacuate or locate safe kennels for boarding outside of the hurricane's path. Also, get familiar with local shelter policies regarding pets (keeping in mind that very few shelters accept animals), and look for hotels along the evacuation routes that accept animals. Additionally, post a pet rescue alert sticker on your home (available free from the ASPCA) to let rescue crews know to look for animals inside.
Hurricanes cause pets to get displaced, so it's imperative that you get your pets micro-chipped and make sure current ID and vaccination tags are attached to their collars. Don't forget to register your current email and phone number with the microchipping company online as well.
Prepare Your Home & Yard
In order to limit the damage that a hurricane can bring, make sure that your home and other building structures on your property meet hurricane building codes for your area. Here are some of the top indoor and outdoor maintenance steps to take:
- Purchase or build hurricane shutters or invest in plywood to cover windows, glass doors, and other weak spots.
- Trim down your vegetation. Homeowners should prioritize overhanging tree branches as these can cause notable damage.
- Clean your rain gutters and inspect your roof, taking care to replace damaged shingles and secure any that are loose.
- Move valuables that you won't bring in an evacuation order to a second story of your home. This can help to prevent flood damage.
Rock or pea gravel used in landscaping can become dangerous projectiles during a hurricane. Shredded bark or other soft mulch can be a great alternative. These replacements should be made before a tropical event is in the forecast.
Create an Online Inventory
Create an inventory of valuable possessions and back it up to cloud storage. It is also a good idea to store hard copies in a secure location, such as a safe deposit box or with a trusted friend or relative outside the hurricane's projected path.
What to Do When a Hurricane Approaches
When hurricane watches and warnings are issued, it's time to begin more urgent preparations to weather the storm. A hurricane watch indicates that hurricane conditions are possible in a designated area within 48 hours. A hurricane warning indicates that hurricane conditions are expected in a designated area within 36 hours. The forecasted track of the hurricane can shift unpredictably, so it's important to continuously look for updates on the path and to take urgent preparations.
Pay Attention to the Forecast
Check both the National Hurricane Center's website and the National Weather Service's website for your specific city for frequently updated forecasts, discussions, and maps indicating wind speed probabilities and impact areas to stay informed of the most current information on the storm's expected track.
You can also sign up for Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) that come directly from the National Weather Service. This can ensure that you receive up-to-date information as weather developments arise. However, it's important to note that these will only come through while you have cell service, so a weather radio is crucial to have as well.
Fuel Your Vehicles & Gas Cans
Fill the gas tanks of all vehicles and purchase additional fuel in gas cans to use in your generator, chainsaw, and dual-fuel camping stove after the storm. Gas stations along evacuation routes often experience shortages, so it's best to stock up early so you have an ample supply.
If you have a boat on your property, gas it up as well. You never know - you may need to use it.
Pull Out Emergency Money
Withdraw extra cash from bank accounts and print updated financial statements. This is because ATMs, credit card machines, and internet services may not be accessible for a while after a hurricane.
Put Up Your Window and Door Protection
Secure your windows by covering them with hurricane shutters (if you have them) or by boarding them up with plywood. DO NOT tape your windows. The idea that you should put masking tape on windows when preparing for a hurricane is a myth. This has not been advised since the early 1980s. At best, it's a waste of time and at worse, it increases the risk of injury from broken glass.
Secure Outdoor Items
Store any outdoor items that could get swept up easily inside. These includes children's toys, potted plants, bird feeders, yard tools, decorations, and trash receptacles. Then, secure trampolines, lawn furniture, and other large backyard items. This includes any gas grills (it is not safe to store propane indoors, even in the garage). Finally, cover your pool, outdoor vehicles, and other items with securely fastened tarps to minimize damage.
Gather Additional Supplies
Take stock of the household emergency supply kit that you put together before hurricane season to make sure you have a sufficient supply of all the items you may need during and after the storm. Be sure you have plenty of batteries for your flashlights and radios and charge them in advance of the storm. Also purchase charcoal to use for after-storm cooking of food that thaws. Make sure you have plenty of paper towels, toilet paper, tissues, and disposable plates and glasses on hand as well.
Stock Up on Non-Perishable Consumables
Stock up on non-perishable food and beverages, keeping in mind that your family may be dependent on these items before and after the storm. It's a good idea to make sure you have at least a week's worth of food on hand. Purchase items that don't require cooking or refrigeration and that provide nutritional value (such as canned tuna or beans, peanut or other nut butters, nut protein bars, whole grain bread or cereal, etc.) in addition to snack food items (chips, crackers, candy, etc.). Buy individual containers of beverages, such as juice boxes. Instant coffee is also good to have on hand.
Prepare Cooked Food
Because it's likely you'll lose power early in a hurricane, find ways to use perishable food that you have in advance of the storm. For example, milk, eggs and butter will go bad quickly once the refrigerator is off, but you can use them to prepare cookies in advance of the storm, and they won't require refrigeration. Use your slow cooker to prepare a hot meal that will stay warm for a while after the power goes out.
Stock Your Drinking Water
Make sure you have plenty of drinking water on hand. You can purchase bottled water as well as store tap water. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that you should "store at least 1 gallon of water per person per day for 3 days for drinking and sanitation. Try to store a 2-week supply if possible." This means that a family of four will need a minimum of 12 gallons, but ideally, 48 gallons is best.
Consider freezing some bottled water ahead of time and placing it in ice chests shortly before the storm is expected to hit so you'll have access to cold water as it thaws.
Adjust the temperature in your refrigerator and freezer to the coldest settings. The fuller your freezer is, the longer it will stay cold. Don't go buy extra food, but do place bottled water or food storage containers filled with tap water in empty spaces in your freezer. This will help keep food frozen longer after a power outage and provide you with cold drinking water as it starts to melt. Place an appliance thermometer in your freezer so you can make a wise decision about food safety after the storm.
Fill Up on Water for Bathroom Needs
Fill your bathtub, washing machine, and sinks with water so you have access to water other than your drinking supply to flush toilets or wash surfaces during and after the storm if water service is interrupted.
Get all prescriptions filled and purchase a sufficient supply of any over-the-counter medications to cover your family's needs for a few weeks. Keep all medications together so they can easily be gathered and packed in the event evacuation becomes necessary.
Stock Up on Pet Supplies and Make Arrangements for Safe Shelter
Stock up on food and medication for your pets. Keep a go-bag emergency kit handy that includes a leash, pet first aid supplies, and other items necessary for travel with pets. If you will need to board your pets through the storm, make arrangements as early as possible, as kennels in safe areas will likely fill very quickly. Make alternate arrangements for them if you're leaving and boarding is not possible. Do not leave your pets at home alone during the storm.
Follow Evacuation Orders
Follow all hurricane evacuation instructions from EMA officials. If you live on or very close to the coast, in a flood-prone areas, or in a mobile home in a warning area, there is a good chance that you will fall under a mandatory evacuation order. Even if you are not under mandatory evacuation, it may be in your best interest to leave the area, especially if you're expecting or if your family includes people who are elderly, very young, or have special medical needs.
Once a mandatory order is issued, traffic will become very heavy and you should expect significant delays. It's a good idea to leave early if you know you don't want to stay put during the storm.
Weather the Storm in a Safe Spot
If you plan to weather the storm at home, choose the safest spot in your home for your family to gather. This should be an interior, ground floor room with no windows or doors. This is often a bathroom, closet, or stairwell. Gather your emergency supplies to have on hand in the room, as well as sleeping bags, some food, drinking water, flashlights, and other items you may need during the hours of the storm. You may also want to bring in board games, books, or favorite toys to help keep kids occupied.
Basements and built-in storm shelters are fantastic places to shelter during a tornado, but in flooding events they can actually be quite dangerous. This is why it is so important to pay attention to the forecast throughout the event and to shelter on the ground floor during a hurricane.
Adjust Your Climate Control
If you are planning to stay home, lower the air conditioner temperature several hours in advance of storm impact, even if this means you need to put on a sweatshirt or sweater. This will help keep your home cool for as long as possible following a loss of power.
Make a Communication Plan
Advise concerned family members and friends about your preparations and give them emergency contact information. Designate a particular family member or close friend who lives outside of the expected storm impact area to be the go-to contact for people to notify regarding their situation after the storm has passed. This will make it possible to know when everyone has been accounted for as quickly as possible.
How to Stay Safe During a Hurricane
An area impacted by a hurricane can feel the storm for several hours or even multiple days, depending on the storm's size, how it is approaching, how fast it is moving, or if it stalls. Hurricanes are extremely dangerous. Survival can depend on following key safety tips during hurricane conditions.
Stay indoors at all times because flying debris and wind gusts are extremely dangerous. Do not go outside, even if the storm appears to have subsided, as this could be the eye of the storm. The eye can pass quickly and without warning, leaving you exposed when strong winds resume.
Keep updated by watching weather forecasts and news coverage as long as possible. Once you lose power, listen to your battery-operated radio or monitor via your cell phone as long as service is available.
Remain in the Safe Area
Do not wander around the house during a hurricane. In particular, stay away from windows and doors, even if they're locked and/or boarded shut. If you live in a multi-story house, do not go upstairs. Once storm conditions start to intensify, go to the chosen safe room and stay there.
Turn off Appliances
When your home loses power, turn off your air conditioner, water heater, and any other major electrical appliances that are running to reduce the chances of them being damaged due to power surges.
Help keep family members calm by engaging in activities that are as normal as possible. Board games can be a good way to keep everyone occupied in a constructive way as can telling stories or reading aloud from books.
Be Wary of Tornadoes
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), "almost all tropical cyclones making landfall in the United States spawn at least one tornado." It's important to stay alert to this possibility, being mindful of warning signs and following all tornado safety tips that are feasible in light of the hurricane conditions.
Address Health and Safety Needs
Be sure all family members take medications as scheduled since it may be difficult or impossible to get medical assistance even in a crisis situation. If anyone gets injured, immediately tend to all first aid needs.
Keep Your Refrigerator Closed
After the power goes out, avoid opening the refrigerator and freezer as much as possible. This will help keep the food inside cold and safe for as long as possible.
Stay Off the Phone
Don't use your phone (cell or landline) for any reason other than a true emergency that warrants contacting the authorities to request assistance.
What to Do After a Hurricane
After the hurricane has passed, the sense of relief can be overwhelming. However, additional caution is necessary to avoid dangerous situations from the storm's damage. Follow important tips to stay safe and begin the recovery process.
Listen for Official Updates
Listen to local officials for updates and instructions, venturing outdoors only when you are certain that it's safe to do so.
Dress With Safety in Mind
Do not venture outside after a hurricane in shorts or sandals. There may be significant debris and standing water, so wear waterproof, closed-toe shoes, long pants, and a long sleeve shirt.
After a hurricane, all kinds of hazards are possible. When you venture out, watch for (and stay away from) downed or weakened trees and limbs, debris, standing water, flooded or heavily damaged structures, downed power lines, etc. Family members who may not be able to stay away from hazards, like kids or those who are elderly, disabled, or injured, should not venture outside. Keep pets indoors as well. If you are involved in cutting trees or limbs, follow all power tool safety precautions.
Fast moving flood water should be avoided at all costs. It takes as little as six inches to sweep a person off their feet and as little as two feet of water to carry away a vehicle. You also have no idea what's underneath the water's surface, making walking and driving a very dangerous decision. Always turn around, don't drown.
Approach Recovery Safely
Chances are there will be a lot of physically demanding work that needs to be done following a hurricane. It's important to avoid over-exerting yourself or risking injury during the clean-up. It may be difficult to get proper medical care following a bad storm if you injure yourself. It's also important to take steps to avoid heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
Stay off the Roads
Stay home and avoid travel to keep roads open for emergency vehicles. If evacuation was necessary, return home only when authorities indicate it is safe for you to do so. The instinct to go home and check on your property is strong, but you have to realize that roads and bridges may be flooded, blocked by downed trees, or have sustained damage that makes it unsafe for you to travel. Plus, hurricane-related flash flooding can occur in areas far away from the storm's actual landfall location.
Minimize Phone Use
While it's natural to want to check in with loved ones and let family members know you are safe, try to do this via text messages or your social media profiles. This helps to keep phone lines clear for emergency services.
Report Utility Hazards
If you see damage to utility equipment, such as downed power or gas lines or broken water mains, immediately report them. Stay away from them.
If your property sustained damage from the storm, take pictures to have a record of the immediate aftermath. This can be very helpful for insurance purposes.
Take steps to protect your property from sustaining further damage where practical and safe. For example, if your roof is damaged and there are not hazards like loose limbs in the area, cover it with a tarp.
Practice Food Safety
You should never eat food or beverages that have come into contact with flood water. This is true even if the items are in sealed containers other than metal cans. Refrigerated perishables are generally safe for up to four-hours following a power outage. If they have been at over 40°F for more than two hours, they should be discarded.
Frozen food that has not reached more than 40°F can be safely refrozen (if power is available). If not, continue thawing, cook (using your camp stove or grill). Once it's cooked, you can eat it, share with neighbors, or store in your ice chest (if ice is available).
Staying Safe During a Hurricane
It is critical to take steps to protect yourself, your family, and your property before, during, and after a hurricane. These tips, though fairly comprehensive, don't include every single thing you should do or take into consideration - but they do provide a good start. If you live in an area where hurricanes are possible, educate yourself about these powerful storms and take all watches and warnings seriously. Above all else, pay attention to the advice of emergency management officials in your local area. Failing to take appropriate safety precautions can cost you your life.