Get Smart, not Scared
Hurricanes are intense tropical cyclones with sustained winds reaching 74 mph, qualifying them as a Category 1 storm (based on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which has a range of 1 to 5). A typical year averages around 12 named storms, six hurricanes, and three major hurricanes, but in 2019, there were 18 named storms, six of which became hurricanes, including three that were Category 3 or higher. The associated losses for damages caused by hurricanes and inland flooding last year was $45 billion, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Technically, hurricane season in the North Atlantic runs from June 1 to November 30, but these serious storms can form as early as May and even go into December. So far this year top hurricane forecasters from Colorado State University predict increased hurricane activity: a total of 20 named storms, nine hurricanes, and four major hurricanes. Five named storms have already formed as of July 6th.
Fortunately, thanks to hurricane warning apps, we can now get plenty of advance notice before a hurricane hits. Even if you do not live on a coast, you can be in the path of hurricane-strength storms during the season, but if you take smart measures, you’ll be better able to weather a hurricane if it hits your area. Get started here to learn the basics of smart hurricane preparedness for your family and your property.
Know Your Hurricane Risk
Contrary to popular belief, hurricanes are not just a coastal phenomenon. Tropical systems and coastal storms make landfall on the coast, but then track inland bringing storm surges, strong wind and rain, tornadoes, and flooding. The amount of moisture carried by the storm results in heavy rainfall well into the interior states. According to Ready.gov, storm surges—an abnormal rise in seawater level during a storm—are the leading cause of hurricane-related deaths in the United States. Storm surges can cause power outages and other utility interruptions that can impact your ability to leave the area or obtain emergency service due to secondary flooding in nearby rivers or lowland areas. Contact your local Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) office or Red Cross chapter for printed or online information about what official plans are in place to deal with hurricanes.
Make an Evacuation Plan
A family evacuation plan is essential, whether you live in a hurricane-prone area or not. The plan should include a predetermined meeting place in case family members get separated, the evacuation route in your area, and the location of your emergency kit. An emergency kit should include everything you need to survive on your own for several days including cash, non-perishable foods, flashlights, and prescription medication. For more info, see this evacuation plan article.
Know Your Evacuation Route
In the event of an emergency evacuation, there will be a designated route to leave your area. In addition to locating your evacuation routes in the event of an emergency, download the (FEMA) app for a list of open shelters during an active disaster in your area. The information is constantly updated and will reflect the emergency situation in your area. Make sure you have back up batteries to charge your phone so you do not run the risk of running down during an emergency. Also keep a paper copy of the address and phone numbers of shelters and physical maps of your evacuation routes just in case.
Understand Hurricane Terminology
Weather forecasters use terminology to indicate the level of threat to your area. A “hurricane warning” means that a specific area is within landfall of a storm with sustained winds of 74 mph or higher. The warning is issued 36 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical-storm-force winds. Warnings can remain in effect when water levels are dangerously high. A “hurricane watch” is issued when storms with sustained winds of 74 mph or higher are possible within a specified area. Watches are issued 48 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical-storm-force winds.
Get a Radio
Even if everyone in your family has a smartphone, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio is considered an emergency kit essential by FEMA and NOAA. Radios provide weather alerts and other vital information should you be cut off from cell phones, internet, or electricity. Make sure to get a designated weather alert radio, which will notify you even when the radio is off or tuned to a different station.
Prepare an Emergency Kit
Designate a sturdy, waterproof bag for your family’s emergency kit that will go with you in case of evacuation or keep necessities in one spot should you shelter in place. The size of the kit will depend on the size of your family and their individual needs, but make sure it can be comfortably carried, when full, by an adult. If needed, have more than one bag.
Keep the kit in a designated spot and make sure all family members know where it is. Ready.gov recommends stocking it with nonperishable food (more on this below), a flashlight, a first aid kit, extra batteries, a whistle, a dust mask, plastic sheeting, duct tape, moist towelettes, garbage bags, plastic ties, wrench or pliers (to turn off utilities), a manual can opener, local maps, cell phone with chargers and a backup battery, and cash or traveler’s checks. If you have pets, make sure you pack their essentials as well. In addition to these general supplies, remember to pack prescription drugs or other medications, and important family or financial documents.
Gather Non-Perishable Supplies
It’s wise to stock up on nonperishable food for your emergency kit and your pantry. Don’t wait until a storm is heading your way; purchase nonperishables way in advance to avoid crowds and anxiety. Choose food that requires no refrigeration, cooking, or little water. To include: bottled water, canned food (meats, fruit, and vegetables, protein or fruit bars, dry cereal, peanut butter, dried fruit, nuts, crackers, pet food (if applicable). Store these items in a cool, dry place with your emergency kit, in tightly closed plastic or metal containers. Check food supplies every six months and replace expired items as needed. Rethink your needs every year and update your kit as your family’s needs change.
Protect Your Pets
Remember your pets’ needs for hurricane preparedness. In addition to foods and medications, have their leashes or carriers accessible. Animals get stressed in emergencies too, so the best way to ensure their safety is to have them leashed or crated for safety and control. As a general precaution, ensure your pets are microchipped and have up-to-date tags on their collar in case of separation.
Strengthen Your Home
Perform these smart home maintenance tasks to help minimize damage caused by high winds and flooding. Clean clogged rain gutters and downspouts to give water a clear path to drain away from your home. Store out-of-season items and put away patio umbrellas and lightweight furniture. Ensure that walkways and exits are free of obstacles. Consider installing permanent storm shutters or invest in half-inch marine plywood pre-cut to fit your doors and windows should you need to board them up as protection from hurricane-force winds; at the very least keep plywood on hand for this eventuality.
Review Insurance Policy Coverage
Most standard homeowners insurance don’t cover flooding—even if it’s the result of a hurricane; they typically only cover damage from tropical hurricane winds and rain. Flood insurance can be purchased separately. Read through your policy and add on coverage as needed.
Gas Up Your Car
Don’t get caught without enough fuel should an evacuation occur. Make sure your vehicle is gassed up and ready to go. Evacuations may have you sitting in gridlock traffic for hours with limited access to gas stations, so it wouldn’t hurt to have an extra gas can in the trunk of your car, just in case.
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