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As I type these words, hurricane season has officially begun here in the United States. Hurricane season typically lasts from June 1st to November 30th although there is no telling when a storm might pop up outside of those parameters.
There’s no doubt it can be a nerve-racking time of year for people who live in danger zones. What’s it like to go through a hurricane? Well, it depends on the intensity. In 1992, a lot of friends made it through one of the largest hurricanes to ever hit Florida at the time, Hurricane Andrew. In the aftermath of this hurricane, millions of South Florida residents were left without electricity for months.
My friend's son had to relocate after Hurricane Katrina because his home in Mississippi was destroyed - and he wasn't even directly on the water.
In 2016, a number of my friends sat through Matthew on the barrier island near Daytona, and it was pretty scary. People were supposed to evacuate, but as is nearly always the case, a bunch of them just refused to go. When I arrived in town in mid-October, just after the storm, my own winter quarters still had wet floors, and the carpets have since had to be removed - and this was in a modern building with updated features built to withstand high winds. With that said, let's have a look at how you can prepare for a hurricane.
How to Prepare For a Hurricane – Tips to Remember
Hurricanes usually tend to travel relatively slowly - of course it depends on the storm. What this usually means is that it can take more than a week to arrive once the first news of an impending storm reaches your ears.
What does this mean? It means that usually, you should have more than enough time to prepare. Take a look at some of these tips that you might want to consider when learning how to prepare for a hurricane:
Store up Plenty of Food and Water:
There are some things that just are not predictable, and one of those things is that there is no way of knowing just how much damage a hurricane will cause. The last thing you want is to be ill-prepared as the intensity grows. We have a number of articles here on the site about preparing for these circumstances, but for now - just know that you do NOT want to wait until a hurricane is en route to get stocked up. I have personally seen people hoarding bottled water at the store in the days right before the storm hits. Of course, the store runs out. Don't be that person. Have tons of emergency food and water stocked up long before that happens.
Remember to Fill Up Your Bathtub:
Of course this is only valid if you have a tub. FILL IT UP! IF NOT: Gather as many 5-gallon buckets full of water as you can. The reason for this tip is that on average, a bathtub can supply you with about three days of water (more or less depending on how many people are in your house). You won't want to drink this water - but it sure makes stuff like flushing the toilet and providing wash-water a lot easier. Just don't forget to test your drain plug to ensure that it doesn't leak.
Have a BBQ on Hand (w/ Charcoal, or Propane):
We have used our BBQ during and after storms, and believe me, they come in VERY handy when the power goes out. NEVER use a BBQ indoors though. ONLY use it outside. Also, smaller propane bottles like these popular Coleman fuel cylinders can provide you with a source of light.
Have Enough Prescription Medications on Hand:
Make sure that you are stocked up on any prescription drugs that you or your family will need. Trying to refill after a hurricane can be difficult, if not, impossible. Unfortunately, many insurance companies won’t honor refills until you’ve used up your current batch. If that’s the case, then you’ll need to pay for your drugs out-of-pocket. But you can’t put a price on health, so I would recommend stocking up despite the additional costs.
Learn How to Prepare Your Home:
This is too complex a topic for this article, but you must know - ahead of time - how to batten down the hatches. Do you have adequate plywood or shutters on hand to secure your windows and doors? The day before a hurricane is due to make landfall is not the time to head over to the lumber yard to buy plywood. Is there any part of your roof that is currently "flapping in the breeze?" If so, take some precautions now to secure the roof to hopefully minimize any serious damage.
Finally, as much as is possible, stay updated with the news. Keep you eyes on the Weather Channel. And, of course as you are preparing your family's emergency kit, learn to use your portable weather radio. Of course you also need to remain informed in the event that an evacuation order is given. Let's look at that topic for a moment, because deciding whether or not to evacuate is a huge concern for people.
Determining if You Should Evacuate
I think that most people would agree that as a general rule of thumb, if you live in an RV or mobile home, you should probably evacuate. Some people say that you should evacuate even if it’s a category 1 storm. Category 1 storms still do a tremendous amount of damage. People who live in high-rise buildings are also susceptible to getting injured during a hurricane since winds tend to be stronger at higher altitudes. Finally, determine if the area you’re living in is prone to flooding. If it is, I would highly recommend leaving. Even if you survive the winds, the floods can be just as dangerous.
How to Evacuate
If you decide to evacuate, then there are certain strategies that may make it a little easier. For example, if you are driving out of the area, try to leave during an time where most people won't be on the road. Think 1 A.M. Of course, you MUST know the direction the storm is heading in so that you don't take a route that is going to put you in its path.
One thing I learned recently is that the path of a hurricane can be enormous. We rode the Florida Panhandle in March (2019), and were astonished at the nearly 50 mile swatch of destruction that we saw. The last thing you want is to evacuate to a location where you’re still at risk. When learning how to prepare for a hurricane evacuation, here are some important items to remember to pack:
- Birth Certifications
- Shot Records
- Family Photos
- Emergency Kit
- Laundry Soap
Plan to be away from your home for about a week - and possibly more. Since you’ll have limited space in your vehicle, choose your items carefully. Remember, you’re not going on vacation. This is only temporary. Also, make sure that your vehicle is up to par! Change your oil, filters, etc. Bring a spare tire, and sign up for an AAA membership. When learning how to prepare for a hurricane evacuation, these are super-important tips to remember.
If you Decide to Stay
Some people would rather stay with their homes during a hurricane. I personally have a friend who refused to leave during Hurricane Matthew. If the hurricane is strong, I don’t particularly agree with this decision. But I can understand the logic- some people want to be there to prevent their homes from being looted after the hurricane. Once you decide to stay, you should immediately take the steps required to protect your home and property.
As we mentioned above, an important skill to have if you live in a hurricane-prone area is to learn how to put up shutters. This serves two purposes. First, it prevents high-speed objects from breaking your windows and hitting you. Secondly, it prevents wind from entering your home and blowing the roof off. To lessen the chances of getting something thrown towards your home, bring all loose yard items inside.
HOW TO INSTALL HURRICANE SHUTTERS
Take a moment to watch this brief video about metal storm shutter installation.
Next, designate a “safe room” for your home. This is where you should go if your home is “compromised”. Preferably, this room should have no windows or exterior doors. Stockpile this room with radios, batteries, flashlights, water, and food. If you have pets, they should remain in your safe room throughout the duration of the hurricane. Do NOT leave your pet outside - chances are good that they won’t survive. Even if they do, they will be traumatized.
Note, if the hurricane is relatively weak, you may not need to ever go into your safe room. However, it’s still recommended that you have one (just in case). Finally, during the hurricane, stay as far away from windows and doors as possible. If during the hurricane you smell gas, do not light candles. It could cause an explosion. And keep your radio on throughout the hurricane so that you can stay updated with where the storm is, and how quickly it’s moving.
How Fast is the Hurricane Moving?
When learning how to prepare for a hurricane, remember that slower-moving hurricanes are more likely to cause heavy flooding. Faster-moving hurricanes tend to cause more wind damage. For this reason, if you live in an area that’s susceptible to flooding, you may want to evacuate if it’s a slow-moving hurricane.
Things You’ll Need
LED flashlights are highly recommended when learning how to prepare for a hurricane. Good ones can cost as little as $10, and they’re pretty strong. I would also invest in some candles for light so that you can save your batteries. Large, decorative candles have the capacity to burn for a few days, which can come in handy. Anything that’s “solar powered” ("Luci" lights, radios, etc.) are also recommended since they’ll help you save energy. Here are a few other things to consider investing in:
- Glow Sticks and Solar Powered Lanterns: These are safer than candles (in case there’s a gas leak). Plus, they’re cheap and convenient. One of the most popular lanterns is the inflatable "Luci" solar powered lantern. Hikers love Luci, I love Luci, and pretty much every single person I've ever shown it to loves Luci too. It lasts for hours on a single charge. And they're cheap - less than $20. Check 'em out at Survival Frog Here.
- Battery-Operated Radio: You’ll need this to stay updated on the strength and direction of the hurricane. Check this Amazon listing for the Kaito model shown here. VERY highly rated and recommended.
- Can Opener: You won’t believe how many people stock up on canned foods only to forget a can opener. It’s a commonly-made mistake when learning how to prepare for a hurricane. Don’t let it be you! Remember - not all cans have flip tops!
- Water: Have a minimum of one gallon per person/day. Remember to fill up your bathtubs as well.
- Water Purifier: Municipalities will often put a "boil water" notice into effect when the water source may have become contaminated as a result of the storm. Some of the easiest ones to use are those designed for backpacking and hiking. If you've read other posts at this blog, you know we are very fond of the LifeStraw (Single Use), the LifeStraw Mission Water Purification System, High-Volume model, and other portable water purification systems - including water treatment tablets. Get one or more of these - you won't regret it.
- Battery-Powered Fans: Trust me when I say, the moment you lose power, you’ll be glad you have these. This is especially true for people in South Florida and the Caribbean where it tends to be very hot all year round. (May 2019: On a side note - we lost our air conditioning unit on Christmas Day in Florida a couple of years ago, and it took all of about 5 hours before it became almost unbearably stuffy and warm. And that was late December. Fortunately we had electricity to run a fan.) This one (by Viniper) runs up to 24 hours after a full charge. And because it's USB powered, you can recharge it using your solar charger (see below).
- Portable Solar Charger: Once the sun comes out, you'll want this, because you will be able to charge up your USB devices (using up to 5V or 2A of current) even before the power comes back on. (And you know you will want to use your devices!) Check out the ever-popular and reliable SunJack charger on Amazon, and check our SunJack review here.
Remember, just because you survive the hurricane itself, doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. If the hurricane was really powerful, then you may be “on your own” for a few days to a few weeks. This happened with Hurricane Andrew in 1992- thousands of people in South Florida were left without homes in the aftermath of the hurricane. My family and I were forced to live within the ruins of our home. Had we not been prepared, it would have been much tougher to survive I think.
The great thing about hurricanes is that they move relatively slowly compared to most natural disasters. By that, I mean that you usually have enough time to prepare for them (this can’t be said for earthquakes or tornadoes for example). When learning how to prepare for a hurricane, it really boils down to some common sense stuff. Figure out what you need, stock up on as much of it as possible, bunker down your home (or evacuate), and then wait it out. Following these tips should give you the knowledge to make learning how to prepare for a hurricane that much easier.