How to stay safe before, during, and after a hurricane
Forecasters can model probable hurricane paths a few days out, giving you time to stock up on supplies, board up windows, lay down sandbags, or—if things are looking really bad—evacuate. If you’re not sure what to do in the event of a hurricane, or if you need a refresher, read on for some hurricane safety basics.
Are you at risk?
Atlantic hurricane season, which impacts the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico, lasts from June 1 to Nov. 30. Though the season peaks between mid-August and late October, deadly hurricanes can happen—and have happened—any time from June to November. Pacific hurricane season, which impacts the West Coast and Hawaii, lasts a bit longer, from May 15 to Nov. 30.
If you live in a hurricane-prone area, don’t wait until a hurricane is barreling up the coast to get ready. You’ll quickly learn that in the days before a storm, local stores will sell out of supplies—and you won’t be able to count on Amazon Prime to make it to you when the weather takes a turn for the worst.
How much warning will you have?
We spoke to Dr. Alison Nugent, an Assistant Professor of Atmospheric Sciences in the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, to learn more about hurricane forecasting.
“You’ll typically have some warning that a hurricane might be coming—at least three or four days—but some storms are less predictable than others,” Nugent said, adding that large-scale weather conditions, including other nearby storms, can make it difficult to predict a storm’s path with absolute certainty.
So, while you’ll know a few days in advance that you might be impacted by a storm, there may still be some uncertainty in the forecasted storm track. “You shouldn’t wait until the storm is close and landfall is imminent to take action,” she said. “By the time you know for sure that you’ll be impacted, it may be too late.”
How to Prepare Before Hurricane Season
Before hurricane season begins, take the following precautions:
Get acquainted with your area’s emergency protocol.
Many cities and states have pre-set evacuation zones (like these for NYC) or evacuation routes (like these for North Carolina). Learn the emergency protocols for your area; city and state government websites are a good place to start.
Have a plan.
Know where you’ll go if you need to evacuate. Perhaps to the home of a friend or relative who lives farther inland, and make a plan for how you’ll get there. Make sure the other members of your family and household know too. (And if you have pets, don’t forget to include them in your plan!)
Make a packing list.
Write down everything you’ll need to bring with you in the event of an evacuation (include prescription medications, copies of important documents, food, water, baby and pet supplies, clothes, and toiletries) so that you don’t forget any essentials if you’re rushed to get out the door.
Get a map.
Make sure to have a hard copy of a map of the area. You may not be able to rely on GPS if a storm cuts out power or cell service.
Make sure that you have some key emergency supplies on hand. Start with the basics: reliable flashlights, and extra batteries. A battery-powered or hand-powered radio is also important. Though it may seem a bit outdated, if the power, internet, and cell service go out, it’ll be the only way to stay in the loop. Other things to have on hand include a hand-cranked emergency cell-phone charger, a first aid kit, and emergency blankets. (For more details on emergency essentials, check out the American Red Cross Survival Kit List.)
Stock up on non-perishables.
Not everyone has room for lots of extra supplies, but at the very least, try to have some extra bottled water and non-perishable food (and pet food!) on hand.
Protect your home (yes, even if it’s not technically yours).
Check with your landlord or property manager to find out what’s your responsibility, and what’s theirs. Will they board windows and lay sandbags, or should you? In many cases, they’re not obligated to do so, and may leave that heavy-lifting to you. Know where you’ll store any items that are generally kept outdoors, such as lawn furniture or toys.
Back up important documents.
Have hard copies of important papers stored in a safe place, and back up your computers to the cloud. Gather important documents, such as birth certificates and passports, in the event that you need to evacuate with them quickly.
What To Do When a Storm’s Approaching
Make sure your emergency supplies are all accounted for. Did you bring your emergency Clif bars on your last hiking trip and forget to replace them? Have all the spare batteries been drained by your TV remote? Now’s the time to find out. Replace anything that’s missing or not in working order.
Stay in the loop.
The National Hurricane Center updates its forecasts every six hours when there is hurricane activity. Be sure to check it frequently to make sure you have the latest storm information.
Fill up on gas.
Make sure your car has a full tank, in case an evacuation is called for.
Fill up on water.
The American Red Cross recommends having one gallon of water on hand per person, per day. They suggest a three-day supply for an evacuation, and a two-week supply for home. You can buy water, or fill up all the containers you can find—pitchers, empty soda bottles, empty booze bottles—just make sure you clean them thoroughly first. If you’re not under an evacuation order, fill up all sinks and bathtubs with water. You’ll need this for flushing toilets or washing up in the event that the water (or in some cases, power) goes out.
Clear the yard.
Make sure there’s nothing outside that isn’t nailed down, and bring in anything loose that you generally keep outside, like lawn furniture, toys, or sports equipment.
Move furniture and valuables to a higher floor.
If you’re in a house, you may want to move furniture and valuables to higher floors, to protect them in the event of flooding.
Turn up your fridge.
Set your fridge and freezer to the coldest setting so that food will stay fresh for longer in the event of a power outage.
Unplug small appliances and turn off propane tanks. Local authorities may also tell you to turn off your utilities—if you’re in a house, heed those instructions. If you’re in an apartment, check with the building to find out whether or not this is your responsibility.
If you’re in an area that’s ordered to evacuate, follow evacuation orders.
Make sure to lock all doors and windows, to unplug small appliances, and to turn off utilities if instructed to do so.
How To React During the Storm
You’ll be safest in an interior room, away from windows, skylights, and glass doors. If the wind and rain dies down, that doesn’t mean it’s safe to go outside; you may be in the eye of the storm, which is a temporary period of calm at the center of the hurricane. If your home floods, climb to the highest level, but not to a closed attic—you don’t want to become trapped there if the water continues to rise.
Listen to the local news and any alerts sent out by your landlord or property manager. Heed any new emergency orders, including orders to evacuate or shut off utilities.
If the power goes out, use flashlights, not candles.
Avoid using a portable generator inside your home, or you could risk carbon monoxide poisoning. Keep the refrigerator closed as much as possible so that your perishables stay edible for longer.
Don’t go near flood water.
Flood water can be contaminated with sewage or other dangerous bacteria, insects, or animals.
Tips for When It’s Over
- Don’t return to an evacuated area until authorities say it is safe to do so.
- Avoid contact with flood water.
- Check the area for loose power lines, gas leaks, or structural hazards.Assess your property, and take an inventory of all damage. (Learn more about how renters insurance covers hurricane damage.)
At Jetty, we know the most important thing is for you and your family to stay protected in the event of a hurricane or other tropical storm. Our goal is to help you feel better prepared to weather it.