Hurricanes are easily one of the most destructive natural disasters in the world. In fact, only large earthquakes and volcanoes are capable of inflicting more damage. The largest hurricanes can cause tens of billions of dollars in damage and claim thousands of lives.
In the United States, the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico are the areas most vulnerable to hurricanes. For people living in these areas, hurricane seasons lasts from June to November. If it’s that time of year and you live in one of these areas, it’s time to start preparing for a hurricane.
You might not think preparing for hurricanes is very urgent. After all, the authorities will warn you if a hurricane is on the way, right? The problem is, if you wait until a hurricane is on the way, the stores will be overrun with panicked citizens and all the essential supplies will be gone. If that happens, you’ll be racing around town looking for supplies, and you probably won’t be able to find everything you need.
If you wait to prepare until hours before a hurricane strikes, you’re making a major mistake that could potentially cost you your life or the lives of your family members.
In this article we’re going to cover the warning signs that a hurricane is imminent, how to prepare your home for a hurricane, when you should evacuate, the biggest dangers that hurricanes present, and a checklist of items that need to be in your hurricane preparedness kit.
Hurricane Warning Signs
The problem with hurricane warning signs is they’re not detectable until the hurricane is only a few hours away, giving you precious little time to prepare. Hopefully you’ll be alerted by the authorities or weather people on TV, online, or on the radio that a hurricane has developed. But in case you’re cut off from those kinds of communications and aren’t yet prepared for a hurricane, here are some warning signs to watch for:
• Increased Ocean Levels – Three days before a hurricane strikes land, the ocean levels will begin to rise and the waves will strike the shore more frequently. The ocean levels can rise anywhere from six to sixteen feet before the hurricane hits land, and they will continue to rise slowly but steadily as the hurricane draws near. If you see the shoreline along the coast being covered with water and the waves becoming faster and more frequent, it could be a sign that a hurricane is on the way.
• Faster Wind Speeds – As ocean levels rise, so will the speed of the wind. In fact, wind speed is actually a better indication of a hurricane than the ocean levels. One to two days before a hurricane strikes, the wind levels will rise up to fifteen miles per hour more than usual. Just one hour before the hurricane strikes, the winds can reach anywhere from seventy to over one hundred miles per hour. Limbs can be ripped from trees and unsecured objects will be blowing uncontrollably through the air. If you see increased ocean levels and these kinds of wind speeds at the same time, an imminent hurricane is almost certain.
• Drop in Atmospheric Pressure – The barometer is an instrument that measures atmospheric pressure. Two to three days before a hurricane strikes land, the barometer level will begin to fall steadily and significantly. This is why if you live along a coastline, you should keep a barometer at home or in you car. You can also get a barometer app for your iPhone or Android.
• Heavy Rainfall – Rain will begin to pour in heavy amounts about a day and a half to two days before the hurricane strikes. The closer the hurricane gets, the heavier the rainfall will get until flooding begins in certain areas. Flooding is a major concern when a hurricane strikes, and it can happen from the pouring rainfall alone even if the ocean levels don’t rise very much.
How To Prepare Your Home For a Hurricane
Now that you’ve learned how to detect an imminent hurricane, you need to prepare for one. Here’s the truth: You don’t always have to evacuate in the event of a hurricane. We’ll discuss evacuation later, but for now we’re going to talk about what to do if you decide to stay home and ride out the storm.
As I mentioned earlier, hurricane preparedness is something you should do well in advance. A huge part of that preparedness will be preparing your home to outlast the disaster. Here’s what to do:
• Prepare the Outside of Your Home – If there are any trees on your property, you should consider removing them because if they fall over and land on your home, they could cause serious damage and could even kill you if the damage is bad enough. If you have any small buildings or sheds on your property, make sure they are securely anchored to the ground.
• Build a Safe Room In Your Home – This is completely optional, but if you can afford it, go for it. A safe room is a place that you and your family can retreat to. It needs to be as low in the home as possible, such as in a basement (as long as you’re not in a flood zone), and it should have a reinforced door and walls. Keep survival items, sleeping cots, food and water (including pet food if you have any animals), and first aid kits in this room. We’ll talk about putting together a hurricane preparedness kit later on in this article.
• Protect Your Windows – It’s very easy for flying objects to break through your windows and cause serious harm or damage. Consider investing in hurricane shutters that simultaneously serve as an outside decoration and as a strong shield against flying debris that could smash through the windows. Always close these shutters when the hurricane is imminent.
If you don’t have or can’t afford shutters, the cheapest option is plywood. Buy enough to cover every window, and go ahead and cut it to size so you have a piece for every window. Also stock up on screws, nails, and tension clips. Learn more in the video below.
When To Evacuate
Sometimes hurricanes are so strong that it’s more dangerous to try outlasting them in your home than it is to hit the road and evacuate. If a mandatory evacuation is necessary, the local authorities will make the decision and alert the population. But even if an evacuation is not made mandatory, you may decide that the incoming storm is too strong for you to stay put.
However, if you want too long to evacuate, it could be dangerous. The roads will be packed with other cars trying to get out of town, and you could end up experiencing a hurricane from inside your car. Even worse, the roads could become flooded, forcing you to abandon your vehicle. That’s why you need to evacuate as early as you can.
• Have At Least One Bug Out Location – You should have at least one or two bug out locations or destinations you can travel to, and you should also have multiple routes for getting to these locations. Memorize the routes so you don’t have to rely on maps or GPS to get to them.
• Bring Detailed Maps – In case you lose your way or have to make a detour, be sure you have detailed maps of the state or states you’ll be driving through.
• If Possible, Only Take One Car – This reduces confusion and makes evacuation simpler. If you own one, use an AWD (all-wheel-drive) vehicle. It may not get the best gas mileage, but it’s the most convenient for carrying everything you need along with your family members. Plus, AWD capabilities will be a huge plus if you have to drive over rough terrain.
• Evacuate As Early As Possible – I know I already mentioned this, but it’s worth mentioning again. Before the hurricane strikes, get out as soon as possible to avoid traffic jams. This is why you should have multiple evacuation routes. That way if one road gets shut off by the authorities or clogged with traffic, you’ll have an alternate route.
• Have a Full Tank Of Gas – During hurricane season, it’s a good idea to go ahead and fill up your tank when it’s half empty. You should also keep enough containers of gasoline in your garage to fill up your tank completely. Keep in mind that even if the gas stations aren’t already closed during the emergency, it’s almost certain there will already be long lines of cars trying to get to them.
• Don’t Take Short Cuts You Aren’t Familiar With – Be wary of “short cuts,” especially ones that aren’t on the map. You don’t know what they’ll lead to or if they even are short cuts.
• Never Drive Into Flooded Areas – This should be obvious, but you might be tempted to do it if going around would take a long time. Don’t. You’re safer riding out a hurricane in your car than getting swept away in a flood.
• Get In Touch With Friends and Family – It’s important to tell loved ones where you’re going and how to get there. You don’t want them to worry about you for no reason.
• Don’t Forget About Your Pets – If you have any pets, remember to make space for them in your vehicle. Bring some food for them, too.
• Before You Leave, Unplug All Electrical Equipment – The freezer and refrigerator should be the only electrical equipment still plugged in. Shut off the gas and water before you leave as well.
• Put Your Furniture On Cinder Blocks – Cover your furniture with tarps, too. This is only necessary if you live in an area that floods easily.
Biggest Dangers of Hurricanes
• Storm Surge – This is perhaps the biggest danger of a hurricane. The storm surge is the huge amount of sea water that is swept onto land by the force of the hurricane. Massive waves will crash against the shorelines and send large volumes of water into the city. Low lying areas will be covered with the sea water very quickly, and it won’t let up until the storm has passed, meaning the water levels will only continue to rise. During hurricane Katrina, many people drowned in their attics because they didn’t expect the storm surge to get so high.
• Strong Winds – Wind is a huge danger during a hurricane for several reasons: It knocks down trees, knocks down walls, and carries flying debris that could smash into you and kill you in an instant. The strongest winds of the hurricane are located in the center near the eye; while the actual eye has no winds, the winds will still be strongest right around it.
• Torrential Rain – The downpour of rain during a hurricane can be a huge issue because it can lead to flooding. It’s possible for one to two feet of rain to fall during a hurricane. This will either cause flooding on its own or add to the storm surge. Once the flooding becomes high enough, it can overturn cars and carry them downstream, making evacuation by car impossible (another reason to evacuate early). The flooding can also pour into homes and make them inhospitable, forcing people to move after the hurricane is over.
Hurricane Preparedness Kit List
Making a hurricane preparedness kit should be the first thing you do to get ready for a hurricane. Keep in mind that whatever you buy at the grocery store every week might not be available for purchase after the hurricane kits, so keep a couple week’s worth of supplies on hand and rotate through it.
If you have to evacuate, you’ll need a set of suit cases along with clothes, shoes, toiletries, and anything else you would normally take with you on a long vacation. As for the hurricane-specific supplies, you can put them in a backpack or a sturdy box. However, I recommend a backpack in case you have to travel by foot at some point. Also get backpacks for your family members so they can share the load.
• Flashlight – A good, bright flashlight is a must in any hurricane preparedness kit. Maglite is an excellent choice for a flashlight because it’s waterproof, durable, incredibly bright, and long enough to double as a club or defensive weapon if needed.
• Two-Way Radios – Cell phone towers are often jammed during hurricanes, which is why you need at least a couple two-way radios to stay in contact with family members and the outside world. The Uniden MHS75 is waterproof, has a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, and comes programmed with all NOAA weather channels so you can stay up to date.
• Batteries and Charger – Make sure you have plenty of batteries for your flashlight, radio, and other electronic devices. Better yet, get rechargeable batteries, a solar battery charger, and a solar charger station for your phone and/or tablet.
• Lights – Most supply lists recommend candles, but I don’t really like candles since they can easily be knocked over and start a fire. Instead, get some propane lamps (if you already have propane cylinders for your camp stove) or battery-powered lanterns (if you already have rechargeable batteries and a charger), or my personal favorite, a solar air lantern. Leave it in the sun all day and it will stay lit all night.
• Fire Starters – Every survival kit needs to have a fire starter in it. With a fire you have the ability to warm yourself, light up a dark area, keep predators at bay, cook food, and more. The very act of getting a fire going is a huge morale booster. Hurricanes are very wet, so in addition to standard lighters you should get some fire starters that are waterproof such as stormproof matches or an Everstryke Pro.
• Food – This could be a whole article by itself. You should have plenty of extra food on hand anyway. As far as what food you should have, the answer is simple: Anything you want, as long as it’s non-perishable (boxed foods, canned foods, snack foods, forever foods, etc). Try to store a variety, though, so you’re not eating the same things over and over. If you have small children, stock up on lots of formula and/or baby food, too. In case you have to evacuate, you’ll also want to pack some lightweight foods.
• Can Opener – If you include any cans of food in your pack, having a can opener will make things a lot easier. P-51 can openers are different from the average can opener, but they’re reliable and they don’t easily break.
• Camp Stove and Fuel – If the power goes out, you’ll need a way to heat up your food. Coleman has an awesome two burner camp stove. But if you want something cheaper and more affordable, get this single-burner propane stove and some extra propane cylinders. Each one will get you 2-3 hours of cooking time.
• Disposable Plateware and Utensils – Another thing you won’t be able to do if the power is out is run the dishwasher. And if the water isn’t running, you won’t want to waste what you have washing dishes, so make sure you have plenty of paper plates, paper cups, and plastic utensils.
• Trash Bags – Many people don’t realize it, but a trash bag is a very useful survival item. The reason why is because it’s so versatile. You can use it as a poncho, to make a splint, to patch leaks in the roof, to signal for help, to build an emergency shelter, and so forth. If you evacuate, you don’t have to take a whole box of trash bags with you–just a handful will do.
• Bottled Water – Most sites suggest one gallon per person per day for two weeks, but personally I think it’s better to have two gallons per person per day because you also need water for cleaning and bathing. And if it’s really hot outside and you’re cleaning up garbage and hauling off debris, you’re going to drink more water than usual. If you don’t want to store that much water, buy some collapsible water containers and fill them, along with your sinks and bathtubs, up with water before the hurricane arrives. Obviously you can’t take all of this with you if you have to bug out, which is why you also need…
• Water Filter – By far the most convenient water filter is the LifeStraw Go Water Bottle. It combines two very important items: a water bottle with a water filter. You need a water bottle anyway, so why not get one that has a water filter built into it? The LifeStraw is one of the most reputable water filters on the market and removes over 99.9% of bacteria and parasites with absolutely zero aftertaste for up to 264 gallons of water.
• Bathroom Supplies – Soap, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, toilet paper, medicine, prescription drugs, and pretty much any other important items that are typically kept in the bathroom. As I said above, depending on the severity of the hurricane, you might not be able to purchase these things for a while. In case you have to evacuate, buy travel size versions of these items, put medications in mini Ziploc bags, and pack them (along with a couple rolls of TP) in a small bag you can carry with you.
• Bug Spray and Sun Block – These are in case you have to spend time outside cleaning up and walking from place to place. Even if you don’t think you’ll be outside very much, keep in mind that damage to your home could make it difficult to keep bugs from getting in.
• First Aid Kit – Injuries happen frequently during hurricanes, which means a first aid kit is one of the most critical items you can have in your hurricane preparedness kit. You should buy the most complete first aid kit you can, which is why I recommend the Patch-Up First Aid Kit. It comes in a waterproof, heavy-duty nylon bag and has over 270 pieces of medical equipment including a first aid guide. What’s more, it weighs less than two pounds. This is a great investment.
• Folding Knife – Every preparedness kit needs a sharp, durable knife. The knife you select should meet three specific qualities: the blade should be sharp or easily sharpened, the grip should feel ergonomic and natural to your hand, and the overall build of the knife must be very durable. Although there are much nicer and more expensive knives, I recommend the TAC Force TF-705 if you’re on a budget. It has all these qualities, plus it features a glass breaker and even a bottle opener.
• Ponchos – As I said before, hurricanes are wet. In case you get stuck outside somewhere or have to travel by foot, you should get ponchos for yourself and your family. The Charles River Apparel Pacific Poncho is very durable and fits nicely into a storage pouch.
• Duct Tape – This is one of the most handy items you can have in your hurricane preparedness kit, especially when it comes to repairing things such as shelters, wires, and clothing. My favorite type is Gaffer tape. It easily tears into smaller strips and leaves little to no residue.
• Tarps and or Plastic Sheeting – You’ll need several large tarps in case you need to cover holes in your roof or windows or to protect your furniture. Another option is plastic sheeting.
• Tools – You should have a nice portable tool set, a good axe for chopping wood, and a hammer and nails for boarding up windows and making repairs.
• Temperature Management Supplies – By this I mean things that will keep you cool or warm, depending on the temperature outside. If it’s really cold outside, you’ll need these things. However, it’s more likely to be really hot outside, in which you’ll need these things.
• Security Measures – During a hurricane, police are usually stretched to the limit. Burglars know this, so sometimes they take advantage of the situation and loot houses, knowing they’ll have plenty of time to get away before the police arrive. Consider getting some battery-powered alarms, motion sensor lights, and a weapon for self defense.
• Important Documents – Make copies of documents such as insurance, licenses, tax returns, medical records, social security cards, and so forth. You could even make digital copies and put them on a thumb drive. Here’s a guide to important documents worth checking out.
• Pet Supplies – If you have any pets, please don’t forget about them. Many people don’t think about their pets until the last minute, and by then it’s often too late to buy more pet food. Go ahead and put together a pet survival kit.
• Entertainment – Books, toys, board games, and any other non-electric ways to stay entertained, especially if you have children. Having no power and nowhere to go can be very boring.
• Cash – Set aside at least a few hundred dollars, and make sure it’s in small bills as it might be difficult to get change.
What did I forget? Please leave a comment and let me know so I can keep improving this article.
If you would like to learn more about hurricane preparedness, here are some of my favorite articles on the topic:
• 5 Forgotten Survival Lessons From Hurricane Katrina
• 11 Ways To Hurricane Proof Your House
• 20 Tips for Surviving a Hurricane
• How To Prepare For A Hurricane
• Hurricane Survival Guide
• Hurricane ‘To-Do’ List
• Lessons Learned From Hurricane Sandy