Hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 1 every year, and this year’s has been one of the most active seasons in recent memory. Between Harvey battering the Texas Gulf Coast, Irma tearing through Florida and Maria utterly devastating Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, hurricanes are on everyone’s mind.
If you live in a zone likely to be impacted by a hurricane, you’re probably wondering what you can do to help keep your family safe. Here are a few tips and tricks to help you keep your family safe during this active hurricane season.
Know Your Zone
Do you live in an evacuation zone? Many people don’t know their zone, but it’s an essential piece of information to keep on hand in the event of a hurricane. Evacuation zones are based on elevation and the areas likely to flood due to storm surge. If you’re inland, you might not even be in an evacuation zone, but be sure to check.
Do a quick Google search for your county and the term “evacuation zones.” You’ll see five rings of color for your county, each labeled with a letter. A is usually the closest to the coast and the first to evacuate. B follows, then C, all the way through E, which is usually the very outskirts of the evacuation zone.
It’s important to note that no matter where you fall in the county’s evacuation zones, if you live in a manufactured home, you’ll be required to evacuate. These mobile homes just don’t have the strength to stand up to hurricane-force winds.
Stock Up Early
You should have a fully stocked hurricane kit in case power, water and other utilities fail during a storm. Make sure to stock up early, though — once the storm’s track is certain, supplies will quickly start to vanish from the shelves. Here in Florida, it’s been nearly two weeks since Hurricane Irma passed through, and there are still empty shelves in some grocery stores.
For a good hurricane kit, you will need:
- Food and water for at least three days — Keep in mind that perishable foods in the refrigerator will spoil after about four hours of no power, and you’ll need to empty your freezer after 48 hours, so focus on non-perishable foods. For water, figure you’ll need a gallon of water per person, per day.
- First-aid kit — You may never need it, but it’s important to have.
- Medications — If you or anyone in your family is taking medications, make sure you have a sufficient supply. In Florida, at least, if the governor declares a state of emergency, you can have your medications refilled for 30 days, even if it’s not due for a refill, to help you prepare for the storm.
- Important documents — You should already be keeping birth certificates, marriage certificates, house deeds and car titles in a secure place that’s easy to move at a moment’s notice in the event of flooding or evacuation. Ideally, in a hurricane kit, put these documents in a waterproof container to protect them from water damage.
- Flashlights, batteries, candles, kerosene lamps, etc. — Without power, you will need some way to light your home once the sun goes down. Stock up on light sources, and the fuel to run them. Kerosene lamps or oil lamps can be great, but make sure to keep them away from children.
- Fuel — Keep your car fully fueled, and if you have a generator for your home, make sure to stock up on fuel for that, too. Chances are, if your power is out, your local gas station doesn’t have power, either.
- A way to cook food — No one likes eating cold Chef Boyardee. A propane camp stove or even a grill can go a long way toward keeping your family happy during the storm. Plus, there’s something awesome about even basic food like eggs and bacon when you cook it on the grill.
- Things to keep the kids entertained — Once the storm passes, boredom becomes the biggest danger — especially for families with kids. Break out board games, books, coloring books or whatever else you have on hand to keep the kids entertained.
Have Plenty of Plywood
One of the biggest dangers of the hurricane isn’t the high winds themselves, but the debris these winds pick up and start hurling around. At her peak, Hurricane Irma had winds of more than 185 miles per hour. While she weakened slightly before she made landfall, many islands in the Caribbean got the full brunt of those winds — the island of Barbuda, for example, has been totally devastated and left uninhabitable.
Those high winds are why plywood sells out so quickly before a storm. If you don’t have storm shutters installed on your home, wood is the next best way to protect your windows from flying debris.
Measure your windows, and stock up on plywood that fits those windows. Then, all you need to do is screw them in place before the storm, and you’re ready to go.
Storm shutters are a better option, but they’re not always possible, especially if you’re renting the property, so make sure you’ve got plenty of plywood.
Track the Storm — But Skip Mainstream News
Mainstream news really dropped the ball during its coverage of Hurricane Irma in Florida. While yes, there was an imminent threat, the media created an atmosphere of fear that caused even the most hardened Floridians to panic. People stripped stores of all relevant supplies, there were lines around the block at gas stations until these places ran out of fuel entirely, and the highways were jammed with people trying to flee the storm.
You need to keep track of the storm — that’s a given. Knowing where the storm is and when it’s projected to make landfall will help you prepare. Having said that, stick to official sites like the National Hurricane Center and NOAA to get the most up-to-date and accurate information. NOAA releases updates every three hours when landfall is imminent.
If you lose power or cell signal, a weather alert radio can be a useful investment. This battery-powered radio gets those same NOAA alerts every three hours. It may not have a radar picture, but with a hurricane tracking map and a weather alert radio, you can keep track of the storm the old-school way!
If You Need to Evacuate, Do So
Sometimes, in the face of a massive storm, evacuation becomes the only option. If you do find yourself needing to evacuate, do so as soon as you safely can. Take your hurricane kit with you and seek shelter inland.
You’ll only be required to evacuate if you live in a flood zone. As longtime meteorologist Paul Dellegatto said during the Hurricane Irma panic, “You run from water, you hide from wind.”
The most important thing to consider when preparing for a hurricane is keeping your family safe. Hurricanes will come and go, and possessions are just things, but you can never replace your family or pets. Keep them safe, and everything else will fall into place. Above all, don’t panic. Prepare and ride out the storm, and you’ll be just fine.