Hurricanes are a massive challenge for anyone who has to face them. Heavy rain brings flooding, and high winds can tear up trees and knock over houses and buildings. For many, this challenge may seem insurmountable.
Fortunately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other disaster response organizations have thorough protocols on what you should do in a hurricane. We’ve compiled their advice into a single article to make it easier to prepare for a hurricane when it comes.
Read on to see how to prepare for a hurricane, how to survive it, and what to do afterward.
When Is Hurricane Season?
In the North Pacific, hurricane season starts on May 15. The season in the Atlantic and the Caribbean starts a little later on June 1. Hurricane season universally ends on November 30 – this gives you December through April to prepare.
Before: Preparing For The Hurricane
Good preparation can mitigate the effects of a disaster. Here’s what you need to know and can do to prepare for a hurricane before it hits.
Know The Difference Between Watch vs Warning
The National Weather Service has two types of alerts regarding hurricanes. These are based on when they predict winds will get higher in a given area.
- A hurricane watch means that hurricane conditions are possible in the area. These are announced 48 hours before meteorologists expect tropical storm-force winds to start.
- A hurricane warning means that hurricane conditions are expected in the area. These are announced 36 hours before meteorologists expect tropical storm-force winds to start.
Hurricane warnings are more serious, so if one comes up in your area, the hurricane is expected to come your way. Tropical-storm-force winds refer to sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph, while hurricane conditions mean sustained winds of 74 miles per hour or higher.
Create A Plan
The first thing you have to do is plan. A hurricane is a stressful event, and you’ll need all the mental clarity you can get while it’s happening. If you have a plan, you can focus on carrying it out instead of having to think about what to do on the fly.
Take into account how many people are in your family. Also consider if you have any people with special needs, like the elderly, people with disabilities, pregnant women, etc. Contact a hospital, a local health department, or the police to see what can be done for them.
Don’t forget to take into account where you might be on the day itself. A hurricane doesn’t wait for human schedules – you may be at work, and your children may be at school. Make sure that your plan covers where everyone might be when you have to pack up and evacuate.
Then, once you’ve figured out the who, consider the where:
- Where are the nearest shelters?
- Which roads are safe? Which roads will be first affected by flooding?
- What is your property’s elevation? Is it in a flood-prone area?
- What levees and dams are in the area? Will they become a hazard in case of flooding?
- Are you in an evacuation zone?
All of these factors will affect your hurricane plan. Make sure that you know where to go, how you’re going to get there, and approximately how long it’ll take you to get there. Don’t forget alternate routes just in case a road gets washed out or blocked.
After you’ve worked out the plan, make sure your family knows it as well. Everyone has to know what to do and where to go. Remember, there’s no such thing as being too prepared when you’re facing a hurricane.
Prepare Emergency Supplies
There won’t be any time to stock up when the hurricane hits, and it’ll take time before normal services are restored. Therefore, it’s best to have supplies on hand. Prepare the following for a basic kit:
- Food and clean water
- Any necessary medicines and medical devices
- Flashlights and extra batteries
- First aid kit
- Important documents like medical documents, wills, passports, personal ID
Don’t forget to prep your car as well. Make sure the gas tank is full, and get your car into the garage or under some type of cover before the storm hits. Also, keep your emergency supply kit in or near the car. If you need to go, you won’t have to scramble to find supplies – you can just grab them from nearby, pile into the car, and go.
Should You Stay Or Go?
The choice of whether to stay or evacuate will depend on how bad the weather is. The best tip is to listen to what the authorities are saying – they have the equipment and judgment necessary to determine if residents of an area should stay or go. Keep an eye on all the official channels so that you don’t miss the word when it comes.
If the order is to evacuate, we cannot emphasize this enough: do not argue. Do not dawdle. Do not ignore the order. Pack up and go, quickly as you can. An early start will help you avoid traffic congestion, and thus get away from the storm much faster. You cannot fight a hurricane. If you hear the evacuation order, go.
You may also hear an order to stay home. If you hear it, again, listen to it and don’t argue. You might be running into the middle of the storm if you leave.
Don’t forget to consider driving conditions. If the drive is dangerous, going may be more dangerous than staying.
Also, consider your circumstances. If you live in a mobile home, high-rise building, or near water, it’s best to evacuate as soon as possible. These three locations are at high risk in hurricane conditions, as they can be easily damaged, swept away by wind action, and are vulnerable to flooding.
Preparing For Evacuation
If the order to evacuate comes, it’s best to be prepared for it.
Unplug your appliances and turn your circuit breakers off. Disconnect any natural gas appliances. Don’t forget your outdoor equipment like gas grills or pool heaters.
Once you’re on the road, listen to what the emergency workers have to say. If they recommend a road, follow it, even if there is traffic. Alternative routes may be blocked or flooded.
During: Riding Out The Storm
If you’ve evacuated, all you have to do is listen to the authorities and stay away from the affected area. But if the authorities have ordered people to stay in place, or if you get caught up in the storm, here’s what you should do.
First and most important, stay inside. Do not go outside for any reason, even if there is a lull in the middle of the fiercest wind and rain. That’s likely the eye of the storm, and it may get worse again. Stay inside until the authorities confirm that the storm has left the area.
Also, make sure that you have communication channels open, such as phones, radio, and TV. This way, you can monitor how the storm is going and hear announcements from the authorities. Conditions may change quickly – the authorities may issue an evacuation order for your area, or they may announce the all-clear. Either way, it’s best to stay connected so that you don’t waste any time if the authorities issue new orders.
Preparing The House
Clear any outdoor furniture and other items outside the house that are not securely fixed to the ground. If you have any bikes, grills, propane tanks, or building materials, bring them all inside the house or shelter. You don’t want them being tossed around by the wind, which could end up damaging your house.
Cover your windows and doors with hurricane shutters. Their main purpose is to stop your windows from being broken by any flying objects. Intact windows will also reduce the likelihood that your roof falls in. If you don’t have shutters, board up your windows using exterior-grade or marine plywood at least 5/8ths of an inch thick.
While you’re covering your windows, don’t tape them. While this is a common safety measure, it doesn’t actually protect your windows. If debris hits a taped window, the window shatters into large pieces of glass, which can do more damage than smaller pieces. Stick to shutters and spare the tape for other uses.
Fill as many safe containers as you have with clean water. The hurricane may cut or contaminate your water supply, so it’s best to stockpile water before that happens.
Check your CO detectors to ensure their batteries are fully charged. You don’t want any cases of CO poisoning.
When The Storm Hits
Hunker down when the storm hits. Remember, you cannot fight a hurricane – you can only endure it. This is how.
Stay away from windows, doors, skylights, and other similar openings around the house. These might blow inwards, or the storm can blow something into the house through an opening. Better to stay inside a room in the interior of your house or one with no windows. Failing that, you can climb into a closet or a downstairs bathroom.
Hurricane winds get weaker the lower you get, so stay low to avoid the worst wind. However, remember that low places are vulnerable to floodwaters. Stay alert so you don’t get caught between wind and water.
Before the storm hits, turn the refrigerator thermostat to its coldest setting. Open your fridge only when necessary; otherwise, keep the doors closed. This goes double if the power goes out. Keeping the fridge doors closed will slow the rate of temperature change inside the fridge and delay any spoilage. You’ll need all the food you can get, after all.
Avoid floodwaters, as they’re almost certainly contaminated with pathogens, debris, chemicals, human or animal waste, or wildlife. You can catch a disease or get injured if you’re not careful. Also, floodwaters near downed power lines are likely electrically charged and thus unsafe to approach. Only go into floodwater if absolutely necessary.
Throw away any food that may have come into contact with floodwater. Even if it looks, smells, and tastes normal, floodwater is unhygienic and will contaminate everything it touches. Only eat food you are certain has stayed untouched. If in doubt, throw it out.
Stick only to bottled, boiled, or treated water – anything else is not trustworthy. If you’ve been informed that the water is contaminated or you suspect it is, do not use it for any purpose. Your local health department will have specific recommendations for boiling or treating the water in your area if the need arises.
Maintain hygiene to the best of your ability. Wash your hands and look after any wounds or injuries. Use soap and water to clean up or alcohol-based wipes if you don’t have any soap. This is especially important in case of flooding. If you have to go into floodwater for any reason, make sure that you clean up thoroughly afterward.
Keep the phone lines clear. Make voice calls only for emergencies, and stick to text messaging or other social media as your standard means of communication with your family and friends.
Should You Drive In A Hurricane?
There are only two reasons you should drive in a hurricane:
- There’s an unavoidable medical emergency.
- The situation changes and you receive the evacuation order.
Except for these two circumstances, do not drive. There may be downed power lines, fallen trees, leaking gas lines, and other similar hazards. Further, there may already be floodwaters – these are just as dangerous to cars as they are to people. Just six inches of moving water can stall a car or sweep it away entirely.
After: Picking Up The Pieces
The storm may have passed, but things won’t go back to normal instantly. Hurricanes deal damage, and that has to be taken care of before you can resume your life as it was before the hurricane.
Returning After Evacuation
If you’ve evacuated, you should only return after the authorities advise it’s safe to return. Do not return before then, as you may be walking into a hazardous environment. This is why having open channels is important.
First off, be very careful of floodwaters. As we’ve already covered, floodwaters are dangerous and unhygienic. You could survive the hurricane only to catch tetanus or leptospirosis from contaminated floodwater.
Avoid power lines. Do not touch anything that’s in contact with fallen power lines. Do not go near water that’s in contact with fallen power lines, as you don’t want to risk being electrocuted.
Don’t go back into your house right away. Let the professionals inspect the place first to see if the storm or floodwaters have caused any damage. When they’ve declared it clear, then you can go in.
In case you do get there first, exercise extreme caution. Check for a gas leak – smell for the rotten-egg odor of gas, listen for hissing gas, or look for any signs of a gas leak near your gas line. If you believe there’s a gas leak, do not enter the property. Do not turn lights on, light a match, or do anything that might cause a spark. Call the utility company and let them handle it. Go in only after they’ve given you the okay.
It’s the same for electrical equipment. Don’t touch anything that’s been plugged into an outlet until you’ve had an electrician come in to look at the house. If you have standing water in the house, check if you can turn the main power off. If you can do that while dry, go ahead and turn it off yourself. If you have to enter the water to turn off the main power, call an electrician.
When dealing with buildings, don’t enter if you see any signs of damage. Wait for authorities to clear it as safe. Even if it doesn’t have any visible damage, it’s best to wait for official word before going back in.
If you hear shifting or other noises that weren’t there before the hurricane, exit the building immediately. That could mean it’s about to fall. Get authorities in to examine the building first.
Checking For Damage And Cleaning Up
Go around your house and check to see how bad the damage is. Focus on the foundation, the walls, then the water lines, gas lines, and electrical system. Note any damage to these so that you can direct the experts to any problems. Also, don’t forget to take photographs of the damage for your insurance company, especially if your policy covers hurricane or flood damage.
If your house was flooded and you were not able to dry the house in 24 to 48 hours, it’s best to assume that you have mold growth. You’ll have to dry out everything, clean the mold, and ensure that there’s no more moisture anywhere.
Put protective clothing and a mask on if you’re cleaning up mold or other debris. You’ll need an N-95 respirator at minimum, plus goggles and gloves. Mold can cause asthma attacks and allergic reactions as well as irritate the skin and eyes. If someone has a weak immune system, they can get a bad infection.
Alternatively, you can call professionals. Mold cleanup can be dangerous, so you may be better off calling someone else to handle it. Look for a certified mold inspection or remediation professional to come in and clean up.
This goes especially for your HVAC system. If it was flooded, turning it on before cleanup will just spread mold throughout the house. Call a professional first to see your HVAC system before you turn it on. A good HVAC system can help remove excess moisture from your home and thus stop mold growth but not if it’s flooded and infected with mold.
If your house was flooded, open windows and doors to dry the house out quicker. Turn dehumidifiers and fans on to remove moisture. Fans should be placed at an opening to the outside, pointing outward, so that they don’t spread any mold. Remember, mold grows in wet conditions, so you want the house as dry as quickly as possible.
Clean and disinfect everything that has gotten wet. As we’ve already covered, floodwaters can carry any number of dangerous substances, and you don’t want any of that sticking to your house, furniture, or other items. Give everything wet a thorough scrub, and use as much disinfectant as needed.
Until further notice, assume that your water is unsafe. Rely only on the water you put into containers previously. Local authorities will be monitoring water quality, so wait for them to declare the water safe before you use it.
Prioritize your tasks and pace yourself. Hurricanes are thorough in how they do damage, especially if there is a flood. Decide which tasks are the highest priority, and focus on them first. Don’t take the whole thing all at once.
Lastly, don’t forget to look after your emotional health. Any natural disaster is a stressful experience to go through, and it’s only natural to experience strong emotions during and after the storm. Connect with your support system, whoever that may be, and don’t forget to be there for them as well.
You can’t fight a hurricane, but you can survive one. Once you know what to do and how to prepare, you can get past a hurricane with much less difficulty. It’s still going to be hard and stressful, and you should always be on your guard when the warning goes up.
Humans have been living in hurricane-prone areas for a long time, and we’ll continue doing so for as long as the areas have their attractions. With firm resolve and proper preparation, you can readily meet the challenge a hurricane presents.
**Disclaimer: There is a good chance that this post contains affiliate or sponsor links. If you make a purchase through them, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you (for which we are extremely grateful).
Also, while we do our best to highlight LGBTQ-friendly destinations and businesses, info provided is based solely on personal experience and recommendations by community partners. We hope that nobody experiences discrimination or homophobia while visiting Florida, but we make no guarantees. Please inform us if you experience discrimination or homophobia while visiting any destination so we can make updates to our recommendations.