Leveled houses, toppled trees and multiple casualties.
These are the typical scenarios you’ll find during and after a major hurricane. About 2-3 hurricanes hit the US coastline each year and at least one of these will develop into a major force of nature like hurricane Katrina, which left the city of New Orleans in shambles and more than a thousand casualties in its wake.
If you want to avoid the deadly and costly consequences of hurricanes, you have to be prepared.
Here's everything you need to know about preparing for hurricanes:
Where and When Do Hurricanes Mostly Occur?
Hurricanes are massive tropical cyclones that form over the Atlantic Ocean and Eastern North Pacific. When these storms form over the Western North Pacific, they're dubbed as typhoons. Whichever name you call them, these rapidly rotating weather systems bring torrential rain and strong winds, which often result in damage to property, flooding and storm surges.
But how are hurricanes formed?
It all begins with the combination of these factors: warm seas, strong winds and a lot of vapor in the air.
These ingredients usually converge off the coast of Africa and are blown over the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The high humidity in these areas causes the storms to grow and intensify. By the time hurricanes make landfall, they’ll have increased in span and force, releasing energy equivalent to around 400 H-bombs.
The US experiences at least 3 hurricanes a year, 40% of which hit the state of Florida. They also affect other states around the Gulf and East Coasts, especially during the months of June to November, with the month of September being the most active. Meteorologists call this period the Atlantic Hurricane Season.
How Are Hurricanes Categorized?
To adequately prepare for a major calamity like a hurricane, you have to know how they’re categorized. Hurricanes are classified from categories 1 to 5 using the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Here’s what these categories mean according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):
Sustained wind speed: 74-95 mph
What to expect: Some damage to light or temporary structures like makeshift shelters, weak trees or unanchored mobile homes. Well-built buildings are mostly spared from damage but shingles and poorly built roof tiles can be blown off. Move outdoor furniture inside. Protect your glass windows and watch out for falling debris. Large tree branches could snap. Damage to power lines that can cause scattered power outages can be expected.
Sustained wind speed: 96-110 mph
What to expect: Considerable damage to houses and similar structures, especially to doors and windows. Street signs can be blown away. Secure livestock and pets and stay indoors to avoid flying debris. Trees, especially those that are rooted shallowly, can get toppled over and can block roads. Expect downed power lines and shortage in clean water supply.
Sustained wind speed: 111-129 mph
What to expect: Extensive damage to property and structures due to strong winds and torrential rain. If you are living in a mobile home, make sure to hunker down or evacuate to a safer location altogether. The chances of destruction and damage are high. Gable-end roofs can be blown clear off. Power and water supply will be out for several days to weeks.
Sustained wind speed: 130-156 mph
What to expect: Even the most well-built homes will not be spared from structural damage. Expect uprooted trees and major damage to property due to flying debris. Canopies and overhangs from buildings can be blown clear off. Those living in high-rise buildings may have to evacuate to a safer location as strong winds can blow out their windows. Massive flooding can occur due to heavy rain. Those living in coastal areas or areas below sea level may be asked to evacuate to a safer location. Expect widespread blackout. Water supply can be compromised.
Sustained wind speed: 157 mph or higher
What to expect: The worst. Entire homes can be uprooted off the ground and destroyed. This hurricane category is capable of flattening trees and power lines, breaching floodgates and causing storm surges. Expect long-term power outages and water shortage.
Here’s What You Can Do
Perhaps the only “good” thing about hurricanes is that their path and behavior can be visualized and predicted. Unlike earthquakes, which can strike at any time without warning, you can take measures to prepare for a hurricane before it hits.
As a prepper, you can lessen the hurricane’s damage and increase your chances of survival by doing the following:
Before A Hurricane
Preparedness begins way before a hurricane warning is issued. If you know that your area is in the usual path of hurricanes, you have to be prepared all year round. Here’s what you can do before a hurricane strikes:
- Sign up for your community's disaster warning system. Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs) deliver vital information about natural or man-made disasters straight to your mobile device through SMS. NOAA also has a national radio network that's responsible for providing forecasts, warnings and updates on weather disturbances like hurricanes, so make sure to tune in to that regularly.
- Always heed hurricane forecasts. According to the national public service campaign Ready, a hurricane watch can be given when a hurricane is to be expected in the next 48 hours. This forecast gets upgraded into a hurricane warning when worsening weather conditions are to be expected within the next 36 hours.
- Have your go bag ready with all the essentials. Make sure that is has everything you need to survive for at least 72 hours including food, clothing, emergency food, first aid kits, flashlights, drinking water, emergency communication and the like. Check out a more detailed list here.
- Prepare an emergency communication plan among your family and friends. Remember, cellular networks can become congested or can stop working altogether during major disasters, so plan possible meeting places and evacuation routes ahead of time. Your family must assign at least two emergency contacts (one within the state and one out of state) to help you find and connect with other members. Take note of emergency shelters and evacuation centers in your area, especially if you are at risk for flash floods.
- If you live near the beach, river or any other risk-prone area, anticipate an evacuation. Know where to find higher ground, especially if storm surges or floods are imminent. Store enough fuel for your car and familiarize yourself with possible evacuation routes. As a rule, you should map out at least 3 routes in case roads become congested. Prepare your vehicle by keeping a car kit complete with spare tires, a folding shovel, and the like.
- Mobile homes are vulnerable to strong hurricane winds. If you live in a mobile home, anchor your home securely and check your insurance policies ahead of time. If a major hurricane is in the forecast, it is safer to leave the area than to hunker down.
- Hurricane winds tend to be stronger at higher elevations. If you live in a high-rise building, prepare to evacuate to a lower floor. Secure your glass windows, as they are at risk of being blown out by strong winds.
- Charge all electronic devices and prepare extra batteries and power banks so you can still use them even during a blackout. Prepare alternative emergency energy sources and fuel (generators, propane tanks, firewood) if possible.
- Even if you don’t need to evacuate, you still need to prepare your home to weather the storm. Cut tree branches and limbs that might get blown away by strong hurricane gusts. Put away any outdoor furniture as well. Reinforce your windows, shingles, roofs, and doors to reduce damage to your property.
- Place valuable items like electronics and legal documents to your second floor in case unprecedented floods strike your area.
- Turn your fridge to its coldest setting. Keep the door closed to preserve the cold. This way, any stored food can last longer even during power failures.
- Fill the bathtub and any other available container with clean water that you can use for sanitary purposes. Flooding can contaminate tap water, so prepare adequate supplies of clean drinking water. At least 2 gallons per person per day should be enough. Don’t forget to stock up on portable water purifiers or survival straws as well.
- Pets are especially vulnerable during hurricanes. Your cats and dogs can't prep for themselves during natural calamities, so make sure to include them in your plans. Check your local evacuation center if they allow animals. If not, consider staying with a friend or relative who can accommodate you and your pets. Don't forget to pack a pet "B.O.B", too. This should contain non-perishable food, a two-week water supply, puppy pads, and cleaning supplies, as well as meds if needed.
During A Hurricane
The hurricane's here. By this time, you'll have evacuated to a safer area or hunkered down at home. If you're bugging in, there's really not much to do but to safely wait for the storm to blow over. Here are a few safety precautions to follow:
- Hurricanes can blow away debris or any unanchored structure, so close your storm shutters and stay indoors until the storm has passed.
- Stay in an interior room. Avoid windows or glass doors as these can shatter, especially during really strong hurricanes.
- Keep posted for updates about the storm, either through battery-powered radios, the TV or the internet, if possible.
After A Hurricane
Hurricanes leave extensive damages in their wake. There could be flooding, debris, downed power lines, and water contamination. Even after the storm has passed, you should still exercise caution. Here's what you can do to stay safe after a hurricane:
- Stay posted for weather updates. Heavy to moderate rainfall, flooding and even landslides can still occur even after the storm has passed. Do not go outside unless absolutely necessary.
- If you've evacuated to a temporary shelter, only move back when authorities have deemed it safe to do so. Do not enter your house if it’s still flooded or if you see significant structural damage.
- If you smell a gas leak or see downed power lines, contact the authorities immediately.
- Drive only when absolutely necessary. Stay away from flooded areas, broken bridges and the like.
- Assess yourself and family members for any injuries that need medical attention.
- Flood water contains all kinds of nasties so wear protective clothing like boots when you have to go out.
Filter and purify water before drinking, especially if you've experienced massive flooding. Do not prepare food or drink with tap water unless you're 100% sure it's safe for consumption.
- Exercise safety when assessing the damage. Wear a hard hat and a pair of gloves if you're checking out structural damage. Don’t forget to take photos of the damage for insurance purposes.
Hurricanes are not only destructive; they’re extremely costly, too. Accuweather estimates the median damage of hurricanes to be at a whopping $1.8B each year.
Due to warmer seas caused by climate change, hurricanes may only get stronger each year. While we can’t do anything to slow hurricanes down, we can still employ measures to somehow soften its blow. Follow the tips above and keep a good head on your shoulders so you’ll know what to do when disaster strikes.
Any other preparedness tips that we might have missed? Let us know in the comments below!