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 ready.
Here’s how to survive a hurricane:
Where Do Hurricanes Mostly Occur and When Is Hurricane Season?
To know how to survive a hurricane, it helps to learn where it develops and when it usually happens.
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 typhoons. Whatever name you call them, these rapidly rotating weather systems bring torrential rain and strong winds, which often result in flooding, storm surges, and damage to property.
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 land, 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 Florida. They also affect other states around the Gulf and East Coasts, especially from June to November, with September being the most active. Meteorologists call this period the Atlantic Hurricane Season.
How Are Hurricanes 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.
- Large tree branches could snap.
- Damage to power lines that can cause scattered power outages.
Make sure you move outdoor furniture inside, protect your glass windows, and watch out for falling debris.
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.
- Trees, especially those that are rooted shallowly, can get toppled over and can block roads.
- Expect downed power lines and a shortage of clean water supply.
Make sure you secure livestock and pets and stay indoors to avoid flying debris.
Sustained wind speed: 111-129 mph
What to expect:
- Extensive damage to property and structures due to strong winds and torrential rain
- Gable-end roofs can be blown clear off
- The power and water supply will be out for several days to weeks
If you’re living in a mobile home, make sure to hunker down or evacuate to a safer location altogether.
Sustained wind speed: 130-156 mph
What to expect:
- 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 a 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 a long-term water shortage and power outages.
How to Survive a Hurricane: What to Do Before, During, and After One
Perhaps the only “good” thing about hurricanes is their path and behavior can be visualized and predicted. Unlike earthquakes, which can strike anytime without warning, you can take measures to lessen the storm’s damage.
Here’s how to survive a hurricane:
Before a Hurricane
Hurricane survival begins way before a 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 manmade disasters straight to your mobile device through SMS. NOAA also has a national radio network responsible for providing forecasts, warnings, and updates on weather disturbances like hurricanes, so make sure to tune in to that regularly.
Pay Attention to Hurricane Forecasts
According to the national public service campaign Ready, a hurricane watch can be given when a hurricane is expected in the next 48 hours. This forecast gets upgraded into a hurricane warning when worsening weather conditions are expected within the next 36 hours.
Create an Emergency Communication Plan
Remember, cellular networks can become congested or can stop working altogether during major disasters, so plan ahead of time in case you and your family aren’t together when it happens. This is especially important if you’re living in a place that’s prone to flash floods.
Here’s what your emergency communication plan should include:
- At least two emergency contacts (one within the state and one out of state) to help you find and connect with other members
- Important contact information (ex. school, workplace, first responders)—don’t just save these to your phone; stick the list on your fridge and print and laminate wallet-sized copies for each member of your household
Pro Tip: You’ll have better luck sending text messages to loved ones vs. calling via landline or cellphone. You can also use social media to get in touch with them.
Build Your First Aid Skills
Hurricanes can cause serious injuries. Hospitals and emergency rooms might be full of folks needing assistance, so if you know first aid, you’ll likely know how to survive a hurricane without a doctor nearby. You’ll save time, money, and someone’s life. To get training, visit your local YMCA or Red Cross.
Here are some simple first aid procedures you should practice.
Get Your Home Ready
Whether you’re bugging in or bugging out, you need to give your home a fighting chance against the hurricane. The sooner you prepare for hurricane survival, the more you can protect the actual structure and the more comfortable you’ll be if you’re staying put.
Here are some steps to make your house equipped for the storm:
- Cut tree branches and limbs that might get blown away by strong hurricane gusts. Put away any outdoor furniture and potted plants as well.
- Reinforce your windows, shingles, roofs, and doors to reduce damage to your property. Cover your doors and windows in plastic sheeting and use duct tape to keep the sheeting in place. Plastic sheeting helps water stay out of your home.
- Transfer your furniture and move them away from the windows.
- Double-check your shed if you have one. Its doors need to be shut completely so they won’t transform into violent projectiles.
- Mobile homes are vulnerable to strong hurricane winds. If you live in a mobile home, anchor your home securely. 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’re at risk of being blown out by strong winds.
- Get insured, especially if you live in Florida. If worse comes to worst, this will help you recover your losses. But take note that hurricane insurance doesn’t include flood damage. To be extra careful, it also pays to have the latter.
- Turn your fridge’s thermostat up to its coldest setting. Keep the door closed to preserve the cold. This way, any stored food can last longer during power failures.
- Fill the bathtub and any other available containers with clean water that you can use for sanitary purposes.
- Flooding can contaminate tap water, so prepare enough clean drinking water for hurricane survival. At least 2 gallons per person per day should be enough. Don’t forget to stock up on portable water filters or survival straws.
- 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 (ex. generators, propane tanks, firewood) if possible.
Anticipate an Evacuation
How to survive a hurricane if you live near the beach, river, or other risk risk-prone areas? Listen to orders from the local authorities and be ready to get out of dodge.
You should also:
- Know where to find higher ground, especially if storm surges or floods are imminent.
- Be familiar with the emergency shelters and evacuation centers in your area. If you have a separate bug out location, that’s even better. Just see to it that it’s accessible using different routes yet secure enough to keep other people out.
- Store enough fuel for your bug out vehicle and familiarize yourself with possible evacuation routes. As a rule of thumb, you should map out at least 3 routes in case the roads become congested.
- Prepare your vehicle by keeping a BOV emergency kit complete with spare tires, tire sealant, an entrenching tool, and jumper cables. Don’t park it under a tree, or else you won’t have a getaway car.
- Unplug all TVs, computers, and appliances before you leave. Also, shut off your gas to avoid dangerous leaks and close your water to keep broken pipes from flooding your home. If your kids are old enough, teach them how to do these.
Prep a Hurricane Preparedness Kit
Do this before you even learn there’s a hurricane warning. By prepping your survival supplies and gear ahead, you’ll save yourself from the human stampede grabbing everything they can get their hands on—canned goods, Twinkies, or toilet paper.
At a minimum, your hurricane preparedness kit should have:
- Water: Being dehydrated is the last thing you want when you can’t head out to buy drinking water. As we mentioned earlier, prepping 2 gallons of water per person per day should do the trick. Store them securely in food-grade plastic containers, stainless steel bottles, or glass containers.
- Food: While you can survive weeks without food, doing so will leave you weak, cranky, and in danger of making mistakes you normally wouldn’t make. Have a pantry reserved for emergencies and check it often for expired goods. It should have these things.
- First aid kit: Take care of injuries right away with first aid staples like antiseptics, hydrogen peroxide, gauze, and alcohol (the non-booze variety).
- Hygiene supplies: You can get away with skipping a shower or two during a calamity, but there’s no way anyone would be comfortable running out of tampons or sanitary napkins in the middle of one. Secure those, as well as toilet paper, diapers, and soap and shampoo.
- Flashlights: Candles are serious fire hazards. If you wanna see at night, include a headlamp or tactical flashlight in your hurricane preparedness kit.
- Emergency communication: Besides your smartphone, you also need a radio. You can get one that’s hand-cranked, so you won’t worry about running out of battery.
- Bug spray: If you live in an area that’s typically warm, it’s crucial to have bug spray. Mosquitoes can swarm the place thanks to post-hurricane flooding, biting anyone in their path.
- Map and compass: GPS is great, but you want to have a backup ready if you can’t get a signal. That’s where learning how to use a classic map and compass will save your hide.
- Medications: Are you taking any prescription pills? Is your family member? Then prep enough meds for your hurricane survival kit—at least a week’s worth. It’s also a good idea to have other meds like cold and anti-diarrhea meds in case.
- Power bank: Don’t have a generator? No problem. You can keep your phone charged with a nice power bank. Just be vigilant about charging it often.
- Extra batteries: You’ll never know when these might come in handy.
- Special needs: If you have poor eyesight, keep an extra pair of glasses ready. Your hurricane survival kit should also have enough baby formula for your toddler and an EpiPen for your loved one with serious allergies.
Make sure to also pack a bug out bag so that you won’t get caught off guard if you’re forced to get out of dodge. It should have everything you need to survive for at least 72 hours. Here’s more information about packing one.
Another tip? Back up your pictures and important docs. You can save them online or copy them to an encrypted flash drive.
Don’t Forget About Your Pets
Pets are especially vulnerable during hurricanes—or any natural calamity, for that matter. They wouldn’t know how to survive a hurricane on their own. Because your cats and dogs are also family members, don’t forget to include them in your plans.
Ask your local evacuation center whether they allow animals. If not, consider staying with a friend or relative who can accommodate you and your pets. Another option is your bug out location.
Don’t forget to pack a hurricane preparedness kit for your pets, too. It should contain:
- Non-perishable food
- Two-week water supply
- Puppy pads
- Cleaning supplies
- Meds (if needed)
One more thing—get your pets microchipped and update their collar tags ASAP if you haven’t done so yet. If you somehow lose your animal pals during all the commotion, these measures will help you reunite with them.
During a Hurricane
The hurricane has arrived. 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 in terms of hurricane survival but to wait for it 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 like a bathroom or closet. Avoid rooms with windows or glass doors as these can shatter, especially during really strong hurricanes. You can build a safe room in your house if you want. This room won’t just come in handy in storms; you can also retreat to it during a home invasion.
- Unplug electronics and appliances so they won’t get damaged by power surges when the electricity comes back.
- Keep posted for updates about the storm, either through radios or the internet, if possible.
After a Hurricane
Hurricanes leave extensive damage 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 how to survive the hurricane aftermath:
- Stay posted for weather updates. Heavy to moderate rainfall, flooding, and landslides can occur even after the storm. Hurricane survival 101—don’t go outside unless absolutely necessary. Wait for the go signal from the local officials. Depending on the storm’s severity, it can take a few days, a week, or more.
- If you’ve evacuated to a temporary shelter, only go 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.
- Contact the authorities immediately if you smell a gas leak or see downed power lines.
- Drive only if you have no other choice. 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.
- Don’t use appliances that got wet in the storm. Never attempt to turn on damaged appliances as well. You might either get electrocuted or start a house fire.
- 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. If you have doubts about the food’s safety, throw it out.
- 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.
- Clean your home and have your things repaired right away. Mold might form if you put this task off.
Hurricanes aren’t 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 you can’t do anything to slow them down, you can still employ measures to soften their blow, like preparing your home beforehand and building a hurricane preparedness kit.
Follow the tips above and keep a good head on your shoulders so you’ll know what to do in terms of hurricane survival.
Any other survivalism tips you wanna know? Check out our other disaster-prepping articles!