Houston gets an average of 45 inches of rain per year — more than Seattle — and it's no stranger to bad storms. Hurricane Ike's devastation in 2008, for example, caused the Gulf Coast nearly $30 billion in damage. Twenty-three Texans died during Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, and thousands had to rebuild their homes due to extensive flooding. The recoveries from these two storms alone were long and difficult for the city and surrounding areas and are often still referred to by locals every time hurricane season rolls around.
When It Is
Hurricane season in Houston lasts five months — from June to October — with the biggest risk for storms falling in August and September. While these months are typically when Houstonians are on high alert, hurricanes can happen anytime. Even without a named hurricane or tropical storm looming, it's not uncommon for the city to see heavy rain or flooding, so it's best to be prepared year round.
How to Prep
If you wait for a hurricane or tropical storm to show up on the radar, it'll likely be too late to prepare. Lines form quickly at gas stations, water sells out in grocery stores, and thousands of Houstonians leave work early to outrun the storm, resulting in horrible traffic jams. Nearly six million people live in the Houston metro area, and supplies run out fast. Early and frequent preparation is key. Here's what you can do:
Have a Plan
Figure out where you'll go and how to get there if you need to evacuate.
Figure out a meeting spot if you need to rendezvous with family or friends. Even if you're only visiting Houston during hurricane season, it's still important to think through how you'll respond if a bad storm is on the way.
Perhaps the single most important thing you can do prior to a storm is making a communications plan.
Write down important numbers — like your office phone or the daycare's emergency line — and make sure everyone in your household or group has them within easy reach, such as in a wallet or on the refrigerator. Everyone should know ahead of time what they need to do and where they need to go in case you get separated or lose communications.
An emergency kit doesn't have to be fancy, but it should have a few key items in case you're stranded without power:
- First aid kit
- Cordless weather radio
- Extra batteries or portable chargers
- Drinking water
- Wet cleaning clothes like baby wipes
- Some non-perishable food — like canned vegetables or soup — for everyone in the family, including dry or canned pet food for your pets
- Any essential items, like prescription meds, baby supplies or travel documents
It might seem like a small thing, but keeping your car, if you have one, gassed up with at least a half a tank is critical. Gas stations run out of fuel quickly leading up to storms, and you'll want to get out of town fast if an evacuation for your area is called.
It's also a good idea to make sure your home is prepped with a clean yard that's free of debris and storm shutters or plywood on hand to board up windows if a bad storm is imminent.
Lastly, don't forget to keep your cell phone battery charged, and stay updated on new storms and readiness information by following Ready Harris — Harris County's Regional Joint Information Center — on Twitter or Facebook, or via alerts.
What to Do
If a storm is on the way, and you're visiting Houston, try to adjust your travel plans to get out of the area as soon as possible. If that's not an option, many hotels have contingency plans in place to ensure the safety of guests during storms. Ask the front desk where to go in the event you need to wait out the storm.
For those who plan to wait it out in a home or apartment, there are a few things you should do:
- Fill up your bathtubs with water to use if the water goes out.
- Board up your windows to keep them protected from flying debris.
- Move your car to a garage or to higher ground where it will be less likely to get caught in flood waters.
- Lower the temperature of your fridge and freezer in case you lose power.
- Keep a weather radio on to hear updates and instructions.
- Go over your communications plan one last time with loved ones.
Where to Go
Most of Houston is not in an evacuation zone, but in the unlikely event of an evacuation, you should be familiar with the routes and how it works.
To ensure everyone who needs to get out can, evacuation is done in waves, and officials will alert households to the specific time they are to evacuate. Those closest to the coastline will evacuate first, followed by zones further inland. If traffic gets too backed up, officials will convert inbound lanes into outbound — meaning drivers can only leave the city; no one can make their way in.
For those who don't have access to transportation, Harris County officials can help. If you don't think you'll be able to get out of the city on your own, be sure to sign up for the Emergency Assistance Registry so officials know who you are and where to find you.
When It's Over
After a storm is over, you still need to take precautions.
- Houston is prone to flooding, so watch out for high water. Never drive or swim through water if you don't know how deep it is.
- Shut off power if you see downed power lines or exposed cables.
- If the electricity is out, use flashlights instead of candles to avoid the risk of a fire, and throw out any food that might have spoiled.
- Check in with loved ones to let them know you're safe and to verify that they are. Sending a text message is often the easiest way to check in with friends and family, as texts will often go through even if calls are jammed. If you still have access to the internet, you can also use Facebook's Safety Check or the Red Cross tool Safe & Well.
- Restock your supplies. Another storm might be just around the corner.