The Atlantic hurricane season lasts from June through November and, although most of the time all you will see are some heavy bouts of rain, some major hurricanes have hit the region in recent years. That is why it's essential always to be prepared.
The best type of hurricane is the one that doesn't make landfall, but there are times when you won't be so lucky. No matter if you're living in a hurricane-prone area or just there on vacation, knowing what to do before, during, and after a severe tropical storm can go a long way to keeping you safe.
Before a Hurricane
All proper preparations should be done before the hurricane hits to ensure that you aren't left without certain necessities. When a major hurricane is headed toward an area, people tend to panic, and stores run out of essential staples like water, batteries, and flashlights very quickly.
Truthfully, if you live in a hurricane-prone area, you should always be stocked with the staples, so you never have to worry about the panicking crowds. You should also be prepared if you're traveling to an area that may be affected by these severe storms.
- Make a plan: When an emergency strikes, you and your family must have a plan in case you get separated. Agree on a common meeting place that is easy to find and a method of contact. Additionally, you'll want to know the safest place to hunker down during the storm, so stake out a location away from any windows when you arrive where you can take shelter.
- Create a disaster kit: Whether you're visiting a hurricane-prone area or you live there, you should prepare a disaster kit in case of a sudden storm. This should consist of water (1 gallon per person per day for three days), three days worth of food, batteries, flashlights, a first aid kit, a cell phone with back up charger, a help whistle, garbage bags, pliers, a manual can opener, and any critical medications. Your valuable documents should be tucked away in a waterproof container as well.
- Fill all of your gas tanks: This should be done as soon as possible because gas is usually one of the first things to run out before a hurricane.
If you live in or are staying in a sound structure outside of an evacuation area and do not live in a mobile home, stay home, and take these precautions:
- Make sure your windows are protected, and your home is secured. This may mean putting up hurricane shutters, which should be done in the days before a hurricane is coming. This also includes tying down or taking in any outdoor furniture, garbage cans, outdoor decor, or lawn supplies that can blow away during heavy winds.
- Fill your bathtubs. Line the bathtub with plastic sheeting or a clean shower curtain, or caulk the drain with silicone caulking—it holds water for weeks and cleans up easily when dry.
- Use a website or app to determine the elevation of the property where you're staying. This will help you determine if your home is flood-prone and can help you prepare for storm surge or tidal flooding by placing sandbags around the perimeter of your home.
During a Hurricane
During the storm, howling winds, driving rain, and the threat of tornadoes can make riding out a hurricane scary. Follow these tips for staying safe in your home during a hurricane:
- Stay inside and away from windows, skylights, and glass doors. Find a safe area in your home (an interior room like a closet or bathroom on the lower level).
- If flooding threatens your home, turn off electricity at the main breaker.
- If you lose power, turn off major appliances such as the air conditioner and water heater to reduce damage.
- Do not use electrical appliances, including your computer.
- Do not go outside. If the eye of the storm passes over your area, there will be a short period of calm, but at the other side of the eye, the wind speed rapidly increases to hurricane force and will come from the opposite direction. Also, do not go outside to see "what the wind feels like." It is too easy to be hit by flying debris.
- Beware of lightning. Stay away from electrical equipment and don't use the phone or take a bath/shower during the storm.
After a Hurricane
More deaths and injuries occur after a hurricane hits than during. This is because people are too anxious to get outside and survey the damage and come into contact with downed power lines or unstable trees. Follow these suggestions for staying safe after a hurricane:
- Remain indoors until an official "all clear" is given.
- Do not touch fallen or low-hanging wires of any kind under any circumstances. Stay away from puddles with wires in or near them. Do not touch trees or other objects in contact with power lines.
- Use phones for emergencies only and call 911 only for life-threatening situations.
- Call police or utility companies immediately to report hazards such as downed power lines, broken gas or water mains, overturned gas tanks, or any other dangerous situation you come across.
- Watch for weakened roads, bridges, tree limbs, porches that could collapse unexpectedly, and never drive through floodwaters of any level.
- After power is restored, check refrigerated food for spoilage, which is the cause of much sickness two days to a week after the storm.
- When reinstalling a cable base, TV, or satellite antenna, check all directions to be sure no power lines are nearby. The same goes for climbing trees to clear debris.
- Do not operate charcoal grills, propane camping stoves, or generators indoors.
Evacuating Before or After a Storm
If you live near the coast or in a flood-prone area, you may be asked to evacuate. Your "plan" should include researching your evacuation route and making arrangements in advance with family or friends for a safe place to stay.
Area public shelters are for people who have no other place to go. If you must stay in a shelter, listen to news broadcasts for announcements of shelter openings. Shelter volunteers do their best to make you comfortable, but a shelter is not a very comfortable place. Stay with friends or relatives if at all possible.
- Those with special medical needs such as oxygen should go to special needs shelters only. Special needs shelters do not provide hands-on medical care, only medical monitoring. Bring a caregiver with you if possible.
- Only service animals are permitted in public shelters. Shelters that allow pets are limited, so other arrangements should be made for your pets.
- Bring food and snacks. Meals may not be available during the first 24 hours.
- Bring your identification, valuable papers, and medications in their original containers.
- Bring baby supplies if you have a small child.
- Bring blankets, sleeping bags, and pillows, which are either not provided or limited in supply at shelters. You may also want to bring cards, games, or books to help pass the hours while you wait for it to be safe to travel.
- Bring flashlights and a battery-operated radio or TV with extra batteries.
- Stay inside and follow directions that are given for your comfort and safety; you will not be allowed outside until the officials give an "all clear" message.
However, if a storm threatens during your visit, keep informed with local news and follow any evacuation orders that are issued. If you aren't required to evacuate, follow the tips above to help keep you and your family safe.
Additionally, before you head to Florida from June through November, be sure to review the Florida State official Essential Guide to Hurricane Preparedness.