Hurricanes are well known for blowing in along the coast and leaving disaster in its wake. But did you know the threat reaches farther than just the coastal areas? Hurricanes can have adverse effects quite far inland. But before we talk about the nitty gritty, let’s start off with the basics.
What is a Hurricane?
Officially, a low-pressure weather system that rotates and has organized thunderstorms is a tropical cyclone, according to NOAA. While similar, this is not a hurricane. Not yet, anyway. As the wind speeds increase, the name by which we call these storms also changes. A tropical storm occurs once wind speeds reach 39 miles per hour, and hurricanes must have wind speeds of at least 74 miles per hour.
Hurricanes typically form from June 1st through November 30th, and is commonly called “hurricane season.” Of course, hurricanes can (and do) form before and after these dates.
Hurricanes on Radar
Hurricanes that strike the United States form in the Atlantic basin and are tracked to give us as much time to prepare as possible. A hurricane’s path can generally be predicted 3-5 days prior to it making landfall. Unlike most other natural disasters that come without warning, this gives a huge advantage to preparing. But, just because you have advanced warning, it doesn’t mean you can wait until the last moment to prepare. On the contrary, preparing well in advance is always the best option.
Where to Start Your Hurricane Preparations
Be proactive in the hours leading up to a hurricane, but also be safe. If the winds start howling sooner than expected, that’s not the time to go into town for a carton of milk. Along those lines, you may have three, four, or even five days advanced notice, but sometimes that’s simply not good enough. The time to prepare for a hurricane is now. Today. To help you get started, here are some steps from ready.gov to keep in mind.
Know Your Hurricane Risk
If you live pretty far inland, chances are you won’t be feeling the brunt of the storm. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t risks for those living farther away from the coast. In fact, Hurricane Sandy affected 24 states – that’s half the continental United States! No matter where you are, there’s something to be said about being prepared.
If you are on the coast (or at least close by), the threat is much more real, the winds more powerful, and the flooding more severe, so plan accordingly. If you’re unsure of what your risk is, the image below shows the frequency of hurricanes and tropical storms by county.
Make an Emergency Plan
Without a plan, being effectively prepared will be mighty difficult. It’s not that you can’t do it without, but plans make it easier to keep things together without having to remember every small detail. Write your plan down, post it where you can see it, and even keep one in your emergency kit so you have it to refer to.
Your plan will differ depending on your situation, location, and many other factors. If you have pets, include them in your plan as well. Small children, seniors, and those with disabilities will likewise require special attention. What do you need to prepare with before the first warning comes? What should you do when there is a warning? These are some things to consider when making your plan.
If you wait until the hurricane warnings come, you may find your grocery store’s inventory to be virtually empty. To avoid that rather unpleasant inconvenience, take time today to stock up on emergency food. This can be extra cans of food from the store during your regular shopping trip, or even something more long term, such as freeze-dried meals.
Freeze-dried food has a shelf life of 25 years or more (as long as it’s stored properly), so once you get it, you won’t have to rotate it for a very long time, unlike your canned goods from the local store. Those you’ll need to rotate much more frequently. Another perk of freeze-dried food is that it’s already cooked. Meaning, if you’re power’s out, all you need to do is add water, wait a few minutes, and voila! Dinner is served.
Water is also a vital part of your supplies. During a hurricane, as well as after, your water supply might be cut off, or even contaminated (flood water does that to your drinking water). Water filters are an excellent option to have on hand. Also consider storing water in your home, be it in water barrels or just 2-liter pop bottles. Each person needs at least one gallon of water per day for hydration and light sanitation, so the more water you have the better off you’ll be. And, if you have freeze-dried food, you will want more water so you can rehydrate your food, thus allowing you to actually eat your food.
Other supplies to keep stocked are batteries, chargers, cash, first aid, and flashlights, among other personal supplies that are necessary for you and your family. Remember, make sure you have everything you need before the radar picks up a dangerous looking blip. Otherwise, the things you need might be hard to come by.
Most home insurance policies don’t cover flood damage – that’s additional. However, depending on where you live, you might be able to get by without it. FloodSmart.gov can help you identify your flood risk and thereby help you decide if flood insurance is right for you.
If you do decide you need flood insurance, you may not want to wait too long. Most flood insurance policies take effect 30 days once you purchase it. That means, if you see a hurricane is coming and then get insurance…you still won’t be covered if you get flooded. When it comes to flood insurance, you will definitely want it well in advance.
Familiarize Yourself with Local Emergency Plans
Your city or town will have an emergency plan in place. Learn it and know it well so you won’t have any hesitation when the need to execute it arises. Know the evacuation route to ensure not getting lost on your way out.
Fortunately, hurricanes give us at least a day or more of warning before they come for a visit. However, once we’re apprised of their arrival, the time to prepare is all but past. Start getting prepared now so when the next disaster comes, you’ll be ready for it.
Before a Hurricane
Having advanced warning will give you extra time for to get things done you can’t really do months in advance, such as filling up your car’s gas tank. Ready.gov has broken down the hours until arrival into four sections, each with different tasks you should do in order to be best prepared for the approaching hurricane.
Watch vs. Warning
It’s important to know the difference between a watch and a warning. If you get them mixed up, you may be in for a very unpleasant – and dangerous – experience.
According to NOAA, a hurricane watch means that “hurricane conditions are possible within a specified area.” This means it’s time to be vigilant and prepare for the worst. Continue monitoring the weather to stay on top of the situation.
NOAA describes a hurricane warning as requiring immediate action, and that “hurricane conditions are expected within the specified area.” Essentially, the time to prepare has passed, and the time to act is now. When it comes to hurricanes, warnings are issued 36 hours before their expected arrival. This gives you just a bit more time to take care of any last minute precautions, including tying down yard decorations and preparing your home. Again, warnings mean imminent danger, so be sure to do as much as you can as soon as you receive your first warning, if not sooner.
36 Hours from Arriving
First of all, stay tuned to your TV or radio station for updates. If the storm turns sooner than expected, you could be caught high and dry (so to speak). Use this time (if you haven’t already) to go through your emergency supplies and restock anything that needs to be replaced. This include batteries, flashlights, cash, and first aid supplies, along with anything else that fits your personal needs.
Check out your vehicle and make sure it’s in proper working order. If anything needs fixed (that won’t take a couple of days to get done), consider fixing it, just in case you need to evacuate quickly. Likewise, fill your vehicle full of gas. The last thing you want is to be stranded on the side of the road when the hurricane comes roaring in.
Also review your emergency plan. It’s always good to keep that information fresh in your mind so you won’t forget anything in the rush to get everything done. An important aspect of an emergency plan is knowing how to contact your loved ones should you be separated. Texting is generally a better option during emergencies, as text messages don’t tie up phone lines, and even if service is spotty, texts can still go through when a phone call won’t.
18-36 Hours from Arriving
At this point, there really isn’t much more time to prepare. But, you still have enough time to brief yourself and your family on your city or county’s emergency instructions. A quick Google search should pull that up (if it’s not already bookmarked).
Now is also a good time to tie down or bring in any loose, lightweight object in your yard (such as lawn chairs, garbage cans, etc.). When the high winds come, these objects can become dangerous projectiles. Trim trees and cover your home’s windows.
6-18 Hours from Arriving
The time for preparing is past. You don’t want to be caught out in the storm when it comes, so unless there’s a big emergency, you should stick around your home or shelter, especially when the estimated time of arrival is near the 6 hour mark. But whether you have to go out or not, keep an ear to the radio and an eye on the TV for weather updates. Also charge your phone so you will have a full battery, just in case the power goes out.
6 Hours from Arriving
The hurricane is quite nearly on your doorstep. If you haven’t already been evacuated, stay indoors, close the shutters, and keep away from the windows. In case the power goes out, crank up your refrigerator and freezer’s temperature to their coldest settings. This way, if there is a power loss, your food will last longer. Keep your emergency radio on and keep current on the updates coming your way. Do not venture outside, as hurricane-force winds are very strong, and very dangerous.
During a Hurricane
When the winds howl and the rains deluge, stay inside. Keep away from windows and glass doors as strong winds could blow them in, turning the glass into deadly, flying debris. To avoid harm should the storm penetrate your home, take shelter in a safe room, preferably in an interior room, such as bathroom or closet. Stay on your home’s lower level.
If your home is threatened by flooding, turn off your electricity at the breaker. If the power goes out, shut off your large appliances to avoid damages.
Sometimes, the hurricane may calm down before it has completely passed, but don’t be fooled. If the eye of the storm passes over your area, the winds will die down, but once the eye passes, the winds will increase quickly, ramping back up to hurricane-force winds.
Don’t take any unnecessary risks, even if it’s just to take a brief step outside to see what the wind feels like. Debris will be in the air, and it is far too easy to be hit by some. Stay indoors, and stay safe.
After a Hurricane
You’ve rode out the storm, but there’s still more work to be done. As with any disaster, there are still dangers to be aware of even after the storm calms down. Even though the winds are no longer howling, you still need to practice caution. The following suggestions from Ready.gov will help you know what to do following a hurricane.
Check for Injuries
Make sure you and your family are safe. Use your first aid kit to patch up any minor injuries that may have been sustained. Emergency personnel will be busy helping everyone they can, which means it could be a while until they can get to you. By having a first aid kit and being able to patch yourself up, you won’t have to wait until help arrives.
Use your emergency radio to keep tabs on weather updates and further instructions from your local officials. Text your family and friends to let them know you’re safe, as well as to see if they are safe, too. Facebook and other social media platforms are another good way of checking in with those you care about. In fact, Facebook has a feature known as Safety Check which automatically activates the next time you log in if you are in the affected area. Through this, you can mark yourself as “safe”, letting your Facebook friends know you’re doing well.
Hurricanes can really make a mess of the area (see Hurricane Damage below). If you had to evacuate, do not return home unless your local officials have deemed it safe to do so. Electrified flood water due to downed or underground power lines can be hazardous. Hidden dangers also include debris and washed-out ground. If you encounter flood water – flowing or standing – stay out of it. Just six inches of moving flood water can knock a person over, and swift-moving water can sweep a vehicle away as it flows by. Likewise, flood water can be heavily contaminated, which is why it’s important not to wade through it unless properly covered. Drinking flood water is also dangerous unless properly treated first. When you do get to your home, take pictures of the damage as a reference for your insurance claim.
Cleaning Up Safely
Be careful as you navigate your home, and watch out for broken glass and other sharp objects. If you smell gas, do not turn on any lights or use a lamp, match, or any open flame. Wear protective gloves and boots so if you do step on or grab something sharp, you can avoid getting injured.
With the amount of wind blowing around a hurricane, it’s little wonder these massive storms deliver heavy destruction wherever they go. Along with the heavy winds there is also torrents of rain, which can cause flooding. To add to these watery woes, hurricanes also bring with them a storm surge. This is when the water near the shore rises with the low pressure weather system, which in turn heaves itself onto the banks, rushing far across the inland. Storm surges cause major flooding, and can be just as destructive – if not more so – than the hurricane force winds.
Speaking of strong winds, hurricanes are classified by numbers 1 through 5. A category 1 hurricane is the weakest, but still requires wind speeds of 74-95 miles per hour to achieve that rating. Despite being the lowest lever, these wind speeds are quite powerful.
A category 2 hurricane has winds ranging from 96-153 miles per hour, but is not yet considered a major hurricane. That rating is reserved for hurricanes of at least a category 3.
Hurricanes become major storms at category 3. Wind speeds range from 111-129 miles per hour, and cause devastating destruction, even on well-built homes. These storms will knock out power and water supplies for a few days.
Winds over 130 miles an hour are obviously dangerous, but hurricanes can get even stronger. Category 4 hurricanes have wind speeds between 130-156 miles per hour. The damage inflicted is catastrophic, including badly damaged homes, most trees will be uprooted or at the very least snapped, and power outages can last for months. Hurricane Sandy, only reaching category 3 status, knocked out power for millions, and it took weeks to get everyone’s power back up and running. A category 4 hurricane will be much worse.
That brings us to category 5 hurricanes. These behemoths boast wind speeds of 157 miles per hour or higher. Damage will be worse than that of a category 4, which is of itself an awesome display of destruction. After a hurricane of this magnitude, most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks, or even months.