Summer hurricane season is here, and as long as a storm isn’t right on your doorstep, there’s still time to prepare. These five installments about hurricane preparedness will remind you of ways to stay safe and secure before, during, and after one of these destructive storms.
Part Four: Under a Hurricane Warning
A hurricane warning means the storm is definitely heading in your general direction, and it’s time to decide whether or not you are going to evacuate. In making this decision, remember that a hurricane is not a spectator sport! While it may be pretty exciting to experience such a force of nature, the excitement could quickly turn to fear and panic if high winds, storm surge, and flooding destroy your home or make it impossible to live in.
This is not a time for foolish bravado and hosting a hurricane party, especially if the hurricane is severe. Cat 5 is the strongest category of hurricane, but even smaller, weaker storms can cause wind damage, serious flooding, and loss of power and other utilities. These effects can possibly impact you and your home for extended periods.
Any hurricane can also spawn tornadoes. I once saw twin water spouts (funnel clouds that form over the water) come ashore on a Florida beach and cause damage. The storm surge is the “wall” of water that the storm brings with it from the ocean or gulf, and is especially dangerous if it coincides with high tides. A friend showed me a photograph of a chain link fence dotted with the bodies of dead fish that got caught in the links during a powerful storm surge in Texas, all facing forward, their mouths gaping open. Wind and water are powerful forces. Respect them.
Some factors that mean evacuation is the best course include the following:
- Your area is told or advised to evacuate by the local authorities
- You live close to water (including a river, stream, canal, or inland waterway) or in a low-lying area that could easily flood
- You live in a mobile home, an RV, a high-rise building, a beach cabin, or in an older home that might have become less sturdy over the years
- You have a family member who might suffer from a power loss because of needed electric medical equipment—C-pap machines, oxygen, etc.
- You live on an island or any area reached by a bridge that might wash out during the storm
- Your gut instinct says “GO!”
If you choose to evacuate, don’t hesitate, as traffic will only become increasingly heavy as the storm approaches. Put up the final boards or shutters on remaining windows, turn your refrigerator down to its coldest setting, turn off and unplug other major appliances and desk computers to protect them from electrical surges as the power comes and goes, and fill the bathtub, sinks, pans and pitchers with water to use for washing, flushing, and cooking when you come back in case your usual water source is cut off or contaminated. Your car should be loaded and ready—grab your loved ones and go.
Sheltering at Home
If you decide to remain at home and ride out the storm, fill bathtubs and sinks with water for bathing or cleaning, pans and pitchers with water for cooking, and have plenty of bottled water on hand for drinking.
Open your fridge as little as possible, and turn it to a colder setting than you normally keep it, though not cold enough to freeze everything. If the power goes out—make that whenthe power goes out—you’ll want your food to stay cold as long as possible. If you’re preparing a meal, decide ahead of time what you need from the fridge and quickly take it all out at once rather than opening and closing it several times.
If you have a freezer, fill empty spaces in there with containers of water so the entire freezer is filled with frozen items. Doing so will keep the temperatures down longer, and will prevent excess pockets of cold air that can be “lost” every time the freezer door is opened. Freeze containers of water or freezer-paks ahead of time; when the power fails, pop them into a cooler and use that to cool drinks and perishables as long as possible. Try to use up your perishable foods before you turn to the emergency foods that you would have taken with you if you had evacuated.
Once the power is off, turn off and unplug all your appliances (even refrigerators and freezers) to avoid power surges. Be prepared with games, cards, books, puzzles and toys that do not require electricity to keep children—and adults, for that matter—entertained for quite a while.
Be very careful with candles, either utility or 100-hour types, or with hurricane lamps, gas lanterns, flat fold stoves, or anything that has a flame. Keep them out of the reach of small children. NEVER bring a generator inside your house! The same goes for gas camp stoves or charcoal grills. They all emit gases or fumes that can be deadly. Alternatively, you could use a camp stove for short durations if you have adequate ventilation available. Think now about how you would survive without power during a hurricane, and plan ahead to have the needed equipment that can be run safely inside without access to utilities.
Stay inside during the storm. It may be tempting to go outside and see what’s blowing around and making all that noise, but don’t give in—there’s no point in putting yourself in further danger to satisfy your curiosity! Even if the calm eye passes over you and the sun shines for a bit, remember the storm is only half-over and the winds will soon hit from the other direction.
During the worst of the storm, shelter in an inner hallway—away from windows, doors, and skylights. Keep your flashlight and NOAA radio with you, bring pillows and bedding to curl up on, and snacks and water to sustain you. You will probably be uncomfortably warm, but with strong winds and blowing rain, open windows or doors aren’t the best solution for cooling down. If you absolutely must have some ventilation, crack open a window on the leeward side of the house. If you have a battery-powered fan, this would be the perfect time to use it. (Bring along a sack with extra batteries for any equipment you may be using.) Play games like “Twenty Questions” that don’t require light or equipment, tell stories, sing songs, and try to stay calm and soothe the fears of children.
If water comes into your house, go to the highest level you have. Another precaution for this possibility: pile your most precious photo albums and other important items on a high (stable) shelf, bunk bed, or table. You might want to pile furniture up in the middle of the living room. If you have nice throw rugs, roll them up and put them on top of your stack. In a worst-case flooding scenario, if there is an accessible attic in your house you may need to go there—and you should have placed an axe and saw there ahead of time just in case you need to create an escape hatch (a fairly rare situation, but remember Katrina). In any storm situation, always err on the side of caution!
Whether you stay home or evacuate during a hurricane, you’ll need to have specific plans and equipment available. Take the time now to create a plan, prepare your family, and gather the supplies you’ll need. You’ll be so glad you did if the time comes that you have to use them.
See other articles in this mini series:
Part One: Advance Planning and Preparation
Part Two: Prepare Your Home, Pets, and Property
Part Three: Under a Hurricane Watch
Part Five: After the Storm