Cristina is a Florida native and Realtor by trade. She enjoys writing about travel, real estate, and several other interesting topics.
The Atlantic hurricane season is just a few weeks away. Now is the time make sure your hurricane preparations are in full swing. Preparing for a hurricane doesn't have to be stressful or something you do at the last minute. In fact, if you give yourself time to prepare adequately, it will be much more stress-free.
The past few hurricane seasons showed us that hurricanes can be, and often are, unpredictable. No matter how good hurricane predictions may be, sometimes Mother Nature doesn't do exactly what the experts predict. Having a good hurricane preparedness list in place will help ease your mind so that you can concentrate on more important matters than, "Do we have enough water?" And preparing for a hurricane well in advance will also save you money, because you can purchase many items when on sale rather than when those items are in high demand.
Living in Florida the majority of my life, I almost have this hurricane preparedness thing down to a science. NOAA and other sites offer great tips. Here I've included my own tips and timeline that has kept my family organized and stress-free for many years. After several hurricane-less years, we became a bit complacent. Hurricane Irma's approach in 2017, while funny at times with all the social media memes, and mind-boggling at other times, was definitely awe-inspiring and reminded me of the importance of hurricane preparedness and a good hurricane supply list. Then Michael devastated the panhandle in 2018 (1 of 3 storms to impact Florida that year), several storms came close in 2019, and in 2020...well, that was just one of the most bizarre years on record.
Preparing for a Hurricane: Before Hurricane Season Starts
The most important thing you can do to prepare for a hurricane is to establish a hurricane emergency plan for your family. You set this plan in motion if you need to or choose to evacuate. Though you may need some flexibility—for example, if you plan to go to a hotel out of state—having at least a basic plan in place helps so that you aren't caught with no plan.
Create a Hurricane Emergency Plan for Your Family: Evacuating
- Know your evacuation zone. You can find this information from your local emergency management site. Your evacuation zone is NOT the same as your flood zone. It's possible you don't live in a flood zone per FEMA but are required to evacuate relatively early if you live in a surge-prone area. Also, mobile homes will generally carry a mandatory evacuation because they are not built to resist hurricane force conditions.
- A place to go. If you evacuate, where will you go? Choices here abound and are restricted only by your personal circumstances. You might choose to go to a friend or family member's home, a hotel in or out of state, or to a shelter. If you have pets, make arrangements for them if you can't take them with you. Your vet or a local doggie daycare will often accommodate evacuated pets.
- Plan your evacuation route. If you're leaving the state or driving several hours away, plan your route and give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination. Many others will be on the road with you. Take into consideration the size of the roads, whether they may be impacted by closures, and accessibility to gas stations, rest areas, and places to eat.
Create a Hurricane Emergency Plan for Your Family: Not Evacuating
Not evacuating? You still need a hurricane emergency plan. When Hurricane Irma was barreling down on Florida, I had no idea how my block home would do if we had a direct hit. With a newer roof, newer windows, and no large trees around the house, I figured we were likely okay. I also calculated the weak point of the home was the old garage door and the old jalousie side door into the garage. With strong enough winds, if either failed, the winds could compromise the roof so while I felt fairly confident in the home's strength, my son and I still discussed a plan in case of the worst possible scenario.
- Plan where your family will hide if the need arises. The safest room is an interior room with no exterior walls.
- Keep essentials handy. Flashlights, batteries, and other emergency items can live in easily accessible cabinets or drawers.
The Exterior of the Home
Whether you evacuate or not, you can help protect your home by being proactive before hurricane season begins. For example, you can:
- Trim trees and bushes.
- Clean up and remove debris.
- Repair broken fences, gutters, etc.
- Install a new roof, windows, or doors if needed.
One last thing you can do to prepare for a hurricane before hurricane season is to purchase items on your hurricane supplies list. Many items can be purchased in advance and stored, if you have the space, such as:
- gallons of water
- non-perishable foods
- flashlights or camping lanterns
Look for sales on these items in April or May to save yourself a little money. If a hurricane doesn't hit your area that year, you can still use the supplies like water and the batteries. Donate the non-perishables to a food pantry or local shelter in November and December.
If you live in a hurricane-prone area like Florida's panhandle or along Louisiana/Mississippi, you might want to consider purchasing items that will make life comfortable if the power is out for an extended period of time.
When Hurricane Irma left us without power for four days, we ended up sleeping outside in our Coleman tent. Despite being September, nights were still somewhat tolerable outdoors. We enjoyed camping in our own backyard and made the best of the circumstances.
Another useful item to have on hand, especially if you need to power smaller items for children or to keep cell phones charged, is a gas-powered generator. These should never, never be used indoors as the fumes can be fatal so please follow all instructions for use. When Hurricane Andrew struck, we had just moved to The Redlands, Miami's farm country. Water was supplied by an electric well pump. We had a couple of acres and horses who drank 10-15 gallons of water each every day. We ran the generator every day for an hour, long enough to pump water for the horses, to chill the refrigerator again, and take cold showers. That generator saved our sanity and wallets!
Hurricane Preparations One Week Before Potential Landfall
One week, in hurricane time, is a long time. That week seems to take forever! And so much can change! One day the hurricane is heading your way, the next it shifts away. There are still a few things you can do during this waiting period to be prepared for a hurricane.
- Make arrangements for lodging if you plan to evacuate. Be prepared to look further away than you originally anticipate as hotels sell out.
- Double check your supplies and restock any that you may have used so far in hurricane season. Let's face it—we all break in to the hurricane food from time to time.
- Trim trees again, if necessary, especially later in the season after trees have had a chance to grow.
- Make any necessary outdoor repairs. Think things like the fence board that the dog has been pushing on, the gutter that is suddenly a little loose, loose doors on the shed.
Preparations Two to Three Days Before Landfall
If you're going to evacuate, do so now, especially in long states like Florida or if you have a long way to drive to get out of harm's way. Hurricane Irma taught us that, though rare, it's possible for a hurricane to impact the entire state. Residents of the Keys or Miami would normally have a 10, 12, or even 14 hour drive to get out of the state. Throw evacuation traffic into the equation, and that drive could easily be double in time, or more. Expect to be in the car anywhere from a few hours to more than 30. But don't wait any longer to leave. Doing so could leave you stranded in traffic and in danger when a storm strikes.
Preparations for Those Staying Behind
First of all, if you're under a mandatory evacuation, please heed those those warnings!
If you're staying, now is the time to really start putting your plans into play.
- Review your emergency plan with your family so everyone knows exactly what is expected of them.
- Purchase or start making ice. You'll need this to keep your food cold if you lose power.
- Fuel up the cars and extra gas cans. Don't wait until the last minute to fuel up. You may find that gas stations are either out of gas or are closed.
- Withdraw cash. If the power goes out, the few stores that are open after the storm will likely only accept cash, and the ATM machines will not be operational.
- Start clearing the yard of potential projectiles - patio tables and chairs, flags and poles, empty plant pots, etc.
- Put up your hurricane shutters.
- Purchase perishables, such as meat and milk, and freeze them.
- Secure valuables and important papers in watertight bags. Safety deposit boxes at the bank are a good choice though you still have with you a copy of your insurance papers - homeowners or renters, automobile (boat, RV, motorcycle, etc), and of course, health insurance.
- Protect items inside your home. If you think you might be vulnerable to water damage inside your home, protect valuable furnishings or decor. Wrap paintings and photographs in plastic bags secured with duct tape.
The Day Before
You are squarely in the cone of uncertainty. Landfall will be sometime tomorrow. Could be in your town. Could be 50 miles away. Last minute preparations are underway.
- Check, double check, and triple check everything.
- Bring potted plants in if they have the potential to fly away.
- Lay down heavy objects like birdbaths and feeders. Unhook hoses and lay them flat.
- Charge all of your electronics.
- Bring out the flashlights and put one in each room where you can find it immediately in the dark.
- Try to get some sleep!
What Do You Do the Day a Hurricane Lands?
There should be much to do on this day, except wait. Keep the electronics plugged in. If you're lucky, the hurricane will pass without much damage. Take this time to rest, try to relax, help your neighbors finish their preparations. Watch TV or a movie, enjoy the AC, and eat a good meal. You may find yourself without power for hours, days, weeks, or even months so enjoy what you have just in case it's gone tomorrow.
In many cases, a hurricane's path will shift. The impact will be slight compared to a direct hit. Many hurricanes weaken as they approach land.
Personally, I've experienced several tropical storms and rarely worry about those. Hurricane Andrew in 1992 was the worst hurricane I've experienced. We had no electricity for 6 weeks, and no water either as we used a well for water and that ran on electricity. At a time of cell phone infancy, we mostly used land lines and didn't have that for over two months.
Hurricanes Irma, Jeanne, Francis, and Charlie produced indirect impacts where I lived. In all four, we lost power from two days to a week.
Preparation is always key - checking every box on the hurricane preparedness list and making sure we have everything on the hurricane supplies list. Doing so provides a bit of peace of mind and could keep you safe should the catastrophic happen in your area.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2019 Cristina Vanthul