Laying in supplies (like I talked about yesterday) isn’t the only thing we need to do to get ready for a hurricane. There are lots of thing that we can do around our homes – both way in advance and as a storm approaches – to prepare for a storm that will keep us safer during a storm and in the aftermath.
[Disclosure: This article contains an affiliate link to Backblaze.]
Many government agencies have issued lists about emergency preparedness. These lists generally focus on the absolute basics needed for safety, not comfort. The advice can also sometimes also be a little unrealistic based on actual conditions during a real storm. For instance, Ready.gov’s hurricane page recommends stocking up on hurricane essentials 36 hours before a storm arrives and to review your evacuation plan then as well. Realistically, during Hurricane Irma, we found that hotels were already filled up within a day’s drive from our home about three days before the storm arrived – and local store shelves were cleaned out of storm essentials over five days before the storm.
So, based on real world experience living through multiple major hurricane hits at our home in the past couple years, here’s my recommended list to get ready for a hurricane. These are the practical things that, as a new Floridian, I wish I had known before our first hurricane. My preparation motto is “plan for the worst, hope for the best”. Many of your preparations will end up being unnecessary for many storms. But the time they are necessary…will make it all worth it.
(Note that this list is intended as a supplement to, and not a replacement for, advice on websites like ready.gov and FEMA.)
How to Get Ready for a Hurricane All Year:
The process of getting ready for a hurricane is more of a constant, ongoing process in hurricane territory than a one-time event. Here’s some things you can do throughout the year that will help you be more ready if a storm strikes your home:
Sign up for local emergency alerts. Many communities have a service like Code Red that will send severe weather and other emergency alerts to your phone and email. If you haven’t already, sign up! This will help you keep up to date on what local emergency officials are saying about the storm and what precautions you should be taking, whether you should evacuate, etc.
Subscribe. In addition to your local emergency officials, you’ll want information from hurricane experts. I recommend bookmarking the NHC website, the hurricane section of Weather Underground, and the fabulous site Tropical Tidbits for great forecasting information.
Download apps. Tracking a hurricane and knowing what it is going to do (and thus what your risk is) involves a whole new level of information from “is it going to rain tomorrow?” Getting good, prompt information is key to making good decisions to keep your family safe. You may even find, in the days before a storm hits, that your body clock starts to become tuned to the schedule of NHC updates and you wake up or reach for your phone right at update time. Make it easy on yourself to get these critical updates by finding a hurricane tracking app for your phone and downloading it. (Unfortunately, I can’t recommend one right now as my previous favorite ended service after last year. When I find a new one that I like and have tested, I’ll share it.)
Other apps that may be useful during a storm as well:
- power company app (for reporting & tracking outages)
- local news apps
- Facebook (for local news & contacting family)
Join local Facebook groups. Even if you aren’t a naturally social person online, joining an active local Facebook group can be a great source of local information during a hurricane. Our local Swip-Swap group shared information before Hurricane Irma on what local stores had water and other supplies, what stations still had gas, and when local businesses were closing down. After the storm, the group was an invaluable source to learn what local businesses had reopened along with other local information about the condition of the city. Thanks to info on that group that a local Five Star Pizza had opened for pick-up, our family enjoyed a hot meal the day after Hurricane Irma.
Facebook pages can also be important sources of information. Our local sheriff’s department and emergency management center maintain active Facebook pages that were some of the most important local sources of information during storms the past few years. Find these sources in advance so you don’t have to go looking when you need them!
Maintain your generator. As helpful as they can be in a storm, generators require some regular maintenance to ensure they will be ready to go when they are needed. This article and this article will put you on the right track to making sure your generator is ready for when a hurricane hits. Don’t do what we did and ignore your generator between storms. The results were pretty scary (and left us without a working generator during Irma).
Get your pets ready. Evacuating, of course, means we all want to take our pets with us to safety. Pets need a current rabies certificate and a crate usually to be allowed into storm shelters. Hotels may also request one or both of those items to allow a pet on premises. So to be on the safe side, you’ll want to ensure you have both of these for your pets to be hurricane-ready. Don’t wait until the last minute to discover your pet’s vaccination is expired like I did last year. Luckily, the vet was able to squeeze us in, but having to haul a really ticked-off Ritzie kitty to an emergency vet appointment as a storm was looming really didn’t help the stress level around here!
Trim back tree limbs. After Hurricane Matthew, my mom’s power was out for five days. The rest of her street got its power back quite quickly but her power connection to her house was damaged by a tree limb that fell from a neighbor’s tree. She spent three miserable extra days without power until a crew came and worked their way through the neighborhood fixing individual connections. I happened to stop by her house during those repairs. It was shocking how many homes the linemen had to stop at on her street to repair. So many people had damaged connections! Inspecting your lines regularly and notifying the power company to come trim if limbs are close to lines can spare you a long outage after a storm.
It’s not just power lines that trees can damage in a storm, though. A tree limb whipping around in hurricane force winds can damage a roof or the side of your home, too. Keep tree branches trimmed back from your home (this is also a good for wildfire mitigation). Also make sure to cut down any weak, dead branches that may pose a danger of falling in high winds.
Store things in plastic containers. Whether it is from shingles peeling back on the roof causing leaks or storm surge flooding, water is a big source of damage in hurricanes. I’ve made it a practice in our house to store a lot of items in plastic boxes for several reasons. For one, they don’t get musty in the humidity here like cardboard boxes do. But plastic boxes also offer at least a small amount of protection for items against minor water damage from a minor roof leak, and possibly even some protection against minor flooding as long as the water level doesn’t reach the box’s lid.
Back up electronics to the cloud. This is a good idea to do anyway, but if you live in territory where your home is routinely threatened by natural disasters, it’s even more urgent. Sign up for a cloud back-up service like Backblaze, which we use, for your computer. Back your phone up regularly to a cloud service like iCloud (or to your computer that is backed up to the cloud). No matter what happens to your physical devices, measures like these will ensure that your data is safe in another location and can be retrieved.
Plan for special needs. Way before a storm is the time to plan for any special needs your family may need to consider. If you run a business out of your home, have medical needs, or other concerns that complicate life with no power and evacuating – you need a detailed disaster plan. We run our business (including this blog) out of our home, and have a child with autism. My husband also uses a CPAP machine at night for sleep apnea. These are all things we have to accommodate when making storm preparations. (We still haven’t figured out a solution for the CPAP machine, short of evacuating every time a storm threatens.)
Get Ready During Hurricane Season:
When June 1st comes, it’s time to kick it up a notch in the preparation. The height of the season doesn’t come until the fall, so starting with annual check-ups around June 1st gives time to fix things before you are likely to face a serious storm.
Freeze ice blocks. Ice is a great asset to have on hand when the power goes out. It can help keep your freezer from thawing quickly, or you can use it to set up a cooler to keep your fridge contents usable for longer. The bigger the ice, the slower it will melt. A cheap and easy way to make big ice blocks is to clean out milk jugs really well and reuse them. Fill the clean jugs about three-quarters full with water and put them in the freezer. Before long, you’ll have ice blocks. And best of all – when these ice blocks melt, they turn into extra jugs of water!
Document your home with photos/videos. In the unfortunate event that you have to make a homeowner’s insurance claim for your home, could you prove to your insurance company what was in it? At least once per year, walk through your home and use your phone to record photos and video of the contents. Open closets, cupboards, and drawers to show what is inside them. Then when you are done, make sure that this documentation is backed up to the cloud for safekeeping.
Stock up on cooking fuel. Along with the hum of generators, something else filters through neighborhoods with no power after a storm passes. The air fills with the smell of barbecue smoke as everyone fires up their grills and cooks the contents of their fridges and freezers! Whether your preferred way of cooking out is charcoal or propane, having a good supply on hand can definitely help you eat a whole lot better when power is out after a storm. (This assumes that you have an electric stove that won’t work without power.) Charcoal conveniently goes on sale for summer grilling around Memorial Day weekend right before the start of hurricane season, so that is a great time to stock up. Just make sure that you are regularly replenishing what you use for summer cookouts!
Put some bread in the freezer. You know what disappears from store shelves even faster than water when a hurricane threatens? Bread. Paired with some peanut butter or other canned items, it makes great meals for when the power is out. Throw a loaf or two in the freezer at the start of the season to guarantee you won’t get caught without it when a storm arrives. (To avoid freezer burn, rotate your frozen stash for fresh bread once or twice during the storm season.)
Make evacuation plans. Obviously, it’s impossible to make exact evacuation plans until you know when and how a storm is coming. But it’s a good idea to have a few contingency plans in mind for where you would go in various storm scenarios. Refresh these plans each year, updating to account for major road construction, changes at hotels, and other issues. Having a tentative plan in mind means you can beat the rush on executing it, and get rooms before they sell out.
Make a phone list. There are certain phone numbers that you may need access to in an emergency, such as your utility companies and your insurance companies. Make sure these numbers are programmed into your phone and also that you have a printed list for easy reference.
Check your food and water supplies. While you are hopefully working on maintaining your non-perishable food and water stash year around, the start of hurricane season is a good time to give it a full inventory. Make sure you haven’t accidentally depleted any items, that nothing is expired, or that there aren’t new favorite items to be added to it. Check that you also have the tools needed to use your supplies. Do you have a manual can opener, and other items needed to cook on grill? Oh, and don’t forget the comfort food. Whatever your favorite is, stash some. Our hurricane pantry cupboard has two packages of Hershey’s bars stashed in it. I can survive without power, and without internet, but I draw the line at chocolate.
Check your first aid kit. The start of hurricane season is also a good time to take stock of your first aid kit. Make sure that you haven’t used up anything, that nothing is expired, and that there aren’t new medical needs in the family to take care of in your kit.
Plan some entertainment. So much of our entertainment is digital these days. Especially if you have kids, make sure that you have a way planned to entertain the family while you are trapped for quite awhile in your home with no power. Stash some books, board games, arts crafts or other activities away for a (very) rainy day or you might find yourself sitting in the dark with nothing to do but stare at the backside of your hurricane shutters!
What To Do Right Before A Hurricane:
When a storm is bearing down on you, there is a lot to do. Normal life typically goes on until the day before the storm, while you are trying to prep as well. You’ll usually have at least five to seven days to prepare. But if you’ve prepared well to this point, it will make your life a whole lot easier those last few days before landfall.
Fill the car with gas. Shortages of gas were a massive problem prior to Hurricane Irma. If you need to evacuate, especially in Florida, you quite possibly will end up in bumper to bumper traffic on major evacuation routes, and gas stations on those routes may be in short supply of gas. Get gas early, and keep your tank as full as possible. Before Irma last year, internet reports of gas trucks arriving at stations in our town was resulting in stations getting crushed, with long lines for the pumps.
Check your food and water supply. Yes, I know. I just said that in the previous section. But when a storm is imminent…check again.
Check your prescription supplies. One of the things that you definitely don’t want to get caught without access to in the chaos of a storm is any prescription medication that you take. As soon as it looks like a hurricane may be headed your way, take stock of your supply and order refills if needed.
Get cash. Remember that pizza place I mentioned earlier? They were open for business hours after Hurricane Irma serving cheese and pepperoni pizzas as fast as they could make them – but only if you had cash. They had power but no internet, so their credit card processing wasn’t working. Having cash on hand ensures that you’ll have access to whatever services reopen. Since business support services may not be operating, try to have small bills since businesses may be short on change.
Check batteries in all of the devices. The lights go out and you reach for your flashlight, flip the switch…and no light. That’s not the way you want to discover the batteries are dead! In the days before a storm arrives, make sure you test all your battery operated items to ensure that their batteries are working. It’s way easier to change them calmly in the daylight before the storm than stressed and fumbling in the dark during the storm!
Charge all the things. The more charge that devices like phones have when the power goes out, the longer they will last after the lights go out! Charge them up before the storm arrives and then keep them plugged in as long as possible (until it becomes unsafe due to power fluctuations). Also, even if you think that battery pack is already charged, make sure to plug in and charge it anyway. Like any battery, those devices can slowly discharge while in storage and you want to make sure yours are 100% charged if you need them! This is an especially important for our family, as our autistic daughter hates storms and needs her iPad to stay calm.
Make ice. The last few days before a storm arrives, I run the icemaker constantly and bag the ice it makes in gallon zip bags. This gives me plenty of bags of ice that we can use to pack on top of the cooler, fill empty space in the freezers to keep them cold longer or just to make cold drinks with.
Clean the house. If the power goes out, a Florida house will get dank and humid really fast with no a/c. In those conditions, that tiny spot of mold in the corner of the shower will become a forest overnight. Any tiny smell in a garbage can will become a big smell fast. And garbage service may be interrupted by the storm. Spending some time cleaning up before the storm, and making sure you get out all the possible trash on the last trash day before the storm, will help keep things fresher longer afterward.
Do Laundry. Starting with all of your wardrobe clean will extend the amount of time before you need to find a way to do laundry after the storm if your power is out. Not to mention that dirty clothes sitting around in a house with no a/c can get unpleasant to live with pretty fast.
Clean the Fridge. If the power goes out and you are struggling to save your fridge contents, make sure the items in your fridge will be worth the effort! Give your fridge a good pre-storm purge before the last pre-storm trash day. It’s not like you’re going to waste cooler space on that bottle of salad dressing that you tried once and hated, right?
Pack a go bag. Even if you aren’t planning to evacuate, it’s a good idea to pack a go bag during a storm. Having clothes, medications, and other basic necessities in a grab-and-go bag makes it easy to relocate quickly if you need to. Hopefully you won’t need it, but if you do, you’ll be glad that you have it ready to go.
Pack up documents. You will want to take certain critical documents with you if you choose to evacuate (or are forced from your home after the storm). I use a 2 gallon zip bag to hold safely together in one bundle items like identity documents (birth certificates, passports, etc) and insurance paperwork. Once you have your documents assembled, put them in your go bag so you are ready to leave at a moment’s notice!
Put things in plastic boxes. Remember how I said that plastic boxes will help protect against water? I have a few precious items, like my scrapbooks, that don’t live in plastic boxes normally that I’d like to keep protected. I keep a few huge Rubbermaid tubs in the garage and before a storm, I quickly pull my albums off of my bookcases and seal them in the tubs. It only takes a few moments but offers me a bit more security that these mementos won’t be damaged by a roof leak in the wrong place or the drains backing up. Consider doing the same for anything special you want to give an extra level of security to.
Put things up. If you live in a beachside or waterside area that is considered at risk of storm surge flooding, consider putting valuable items and mementos UP. Media reports tend to focus on buildings flooded to the roof for the dramatic photos they make. In reality, many homes experience storm flooding that is only a foot or a few feet deep. In those instances, the simple act of placing items onto a counter or a high closet shelf – or moving them to an upstairs room – could be the difference between destruction or them being untouched.
Bring in outdoor items. Patio furniture, children’s toys, and other unsecured outdoor items can become dangerous projectiles during a hurricane. Bring them inside until the storm is over.
Put the shutters up. Last but not least, if you have shutters…put them up! This will probably be one of the last things you’ll want to do since it turns the house into a darkened cave, but make sure that you do it early enough that you are working in safe weather conditions! During Hurricane Irma, we waited too long to put my mother’s shutters up and ended up doing it in pouring rain. Don’t forget to make sure you charged the electric drill (and have a back-up battery ready to go) if you need one to put up your shutters.
Evacuate. Last but not least, I cannot stress enough the importance of listening to your local authorities and following their instructions. If you are ordered to evacuate, please take this order seriously. Evacuating does not have to mean heading hours away and staying in a hotel. In most communities, you only need to go a few miles to get out of the evacuation zone. If you don’t want to go to a local shelter, most people are willing to host a friend or acquaintance that they know needs somewhere to go. A simple Facebook post may be all you need to discover how many friends you have!
We feel safest and most comfortable in our homes. It’s human nature not to want to evacuate and leave them. But the consequences for not doing so can be dangerous. My in-laws live in a mandatory evacuation zone on the barrier island in the city where we live. In 2016, after spending Hurricane Matthew at my mom’s home, they returned home to discover that storm surge flood waters that had not been forecasted had come within inches of the lanai on the back of their home. Last year, during Hurricane Irma, many island residents in our county didn’t evacuate and ended up having to be rescued by boat, in the dark, at the height of the storm. It’s very lucky that no one was killed. Storm surge is the most deadly of hurricane forces. For a graphic example of why it is not to be messed with…watch the video above, taken from a security camera on a beachside home in the city where we live.
What are your favorite hurricane prep tips? Fill me in!