With a hurricane season that lasts from June to November and 30 named storms in 2020 — including 13 that developed into full-fledged hurricanes — residents of the Atlantic hurricane zone are no strangers to hurricane preparedness. If you're new to the area, which consists of the states that border the Gulf of Mexico, including Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, or if you live on the southern Pacific coast just above Baja California or in Hawaii (which are regions that also experience hurricanes), you may need a few tips to help you get ready for hurricane season.
Hurricanes are best known for high winds that often exceed 100 miles per hour, but they also bring destruction in several other ways. They are heavy-rain events that cause flooding and mudslides, they are often accompanied by tornadoes and microbursts and they cause storm surges that increase the danger of floodwaters in coastal communities. If you live in a hurricane zone, it's important to prepare for all these eventualities, and in an attempt to help, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) conducts a Hurricane Preparedness Week on social media.
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You have limited time to prepare when a hurricane is bearing down on your community and you have to evacuate, so it's important to do some preparation beforehand. NOAA identifies five general areas in which homeowners should concentrate preparation efforts well before a storm warning is issued.
1. Establish Your Risk
When assessing the vulnerability of your property, consider the following:
- Geographical location: Coastal homes are more at risk than those that are inland.
- Topography and soil conditions: Homes built on slopes or at the bases of hills are vulnerable to mudslides, while those on low-lying ground with poor drainage are more likely to experience flooding.
- Vegetation: An abundance of tall trees increases the risk of damage from falling branches and downed power lines.
- Nearby waterways: Even small streams and creeks can turn into raging torrents during a heavy rain and wind event, and they can undermine bridges and spill over their banks, adding to the flood risk.
Taking all these factors into account will help you determine which preparations to prioritize and may inspire you to trim large branches overhanging your house, improve the drainage on your property or purchase an emergency sump pump.
2. Plan Your Escape Route
It's important to have an evacuation plan identifying where you're going to go and how you're going to get there. Keep in mind that traffic jams are likely on major highways during an evacuation, so it's prudent to plan more than one route. Because it will be difficult to find a hotel, you should make early arrangements with a friend or relative whose house will likely be out of the storm zone. Otherwise, you might have to count on spending days or weeks in a FEMA shelter, which isn't the safest or most comfortable place to shelter, especially if pandemic restrictions are in place.
Once you've identified your destination, make everyone in the household aware of it so you have a place to congregate. Don't forget your pets; you'll want your destination to be pet-friendly if you bring them with you, or you'll want to arrange shelter for the larger ones that you can't bring. If you have to go to a shelter, you should have a backup plan for all your pets because not all shelters allow them.
3. Assemble Supplies for Hurricane Season
After you evacuate, you could be delayed for an extended period on your way to your chosen destination, especially if the storm hits before you arrive, and during this time, you'll need an emergency kit that contains nonperishable food, water, first-aid supplies and food for your pets. The emergency kit should include enough food and bottled water to supply everyone in your party for at least a week, considering that when you return to your house, it could be a long time before electricity and water are restored.
The kit should also include emergency flashlights, extra batteries for the flashlights and a battery-powered charger or a car charger for your cell phone, which you won't be able to charge in a wall outlet during a power outage. It's also a good idea to pack clothing so you don't have to wear the same clothes for the duration of the evacuation. Store the kit in a safe, accessible place and make sure everyone in the household knows where it is.
4. Check and Update Your Insurance Policy
A call to your insurance company before hurricane season begins could prevent financial catastrophe if the worst happens. Make sure your homeowners' insurance policy provides enough insurance coverage to make all the necessary repairs, and if you live in an area where floodwaters are likely, make sure you have flood insurance.
Flood insurance isn't provided with a standard home insurance policy, and there's a 30-day waiting period, so it's important to apply early, well before disaster strikes.
Make copies of your important documents, including your insurance policy, and include them in your emergency kit or store virtual copies in a secure, password-protected digital space. Many insurance companies store your documents on their website, but it's up to you to know how to access them, so a few hours spent navigating your insurer's website is well worth the time.
5. Preparing Your Home for Hurricane Season
When high winds strike, your home needs extra reinforcement to withstand them, and to avoid having to work overtime just before evacuating, you should put some extra energy into doing some of the preparations while the weather is good. Some DIY tasks you might consider include:
- Fitting the windows with storm shutters to protect the glass. If you do this early, you won't have to waste time in line at the lumber yard buying plywood, which may be in short supply as the storm approaches.
- Reinforcing the garage door, which is the part of the home that is most vulnerable to high winds. Add security features to deter burglars and a manual release block so you can open the door when the power is out.
- Weatherproofing the house by sealing gaps in the siding with caulk and replacing loose shingles. It's also important to clean the gutters to prevent flooding around the foundation. Proper weatherproofing can make a significant difference in the amount of water damage the inside of your house sustains during heavy rains.
- Establishing a safe place to put your lawn furniture so it won't get blown away by the wind. If you don't have a storage shed, you may want to clean out a place in the garage or basement for it. While you're at it, clean up debris from the yard that could turn into projectiles and pose a danger to your house as well as other houses in the neighborhood during a high-wind event.
- Securing your home by making sure all the windows can lock and that the doors have deadbolts or security locksets. Looting is an unfortunate reality in evacuation zones during the period between the passing of a storm and the lifting of evacuation orders, but it's less likely to happen to you if your home is secure.