The long range forecast is ominous. You’re in the potential path of a hurricane — the dreaded “cone of probability” of the National Hurricane Center (NHC) — and it’s time to prepare. What’s on the “to do” list?
First item: always listen to the NHC and other responsible weather sources. If they use words like “catastrophic” or “dangerous” for your area, believe them. Be ready for an evacuation order and if one is given, take heed. Hurricanes are a serious threat to your life and the professionals who study them choose their words carefully.
Having a battery operated emergency radio — and making sure the batteries are fresh — will give you access to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio All Hazards (NWR). This network gives up to the minute information on weather situations 24/7.
Have a Plan
Make an evacuation plan in advance. Obviously, making a plan on the fly as a hurricane bears down is not good enough. Know in advance if you live in an area prone to flooding — a hurricane evacuation area — especially from storm surges that can push water much farther inland than is normal. Local governmental agencies can provide this kind of information. Know the location of your local hurricane shelters.
If you live in a mobile home or a high rise you may need to evacuate even if your home is not in a hurricane evacuation area, since these kinds of dwellings are prone to wind damage.
Testing out an evacuation route before the weather hits is a good idea. Thinking about pets in advance is also advisable, especially larger animals that might be a challenge to transport. Parking at a higher elevation any vehicles that you won’t be driving as part of an evacuation should be on the list as well.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Ready Campaign has more information about planning ahead for a disaster situation.
Get Stocked Up
Obviously, stocking up on supplies at the last minute is not the way to go. Have a permanent list of what you should have on hand to ride out a hurricane and keep it as well stocked as possible. When the long-range forecast raises the possibility that you’re in harm’s way, make sure any items not on the list are purchased before the checkout lines start forming and the shelves start emptying.
Your supplies should be in a hurricane kit that can be grabbed on the way out of the house if an evacuation is necessary. Although evacuation shelters or the homes of good Samaritans will have supplies of their own, resources may quickly get stretched thin.
Your hurricane kit should include survival basics like cash, water, food (dense high-protein food like energy bars and dried meat), blankets, clothes, flashlights and batteries, and a first aid kit with any necessary medications. Items should be pre-packed in a suitcase or plastic tub, with items in waterproof plastic bags. You want to protect the contents from the water, but be able to grab them if the water is rising fast.
Backup Your Life
Also in your kit should be hard to replace legal papers, backups of important computer files, a home inventory, and irreplaceable personal items such as photos. Any documents relating to proof of ownership — of your home, vehicles, boats, pets — and insurance documents should be included. Backing up your computer data to a small hard disk or thumb drive that can be part of your hurricane kit is also advisable. If a major hurricane hits your area, getting back to normal will be chaotic and it will be more chaotic without the necessary paperwork.
Make sure you have a camera or smartphone with storage capacity for the numerous photos you’ll want to take as part of filing an insurance claim. Take photos prior to the storm so that before and after evidence is available.
Do You Have the Insurance You Require?
Long before it’s hurricane season, go over your insurance and make sure flood insurance is part of your policy — don’t assume it is. After Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston, it became known that nearly 80 percent of flood victims in the area did not have flood insurance. The financial hit of having three feet of standing water throughout the first floor of your house cannot be exaggerated. Cleanup and repair will be slow, miserable, and expensive.
Batten Down the Hatches
Inspect your home with an eye towards wind damage and what high water could carry away. There’s not much you can do to keep water out of your house if serious flooding occurs, but you can move as much as you can from the basement and first floor to upper floors.
Likewise, loose shingles or weaknesses in the roof will only be exacerbated in hurricane force winds. Clear out rain gutters, downspouts, or any debris in the yard that could act as a dam as waters rise.
Look around the yard and imagine what might become flying debris in high winds. Get loose items secured, preferably in the upstairs of a garage or out building.
Plywood over windows will usually prevent them from blowing out during high winds. Securing doors with lumber or deadbolt locks will prevent them from blowing open during the storm.
Finally, take pictures of your home and its contents after the damage is done. This will help when filing an insurance claim.