Hurricanes are some of the most dangerous natural disasters on Earth. Because of this, everyone who lives in an at-risk area, whether they are a prepper or not, should take them very seriously.
If you are a prepper (or anyone) who lives in a coastal area, hurricane preparedness should be your primary focus. Everything from your bugout plans to how you store food should be built around the possibility of a hurricane affecting your area.
This article will be dedicated to helping people understand the dangers that hurricanes present and how to protect themselves against it. It is lengthy but will be broken down into the following parts to make information easier to find:
Table of Contents:
- What Is a Hurricane?
- How Much Damage Can a Hurricane Cause?
- What Areas Are At-Risk of Hurricanes?
- When Do Hurricanes Strike?
- Hurricane Preparedness Items
- Ways to Protect Your Home from a Hurricane
- Ways to Prepare Yourself and Loved Ones for a Hurricane
- When and How to Evacuate
- What to Do If You Can’t Evacuate
- Hazards After the Storm
What Is a Hurricane?
According to the National Ocean Service, “a hurricane is a type of storm called a tropical cyclone, which forms over tropical or subtropical waters“.
Tropical cyclones are rotating low-pressure weather systems that contain organized thunderstorms. They are classified based on their wind speed. Tropical cyclones are considered to be hurricanes when their wind speed reaches at least 74 miles per hour.
In addition to having high winds, hurricanes also dump heavy rain as they pass over. For example, the Houston metro area was doused by as much as 60 inches of rain as Hurricane Harvey hovered overhead. This caused extensive flooding over a wide area.
Hurricanes can also be extremely large. Some have slammed areas as far as 300 miles away from the storm’s center with tropical-storm-force winds. Similar storms are referred to as cyclones or typhoons in other parts of the world.
Anatomy of a Hurricane
A hurricane consists of three main parts:
- The eye
The eye of a hurricane is in the very middle of the storm. If you look at a picture of a hurricane taken from a satellite it looks like where the hole would be in a doughnut. The eye is the calmest part of a hurricane, but it is surrounded by the violent eyewall.
A hurricane’s eyewall has some of the strongest winds in the storm. Some have even reached up to 190 miles per hour. These intense winds are caused by the wall of thunderstorms that surround the hurricane’s eye.
Rainbands make up the majority of a hurricane’s size and consist of thunderstorms that dump rain on affected areas. Hurricane Gilbert’s rainbands reached 500 miles from its center.
How Much Damage Can a Hurricane Cause?
The amount of damage that a hurricane can cause depends partly on what category it is assigned based on its wind speed. Here is a breakdown of hurricane categories, their wind speeds, and the type of damage those winds will cause:
|Category||Wind Speed||Damage Description|
|Category 1||74-95 mph||Damaged roofs, drains, gutters|
Large branches will come off trees
Some trees will be uprooted
Damage to power lines and poles
Power outages may last several days
|Category 2||96-110 mph||Severe damage to roofs and siding|
Many trees snapped or uprooted
Almost complete power loss
Power loss could last weeks
|Category 3||111-129 mph||Roof decking removal|
Trees snapped or uprooted
Loss of electricity and water
Utilities could be unavailable for weeks
|Category 4||130-156 mph||Roof loss|
Destruction of exterior walls
Most trees and power poles will fall
Blocked roads will isolate residential areas
Loss of electricity could last months
Area uninhabitable, maybe for months
|Category 5||157+ mph||A large percentage of homes destroyed|
Complete roof failure
Most trees and power poles will fall
Blocked roads will isolate residential areas
Loss of electricity could last months
Area uninhabitable, maybe for months
The scariest thing about the information above is that it only categorizes a storm’s destructive capability based on wind speed. Flooding is another danger presented by hurricanes.
Part of this flood risk is caused by the storm surge. This occurs when the storm pushes water inland, causing the sea level to rise up to 30 feet or more.
While storm surges generally only last a few hours, they can have a devastating impact. Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge was largely responsible for the levee failures in and around New Orleans.
In addition to storm surge, hurricanes can also dump massive amounts of rain. These heavy rains, when coupled with the storm surge, can bury large areas underwater. The risk of this is even greater for low-lying areas, or when a slow-moving hurricane remains over a specific area for an extended duration of time.
As a hurricane travels inland, it can cause various other problems. Rivers often flood due to heavy rainfall. Excessive rain and flooding can also cause mudslides.
The dangers that hurricanes present inflict a heavy toll on both property and lives. In 2019 alone, named storms caused $22 billion in property damage and 116 deaths.
What Areas Are At-Risk of Hurricanes?
Most coastal areas are at risk of hurricanes. However what a storm is called varies by where it formed. Hurricanes form in the Northern Hemisphere, specifically in the Atlantic Ocean and the Northeastern Pacific Ocean.
Hurricanes can affect most coastal areas of the United States. This includes the East and West Coasts as well as the Gulf Coast States. They can also affect the Caribbean, Europe’s West Coast, and the Northwestern Coast of Africa.
Typhoons are the same type of storm as hurricanes, however, they form in the Northwestern Pacific Ocean. They can affect the Eastern Coast of Asia all the way down to Papua New Guinea.
Cyclones form in the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean. They can affect Australia, New Zealand, all Coastal Areas along the Indian Ocean and Southern Africa, as well as the Eastern Coast of South America.
The only coastal areas that are usually not likely to experience such storms are those that sit on the edges of cooler bodies of water. These include the West Coast of South America and those near the North Pole.
How Far Inland Can Hurricanes Travel?
Hurricanes need to be over an ocean to build and maintain their strength. However, they are still capable of inflicting damage as they travel inland.
As a hurricane makes landfall both high winds and flooding are threats. When Hurricane Ike hit southeastern Texas and Louisiana in 2008, the storm surge traveled almost 30 miles inland.
Keep in mind that a storm surge doesn’t just affect one place. It can fan out over hundreds of miles of coastline.
Dangerous winds, on the other hand, are capable of reaching much further. Some storms are capable of producing dangerous winds hundreds of miles away from the coast.
When Do Hurricanes Strike?
Hurricane season begins at the beginning of June each year and lasts through the end of November. The season’s peak is between the middle of August through October for areas along the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico. However, that doesn’t mean that dangerous storms can’t form at other times as well.
Areas along the Northwest Pacific Ocean follow a similar trend, with typhoons being most common from May through October although they can form year-round. For areas in the Southern Hemisphere, cyclone season is most active between November and April.
Hurricane Preparedness Items
First Aid Kit
Having a good first aid kit in your home is important for everyday life, but is essential during an emergency. Being able to clean and cover wounds can prevent infection later on. A hurricane first aid kit should include the following:
- Antiseptic (povidone-iodine, hydrogen peroxide)
- Hand sanitizer
- Nitrile gloves
- Adhesive bandages (various sizes)
- Sterile dressings
- Gauze bandages
- Gauze pads
- Antiseptic wipes
- Triple antibiotic ointment (Neosporin)
- Cold packs
- CPR Mask
- Over-the-counter medications: Tylenol, aspirin, anti-diarrheal, antacids, allergy medications.
- Prescription medications
- Spare glasses, contact lenses, contact lens solution
Toilet paper, sanitation wipes, feminine products, and other personal sanitation items are frequently overlooked by preppers and the general populace. However, you will feel their absence almost immediately.
Make sure that you also have plenty of heavy-duty trash bags. This will allow you to manage household and yard waste. You can also use trash bags to contain human waste (poop) if water utilities go out. They can be used with a camping toilet or placed inside an empty commode.
Emergency Shutoff Tool
Having an emergency shutoff tool, such as this one, will allow you to quickly turn off your utilities before a storm. The tool in the link can also be used as a prybar.
Even if water utilities are still up and running during and after a hurricane, the water will still need to be purified. Flooding can cause tap water to be contaminated, resulting in boil water notices.
Having a quality water filter, such as a Big Berkey, will allow you to purify water without having to waste precious fuel boiling it. Berkeys don’t require electricity to operate and are easy to pack up if you need to evacuate.
Storing water is an essential part of hurricane preparedness, even if you have a good water filter. Your area could become flooded by saltwater which most filters can’t purify. Freshwater can also become contaminated beyond what you would want to filter.
Having several packages of bottled water is a great place to start. They are portable and stack easily. Water bottles can also make good barter or goodwill items.
Water containers, such as those made by Reliant, are good options as well. They are more durable than water bottles and jugs but are still easy to load up if you need to bug out.
If you have bathtubs purchasing a Water Bob for each of them can allow you to store up to 100 gallons of water per tub. They will keep the water much cleaner and attract less insects than just filling up a tub. Just be sure to fill it up before the hurricane strikes. They are single-use items but can provide you with a bunch of water.
Everyone who lives in a hurricane-prone area should have at least a month’s worth of water storage. This is true whether you are a prepper or not.
Related: How Do Preppers Store Water?
If a major hurricane hits your area, stores will be shut down, possibly for a long time. Relief organizations may also be unable to reach you due to flooding and blocked roads. Because of this, you need to have plenty of non-perishable food stored in your home.
Canned goods, freeze-dried foods, and food sealed in mylar bags and buckets are the best options for hurricane food storage. They have long shelf lives, and if stored properly, can survive the elements.
Most non-perishable food will come in a sealed can or bag, however, those containers can become compromised. Moisture can cause cans to rust while pests or other things can pierce bags.
Placing non-perishable food in watertight containers will give your food an additional layer of protection. When stored in this way your food is less likely to spoil.
Eat any food that you have in your refrigerator or freezer first. It is going to spoil anyway and eating will help your food storage to last longer. As with water, everyone who lives in at-risk areas should have at least a month’s worth of food storage.
If you have babies or other family members with special dietary needs, make sure those are taken care of. Baby formula, gluten-free, and other items will likely be difficult to find after a storm.
A camp stove is another excellent thing for a prepper to keep in their home. It will give you and your family the ability to cook without electricity or other utilities.
I have a Coleman Fold N Go Propane Stove, which you can find by clicking here. It has two burners, and as the name suggests, folds up for easy storage. I have had it for several years and it has held up well.
Other stoves, such as this one, can run on multiple types of fuel. Having multiple ways to create heat will give you more flexibility. It can also prevent you from being pigeonholed if you can’t find one type of fuel or you lose all of it.
Be sure to store plenty of fuel for your cooking stove and store it in a safe place. Power outages can last a month or longer, so you want to make sure that you can keep your stove lit for an extended period of time.
Having enough fuel will allow you to cook food and boil water for as long as you need to. If the temperature drops you can use it (sparingly) to keep warm as well.
A generator is an essential piece of equipment for those who live in hurricane-prone areas. Generators can serve numerous roles if you have to go without electricity for an extended duration of time.
With a generator, you will be able to preserve food and refrigerated medications for a much longer period of time. They can also be used to power medical equipment.
If your home is damaged by a storm you can use a generator to help make quick repairs. Having operational power tools will allow you to work much faster and prevent further damage. Generators can also power pumps to remove standing water from your home.
Another benefit of having a generator is that you will be able to recharge batteries for cell phones and laptops. This will allow you to stay in contact with loved ones and emergency personnel. If you have rechargeable batteries for other devices, you can power them up with a generator as well.
Fuel for Vehicle and Generator
Even if you cannot evacuate before a hurricane strikes, you need to make sure your vehicle(s) have a full tank of gas with additional fuel stored. This stored fuel can be used for running generators and other pieces of equipment.
If you have a power interter you can use your vehicle’s power to keep small electronics charged. You will need to run the vehicle to recharge its battery, which should be done outside.
When storing gas, make sure that you store it somewhere safe, such as a garage. Don’t place it near appliances such as hot water heaters.
Solar generators are great ways to provide electricity since they are quiet and don’t require fuel. The main problem with them is that they are expensive. This is especially true if they are powerful enough to operate large appliances, power tools, or heaters. You will also probably need to purchase solar panels separately.
However, even smaller solar generators, like this one, work very well to power strings of LED lights and charge electronics. Having one will allow you to keep your lines of communication open and save your fuel for other purposes.
Cell phones, laptops, and many other small electronics require batteries to operate. Make sure that you do the following to make sure that your devices stay powered up:
- Charge phones and laptops before the storm hits
- Purchase large-capacity battery banks to charge cell phones and other USB-powered devices.
- Keep plenty of AA, AAA, D, and other batteries that you may need. Rechargeable batteries, like these made by Eneloop, are a far better option than regular Alkaline batteries. They are reusable and aren’t as likely to corrode.
- If you have cordless tools, make sure any batteries that you have are fully-charged. Picking up a couple of extras wouldn’t be a bad idea.
- Test your smoke alarms to make sure they are working. Having to use candles and camp stoves will increase the chances of a house fire while the power is out.
Since a hurricane will likely knock out your power for a while you will want to have some alternative light sources. LED lanterns are my first choice for this.
There are many different types of LED lanterns that you can choose from. Some run on standard AA or D-cell batteries, while others have built-in rechargeable batteries, like this one made by Streamlight. It can produce 1,100 lumens of light and lasts up to 36 hours on low. It can also charge cell phones.
Many power tool companies produce lights that run on the same batteries as their saws and drills. I have a couple of them, but my favorite is the Milwaukee M18 Lantern and Floodlight. It has a long runtime and can charge phones and other USB devices. You can find my full review of it by clicking here.
Candles and Oil Lamps
I generally recommend using LED lights, however, every prepper should include candles and oil lamps in their hurricane kit. They provide light and can also provide heat for small areas.
When using them make sure that they are far away from anything flammable. Placing them on a clean metal cookie sheet can prevent damage if they are tipped over. Check your smoke alarms and fire extinguisher pressure gauges in case an accident does happen.
Flashlights and Headlamps
LED lanterns are the best way to illuminate large areas, but flashlights are essential for lighting on the go. Headlamps are just as important since they allow you to work with both hands while providing light.
If you don’t have a headlamp but need hands-free lighting you can use paracord or zip ties to attach a small flashlight to the side of a hat. Boonie hats work best for this since they have loops going around the side of the hat.
The small blue flashlights that you find at Harbor Freight are very good at illuminating small areas. They have a hook on the back as well as a magnet. The best part about them is they come with batteries.
Knowing what is going on around you is important in any emergency. Unfortunately, a powerful storm will likely disrupt cable and satellite communications.
Having a weather radio in a situation like this would be tremendously helpful. Radios such as this one have a rechargeable battery, hand crank charger, and can charge a cell phone.
The environment after a hurricane is the perfect breeding ground for insects, especially mosquitos. Having insect repellent to spray on your clothes and a Thermacell for larger areas will help keep them away from your.
Hurricanes can cause extensive damage to roofs which will result in water getting into your home. Having a tent will give you a dry place to sleep until you can patch your roof.
Storing several tarps will allow you to make temporary repairs to your home and cover items that you don’t want to get wet. Be sure to get several tarps of different sizes, including big ones.
Small tarps can be used to patch windows and cover furniture. You can use large tarps to cover holes in your roof.
Many of the deaths that result from hurricanes are due to drowning. Having personal flotation devices such as lifejackets for each member of your family is an inexpensive way to stay safe.
Keeping a well-built inflatable raft at your home is a good idea as well. You could inflate it before the storm and store it in your house. The raft could be used to transport your family to safety instead of having to rely totally on rescuers. Keeping a battery-powered inflator like this one in your home would allow you to inflate your raft and car tires.
Floodwater is nasty and can hide hazards below the surface. Wearing waders can prevent you from coming into contact with contaminated water and protect your feet.
I have a friend who volunteered to help rescue people trapped by floods during Hurricane Harvey. His waders allowed him to stay dry and protected him from contaminants in the water.
Cordless Power Tools
A hurricane will require you to make preparations before the storm arrives and likely repairs afterward. Having a set of high-quality cordless power tools will allow you to work quickly before and after a storm.
The reason why I recommend cordless tools is that you can charge them before you lose power and use them afterwards. The batteries won’t last forever, but they can be recharged using a generator. Corded power tools on the other hand would be completely useless in a grid-down situation without a generator. Here are some tools that I recommend having:
- Hammer Drill: Drill holes in various materials, including brick and concrete
- Impact Driver: Quickly and easily drive long screws and lag bolts
- Circular Saw: Cut plywood and dimensional lumber (2×4’s, etc.)
- Reciprocating Saw: Cut various materials, including wood and metal (A reciprocating saw can also be used as a rescue tool.)
Related: Power Tools Every Prepper Needs
Having a good chainsaw will allow you to clean up fallen trees after a hurricane. This could be necessary if they are in your yard, on your house, or blocking roads.
A gas chainsaw with a 40 to 50 cc engine displacement would be a good choice for this. Look for one with a blade 14 to 18 inches in length. This would be large enough to handle most cutting needs without being too cumbersome.
Electric chainsaws are easy to start but they aren’t the best choice for storm cleanup. Corded ones would require a generator to run constantly, while a battery-powered one would go through batteries quickly.
Ways to Protect Your Home from a Hurricane
Given their destructive capability, everyone who lives in the potential path of hurricanes, typhoons, or cyclones should take them very seriously. There are some instances where a storm will destroy a home no matter what precautions are taken. However, there are times where taking action ahead of time could reduce at least some damage.
Here are some steps that you can take to, hopefully, reduce the damage your home will experience.
Review Your Insurance Policies
If you live in an area that is susceptible to hurricanes you need to make sure that your insurance covers everything that you need it to. Many insurance companies place exclusions in their policies that limit what is covered, especially in hurricane-prone areas.
These exclusions may remove or place limits on types of damage are covered, such as wind damage. You will likely need to purchase an additional flood insurance policy to be protected from water damage.
Do not wait until a hurricane is heading your way before checking up on your policy. Companies can place a moratorium on new and existing policies after a storm is named. This prevents new customers from purchasing policies and prevents current customers from updating what they already have.
In addition, be sure to read over any changes that have been made to your policy when it is renewed. This will ensure you are aware of any important changes to your policy, specifically any exclusions or coverage limitations that have been added.
In addition to making sure that your policies cover what you need them to, be sure to keep a complete record of your belongings. Taking photographs (including serial numbers) of your valuables will help you prove what you had when making a claim. Store this information on the cloud and a USB drive that you will take with you.
Keep Trees Trimmed
The same tree branches that shade your home in the summer could turn into missiles during a hurricane. Pine trees are especially bad about this and can even snap at the trunk in high winds. It is also not uncommon for entire trees to be uprooted and end up on top of a house.
Keeping branches trimmed will reduce the chances of a limb damaging your roof if a hurricane tears it off. Thinning branches will also reduce the chance of a tree becoming uprooted in heavy winds.
Store Your Valuables Safely
If your home floods, there is a good chance that many of your valuables will be lost or ruined. Even if you evacuate you probably won’t be able to take everything with you that you wished you could.
When you know that a hurricane is imminent, take the time to store what valuables you can on the second floor of your home or the attic. This doesn’t guarantee that they will be protected, but they have a better chance of not being destroyed by water damage.
If you don’t have a second story or attic, you can provide at least some protection for smaller items by using a 5-gallon bucket with an airtight seal like this one. Small picture frames, electronics, food, and even clothes can fit inside.
You can purchase watertight containers like these for blankets, sleeping bags, and other items. Ziplock bags would provide at least some protection for pictures and other documents.
Larger items, such as beds and other types of furniture, can be placed on cinder blocks. This won’t do good against catastrophic flooding but it could be helpful if only a few inches of water end up in your home.
Covering your windows before a hurricane can reduce the amount of damage that your home will experience during the storm. Although it can’t prevent all damage, it is a good way to limit the impact of flying debris and damaging winds.
The most effective way to do this is to install hurricane shutters on each window. Roller shutters are the most effective but they are also the most expensive. Many people use plywood as a lower-cost alternative.
If you have to do this, don’t wait before a hurricane is on the way before buying supplies. A storm warning will cause people to flock to hardware stores, resulting in shortages. Go ahead and pick up the following items:
- Materials: Plywood (at least 5/8 inch thick), nails, screws, window clips
- Tools: Cordless hammer drill, drill bits, circular saw, measuring tape (You can find a full list of tools preppers need by clicking here.)
You will use the plywood to cover each window of your home. Make sure that you have a hammer drill and masonry bits if your home’s exterior is brick or some other type of masonry. Do the same for the doors, especially those that contain glass.
Cut the plywood to the proper dimensions long before a storm takes place. Label the pieces and store them in a dry environment. This will reduce the amount of time it will take to prep your home when a hurricane is on its way.
Bring Stuff Inside
If you keep any belongings outside, including lawn furniture, be sure to bring it inside before the storm arrives. This will reduce the chance of it blowing away as well as the chance of it crashing into your home.
Toys and lawn furniture can be cleaned up and stored inside of your house. Dirtier items like trash cans and grills can be placed in your garage if you have one.
Flooding is a major concern during and after a hurricane. Making sure that your house and yard are draining properly could prevent or reduce damage to your home.
Start with your gutters, making sure that they are clean and working properly. Do the same with any french drains or sump pumps that are in your yard.
It would also be a good idea to have a landscaping service take a look at any areas of your yard that have standing water after storms. While I am a do-it-yourselfer under most circumstances, going with a professional is the best choice here. Doing the job improperly could send water into your neighbor’s yard and you may be liable.
In addition to causing water damage to your home, improper drainage can also make trees more likely to uproot. The additional moisture will soften the soil, preventing the roots from maintaining their hold in heavy winds.
Brace Your Garage Door
Garage doors are made of relatively thin sheet metal, which makes them one of the first things to fail during a hurricane. However, you can increase their resistance to strong winds by bracing them.
You can brace a garage door a couple of different ways. You can purchase prefabricated braces like this one that you can install on your garage door. It is also possible to create your own braces out of lumber. You can find instructions by clicking here.
Prevent Sewage Backflow
Sewage backup can be a big problem during a flood. Excessive amounts of water can overwhelm municipal water systems, resulting in water backing up. If you have ever had sewage backup into a tub or shower, it is the same concept but on a much larger scale.
The best way to prevent this from happening is to install a backwater prevention valve. This is usually installed on your home’s sewer line and allows water to flow away from your home but not back towards it. This is best done by a professional plumber.
A cheaper but probably less effective way to protect your home from sewage backup is to install backflow preventers on your drains. The big downside to this is that you will need to install one on each drain, especially those that are low-lying like shower drains.
It is important to note that these measures will only prevent sewage from getting into your home through your own plumbing. Flooding may cause large scale backups which result in sewage being introduced into floodwaters. However, taking precautions such as these could prevent significant damage to your home.
Reinforce Roofs and Decks
High winds can peel roofs from houses and tear decks apart. Using hurricane ties can help you reinforce structures such as these.
Hurricane ties, like these, can help reinforce structures by creating additional connection points between trusses and the top plate. They can also be used on decks to reinforce the support structure.
Hurricanes can generate lightening which can potentially damage electronics. Unplug anything that you aren’t using to prevent this. Try to rely more on battery-powered devices, especially during the worst parts of the storm.
Shut off Utilities
Turning off your home’s electricity, water, and gas utilities can prevent damage to your home. They can also make your home less hazardous if it is damaged by winds or floods. Follow your local government’s guidance on this since there may be costs associated with turning some utilities back on.
Ways to Prepare Yourself and Loved Ones for a Hurricane
Think Through Your Plans
If a storm is on its way, go over your hurricane plan. Try to think of things that you may have missed and make sure there are no gaps in your supplies.
Go over your plans with your spouse and older children and ask them to point out potential problems. We can get so focused on certain things that we miss others. Input from other sources can be enlightening.
Take a First Aid Class
Hurricanes, because of the numerous hazards they pose, can cause people to suffer all sorts of injuries. Unfortunately, medical personnel may not be able to treat them quickly.
Because of this, every person in your family should know how to perform at least basic first aid. This will help them treat themselves or others before help arrives.
Develop a Hurricane Plan
Every prepper who lives in a hurricane-prone area should have a well-developed response plan. It should include the following:
- The circumstances in which you would evacuate or shelter in place
- Where you will go if you evacuate
- What to do if communications fail
- Backup meetup location
- Supplies you will take during an evacuation
- Where you will shelter in place if you stay in your home
- Supplies you will bring into your in-home shelter
Have Supplies Ready to Go
Begin loading your evacuation supplies in your vehicle as soon as it looks like a hurricane is going to hit your area. Do this even if you don’t think you will need to evacuate. Being prepared will make the process much easier and prevent lost time.
Talk to Your Kids
Make sure that your kids, young and old, understand what their role is during an emergency. This is true whether you are evacuating or staying put.
Do everything you can to convey the seriousness of the situation without scaring them. Older kids will be able to handle more information than younger children. The main thing is that you show them that you have a plan and will take care of them.
Have activities for your kids to keep them busy. This will reduce fear and complaining. Snacks help also. A chewing mouth isn’t a griping mouth.
When and How to Evacuate
The most effective way to protect yourself and your loved ones from a hurricane is to get out of its path. Protect your home as much as possible and then get out of the way. This is especially true if you live within several miles of the coast.
Hurricanes are so destructive that protecting yourself in the middle of one could be impossible. In addition, if you need help you probably won’t get it quickly. Emergency responders will be overwhelmed and have to contend with debris in roadways and floodwaters.
When to Evacuate
The path that a hurricane will take is often unclear, which can make it hard to tell whether you should stay or leave. This decision can be even more complicated if you have job-related pressures to stay or mobility impaired loved ones.
This period of uncertainty is a perfect time to make last-minute preparations. While you are monitoring the storm and following information released by authorities, get ready to evacuate should it become necessary. Also begin preparing your home.
Evacuation is necessary when weather projections indicate that your area will be hit and when authorities issue any type of evacuation order. However, evacuating before these things happen is wise.
Roads can become clogged even when additional lanes are opened for evacuation purposes. Getting out early will prevent you from getting stranded, running out of fuel, or having to take unfamiliar routes.
Know Where You Are Going
One of the most important parts of evacuating from a hurricane is knowing where you are going. I recommend going to a relative or friend’s house that is out of the danger area.
Staying with relatives or friends is much better than staying at a shelter. Many shelters tend to be overcrowded and some even experience crime and unrest. An example of this is when my hometown opened a shelter during Hurricane Ike. There was a riot and it looked like every cop car in town was there.
Have multiple ways to reach your destination and practice traveling the route before you use it to evacuate. Don’t let your good planning be ruined by closed or deadlocked roads.
Things to Bring When You Evacuate
- Maps: Bring paper backups of your local area, evacuation location, and everything in-between. Cell reception may be spotty or non-existent due to the storm.
- Compass: It can be used as a backup for digital navigation tools.
- Cash: Storms can knock out power and internet, meaning that credit and debit cards won’t work. Bring cash to pay for necessary items. Make sure it is in small denominations since people may not be willing or able to break larger bills.
- Food: Non-perishable foods such as canned goods and freeze-dried meals are good options. Energy bars work well as quick snacks. Bring enough for two weeks.
- Water: Pack some of your stored water (bottles and Aquatainers) in your car. While you may not have space in your vehicle for two-weeks worth of water bring as much as you can, along with some collapsible water containers.
- Water Filter: If you have a larger water filter, such as a Berkey, find room for it in your car. If not, pack a small filter, such as Sawyer Mini, in every family member’s bag.
- Important Documents: Bring physical copies or digital scans of all insurance policies, property deeds, and other important documents with you. Keep the papers or USB-drive in a water-proof container. Cloud storage is an excellent backup option as well.
- Clothes: Be sure to pack as much seasonally-appropriate clothing as you can. This will help you stay clean and give you more clothes in case those at home are destroyed.
- Tent and Sleeping Bags: Can be used for shelter if nothing else is available.
- Battery Backups: Keep cell phones and other USB-devices powered.
- Emergency Radio: Stay up-to-date on weather news.
- Chainsaw: You may need to clear debris out of a road on your way back home.
- Power Tools: Bring the tools listed above with you so they will be ready to make quick repairs when you return.
Know Where the Shelters Are
Even though I don’t recommend choosing a shelter as your primary evacuation location, it is still smart to know where they are. Unforeseen circumstances may prevent you from reaching your destination.
Knowing the shelter locations for your area will allow you to find them easier. You may also be able to take the time to find an alternate route to the shelter to avoid traffic.
Leave a Note Behind
If you evacuate your home leave a note inside explaining where you intend to go. This will allow rescuers to know your house was empty if they have to search for survivors. If you go missing, it will also give emergency personnel a starting point for a search.
What To Do If You Can’t Evacuate
If you are unable to evacuate your home, take shelter in the safest portion of it. Staying in a small, windowless interior room will help you stay safe from high winds.
Be sure to take essential supplies with you into your safe room. This includes food, water, medicines, and your weather radio. Stay in this area until the high winds pass.
If your home begins to flood, move to the highest level if it has multiple stories. For homes that don’t have multiple levels, move straight to the roof.
Don’t Hide in the Attic
Many people have chosen to hide in their attics when threatened with rising floodwaters. Unfortunately, this can be a fatal mistake.
Many attics only have one way in or out. You could get trapped with no way to escape if the water reaches that high. If you are still determined to do this, keep an ax and Sawzall (with good blades) up there to help you escape. But seriously, don’t hide in the attic.
Going straight to the roof is a much safer option if your home floods. While getting up there could pose a challenge at least you won’t have to worry about creating a tomb for yourself.
Wear a Whistle
The human voice will only carry so far, especially in a noisy environment. You will also tire quickly by yelling. Wearing a loud whistle will help you signal rescuers if you need assistance.
The Fox 40 Sonik Blast whistle can produce up to 120 decibels and is made of plastic, making it corrosion-proof. It is commonly used among sports referees but would be a useful survival tool as well.
Listen to Broadcasts
Keeping your radio and television on during the storm is extremely important during a storm. It will allow you to know if your area is being threatened by tornadoes, flooding, and other hazards.
There is a very good chance that you will lose both electricity and television service during a hurricane. Having a battery-powered radio will allow you to stay apprised of what is going on.
Stay Where You Are
Avoid the temptation to step outside during the storm to watch the rain and winds. Strong gusts of wind can come out of nowhere and tornadoes can be hard to see. Flying debris could easily injure or kill you.
After the storm, stay near your home. Wandering around town to survey the damage can be very dangerous. Instead focus on making any home repairs that you are capable of performing and helping your neighbors. Listen for the sounds of people who may need to be rescued.
Fill Up Water Containers
Take the time to fill up as many containers as you can with water before a hurricane arrives. This includes a Water Bob (if you have one), pitchers, canteens, water bottles, and anything else that can hold water.
This will help your water supplies last as long as possible if your water utilities fail.
Hazards After the Storm
A hurricane can cause massive amounts of damage and make affected areas look like a war zone. When you emerge from your home or return to it after an evacuation you must be extremely careful to avoid the following hazards.
One of the first things that people think of when it comes to hurricane damage is flooding. Low-lying areas and those near the coast and rivers could be completely underwater. While many people rightly worry about drowning, that is far from the only threat that floods pose.
When an area floods dangerous substances such as chemicals and sewage are present as well. Exposure to them can cause severe illness or death, especially if they are ingested or enter the body through wounds.
Floodwater can also hide live power lines and conduct electricity. Touching them or even coming too close could result in a fatal shock.
In addition to power lines, floodwaters can also hide numerous physical hazards. The water contains so much debris and sediment that you won’t be able to see through it. You could step onto a sharp object or hole if traveling on foot. Large debris under the surface poses collision hazards to boats.
Another problem that areas face after a hurricane is power outages. Smaller storms can cause power outages lasting a few days to a couple of weeks. Larger storms could cause power outages that last for months.
If you live in a rural area you may be without power longer than nearby urban areas. Emergency responders will most likely be sent to more populated areas first since that is where they can help the most people. I know people that lived in a rural area who were without power for a month after Hurricane Ike hit.
Long-term power outages can be more than just an inconvenience. Businesses, including grocery stores and gas stations, will be unable to provide services. Even worse, hospitals will be forced to rely on generators to stay open.
Any food that you have in freezers or refrigerators will spoil within a very short amount of time. Water utilities may also be affected which would result in you needing to boil water before consumption. Having a way to cook without electricity is extremely important.
If you or a loved one requires refrigerated medication or equipment such as a CPAP machine a power outage can be life-threatening. Owning a generator would be essential in these circumstances.
A hurricane’s winds can topple trees and power poles as well as rip off roofs. They can even demolish entire buildings. All of this debris has to end up somewhere, and many times, it ends up in roadways.
Blocked roads can prevent you from being able to evacuate or get back home. They can also make it much more difficult for emergency personnel and utility workers to get where they are needed most.
Downed Power Lines
A power line being down doesn’t mean that it no longer has current going through it. Power lines on the ground and underwater can still shock people that get too close.
Many people think that you have to touch a power line to get shocked by it but that isn’t true. Power lines have so much power going through them that they can deliver a shock through the ground several feet away from the actual line.
Hurricanes can, unfortunately, bring out the worst in people. Theft and violence are common occurrences after a hurricane. The most obvious example of this is looting, but person-on-person violence happens as well.
Some people who take part in criminal acts in the aftermath of a storm are normally law-abiding citizens who are just desperate. They may have young children or elderly family members that they need to take care of. Others are criminals who just want a quick score.
Emergency responders, including law enforcement, will be overwhelmed during a storm and in its aftermath. It will be impossible for them to help everyone, whether they need to be rescued from high waters or other people.
Because of this, you need to be able to protect yourself from others. Having weapons, including firearms, and teaming up with neighbors will improve your chances greatly.
Related: Types of Guns Preppers Need
My name is James Garen, and I have lived in a Gulf Coast State my entire life. This information is based on numerous hours of research, my own experiences, and the experiences of others who have lived through hurricanes.