Tropical storm season is upon us again, with systems originating in the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific basins beginning to bubble up and surge toward the coastal United States.
The beginning of June kicked off hurricane season, which ends in November, and typically peaks throughout September.
The Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale (SSHWS) classifies hurricanes into five categories, distinguishing them by intensity of sustained winds. To be called a category five storm, a hurricane needs to have sustained winds of over 157 mph.
In 2018, Hurricane Michael made landfall in Mexico Beach, Florida. It was classified as the first category five storm to hit the state since Hurricane Andrew in 1992. The storm was devastating; it caused at least 74 deaths and an estimated $25.1 billion in damages.
Tropical storms such as hurricanes can be extremely dangerous, even deadly. However, that can be because people often aren’t prepared for them and don’t know how to stay safe during the worst weather.
In this blog, we will provide safety tips, advice for emergencies, and guidance for disaster preparation, so you will be ready for any outcome.
Preparing for the Worst
There’s no such thing as being too prepared. In fact, in this case, being well-prepared just might save your life — and your most valuable asset, your home.
Know Weather Patterns in Your Area
Hurricane season affects much of the southern states, with storms ranging from a tropical depression to major hurricanes in terms of severity.
The tropical systems that migrate to the US originate in the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific basins in early June, and build momentum throughout the summer. The largest Category 3 storms make landfall by September, hitting coastal communities the hardest.
If you live in an area that is particularly susceptible to tropical weather, it’s important to pay attention to emerging weather patterns, existing tropical systems, and news reports.
Pay Attention to Weather Reports
Your local radio station and TV news channel will deliver regular up-to-date weather reports and emergency details about disasters such as hurricanes.
Updates can also be found on social media, like Twitter or Facebook. City and state officials will often have social media accounts through which they provide notifications to the public.
Be sure to follow any advisories given by local authorities, such as evacuation or stay-at-home orders. Such notices are usually put in place for the safety of everyone, and violating them is done at your own risk.
Remember: A hurricane warning means that a hurricane is already taking place and is heading toward you. A hurricane watch means that a hurricane is only a possibility, and you should be alert.
Have an Emergency Plan
Having an emergency plan in place is vital to the safety of you and your household.
Your emergency plan should include a safe evacuation strategy, a method for securing your household and property, and having enough supplies at home to keep you going through the storm.
Some things to keep on hand are non-perishable food items, bottled water, spare blankets, flashlights, batteries, a first-aid kit, and a back-up generator. You should also keep a supply of any medications you take regularly, as you may not be able to access a pharmacy for a while.
If all goes well, you might be able to ride out the storm at home, but in case things don’t go to plan, be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice.
Best Practices During a Storm
Any tropical storm — big or small — should be taken seriously. Hurricanes can be slight or devastating, but either way, they are no laughing matter. Flooding and heavy rain claim lives and damage homes, so it’s important to act quickly and carefully in the face of a storm.
Batten Down the Hatches
The first thing you should do when you hear the news on the radio that a hurricane is coming your way is to secure everything on your property that could be blown away or torn up by a strong wind or rain.
Nail down or tie up anything that looks even a little loose. Even if you don’t mind losing some backyard items to a storm, a lawn chair or a clay pot can be a hazard if they come flying through your kitchen window.
Close and lock all your windows, doors, and hurricane shutters. Don’t have hurricane shutters? You had better board up your windows with plywood or some other sturdy material, or else they are likely to come flying open — or worse, shatter.
Be Prepared to Evacuate
Whenever a hurricane is encroaching on your area, evacuation is a possibility. This measure is most common if you live in a low-lying area near the coast, because these areas are particularly susceptible to flooding.
If you find yourself having to evacuate your home, stay calm and follow the directions you were given by local authorities. Usually, officials will designate a safe place for people to go in the case of evacuation.
It’s extremely dangerous to approach the shore, or go anywhere near flooded areas during the storm. Never go out on the water in a boat during the storm. Avoid walking on foot. If you have to evacuate, do so using a motorized vehicle and avoid driving through flooded areas or on washed out bridges.
Find a Safe Place and Stay There
Whether you remain in your home or you were forced to evacuate, once you find a safe place it’s important you remain there for the duration of the storm.
If you are at home, find a safe place on the main floor — not the basement — and stay there.
There will be a lull in the violent wind after the eye of the storm passes over, however that doesn’t mean the storm is over. The pause will last from minutes to up to a half hour. After the eye passes over, it will return again.
Stay in your safe place and continue to listen to local weather reports. Follow directions from local authorities and wait until they say it is safe to leave.
The worst is over. You survived the storm. Now, what’s next? It’s time to take steps toward rebuilding. Look for damage on your property, ensure you and your family are getting along okay, and remain cautious.
You are sure to feel a mix of emotions after having weathered a storm of such intensity. Perhaps you have lost property. Maybe you’re feeling a little traumatized.
However, there’s still danger afoot, and you need to stay alert. The aftermath of a hurricane can bring residual heavy rainfall and flooding. Damage done to the natural landscape and surrounding buildings can also cause landslides and infrastructure hazards.
Be prepared and watch out for this in the days and weeks following the storm.
Inspect for Damage
Depending on its degree of severity, and your home’s location relative to the storm’s path, it may have survived relatively unscathed.
If you weren’t so lucky, however, your home could be suffering from severe damage. Flooding, shattered windows, torn siding, a shredded roof — to name just a few of the many injuries your house may have sustained.
Your home insurance will most likely cover the cost of damage from natural disasters. But it’s on you to document all the damages. Make sure you take pictures of everything that has been damaged or destroyed, and thoroughly inspect the functionality of all your appliances and systems, inside and outside your home.
Hurricanes destroy everything. They turn communities into disaster areas. Walking through the aftermath of a storm can be hazardous, and warrants protection.
If you are cleaning up debris around your home or community, wear thick, sturdy shoes, long sleeves, and pants. There are likely shards of glass, nails, and other sharp or toxic materials lying around that can pierce your skin and make you ill.
Wastewater is not safe for consumption. If your water runs grey or brown, don’t drink it. Call local authorities immediately. Throw away any food that might have been contaminated.
Your home might not be safe to re-enter after a storm, possibly due to internal or external damage. Carefully inspect the doors, windows, and staircases before using them. If you suspect they aren’t safe, call local authorities to inspect them for you.