Hurricanes are predictable from the moment they begin to form over the ocean. What is unpredictable is the potential damage that they will leave behind because it’s difficult to foretell whether a storm will gain strength or weaken as it moves closer to land.
For example, let’s briefly examine one of the most devastating hurricanes to ever hit the United States: Hurricane Katrina. When looking back at the days prior to it making landfall, we know that the forecast and predictions were fairly accurate. What no one was truly prepared for, however, was the magnitude of the destruction that followed. One of the major mistakes was that mandatory evacuation orders were not issued until 24 hours before the hurricane was predicted to reach land. This made evacuations extremely difficult or impossible for the nearly 112,000 of New Orleanians without access to a vehicle. Not to mention that the city of New Orleans had already been receiving considerable amounts of rain, so the low-lying areas were already flooded by the time people were told to leave.
There are many things that we can learn from such a catastrophic event, and while we won’t get into all those details here, I can assure you that being ready to “grab your kit and go” at a moment’s notice is vital. Having a preparedness plan in place will assure that you have all that you need to survive through the hurricane and evacuate quickly, if necessary.
Here you will find many resources to help you become prepared for a hurricane!
[This is a long article about hurricane preparedness, so the links in the Table of Contents may help you to navigate through the page. If you don't have much time and want to dive right into the meat of this article, please click here.]
- Hurricanes can reach more than 160 mph winds and pour over 2.4 trillion gallons of rainwater per day.
- Out of all US hurricanes, 40% of them make landfall in Florida. Texas experiences the second-most amount of direct hits, followed by Louisiana, North Carolina, and South Carolina.
- On average, there are 10.1 tropical storms each year. Of those, 5.9 become hurricanes and 2.5 become Category 3 hurricanes or higher.
- September is the most active month in terms of hurricanes.
- Hurricanes can affect regions that are as far as 100 miles inland.
- The costliest hurricane was Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. This Category 5 hurricane primarily destroyed the city of New Orleans, Louisiana and resulted in approximately 1,833 deaths and $108 billion worth of damage.
- The deadliest hurricane in the United States was the Great Galveston Storm and it occurred on September 8, 1900. It was a Category 4 hurricane that hit Galveston, Texas and killed approximately 8,000 people.
- The leading cause of hurricane-related deaths is due to storm surges.
Terms you should know
Tropical cyclone: A tropical cyclone is a storm that forms over the tropics featuring lots of rain, high wind speeds, and low atmospheric pressure.
Tropical depression: A tropical depression is a tropical cyclone that forms over the seas with sustained wind speeds of 30 to 38 mph.
Tropical storm: A tropical storm is a more intense version of a tropical cyclone that forms over the ocean with sustained wind speeds of 39 to 73 mph. Anything higher than 74 mph becomes a hurricane.
Tropical storm watch: This means that a specified area may receive a tropical storm during the next 48 hours.
Tropical storm warning: This means that a tropical storm is predicted to hit a specified area within the next 36 hours. Make sure to have your kits ready for evacuation in case you have to leave and take refuge somewhere other than your home. The difference between a warning and a watch is that a warning means that a storm will certainly occur, whereas a watch only means that a storm is possible but there’s no guarantee.
Hurricane: A hurricane is a tropical storm that occurs over the Caribbean with sustained wind speeds of 74+ mph. Hurricanes are dangerous and have the potential to cause significant damage to property as well as the possibility of the loss of life.
Category 1: A hurricane with sustained wind speeds of 74 to 95 mph. A category 1 hurricane may cause property damage as well as power outages. [LINK TO POWER OUTAGE PAGE]
Category 2: A hurricane with sustained wind speeds of 96 to 110 mph. A category 2 hurricane is likely to cause extensive damage to property as well as widespread power outages.
Category 3: A hurricane with sustained wind speeds of 111 to 129 mph. A category 3 hurricane is considered a major hurricane because it will cause devastating damage to homes and other property - with the possibility of loss of life as well - and power outages.
Category 4: A hurricane with sustained wind speeds of 130 to 156 mph. A category 4 hurricane is considered a major hurricane because it will cause catastrophic damage that will make the area uninhabitable for weeks or months.
Category 5: A hurricane with sustained wind speeds of 157+ mph. A category 5 hurricane is also considered a major hurricane because of the catastrophic damage that it will cause. Expect widespread damage and destruction that will take months to recover from. The scale ends on a category 5; there is no such thing as a category 6 (or higher) hurricane.
Hurricane watch: A hurricane watch is issued to warn the residents of a specific area that there’s a possibility of a hurricane approaching their area within the next 48 hours. If your area is under “watch”, it would be a good idea to have your emergency kits prepared and evacuation plans ready to go.
Hurricane warning: A hurricane warning is issued when a hurricane is approaching a specified area. The National Hurricane Center issues this warning 36 hours prior to the storm, in order to give people enough time to pack their things and evacuate safely.
Typhoon: A typhoon is the same thing as a hurricane, with the only difference that it occurs over the Indian or Western Pacific Ocean.
Storm Surge: A storm surge is when the level of the ocean rises due to the combination of wind and low atmospheric pressure created by tropical storms. You may be at a higher risk of flooding if you live in low-lying areas.
Current live map of hurricanes
There are three places you can look to find the maps of current hurricanes and storm formations.
The National Hurricane Center’s website offers the maps of three regions: the Central Pacific, the Eastern Pacific, and the Atlantic. In each of these, you can see if and where storms are expected to form, and the location of a current storm.
The NOAA also has a hurricane tracker that can be found on their website. They offer a live map of current tropical storms and hurricanes, as well as detailed information on the year’s previous hurricanes.
Finally, the Weather Bug has a similar map to the NOAA and National Hurricane Center, but it’s perhaps a little bit easier to understand. This map is cool because it tells you how many miles away you are from the storm, based on your location. You can find that map here.
What to expect during a hurricane
Hurricanes are dangerous and scary. To put your mind at ease, we gathered a list of the most common hurricane questions and answered them for you here.
How to mitigate hurricanes
Many people wonder if hurricanes can be prevented or manipulated. Although there has been a growing interest in manipulating the weather to prevent (or increase) hurricanes, there has been little success in effectively doing so. The only thing we truly have control over, however, is the way we prepare for them. Preparedness includes protecting your property, your valuables, and yourself in order to mitigate the damage or loss.
Although your home may become damaged regardless, there are a few things you can do prior to a hurricane to reduce the potential of its impact.
- Know what risks you’re up against. First things first, let’s remember the destructive potential of hurricanes. They can bring in significant amounts of rain, cause power outages, extensive structural damage, storm surges, high winds, flooding, erosion, mudslides, and physical injury. Be prepared for any of this to happen to you if you live in hurricane-prone areas.
- Sign up for emergency alerts to keep you up-to-date on changing weather patterns and hazards. The NOAA Weather Radio transmits live weather and non-weather emergency updates 24/7.
- Retrofit your home to make it more hurricane resistant. You should focus on strengthening and securing the most vulnerable areas by boarding up the windows or getting storm shutters, reinforcing the garage door by anchoring it to the ground, and installing hurricane straps to the roof, rain gutters, and foundation. If you’re interested in a retrofitting resource for residential buildings, you can find an in-depth guide here or a short guide here.
- Install tile floors rather than carpet so that flooded areas dry up faster.
- Consider building a safe-room in your house to protect you during the hurricane if you’re unable to evacuate.
- Buy flood barriers (the kind that won’t become flying debris like sandbags) and get properly trained on how to install them should you need to use them.
- Learn how to shut off the valve to your water main, as well as the electricity and gas.
- Get renter or home owner’s insurance, as well as flood insurance.
- Take photos of every room in your house. Keeping photos of your home is beneficial for insurance purposes if you have to make a claim later on.
- Develop a family communication and reunification plan so you can stay in touch with loved ones.
- Make an evacuation and shelter-in-place plan. In some cases, you may be ordered to evacuate whereas in others, you may be told to stay put. Be ready for both. Become familiar with the evacuation routes and emergency shelters in your area.
- Have your emergency kit fully stocked and ready to take with you. Remember to include prescription medication, and other items of basic need for babies, toddlers, or aging parents.
- Make arrangements for your pets and prepare their kits. Many evacuation shelters do not allow pets, so you should make prior arrangements to keep them safe during the storm. Do not leave your pets at home during a hurricane.
- Store important documents and other valuable items in a place where flood waters might not reach. Do not keep them on the ground floor if you have a two-story home.
- Keep your property clear from overhanging tree branches.
- Stay alert with the news and warnings. If you’re told to evacuate, do so as soon as possible! If you have difficulty evacuating, either because of mobility issues or because you don’t have a car, you should make evacuation plans with a neighbor or the community well ahead of time. These are some ideas on how to evacuate when you don’t have a vehicle.
Hurricane safety tips
Before a hurricane:
- Do not go to the beach.
- Move all the patio furniture indoors. Secure or store anything you have outside that can become flying debris.
- Strengthen your home. Use the hurricane straps to protect your roof from blowing away, anchor your garage door to the ground, and secure all the windows with storm shutters or plywood/ boards. Lower the blinds or close the curtains on the windows as well to prevent glass from going all over the place if the window shatters.
- Install a flood barrier around your property to prevent the possibility of flooding. Make sure you know how to do it right so that you don’t become responsible for warding the water toward your neighbor’s property and cause damage to their house.
- Store or tightly secure your boat or other water equipment.
- Charge all your electronic devices to maintain a maximum charge during the storm.
- Do not put any valuables inside the dishwasher. There has been a lot of talk about storing important documents and photographs in the dishwasher because it’s a “waterproof” appliance. Although dishwashers are built to keep water inside, they’re just as vulnerable to storm damage as the rest of the appliances in your house. The only way to truly protect your valuables is if you take them with you during an evacuation.
Understandably, this is not possible for everyone so your next option is to scan important papers and photos to the Cloud and to seal them in multiple ziplock bags and hope that they survive. One bag might not be enough and it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- Prepare to evacuate or shelter in place. If your area is under mandatory evacuation, please obey those orders.
During a hurricane (if sheltering in place):
- Turn off the power to your home if you’re in a high or medium-risk flood-zone. Even if the electricity hasn’t been shut off by the electric company, it’s safer to keep it turned off to prevent electric shock if flooding occurs. Turn off the gas and water as well.
- Eat perishable food from the fridge first. If you turn off the power or experience an outage, avoid opening and closing the fridge doors often to maintain it cold for as long as possible. For more information on power outage preparedness, visit this page.
- Stay indoors and take cover in an interior room away from windows. Do not open the windows, even if the conditions seem to have calmed down. If the eye of the hurricane passes over you, you’ll notice stillness for some time, but the strong wind and rain conditions will resume once the eye passes over.
- If the place you’re sheltering in is getting flooded, go to a higher floor. Do not take cover in an attic without windows because you risk getting trapped in there.
- Stay in touch with relatives and friends via text. Texting takes up a lot less bandwidth than calling does, so the message will be sent faster that way. Telephone lines are typically saturated during emergencies so it’s nearly impossible to call out.
- Section out an area of your home where your pets can go to the bathroom, and have enough supplies on-hand to clean up right after. Do not allow your pets to go outside during the hurricane.
After a hurricane:
- Stay updated with the local news and weather updates.
- If you evacuated, return home only when it is safe to do so.
- Be careful of flooded areas. Not only do they pose a risk to drowning, but they are also dangerous because the water is likely to be contaminated with sewage water, full of debris, and possibly covering downed power lines.
- Before cleaning up your property, assess the damage that was done by taking photos of your property. This may serve as proof for your insurance policy claims. Contact your insurance company to verify that photos are enough evidence. In some cases, an insurance representative will go to your home to review the damage.
- If your home got flooded or received water damage, ventilate it with open windows, fans, and by getting rid of furniture, rugs, and carpets that are no longer salvageable. Prevent mold from growing.
- Be on alert when moving things around. Be careful because you may find snakes, insects, and other animals that were displaced and looking for refuge.
Hurricane preparedness kit must-haves
There are several supplies I recommend you keep that may significantly help you during a hurricane. These are items you should stockpile long before a storm is forecasted because they will be easier to find and cost a lot less when there is less demand for them.
- Long-term water storage: These water boxes last up to 5 years in storage. They can be filled with drinking water ahead of time and be refilled as needed. The treatment drops ensure that your water is sanitized at the time that you plan to drink it.
- A water purifier for a constant supply of clean drinking water. The Life Straw filters up to 1,000 gallons of water. If you used it every day, it would last you 4 years! This is one of the best investments I’ve ever made because it’s lightweight. You can conveniently take it with you in your emergency kit, wilderness adventures, and travel trips.
- Long-term food storage: Freeze-dried food is essential for any type of emergency because it lasts up to 25 years in storage and it can be prepared in under 20 minutes. These kits are made with all natural non-GMO ingredients that provide you and your family with the necessary minerals and nutrients to stay healthy during an emergency. You can also store cans and dried foods, but those can become heavy and inconvenient to carry, unless stored in a proper container.
- A stove and fuel source for cooking food and boiling water. This stove and fuel kit is ideal because it can be used safely both indoors and outdoors. It does not release toxic fumes so you can be sure to have a hot meal or tea any time you want.
- Plasticware, such as utensils, plates, and cups. Include plenty of plastic trash bags for easy clean-up.
- A complete first-aid kit: You may be the first to respond to injuries because medical personnel could take days to arrive. Have at least the basic supplies to take care of minor wounds. If you’re prone to getting headaches, include medication to reduce migraines.
- Anti-inflammatory medication: When the air pressure drops, you may experience swelling especially if you have joint problems. Talk to your doctor about the best medication solution for you.
- Insect repellent: Considering the climate after a hurricane, and the displaced wildlife, there may be a greater magnitude of mosquitos and other insects than usual. Prepare yourself with insect repellent.
- A complete bug-out kit for each member of your household, including enough supplies to cover the basic needs of your kids, elderly parents, and pets who live with you.
- A radio to help you stay updated with the progression of the storm. If you get a hand-powered radio, you won’t have to use batteries but your arm will get tired quickly.
- Get several headlamps and flashlights. Headlamps are convenient because they keep your hands free so you can use them for other things. Remember to keep plenty of backup batteries.
- Comfortable waterproof clothing, boots, and several changes of clean clothes.
- A toilet and sanitation kit for clean and safe waste disposal, like this one.
- Moisture wet wipes are a quick and easy way to maintain personal hygiene and sanitation when water is in short supply.
- Additional items for your babies, toddlers, elderly parents, pets, or whoever lives with you that may require a unique diet because of food sensitivities, medication, and/or other supplies.
- Playing cards and books: Keep yourself busy and entertained during the storm. Since you may be out of power for several days, you shouldn’t count on social media. Get some crafts or games to ensure you and your loved ones don’t get too bored).
- A generator to power up basic appliances and electronic devices. While this is not a requirement for everyone, some people cannot afford to lose power during a long-term outage because of health needs, work, or convenience. If you choose to get a generator, make sure you’re knowledgeable on how to use it properly and remember to store enough propane.
- Important documents folder in a sealed waterproof container. One of the most important parts of your kit is your personal papers. In order to begin the recovery process, you need to show proof of identity, home ownership, insurance papers, etc. If those documents were destroyed or got lost during the hurricane, it will take you a long time to recover them and being the process of rebuilding your life. Here you can find the complete list and a printable checklist of all the important documents your folder should have!
I know there’s way too much information here and it can become overwhelming. That is why I made an easy hurricane readiness list that you can download by clicking on the button below. The checklist includes all the essential items you should have in the event of a hurricane as well as some of the most important safety tips.
Print your hurricane preparedness list and save a copy with your go-bag or emergency kit for quick access!
More resources from our blog
- Whether you plan to evacuate or shelter in place, please make sure you’re aware of the DO’s and DON’Ts of hurricane safety.
- Keep looters OUT while you’re evacuated! These tips will help you reinforce the security of your home while you’re away.
- No electricity? No problem! Learn how to become prepared for a long-term power outage.
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11 Facts About Hurricanes — DoSomething.org
Katrina forecasters were remarkably accurate — NBC News
No other state gets hit by hurricanes as often as Florida — CNN
Atlantic Hurricane Season — WikiPedia
Hurricane Katrina killed 1,833 people — The New Republic
Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale — NHC and CPHC
The US Government Has Experimented With Controlling Hurricanes — MPN News
Hurricanes — by Ready.gov