Hurricane season has officially kicked off and here in the United States, we have already seen our first tropical storm of the year. Severe weather can be devastating in terms of property damage and loss of personal items – not to mention the possibility of personal tragedies. To help you prevent storm damage, here are some tips and resources you can use to keep your home (and family) safe during the hurricane season.
Preparing for Hurricane Season
The best time to prepare for a hurricane or tropical storm is long before one ever forms in the ocean. Once hurricane season rolls around, you should begin preparations to secure your home and make sure you have enough supplies on hand to “weather the storm”. Waiting until a storm actually forms before preparing can not only lead to extra stress in your life, but could lead to you not finishing your prep work before the severe weather actually strikes – a situation you definitely want to avoid.
When is Hurricane Season?
Hurricane season (for those of us that live off the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, or Gulf of Mexico), officially begins June 1st and ends November 30th. Tropical storms can, however, arrive before and after these dates, but the majority of hurricanes and tropical storms in this region occur during this time period.
Difference Between a Tropical Storm and Hurricane
Severe tropical weather here in the United States comes in three main varieties: tropical depressions, tropical storms, and hurricanes. Knowing the difference between the three is an important step to properly preparing for one of these violent storms.
The beginning stage to any tropical threat is known as a tropical depression. It may also be called a tropical system, tropical disturbance, tropical wave, or tropical activity. At its core, a tropical depression is a weather formation that may or may not turn into a tropical storm or hurricane, depending upon certain conditions.
A tropical depression is the result of low pressure and thunderstorms that create a circular wind pattern. The maximum wind speed for this type of weather pattern is 39mph, while the average falls a little lower. If the pattern becomes more organized and the wind remains at 39mph or higher (up to 73mph), then the tropical depression is upgraded to a tropical storm and it officially receives a name.
If a tropical storm passes 74mph or greater, it is considered a hurricane and will be placed into a category ranging from 1-5, with 5 being the most powerful. Wind speed for each category can be defined as below:
Category 1 Hurricane: 74-95mph
Category 2 Hurricane: 96-110mph
Category 3 Hurricane: 111-130mph
Category 4 Hurricane: 131-155mph
Category 5 Hurricane: Greater than 156mph
How to Prepare for a Hurricane
Even though weather forecast and storm predictions improve each year (thanks to technological advances and better understanding of severe weather patterns), tropical storms and hurricanes are still unpredictable and the property damage they can leave in their wake is often greater than analysts predict. Because of this, it is important to start preparing for a hurricane at the beginning of the hurricane season – if not before.
If you live near the coast or even a few hundred miles inland, it is important that you have a map of all evacuation routes in your area. Make sure you drive the route at the start of hurricane season and that your family members know how to reach them as well. If you get separated in a storm, you will want to make sure every one knows how to get to safety the quickest way possible.
Inspect your home (or have a professional inspect it) to make sure your house is up to code and is capable of surviving a hurricane. Check for loose roof tiles, structural damage, poor seals around windows and doors, and so forth. If you do not have storm shutters or impact proof windows, we highly recommend you get them installed. Studies show that they greatly reduce storm and water damage in the event of a hurricane.
It is important to take care of the above items prior to the start of hurricane season, as finding shutters or getting a contractor to install them during peak storm season may be difficult, leaving your home unprotected from the possibility of wind damage.
Once the season begins, it is a great idea to stock up on non-perishable supplies. Batteries and flashlights are essential, as is a hand-cranked radio, which you can use to listen to local weather forecasts and emergency broadcasts. Purchasing additional cell phone batteries for each family member is advisable too, in the event you should get separated from your loved ones. Note that cell phone towers could be affected during a hurricane, so cellular service is not always guaranteed.
Canned food, can openers, powdered milk, and plenty of water is also a necessity. For water, always have on hand one gallon of water, per person, for a minimum of three days. The more you can store, the better. This water will be used for drinking and sanitation.
We also recommend a minimum of three days worth of non-perishable food for each family member, including any pets. Be sure to pack snacks and comfort food as well, especially if you have young children.
Medications are another, often-overlooked, part of a hurricane supply kit. Where possible, have at least a week’s worth of any prescribed medication for all family members and animals. Over the counter medication, such as cold medicine, headache medicine, pain relievers, and so forth, are always good to have as well. A first-aid kit that is fully stocked should be kept on-hand for emergencies.
Ready.gov has a great list for a basic disaster supplies kit that every homeowner should follow.
What is a Hurricane Warning and a Hurricane Watch?
Once a hurricane watch or hurricane warning is issued, you will want to take further steps to secure your home against storm damage. A hurricane watch basically tells you that a hurricane making landfall in your area is probable or likely and that you should prepare for that eventuality. Hurricane watches are issued 48 hours prior to the anticipated onset of tropical storm strength winds.
A hurricane warning means that severe weather is imminent. If a warning has been issued, your area is either already feeling the effects of a hurricane, or is about to. Hurricane warnings are issued 36 hours before the anticipated onset of tropical force winds.
When a watch is issued, you will want to make sure you secure any outside objects or bring them inside. This includes things like lawn chairs and tables, pool umbrellas, outdoor canopies that may come loose in strong winds, and so forth. These types of objects, if not secured, can cause property damage to your home or your neighbor’s house. This is also the time to put up any storm shutters or secure your windows with plywood boards.
If you have not filled up your vehicles with gas and if you have not fully prepared your hurricane readiness kit, make sure you do this as well. Odds are other residents in your area will be rushing to do so, so practice patience and expect a crowd at your local supermarket. You should also take this time to go over any safety plans and evacuation routes with family members and ensure everyone knows what to do if a catastrophe occurs during the hurricane.
What to Do During a Hurricane or Tropical Storm
If you have not been ordered to evacuate and you feel safe in your home, once a hurricane or tropical storm hits, you should always stay inside, as long as the structural integrity of your home is okay. Find a secure room in your home and gather your family there. Keep clear of any windows, as debris could shatter them and enter your home. Keep any essential tools nearby, as well as a first-aid kit and a radio to listen to weather updates.
What to Do in the Aftermath of a Hurricane
After a hurricane or tropical storm has moved on from your area, make sure the local news has given the okay to venture outside. If there is any indication that the storm is not entirely out of your area, wait a while longer, as hurricanes can often spawn tornados and hail even after they have left your region. Also, don’t be fooled by the eye of the hurricane. Depending upon the size of the storm wall, you will experience anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour of no storm activity. Never venture out when the eye of the hurricane is passing over, as you can quickly get caught in the storm once it picks back up again.
Once you are certain it is safe to venture outdoors, check the area for any downed power lines. If you find them, report them to the local power company and steer clear of them. Avoid puddles and standing water, as they can house hidden dangers and safety hazards.
Next, inspect your home for any structural damage. Damaged walls, collapsing roofs, and floods are particularly dangerous, and if you encounter them, you will want to evacuate the premises immediately. Document any damage with your phone or a camera. This includes property damage, as well as content damage. Hurricanes often result in water damage and flood damage, and may result in mold and mildew, as well as fire damage.
Once you have taken note of any damage and your family is safe and secure, your next step should be to call your insurance company and a storm damage restoration company, such as the catastrophe remediation professionals at ServiceMaster Cleaning & Restoration. Not only can they help repair your property and its contents, they can also help guide you through the insurance claims process and develop a safety plan for any future catastrophic events.
Hurricane Preparation Tips and Resources
Are you looking for more hurricane preparation tips and resources? If so, you may find the links below useful.
Redcross.org | Hurricane Preparedness Resources
Ready.gov | Information on Hurricane Safety
Disaster.com | The Essentials of Hurricane Preparedness
Disaster.com | Forum for Hurricane Survivors and Advice
Fema.gov | Disaster Survivor Assistance Page