- We’ll explain hurricane terms you should know.
- We’ll talk to experts about how to prepare.
- We’ll discuss what to do when the storm has passed.
What is a hurricane? Where can predictions be found?
Hurricanes, also called typhoons, are storm systems that form when warm ocean water combines with consistent low wind. There is a hurricane “season” because the sun doesn’t heat the entire earth evenly all the time, causing pockets of increased temperature differences at certain times of the year.
In the U.S., hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30, but peaks between August and October. An average season includes 12 named storms, six hurricanes, and three major hurricanes. Some of the most common vocabulary to keep top of mind is:
- Wind Scale. Hurricanes are measured on the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale which ranks them from category 1-5 based on wind speed.
- Named Storm. Storms are named by the World Meteorological Organization when wind speeds reach 39 mph or higher.
- Tropical Storm. Tropical cyclones are reclassified as tropical storms and given a name when sustained wind speed is between 39 mph and 73 mph.
- Hurricane. Tropical storms are reclassified as hurricanes when they reach a wind speed of 74 mph or higher.
- Major Hurricane. A hurricane is reclassified as a major hurricane when it reaches wind speeds of 111 mph or higher, meaning it falls into categories 3-5 on the wind scale.
- Hurricane Watch. This announces that an area might see hurricane conditions of 74 mph or higher.
- Hurricane Warning. More severe than a watch, a warning announcement means an area is expected to see hurricane conditions.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tracks storms in the National Hurricane Center. This is where advisories and watches are first announced, though you can also hear them during weather forecasts on local news and radio stations.
How can I prepare my home, family, and pets for a hurricane?
Preparing your home: identify the weak links
Hurricane preparation begins long before storm season. Especially when it comes to your house, whether it survives the next storm depends on hurricane-safe construction and upgrades.
Albert Lee, founder of home solutions company Home Living Lab, explains that one of the biggest hurricane dangers is flooding, as it can quickly damage belongings as well as the structure of the house itself. To prevent this, take a good look at your windows.
“While many believe that the roof is the weakest link in the house, actually windows are the most vulnerable during a hurricane,” Lee told Atlas.
He recommends prioritizing long-term solutions to short-term saves, such as storm shutters and impact resistant windows instead of temporary plywood boards.
“These are special windows made with tempered glass that withstand high impact and will not shatter like normal glass when met with flying debris,” Lee said. “With a combination of these two alterations, your windows should be flood proof and hurricane proof.”
There are, however, a couple things to keep in mind when deciding which hurricane-safe home improvements to take on, say hurricane-damage experts at Fox Public Insurance Adjusters in South Florida.
First, hurricane glass will still crack when it gets hit. As for storm shutters, there’s a big difference between metal, bolt-on hurricane shutters and more permanent shutter options.
“The problem with the bolt-on shutters is the fact that they could be dangerous to install, especially if there is any wind,” Fox Insurance marketing manager Jeff Kolodny told Atlas.
In addition to the sharp metal, they’re also a short-term solution: they are installed as a hurricane approaches and taken down as soon as it’s over.
“Homeowners spend hours installing metal bolt-on shutters, only to find that the hurricane either steered away, or died down to nothing before hitting the coast,” Kolodny continued.
Screws get bent and stripped from continual use, while homeowners lose out on time they could spend preparing other parts of their homes. The best shutter option, he explains, is slider shutters, which cost more money but are permanent, sliding open and closed as homeowners require it.
The bottom line? “Once a window becomes compromised, there is a very good chance that the entire home will be destroyed,” Kolodny warned. Other recommendations from the Fox Insurance experts are installing garage door braces and roof straps, trimming trees, and using a power surge protector.
All of this said, there are a few things you can’t do until just before the storm arrives. This includes bringing outdoor furniture inside or tying it down, unplugging appliances, and turning off those surge protectors. The more you can do in advance, the more time you’ll have to devote to these small details and, more importantly, getting your family ready for impact.
Preparing your family: get on the same page
Much like preparing your home, the best way to prepare your family for a storm is well in advance. The first thing you’ll want to do is designate a safe room. Whatever room you choose should:
- Be an interior room
- Have limited or no windows
- Be large enough for all family members
Often, closets or bathrooms are a good choice. Basements may also work but could be more prone to flooding. Make sure all family members agree on the safe room and know where it is.
The next thing you’ll need to do is work on your emergency kit. This includes everything you’ll want to have with you in the event of a storm that could last multiple days:
- Non-perishable food
- Chargers and batteries
- Radios and cell phone
- First aid supplies and medicine
See a full list of emergency supplies on Ready.gov. Keep in mind that your emergency kit is everything you need to survive, but you can certainly add other things to your safe room to make it more comfortable. Depending on your family, you may want non-electronic toys, games, books, or even a mattress – good for comfort as well as protection.
If the storm or storms begin to pose a significant danger, local officials may order an evacuation before it hits. If so, you’ll want to make sure you’re prepared. Decide on a meeting spot in case cellphones are not working or not with you. Fuel up the car in advance to avoid a low tank.
You’ll want to take your emergency kit, electronics chargers, IDs, cash, and any other essentials. If you have time, unplug appliances and grab small, sentimental objects to bring with you. In certain circumstances, you may want to turn off your gas, water, and electricity.
Of course, leaving is only the first step. You’ll also need a place to stay. Arrange in advance if you can to stay with family or friends. Alternatively, local radio and TV stations will broadcast assistance options. Remember that many public shelters do not accept pets.
Keep in mind that many disaster-prone areas have designated evacuation zones to streamline the evacuation process. You can find yours by looking up “Know Your Zone” for your state.
Tips for furry family members
85 million families in the U.S. own at least one pet, so humans might not be the only family members you have to prepare in the event of a storm.
Families should prepare at least seven days’ worth of supplies for their pets, says award-winning veterinarian Dr. Gary Richter. This includes:
- Beds and blankets
- Crates and carriers
- First aid kit
- Collars with owner information
“Hurricane planning is about being prepared,” Richter told Atlas. “If you have a pet and live in an area that occasionally experiences hurricanes, make sure you have everything I listed already in place, so you aren’t forced to scramble getting everything organized last minute. If evacuation is necessary, always take pets with you, if at all possible.”
Additionally, pet owners will want to gather all records – medical, licensing, and microchip included. Keep in mind that details on a cell phone only work until the phone runs out of battery power. Finally, make sure to bring pets inside.
“Major risks your pets face during a hurricane include injury from debris and broken glass, getting lost or separated from their owner, disease transmission due to standing water and poor sanitation, and a lack of clean food or drinking water,” Richter explained. “Be sure to prevent the possibility of frightened animals darting outside and running away.”
- 1 The hurricane season in the U.S. peaks between August and October, but officially extends from June to November.
- 2 Windows are your home’s weakest link – invest in hurricane shutters or glass to protect structural integrity.
- 3 An emergency kit, a safe room, and an evacuation plan are the biggest factors in preparing your family for a storm.
- 4 Don’t forget your pets! Gather their emergency supplies too and be ready to evacuate with them.
Hurricane preparation resources
Oft-affected states such as Texas and Florida have enacted sales tax holidays on essential hurricane supplies before or at the beginning of hurricane season for the past few years, measures that are likely to continue as the threat of storms increases in coming years.
Additionally, there are many online resources that cover everything from emergency kit supplies to using technology to your advantage. In 2020, the American Red Cross partnered with education company GroovyTek to offer hurricane preparedness seminars on:
- Social media safety checks, helpful apps, Zoom, and other communication tools
- Devices, charging options, hotspots, and other technology resources
- Storing important documents, doorbell cameras, bank access, and other security concerns
- Disaster kit preparation for evacuation
These seminars will remain available online as GroovyTek and the Red Cross expand offerings in future years. Finally, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers an app for Android and iOS devices with real-time weather alerts, safety tips, and lists of open shelters in your area.
What should I do when the hurricane hits?
Whether evacuating or staying at home, there are a few things to keep in mind when the storm reaches your area.
If you are at home, gather all family members and go to your safe room. Stay there, and away from windows, until you get an all-clear report from local authorities. Keep track of reports and guidelines – they may change as the storm evolves and you’ll need to be prepared if ordered to leave. If you are ordered to leave, do so immediately and avoid flooded roads and deep water. The best place for your pets is with you, if possible.
The most important thing to remember regardless of your circumstance is to follow what emergency workers are telling you. They are there to keep you safe.
How can I get back on track in the storm aftermath?
Before you venture outside, if at home, or return home, if evacuated, make sure there is an official all-clear for the area, even if it sounds calm. Once you are sure it is safe, proceed cautiously.
“Once the hurricane has passed, your neighborhood usually sits in an unusually quiet and calm, eerie state,” explained Kolodny. “The outdoor noise suddenly turns into silence.”
When walking outside, Kolodny warns, be on high alert. Pay attention to any gas smells, broken glass, and water, even if it’s as small as a puddle.
“If a downed power line falls in a certain spot a short distance away, and a connection is made close to a puddle, you can be electrocuted if you step into that puddle,” he said.
Your home may be visibly damaged or look relatively unharmed – regardless, you should have it inspected before venturing too far inside. This includes electrical systems, gas lines, septic systems, and water lines. Kolodny recommends paying special attention to the roof, as undiscovered leaks can cause mold growth and loose roof panels can spell disaster in the next hurricane.
“If you have a broken roof tile and a hurricane hits, the wind will get under that tile, lift it off the roof, and send it flying,” he said. “Once one roof tile flies off the ones next to it will most likely follow.”
When you know it’s safe to move around your home, clean the gutters and remove hurricane shutters as needed, Kolodny concludes. Additionally, FEMA recommends not drinking the tap water, throwing out food, and disinfecting everything.
Remember that returning to normal will take time. Your pets, much like you, may be irritable or unsettled – this is normal. As for insurance, claims may take time but are an essential step to recovery. The Insurance Information Institute has put together a comprehensive list of guidance to help ease the process.