Nature can be beautiful, from rolling mountains to beautiful sunsets. Weather can be nice, too. However, it can also be dangerous. In some cases, it can be life-threatening. Every year, people have to worry about different types of weather, whether they’re north or south. Some people get rain, some get snow, some tornados, heat waves, and cold waves. For the south of the US, hurricanes cause a lot of problems.
This past week has shown just how much destruction a hurricane can do. Hurricane Harvey destroyed much of Houston, making it one of the most devastating hurricanes in a decade. More seem to be on the way. While major hurricanes are scary, there are still things you can do in an attempt to keep your house safe during the storm so you don’t have to worry about your house being flooded.
What is a hurricane?
In order to understand how you prep for a hurricane, you must understand what it actually is and how truly devastating it can be. These storms are no laughing matter and can cause millions, sometimes billions of dollars of damage. People have often lost everything they own due to these storms. Knowing the dangers is the first step of being prepared.
Hurricanes are rotating storms that increase in wind speeds over 74 miles per hour. They develop from low pressure systems over large bodies of water, turning into tropical depressions. Tropical depressions turn into tropical storms, and then those turn into hurricanes. There are five categories of hurricanes after that, called the Saffir-Simpson scale.
This is the storm that is the weakest when it comes to hurricanes. There’s a small chance that this storm can develop stronger, but have winds less than or equal to 38 MPH. Damage isn’t too harsh if this hits land, as it is somewhat of a normal storm.
Storms like these can be anywhere from 39-73 MPH and can cause a bit of damage, mostly to crops or weak structures. In some cases, it can cause a bit of flooding and some electricity to falter. It’s not too worrisome, but it is wise to get a few provisions in case your lights do go out.
This is where things get a bit more serious. Category 1 hurricanes are anywhere from 74-95 MPH. These winds are dangerous because they can start picking up debris and launching it toward you if you’re outside. This storm can cause storm surges, which is coastal flooding that may venture past sea level. Minor house damage can be expected. Staying inside would be safer.
This is an extremely dangerous category of hurricane and can be devastating to people. With sustained winds at 96-110 MPH, you can expect debris to be larger and more threatening. Trees can be knocked down and thrown through the air. If you live in a manufactured home, evacuation is recommended, considering they can suffer structural damage. Potable water is likely to be lost for days and electricity could be knocked out longer.
When a hurricane reaches category 3, it is considered a “major” hurricane, measuring at 111-129 MPH. These storms can cause a tremendous amount of damage and can result in a large loss of life. Residents in a category 3 storm should consider evacuation, considering this storm can do a significant amount of damage to residential and business areas. Loss of power could last for weeks and water can be contaminated.
Getting into the harsher hurricane, category 4 storms have sustained winds of 130-156 MPH. The damage that it causes is catastrophic and damages can be in the billions of dollars. Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas, was only a category 4. It caused tremendous amounts of flooding due to its stalled state. Trees are easily snapped and thrown around, doors can be blown in, and roofs can be ripped off. Weeks of electricity and water loss can be expected.
Anything past 157 MPH is considered a category 5 and the strongest hurricane measured. Complete roof failure is expected when it comes to these storms, being ripped off both residential and commercial buildings. They are tossed through the air and can be sent through windows and doors. Manufactured homes can be decimated and flood waters can surpass sea level tremendously. Several months can be expected without electricity or water.
There has been talk about expanding the Saffir-Simpson scale, considering it does not factor in flood amounts. With weather changing, there have even been talks of “super hurricanes” that could go past category 5. Scientists have discussed adding a 6th category that goes far above 157 MPH for a few years. There hasn’t been a change yet, but we could see one in the near future.
Preparing for a Hurricane
While hurricanes can certainly be scary, there are plenty of ways to get out of harm’s path and protect your possessions in the long run. Then again, it can be very difficult to keep things safe when it comes to a major hurricane. At that point, there are a few things to do to make the insurance claims go quickly and smoothly.
For the Home
Trim or remove trees.
The first step you should do, and likely the most problematic, is to remove any loose, falling, or damaged trees and tree limbs that may fall during harsh winds. This may cost some money, but it could save your house and a lot more money in the long run.
Retrofit to secure house exterior.
Retrofitting means adding things to the house that were not originally there by the manufacturer. Attach metal pieces to your rafters, windows, doors, and other connections to reduce the possibility of winds taking them off your home.
Board up windows and glass panels.
Since harsh winds have the tendency to pick up debris and sling it through the air at high velocities, it’s always wise to board up your windows. With this, it’s some protection against the debris from flying through windows and damaging you or your home further.
Secure loose downspouts, gutters, and other exterior attachments.
If these pieces are loose, not only can they break apart and slam into walls and windows, they can tear your roof up and get picked up into a neighbor’s house. It’s also possible that, if someone is outside, it could cause serious injury. If it hits you or them hard enough, it could even kill.
Generators can supply an entire room with electricity for long periods of times, especially if it’s a gas generator. It can supply you with heat, clean water, cold food, and other things if they’re hooked up to the generator. With enough gas, you can likely go through a week or two with hardly any interruptions. When you run it, make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector.
Take pictures or film your belongings.
No matter how prepared you or your house may be, there is always a chance that disaster can occur when it comes to hurricanes. With your home owner’s insurance in mind, take pictures of all your belongings. With today’s smartphones, you can even record videos to assist. These will make insurance claims go a lot faster.
Back up electronics.
If you can’t bring your laptop or computer with you to an evacuation site, be sure to move your important documents, pictures, and other things to a cloud service or external hard drive to take with you. This is especially helpful if you have to replace your computer or devices after a hurricane.
Make copies of important documents.
Should your house come to destruction, it’s always wise to scan or duplicate important documents like birth certificates, insurance coverage, social security and ID cards, or anything that might come in handy to have. Anything essential is recommended to be gotten and stored somewhere if not backed up on your electronic devices.
Chain down or take loose equipment inside.
Some people have patio furniture or other things that aren’t exactly light, but these things can easily be swept away by harsh hurricane winds. Do yourself and your neighbors a favor and take any lawn furniture inside, or securely chain it down.
For You and Your Family
Make a communication plan.
Possibly the most crucial part of any prep you can have is to make sure you and your family are all on the same page. Whether you’re staying at home or evacuating, know where each of your family is. Make sure everyone has each other’s phone numbers, emails, and other people to contact if something happens. Ready.gov has a list of pre-made lists to use here.
Plan ahead for power outages and potable water shortages.
Even if it’s a category 1 hurricane or tropical storm, there’s a chance that power outages will occur. In some cases, water lines can become damaged and water can become contaminated. If there’s a hurricane heading toward you, you’ll have an ample amount of time to get food and water before it hits.
Do not wait until the last second, or you could be scrambling along empty store shelves! That includes pet food, don’t forget about your four-legged friends.
Make a shelter plan.
Some places in your house may be safer than others. Never be close to windows when there are high winds. Hallways and bathtubs are normally sturdy enough to be a safe haven for you. If your house has stairs, get beneath the stairwell. An interior closet works well, too. It’s a good idea to plan for going to a shelter, whether it’s a school, hospital, or something else. Make sure everyone knows where to go.
Make a hurricane go kit.
Sometimes disaster strikes when we least expect it. Make a travel kit that has essentials in it: flashlight, batteries, battery banks, first aid kit and supplies, medications, money, and critical information documents that you might need for shelters. Some other things that you might need are a whistle, a battery or crank-powered radio, food, can opener, dust masks, and baby wipes or moist towlettes.
Consider less-important supplies.
There are some things that you may not think about that will help a lot in the long run. Things like paper cups, paper plates, and plastic utensils will make things a lot easier to manage. Board games and other things might come in handy to entertain your kids. Trash bags can go a long way, and some snacks will keep everyone comfortable.
Your pet needs emergency supplies too.
Even if you think you have everything, you might need some extra stuff for your four-legged companion. Make sure you have food, first aid, canned or dried food, litter or paper towels, feeding dishes, blanket, recent photos of them, medical records, toys, and leashes. Your companion may have to use the restroom and you can’t send them out in the hurricane—remember to get some extra padding or scoopable litter.
Remember to get an appropriate amount of bedding and clothing.
If the water is contaminated or if the power is out, you won’t be able to wash your clothes very effectively. Be sure to get enough clothes ready for a few days of power outage. Cots are relatively inexpensive, and air mattresses are even less expensive. Sleeping bags can also help if you’re displaced at all. Remember, no heat can mean cold nights, so be sure to get long sleeve shirts and pants as well.
This can be a scary time for anyone, but if you’re in the middle of the storm, never go outside. There are so many dangerous things that can happen. It might not seem like a big deal to go walk down a flooded street, but there could be hidden dangers that you can’t see.
Do not ignore evacuation orders.
If it is recommended to evacuate, it’s a good idea to heed this order. There may be a time where evacuation is mandatory. While mandatory evacuations could possibly be ignored, it is never a good idea to do. Government bodies put these orders out to everyone in affected areas and have gone as far to tell you to write your social security number on your arm.
Never walk through floodwaters.
With the murky water that may flood your town, it also covers any vision of anything that might be below. Sharp debris could be poking up from the flood waters, there could be holes that can come up to your waist, and there are dangerous bacteria that could get you very sick. Along with the flooding, there may be downed power lines, which may still be active. It can easily electrocute you.
Driving through floodwater is just as dangerous. It may not look very deep, but even if you’ve been over the road countless times, it could sweep your car away. You could easily be trapped in a sinking vehicle that you might not get out of. Never try to go around “road closed” signs, either. It might not just be floodwaters that require the sign to be put up.
Avoid your basement, attic, or rooms near trees.
While this may seem like common sense, attics are dangerous to be in when a hurricane strikes. If it is bad enough, a hurricane can easily rip off the roof and you can get sucked out or hit by a broken rafter. Basements can easily flood if there are floodwaters around your home, so be sure to stay out of it at all times.
Even though you may have removed branches or trees from your yard, it’s possible that even the cut trees can snap and slam through a roof. They can be easily uprooted, so be sure to stay out of rooms that may have trees near them.
Even if it sounds like it’s over, do not go outside.
This is a very important factor that some may take for granted: never go outside until official word is given. It’s very possible that your city may be in the eye of the hurricane, which is a small window of time where it seems like everything is peaceful. It’s only going to get worse, and only a matter of minutes before the storms come back in full force.
As said above, never go outside in a hurricane. One may hear jokes and mock the power of these hurricanes, but make no mistake that they can easily sweep you and your house off your feet. Stay inside and listen to your radio to make sure that everyone is in the clear before going outside.
The worst thing anyone can do in a dire situation is to panic. Every household needs a leader. Your calm is your family’s calm. This is when puzzles and board games come in handy. Recreational activity is a great activity to do to keep everyone’s minds off the loud storm outside. Panicking has cost people their lives, so be sure to keep your head cool and collected.
Let your family know that you’re okay.
If you don’t live together, make sure to call your relatives, close or otherwise. Make sure that your conversations are short, however, since emergency lines need to be as least impacted as possible. Some medical services can’t get to people during hurricanes, so tying up the lines will make things worse.
Keep up to date with local news and announcements.
This is the best way to get information on the safety and environment around you. They will give you the confirmations you need whether it’s safe or not to go out or if your water is okay to drink. Never assume that everything is okay even if you’re safe inside your home.
Do not go outside until you’re given the okay.
This is here twice for both during and aftermath, considering that it is very dangerous. The aftermath can result in many downed power lines, debris from houses, and possible floodwaters that still remain. It’s not even wise to go around your house to check damages until you are given the official okay.
Do not approach animals.
Wild animals may have been seeking shelter from the hurricane winds and fallen trees, themselves. Do not approach these animals whatsoever. This even goes for animals with collars—pets will be winded, frightened, and possibly even desperate. They may lash out at you and attack you, so do not approach even collared animals.
Do not drive until given the okay.
Similarly to going outside, you must wait for the official “okay” to drive outside. It is wise not to go around the neighborhood to survey damage, either. Floodwaters could still be coming in even after the rain has passed, so stay aware and listen to the radio for further updates.
Only drink or use tap water if given the okay.
As said above in the upper hurricane descriptions, it’s possible for water lines to become contaminated with bacteria, debris, or harmful substances. Bottled water is going to be your best bet until the time comes, so be sure to conserve it or buy enough to last through the time of contamination.
Inspect your home and file insurance claims.
After being given the okay, you should immediately begin taking pictures or video of your house and possibly-destroyed possessions. It’s important to get your insurance claims rolling as soon as possible, whether it’s for your home, vehicle, or in worse cases, life. Pictures and videos of before and after will make things a lot faster and smoother for everyone.
Do not use candles or matches.
There is a high possibility that hurricane winds are strong enough to damage gas lines and cause chemical leaks through your area. Even a match can make things catastrophic. Always have a flashlight and batteries.
Begin rebuilding stronger.
Some homes aren’t damaged enough to warrant purchasing another and can be repaired or rebuilt. There are many resources and professionals you can contact to help do this, especially if it’s through insurance. It could take a long time to get repairmen and repairwomen on your house, so it might be a good idea to relocate until it happens.
Either way, even if it’s a powerful storm, never lose an opportunity to build stronger. If it comes to water damage, you may want to work as fast as you can to avoid mold problems.
Hurricanes are powerful, terrible storms that can decimate an entire city. They can ruin lives and even kill. If you’re not prepared, they can do a lot more damage than you think. They’re not something to joke about or take lightly. The more prepared you are, the higher chance you can save your house and your belongings.
Make sure your family is on the same page and get as many resources as you can. Keep up to date with hurricane paths and charts from your local weather station. Hurricane season is from the beginning of June to the end of November. September is the most active month of the hurricane season, so make sure you keep on top of anything you can. Never wait until the last second!