When the sun is shining, it’s easy to forget that hurricane season is upon us, but it’s actually the best time to prepare. Don’t wait until the sky turns grey to protect your home and stock up on food and supplies. Begin now so you’re prepared when a hurricane hits.
What is the Difference Between Hurricanes and Tropical Depressions?
A hurricane is an immense, low-pressure weather system of thunderstorms that rotates around itself and wreaks havoc among everything in its erratic path. Even those living in areas prone to this type of weather may not understand the difference between tropical cyclones, tropical depressions, and hurricanes. The difference lies in the speed of the wind. Winds of less than 39 mph are tropical cyclones, while tropical storms have winds of 39 mph or more. A storm is not classified as a hurricane until the wind surpasses a speed of 74 mph. Once a storm is classified as a hurricane, it is then categorized by its strength. Using the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, hurricanes are ranked on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the strongest and 1 the weakest. A category 5 hurricane is expected to cause the greatest damage. For example, Maria, Harvey, Irma, Andrew, and Katrina were some of the most destructive storms in recent years, and all except Harvey (category 4) were category 5 storms. Even if a hurricane is only rated a category 1, it is still incredibly dangerous and you must be prepared. Category 1 hurricanes can worsen and quickly climb the scale into more worrisome categories. Never underestimate a tropical storm or hurricane – it’s always best to expect the worst.
When is Hurricane Season?
Hurricane season begins June 1 and ends November 30, but the most active time of year for these storms usually runs from August to September. During these months, multiple systems develop one after the other, creeping closer toward the Gulf of Mexico or up the coastline. Some hurricanes do occasionally form outside of this window but the vast majority occur between these dates, with an average of twelve storms per year. Only 3% of all Atlantic hurricanes occur between December and May.
When Should I Prepare for a Hurricane?
If a storm is already in the news and has a name, the best time to prepare for that hurricane was yesterday. Since you can’t time travel, your next best option is to start gathering supplies now. Preparing in advance allows you to enjoy the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’re ready for anything. It also better positions you to take care of your family and pets when a hurricane hits. In addition to stocking up on supplies, it’s important to create a hurricane plan. When anticipating a dangerous storm, find out where you can seek shelter and have an evacuation plan ready. Storms and hurricanes can suddenly change directions, so be prepared even if you’re not in its direct path. Don’t forget to protect your home during a hurricane!
The most important items to have stored in case of a hurricane are food and water, pet supplies, first aid, means of communication, and a packed “go bag.”
Food and Water
Make sure you have enough food and water to ride out a lengthy storm. Don’t count on food delivery services, restaurants, and grocery stores, as they aren’t usually open or available 24 hours before or after a hurricane. If you live in an area that’s expected to receive sustained winds and rain for days at a time, make sure you keep enough water and non-perishable food on hand. To calculate how much water you need, multiple a minimum of one gallon of drinking water a day by how many people and pets you have in your household, and then add a bit extra. To avoid drinking your water supply before you need it, stock up on large 3-gallon water jugs. Unlike individual water bottles, they’re inconvenient enough that you won’t be as tempted to drink them before the hurricane hits. For food, anything that’s non-perishable will work, but it’s best to choose items that are filling and healthy food. Spending several days locked up in your home without power or entertainment can be tedious, so be sure to stock up on some appetizing non-perishable foods to keep your household happy. Most canned foods are safe to eat without heating, so you can eat canned soups, meats, and vegetables cold. Here are some items to include on your grocery list:
- Shelf-stable bread
- Peanut or almond butter
- Jams and fruit preserves
- Canned Tuna
- Dried fruit
- Energy bars
- Canned beans
- Canned vegetables
- Trail mix
- Boxed nut or seed milk (place in cooler after opening)
- Dry cereal and granola
Tip #1: On the days leading up to the storm, consider picking up fresh fruit like apples, oranges, grapes, and bananas to keep yourself from getting burned out on non-perishables. Last-minute shoppers will raid the soup and snack aisles, so you’ll have plenty of fresh produce to choose from.
Pick up a complete first aid kit at your local pharmacy or assemble your own with the following items:
- Bandages, multiple sizes and shapes
- Alcohol or antiseptic wipes
- Hand sanitizer
- Disposable gloves
- Gauze pads
- Antibacterial ointment
- Sterile dressings
- Small pair of scissors
- Adhesive paper tape (for gauze or dressings)
- OTC pain relievers, ibuprofen or acetaminophen
- OTC allergy relief, diphenhydramine tabs or Benadryl
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Eye drops
For those with conditions that require medication, be sure to keep enough on hand to make it at least a week without a visit to the pharmacy. If you require a syringe, set aside a week’s worth for emergency use only.
Tip #2: Fill your bathtubs with water and keep a bucket nearby to fill your toilet tank with water in case your city decides to turn off the water if the purification system becomes damaged or contaminated.
Pet supplies include a week’s worth of food, water, and any medication they’ll need. Most importantly, you need a way to contain your pet to keep them safe if you need to evacuate before the hurricane. For dogs, that might just be a leash, but it’s a good idea to keep a crate or carrier within reach. For cats, make sure you have a reliable hard or soft carrier for each cat, since traveling and changes in schedule tend to make some cats upset and unpredictable. You’ll also need litter, a litter box, and some toys to keep them distracted.
Tip #3: Storms and hurricanes can cause anxiety for your pets, which can sometimes lead to changes in behavior. For example, if your dog is usually calm and friendly, they may become aggressive under stressful circumstances, especially when a hurricane disrupts familiar landmarks and scents for them.
Means of Communication
It’s extremely important that you are able to receive emergency instructions and alerts from authorities. Don’t count on having your phone or laptop charged and your Wi-Fi fully functional. Have backup external batteries ready to go in case the power goes out or the internet goes down.
Tip #4: Have a battery-powered or hand-crank radio on hand so you can listen to news and alerts even if cellular signals fail or become jammed.
A Packed “Go Bag”
It’s often more dangerous for people to be out on the road than at home, so do not leave your home unless authorities recommend it. If there is a mandatory evacuation for your area, you’ll save yourself valuable time and peace of mind by keeping a go bag ready for everyone in your household. A go bag, also called a bug out bag, is a packed emergency kit that contains everything you’ll need for three days should you need to evacuate. This includes water, food, flashlight, power brick, ID, several changes of clothes, toiletries, a small first aid kit, charge cords, a map of your city or state, and your pet’s vet records, food, and supplies. If your home is in the path of a hurricane or significant flooding, be sure to also take your passports, health insurance cards, computer, social security cards, deeds, car titles, birth and marriage certificates, health records, and a list of local emergency phone numbers and your own emergency contacts. Keep these items together in a box or a packed suitcase so it’s easy to grab and go. Remember, the items in your go bag depend on your personal needs. For example, if you have a baby, pack diapers, formula, and anything else they may need. If you wear glasses or contact lenses, pack those as well. Tip #5: Gas up your vehicle as soon as you hear about a hurricane or tropical storm heading your way. Gas stations often run dry a day or two before landfall, so bring gas cans to the station before the lines at the pumps get out of control. You don’t want to risk getting stuck with a quarter tank of gas when you’re trying to evacuate.
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“Hurricane Research Division of AOML/NOAA.” Atlantic Oceanographic & Meteorological Laboratory, 2014, www.aoml.noaa.gov/hrd/
“Pets Safety Tips During Hurricane | NWC.” NW Climate, www.nwclimate.org/severe-weather/hurricane-preparation-guide/pets-safety/
“Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.” Glossary of NHC Terms, www.nhc.noaa.gov/aboutsshws.php
“What Are Hurricanes? What Happens during a Hurricane?” NDBC – Science Education, National Data Buoy Center, 28 June 2016, www.ndbc.noaa.gov/educate/hurr.shtml
“What’s the Difference Between a Tropical Storm and a Tropical Depression?” Edited by Charles Cosner, NASA, NASA, pmm.nasa.gov/education/content/what-difference-between-tropical-storm-and-tropical-depression