How to prepare for a hurricane that’s about to hit

Keep an eye on the weather.
Hurricane Florence in the Atlantic

On Monday, the GOES East satellite snapped this image of Hurricane Florence in the western Atlantic, spinning its way toward the East Coast. NOAA

In the face of disaster, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. But if you’re in the path of a storm—even a major one—there are common-sense steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones. Here are some tips for riding out a hurricane.

Know your evacuation zone

When weather threatens a particular area, authorities may call for a recommended or mandatory evacuation. Even before hurricane season rolls around, you should look up whether your area might be evacuated in case of disaster—and the route you’ll need to take away from home if this happens. You should be able to find this information on your local government website, and this list contains links to maps of evacuation zones all over the United States.

Whether or not you live in one of these zones, your home may still be vulnerable to damage from wind, rain, and flooding. FEMA has resources for assessing your flood risk, and a quick Google search should reveal whether any historical storms have hit your region in the past.

Once you know your underlying risk level, keep an eye out for updates. Your local television and radio stations, the websites for the local and federal governments and emergency management agencies, and even Twitter can provide information on the storm’s current status, and whether or not you will have to relocate. Just brush up on emergency terminology—a “watch” means a weather event may happen, while a “warning” means it’s imminent.

If you do leave home for the duration, take a few precautions before you lock up behind you. Unplug your electronics. Make a plan for your pets. Photograph the inside of your home so that, in a worst-case scenario, you can show your insurance company what your house looked like before the storm damaged it. Living in a flood zone? Elevate any belongings in the basement or ground floor so they sit a few feet above the floor, or move them to a higher story. Finally, when you leave, make sure you bring cash and critical paperwork—forms of identification, insurance and financial information, and prescriptions for necessary medications—with you.

Doomsday bunker gear
Have you read our story on the eight essential items to help you survive any storm? You should. Sam Kaplan

A hurricane can cripple the region’s infrastructure and electric grid. So, whether your home is directly in a storm’s path or merely nearby, you should stock up on supplies. While we have a list of recommended gear, you don’t necessarily need to buy brand-name products. The website has a list of everything you’ll need. At the very least, you should keep enough supplies on hand to take care of everyone in the household for three days. If the storm cuts off your power and flooding keeps you indoors (do not go out into floodwater unless it’s absolutely necessary for survival), that’s about how long you’ll have to shelter in place.

Number one on your list should be food and water. You’ll want to keep enough bottled H2O to keep people hydrated and clean—that means at least a gallon per person per day. You’ll also need non-perishable food such as MREs, canned food (just don’t forget a can opener), protein bars, peanut butter, and other shelf-stable items. If anyone requires life-saving medication, keep that on hand as well. Next in importance, your stockpile should include a first-aid kit, flashlight, and radio, along with plenty of backup batteries. After that, items for entertainment, sanitation (think wet wipes, resealable plastic bags, even a sturdy plastic bucket), and phone charging (one or more backup batteries and chargers) can be enormously helpful.

Even if you plan to ride out the storm at home, an emergency update might force you to evacuate. To prepare for that scenario, make sure you know where to find those critical papers we mentioned in the previous section. You should also have a bag or case that can carry at least some portion of your stockpiled supplies with you.

Stay sheltered

Planning to stay home with your supply stockpile? You should prepare your house before the storm hits. Clear out and reinforce your gutters in advance so they can properly deal with the deluge of rain. Wind can toss trees around, so don’t plant hefty greenery too close to your home, and make sure you trim damaged branches at the beginning of hurricane season. A hurricane will pick up lighter objects outside your house, so bring in any trash cans, toys, or other items in the yard. To protect your windows, you can install storm shutters or just board them up with plywood. If you choose not to do so, stay away from windows (and potential broken glass) once the storm hits.

If you’re really worried, you should take steps to strengthen your home before hurricane season rolls around. Reinforce your house’s vulnerable spots—think roof, windows, and doors—and learn how to shut off your supply of natural gas, electricity, and water. (Keep a wrench or pliers with your supplies to help you do just that.) And if you have some money to spare, and a yen for home remodeling, there are always safe room options.

As the hurricane gets closer, keep checking websites and radio stations for updates. In case you lose power, charge up your electronics and spare battery packs and turn your fridge and freezer to their lowest settings (this will allow them to stay colder longer, especially if you avoid opening the doors too often). Clean and fill up your bathtub—that water can be used to force-flush your toilets, or for washing.

For the best results, you should set a hurricane plan in place before storms actually hit. Follow the advice of local authorities. And stay safe out there.