The 2017 hurricane season set records for the most named storms and the most destruction in any one season. Hurricane Harvey nearly blew Houston away while Hurricane Irma did her damage on the Caribbean and parts of Florida. And then just two weeks behind Irma was Maria, one of the most powerful hurricanes on record. At one point when Maria was still about midway between Africa and some of the first Caribbean islands, wind gusts were being recorded at over 200mph (322kmh). Some scientists stated that if there was such a thing as a Category 6 hurricane, Maria would have been the first.
There is only so much you can do in a hurricane, but hurricane preparedness can make a huge difference in your ability to handle an emergency evacuation if needed, and to be ready for the days that follow the storm. The sun comes out, but the lights don’t always come back on.
One of the best and most important things you can do is to keep track of the storms that are coming out of Africa using the National Hurricane Center website administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The storm information is updated daily, and then more often as a storm intensifies and/or gets closer to landfall. Before Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, the data was being updated every 2-3 hours.
Obviously the most important items are food and water. If you are in a location where you have to be wary of hurricane season, stock up on these things as far in advance as you can. As soon as you hear a hurricane is headed for your location, buy bottled water and non-perishable food items, things that will not need to be heated because it may be days, weeks or, as in the case of Puerto Rico, months before power is restored. Tips say you should make sure you have enough food and water for at least three days, but be aware of conditions in your area, because you may want to make sure you have more. Good non-perishable food items to have on hand are canned meats, meat snacks like beef jerky, protein packs, bags of nuts and trail mix, and single serving packets of crackers. Fill your bathtub with water and also a barrel or two with rainwater or water from a hose before the storm hits so you have water for household use like flushing toilets.
Plan for the worst and hope for the best. Put together an emergency supply kit in a waterproof tote and also have a separate evacuation bag packed. In your emergency supply kit you should have at least one gallon of water per person per day for 3 days and a 3 day supply of non-perishable food. You should also have a NOAA weather radio, preferably battery powered with extra batteries, but hand cranked or solar are also fine. Roll up a couple of small blankets, put them in a Ziploc and tuck them in the container. Pack a flashlight with extra batteries, a first aid kit, a whistle to signal for help, moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation, and a can opener for cans without pull tabs. Consider packing some dust masks in case the air gets contaminated, along with plastic sheeting and duct tape if you need to create a makeshift shelter. Duct tape can be used in so many ways, so make that a part of your emergency supply kit. Also pack a small bottle of bleach that can be mixed with water (1 part bleach to 9 parts water) and used as a disinfectant, and matches in a waterproof container. Throw in feminine supplies and personal hygiene products like toothpaste and extra toothbrushes, and paper plates, cups and plasticware for eating.
The emergency supply kit will be cumbersome and heavy, and in the case of evacuation you will probably not be able to carry it with you, so a separate evacuation bag should be packed. You will again want to pack a 3-day supply of food and water for each person and any pets; diapers, formula and any other items needed for infants; prescription medications and glasses (an extra pair if possible); important documents such as passports, identification cards, insurance policies, and bank account records should be put in a waterproof container; cash; important phone numbers of family and friends as well as emergency numbers such as police, fire, and FEMA; a complete change of clothing, also packed in a waterproof bag like a large Ziploc, ensuring that you pack some long-sleeved shirts and extra undergarments; matches in a waterproof container; feminine supplies and personal hygiene items; mess kits, paper plates, cups, plasticware and paper towels; and books, games, puzzles and other activities for all age groups. Know the location of the closest shelter and plan a route ahead of time.
Make sure you get a generator that is the appropriate size for your needs and keep those needs as simple as possible. Consider getting something to just keep your refrigerator cold and charge some devices and run a fan. The smaller the generator, the easier it is to move and use, the less noisy it will be and you will not use as much fuel. For the safety of power line workers, make sure you get one that will not send power outward through the lines if you are hooking up to your home’s general power.
When you hear that a hurricane is approaching, get extra gas. You should have at least 5-10 gallons on hand. After a storm the roads can be impassable for trucks to bring more gas to stations and the stations may not have power, so the pumps cannot pump gas. The longer you can go without needing more gas, the less time you will have to wait standing in line to get it. Depending on the severity of the storm, gas can be rationed immediately after to ensure that everyone gets some, and you may end up without enough to meet your needs. Do not get gas too early, because it can go degrade over time and cause problems with your generator. Do not use a fuel stablizer, as this will “gum up” small engines and your generator will not start.
Check your prescribed medicines to make sure you have an adequate supply for at least a couple weeks. Again, depending on the severity of the storm, there may not be power or internet or delivery of mail and goods, so pharmacies cannot fill prescriptions.
One of the most important yet often overlooked items is to have extra cash on hand. Lack of power knocks out banks and ATMs for a bit. Once banks come back online, they usually have to limit the amount that each person can withdraw to ensure that they have enough cash for everyone. Credit cards are also useless without power and internet. The amount needed will depend on your needs.
Before the hurricane hits, you will want to secure your home and belongings as much as possible. Cover all glass windows with wood or hurricane shutters. Bring as much into your home as you can, and then secure any items that must remain outside like furniture and potted plants. Take down any items that could be blown away and create a projectile like windchimes and plaques. Try to cover items that could sustain damage from flying debris. If possible, trim trees and plants ahead of time to reduce the amount of greenery that can fly through the air thus making after-storm clean up a little easier.
After a hurricane, insect populations explode. Fire ants and mosquitoes multiply and make an already difficult time even more miserable. Make sure you have plenty of insect repellent on hand. Try to eliminate standing water (except your rain barrels), and use Mosquito Dunks in any remaining standing water, including your rain barrel. Mosquito Dunks keep mosquito larvae from maturing into adult mosquitoes.
With hurricanes there is always the threat of flooding through the deluge of rain or storm surges from the bodies of water. Have an evacuation route planned ahead of time, even if it is just to get up on the roof of your house. Have life vests available for each person and also for your pets. Your body will be exhausted from the stress of everything that is happening, so the more secure you can be the less you will wear yourself out. Consider purchasing some rechargeable battery packs as well as a battery-powered fan for use while sleeping when your generator is off. You can also purchase a portable rechargeable power supply into which you can plug a fan in the evening and these are particularly useful if you need to use medical equipment like a nebulizer or a CPAP device.