Properly preparing for the Hurricane season can mean the difference between survival and complete catastrophe. In this article, I will break down the most important steps to take for Hurricane preparedness and hopefully tips to improve your survival.
Andrew, Ike, Katrina, Harvey, and Sandy..… These are the names of just some of the most memorable hurricanes to make landfall in the United States. For those in their chaos inducing path left to sift through the carnage of their wake, they utter the names of these storms under hushed breath for many years after landfall. However, out of these menaces only Andrew makes the list of most deadly. In 1900 a hurricane struck Galveston Texas and is to this day the deadliest with a staggering 8,000 deaths left in its path of destruction. Seven years prior, in 1893 there were multiple hurricanes devastating enough to make the list. One left between 1,000 and 2,000 dead in South Carolina and Georgia while another struck Louisiana and caused another 1,100 to 1,400 deaths. In 1928 a hurricane struck Lake Okeechobee Florida leaving a terrifying 2,500 people dead and we will never forget the 1,800 deaths caused by hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Hurricane Tracking Throughout Time
Someone developed the first hurricane models in the 1950s on the back of major technological advancements made in the 1940s. This is probably why we have seen such a dramatic decrease in hurricane death toll since that time. Once aircraft reconnaissance of hurricanes began in the 1940s, we understood these storms so much better and could create more accurate models of where they may end up. As computer technology took off so did hurricane modeling and forecasting. To this day there are advancements every season further reducing the potential for loss of life. We have come a long way since Popular Mechanics dramatized the life and experiences of the earliest typhoon hunters in the early 1950s.
Another important development stemming from the 1950s is how we name storms. Hurricanes were first known by the order in which they developed in their given season. For example, they would refer to the eighth named storm as hurricane number eight and so forth. They also used the phonetic alphabet for a short time before the 1953 season when storms had women’s names. Women’s names would be easier to remember over men’s, but these names lead to meteorologists using what many thought of as sexist terminology such as, flirting, teasing. This inevitably lead to men’s names being used in 1979.
Herbert Saffir and Robert Simpson lead one of the most important innovations in the 20th century in 1971 when they developed the Saffir-Simpson Scale. The scale uses the average wind speed over a one minute span. There are five categories and used to determine the amount of damage and flooding brought when a hurricane makes landfall. According to the National Weather Service, the categories break down is:
Category One will have winds ranging from 74 to 95 miles per hour and bring limited damage to building structures. Loose outdoor items will become projectiles and there will be many power outages. A recent example would be Humberto in 2007.
Category Two winds will range for 96 and 110 miles per hour and will bring widespread damage from strong winds. Broken windows from homes and high rises will become projectiles. Hurricane Ike in 2008 is a good example.
Category Three brings extensive damage from dangerous winds ranging from 111 to 129 miles per hour. It will destroy small structures and mobile homes. Power outages will last several days to weeks.
Category Four storms are dangerous because of their devastating winds ranging from 130 to 156 mile per hour winds. Widespread total roof failures will be common and electricity will be unavailable for weeks.
Category Five is a catastrophic storm where complete building failures and small buildings being completely blown from winds over 156 miles per hour. Power outages ranging from weeks to months.
Hurricane Alerts Explained
The NWS also uses three alerts to explain the escalating conditions that make hurricanes more likely. It is imperative you understand these three and know how to respond appropriately.
- Advisory – Conditions will cause inconveniences that may be hazardous, but if we use caution, they do not consider these conditions life-threatening.
- Watch – A tropical storm or hurricane is highly likely in the next 48 hours. You should pay close attention to the storm and prepare for power loss.
- Warning – Expected storm in the next 36 hours. You should make final preparations immediately in case they force you to leave.
Should I stay or should I go?
The scary part is it may not be up to you. Regardless of your plan, mandatory evacuations could happen for your area which will force you to leave town at the worst time imaginable. During mandatory evacuations, thousands of motorists get stranded on roads and streets and forced to ride out the worst parts of the storm in their car. Whether you stay or go, your level of preparedness will ultimately determine your likelihood of survival.
Evacuation should always be your first plan so let’s start with evacuation preparation. The first and most important thing to consider when preparing an evacuation plan is communication. The individuals traveling with you all need to be on the same page on the meeting point and what their responsibilities are. It would also be a good idea to communicate your route and destination to someone that isn’t traveling with you if you get stranded.
In the vehicle, supply needs will vary from group to group, but my personal in-vehicle supplies heavily focus on water, food, security, and shelter. Bottled water and a method for purifying natural sources need to be the first thing to reserve a spot in the vehicle. Because of their compact packaging and nutritional content, I would recommend MREs or similarly packaged items for your food source, but there are several products on the market that would make great choices.
Everybody has their favorite “truck gun” but for me, it is a matter of size, power, and capacity. Choose something you are comfortable with and I would have at least 200 rounds in a dry box and a cleaning kit.
Just because you start your journey with a roof over your head doesn’t mean your vehicle will ultimately get you to your destination. In a nightmare situation, it may force you to abandon your vehicle. I recommend a small tent or materials to construct a temporary shelter. To avoid this, you may pack maintenance items or extra fuel reserves. DO NOT load fuel reserves in the cabin or truck of the vehicle. Fuel reserves should only be in trucks or vehicles with areas for exterior storage of fuel. Extra clothes, rain jackets, and boots are also a good idea to have in the vehicle.
If you are adamant about staying home you are facing a two-phase threat. You will need to be ready for both if you plan on surviving.
Phase One: Before the Storm
High winds will turn anything not physically tied down into flying projectiles traveling at a velocity capable of breaking windows, damaging exterior walls and causing serious bodily harm, possibly even death. Rain can come on quick and your city and neighborhoods drainage system may not keep up. Here, leaving your house may become impossible unless you are in a boat. High winds can also knock down power lines creating a dangerous situation even while you are in your house. This will also mean you are without electricity and the clock is ticking on all of your frozen and refrigerated food. None of these will be your biggest concern though. Storm surge is the most dangerous of all and can be highly unpredictable. You can go from high and dry to seeking refuge on your roof in a matter of minutes.
Phase Two: After the Storm
You will most likely be without electricity for an extended amount of time. Any frozen or refrigerated preps you have will rot every second that ticks by and public water supplies may be undrinkable. Chances are your entire community will face the same dire situation you are so police, fire and medical will be extremely limited. News and updates will be slow coming and you will only know for sure what you see with your own eyes. Down trees and power lines will make roads impassable and any remaining storm surge will add to the danger. Wildlife scared, confused and ready to attack so alligators and snakes will be a huge danger. As things correct themselves, the looting begins. Do not sit on your high horse and advertise your self by posting signs such as “you loot we shoot”. This only brings unneeded attention. Most likely there will be groups and gangs of looters that may not be easy to defeat. Regardless of what anyone says, I have been through hurricanes and you will need to plan for a minimum of two weeks with no one providing even the most basic service. This means stocking food, water, and any needed medicine for two full weeks. Hopefully, your supplies survive and you still have a roof over your head but it guarantees nothing during a hurricane which is why ultimately my plan is to leave. That is why understanding what an advisory, warning, and watch are and having an escalating plan based on each is so important.
Before the Storm Preparation
Before the season begins, ensure that you have plenty of plastic sheeting, plywood, and sandbags. Covering windows and doors with plywood will help your home withstand damages caused by high winds. We can also use plywood and plastic sheeting to secure the roof and seal any potential gaps. Sandbags are a great way to keep rising storm surge out of your home and away from your property, but it will take a large amount of bags to properly protect your home using this method. I am not suggesting that you don’t do it, but the time and resources you will use you should allocate elsewhere. If you don’t have gutters and drains, request a few quotes from professionals in this industry and seriously consider having some installed. If you already have them and are not keeping them clean with the drains clear of debris, they are practically useless. CLEAN THEM! Installing check valves on your sewer lines will keep storm waters from backing up in your drains. If your home has a basement, install a pump and water alarm. In some areas where flooding is common, the government may even require that you raise your home to a level more resistant to flooding.
Another invaluable resource in the time of a hurricane is flood insurance. In most cases, coverage is relatively inexpensive and is a must-have if you live in storm-prone areas because your homeowner’s policy will not cover damages caused by flood waters. You can purchase coverage If you own your home, live in a rental and even for your business. The most important thing to consider when looking at flooding insurance is that it will not go into effect until 30 days after you purchase it. I highly recommend you get serious about it way before the season starts.
Ultimately, it comes down to knowing what you are up against and having a plan. Having a life raft when an F5 tornado is within striking distance will do you about as much good as being in a storm shelter when a category 5 hurricane makes landfall and brings in a 20-foot storm surge. In the modern age, we know so much about these storms and have gotten to a point where we can accurately predict where they are going, but their most dangerous aspect is their unpredictability. Plan early and do not wait until your area is under a storm advisory to get ready.