How to Prepare for a Hurricane

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on April 09, 2022
4 min read

Natural disasters usually strike during the warmer months or during the transitions between seasons. Certain areas of the world are more prone to certain types of natural disasters. In the U.S., coastal areas stay on alert for hurricanes throughout hurricane season. Hurricane preparedness is an important way to protect yourself and your family. 

Hurricanes are huge storm systems that form over the ocean. They become dangerous when they move toward and onto land. The danger of hurricanes comes from the extreme weather they cause, which can include:

  • Heavy rain
  • High winds
  • Flooding
  • Tornados
  • Storm surges

A storm surge is a rise in the standing water level of the ocean or sea as a hurricane approaches and hits land. Hurricanes are extremely dangerous and can cause damage to both life and property. The effects of a hurricane can reach far inland from the initial coastal area of impact.

Hurricanes belong to a category of low-pressure system storms called tropical cyclones. They form over tropical or subtropical oceans and get their strength and energy from the warm ocean water. As cyclones gain strength, their winds move in a circular motion around a central eye.

Cyclones are categorized by their fastest wind speed:

  • Tropical depressions: <39 mph
  • Tropical storms: 39–73 mph
  • Hurricanes: ≥74 mph

Hurricanes are categorized on a scale of 1 to 5. A hurricane is considered major — in categories 3, 4, and 5 — when it has wind speeds of at least 111 mph.  

You should begin to prepare for hurricane season before it starts. It begins June 1 on the Atlantic coast and May 15 on the Central and Eastern Pacific costs. It ends on November 30. 

When the National Hurricane Center started issuing cyclone advisories and warnings in 1954, it gave 24-hour predictions of the path of each storm. Technology has since evolved and forecasts have expanded, so storm intensity, hazards, and size can be predicted more quickly.

When a storm is in the Atlantic or the Gulf of Mexico, it's time to start thinking about preparations. At this point, you should sign up for local alerts and warnings. You should note the evacuation routes from your area and download apps local news apps for mobile updates.

The situation becomes more pressing when you start getting weather advisories. The National Weather Service will issue alerts when your weather forecast is affected by hurricane conditions. Make sure you know what each term means in advance so that you can take appropriate action in the moment:

  • Advisory. An advisory is issued when the National Weather Service thinks the weather conditions might be hazardous. Caution is recommended, though conditions are not life-threatening.
  • Watch. A watch means that a tropical storm or hurricane may occur within the next 48 hours. This is when you should start preparing and decide whether you'll stay home or evacuate. It's important to monitor all local sources for information from this point on. 
  • Warning. A warning is issued when a tropical storm or hurricane will hit within 36 hours. Your preparations should be finalized at this point. If local authorities tell you to evacuate, you should leave the area immediately.

Your hurricane preparedness checklist should include the following tasks:

  • Program all emergency numbers into your phone.
  • Prepare your emergency supply kit, including medications, flashlights, batteries, chargers, blankets, first aid items, etc. 
  • Store your personal, medical, and financial records in a safe place.
  • Have a 3-day supply of food and water.
  • Fill your car up with gas.
  • Make plans for your pets.
  • Make a note of all evacuation routes near your location.

If you decide to evacuate, you should take enough clothing for 3 days to a week. Don't forget to pack medication and important documents about your health and finances. Unplug all of your appliances and, if you have time, turn off the water, gas, and electricity in your home.

To get your home ready:

  • Clear your yard and secure anything that can be blown away by the wind (think patio furniture, grills, and bikes).
  • Fill clean water tanks and bathtubs with drinking water.
  • Cover your doors and windows with storm shutters or nailed plywood to protect your home from shattered glass.
  • Check the batteries in your fire alarm and carbon monoxide detector.
  • If you have a generator, make sure it has gas in case the power goes out.
  • Determine which area of your home is most protected from flooding and winds. This could be a cellar or any interior room away from windows and glass doors. 

If you decide to stay home — and the authorities don't order you to evacuate — stay inside until the storm passes. Stay in the glass-free interior room to protect yourself from high winds. A room on the lowest level of your home is safest for high winds. Rooms on upper floors are safer if water starts to enter your home. 

Never drive or walk through flooded areas. The currents are often more dangerous than they seem. The water may also contain:

  • Snakes
  • Glass
  • Sewage
  • Oil and gas
  • Deadly bacteria and viruses

These hurricane safety tips should keep you away from danger. But if there's a life-threatening situation, call 911. Just note that response times may be delayed, and the lines of communication may be down.

If you evacuated, only return home after the local authorities have said that it's safe. You shouldn't go into damaged buildings until they're inspected for safety. 

If you stayed home, be careful when going outside. There may still be some flooding. While inspecting your home, look for unstable or downed trees, power lines, or poles. Do not attempt to move anything heavy pieces by yourself. Finally, let family, friends, and neighbors know where you are. 

When you start to contact your insurance company for inspections and repairs, you can breathe a sigh of relief. You survived a hurricane due in no small part to your outstanding preparation.