It takes a lot to rattle Floridians. Most residents have seen so many hurricanes, it takes quite an ominous storm for residents to heed an evacuation order, even a mandatory one.
But Hurricane Ian, which is projected to head into the Gulf of Mexico Sept. 26, and make landfall Thursday, Sept. 29, somewhere along Florida's west coast as a major storm, may leave residents with no other option but to evacuate to higher ground. During a news conference Monday, Sept. 26, St. Petersburg, Florida, Mayor Ken Welch said "This could be the storm that we've hoped would never come to our shores." He said Pinellas County, which includes Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater, is planning for evacuations because of the expected storm surge.
Meteorologist Rick Davis of the National Weather Service's Tampa office told CNN the last major hurricane to make a direct hit there was 100 years ago. "So there's a lot of people that have been brushed by hurricanes in the last five or 10 years in Florida," he said. "We tell people even if they're lifelong Floridians like myself, this is something that we haven't seen in our lifetime, so we definitely need to take it seriously."
The National Weather Service issues a hurricane watch when hurricane-force winds (74 mph or 119 kph) are possible in a certain area within 36 hours. This is when you fill up your car's gas tank and start securing your home. Close your storm shutters or board up your windows. Make sure there's nothing in your yard or on your deck — like bikes, furniture, grills and propane tanks — that could get flung around by the wind. Bring in all toys, lawn furniture and garbage cans. They can become airborne projectiles [source: Ready.gov]. Make sure your neighbors do the same.
Here are four other ways to brace for an incoming storm:
Get some cash from the ATM or bank. If the power is down, the ATMs will not work.
Begin implementing your family plan. You might not end up having to evacuate, but it's best to be prepared. Make sure you know where everyone is and that they know where to meet up. If your safe place is a hotel or motel, call and make reservations now.
Listen to the radio for updates and keep an ear out for sirens and warning signals. If a hurricane warning is issued, hurricane-force winds are expected within 12 hours. You should be finishing up your preparations by then.
Crank up refrigerators and freezers to their coldest settings so food will last longer in the event of a power outage.
Should You Evacuate a Hurricane Zone or Ride Out the Storm?
If you've been preparing since a hurricane watch was issued, you should be ready to leave as soon as you get evacuation orders. The longer you wait, the bigger your chances of getting stuck in a massive traffic jam. Try to consolidate everything as much as possible when you're packing. No need to pack up everything you own; just take the necessities.
If you have time, disconnect some major appliances (so there's less risk of electrical shock when power is restored) and turn off the gas, electricity and water before you leave. Make sure you have all important papers and documents with you — ID, insurance policies, wills — as well as all medications you take or might need.
You're going to hit more congestion the farther you drive, so try to pick the closest possible evacuation destination. The best-case scenario would probably be a friend or relative who lives in your area but doesn't have to evacuate. Oftentimes all you need to do is evacuate far enough so you can escape storm surge.
If you have room in the car, bring your disaster supply kit (we'll talk about that in a minute). If you do end up staying in a shelter, you never know what kinds of conditions you might encounter.
If you don't have to evacuate — or if for some reason you can't — you might decide to hunker down and ride out the hurricane at home. First and foremost, remember that most people who get hurt during a hurricane are injured by flying glass and debris, so don't go outside, even if it seems like the storm is over. You might actually be in the eye of the storm, and you could be stranded outside when the winds kick up again.
Before you gather in your safe room, fill up bathtubs and any spare containers with water (the tub water can be used for washing and flushing the toilets). You might want to leave one bathtub empty — tubs are always a good place to take shelter if you cover yourself with blankets or a spare piece of plywood. If you're trapped in a building that's flooding, go to the highest level you can. Don't climb into a closed attic where you may be trapped by rising water.
Don't walk, swim or drive through flood waters. Even 6 inches (15 centimeters) of fast-moving water could knock you down. One foot of moving water could sweep your car away. Turn around and try another route [source: Ready.gov].
Other Ways to Be Prepared
Having a secure home is all well and good, but it's only one piece of the hurricane-preparation puzzle. No matter how stormproof your home, there's always a chance you'll have to evacuate it — or be stuck inside it for days during a massive power outage. So, you're going to need a detailed family plan and an emergency supply kit.
Here are the crucial components of a family hurricane plan:
Think of safe places to meet in the event of a hurricane if you're unable to stay in your home.
Identify a safe room in your house where everyone can gather during a hurricane. It should be an interior room, preferably a bathroom or in the basement; stay flexible, though, and be ready to move to an upper floor in case of a strong storm surge.
Memorize evacuation routes from your home, office or kids' school to a safe place, whether it's a motel, a friend's house or a shelter. The shorter the trip, the better.
Have all emergency phone numbers stored in your cell phones. This includes an out-of-state friend or relative that the whole family can use as a point of contact.
Your emergency supply kit should include [source: Ready.gov]:
enough water and nonperishable food for each person for three to seven days; everyone should have a gallon of water per day
flashlight and batteries
first aid kit
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radio (batteries should be replaced every six months)
personal hygiene items
a week's supply of medications, baby supplies and pet items
car and house keys
clothing, hats, shoes and blankets
copies of personal documents and insurance paperwork
cell phone chargers
moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal hygiene
manual can opener
paper plates and cups; plastic utensils
purification tablets for water
Ninety-nine percent of your job will be complete once you've secured your home, figured out your plan and stocked your emergency kit. At the start of hurricane season every year, double-check your supplies and replace batteries to ensure that you'll be ready to hit the ground running if a hurricane does come your way.
Pets Need Plans, Too
If you're going to be evacuating with pets, bring leashes, collars, carriers, vaccination records, food, water and bowls. Make sure you know where the closest pet-friendly shelters and lodgings are.
After the Hurricane
Although it's tempting to want to go outside and see what's going on, wait until the authorities give the "all clear" signal. "Safety is always the No. 1 priority. Only go outside if it is safe to do so; heed the advisories from the National Weather Service and local emergency officials," says Eric R. Alberts, corporate director of emergency preparedness at Orlando Health via email. "If an all-clear is given, always be aware of your surroundings as there will be many hazards to watch out for such as: damage, down power lines, broken glass, debris, tree limbs, etc."
If you need to start cleaning up, be very careful to wear protective clothing, shoes, glove and goggles. Don't touch electrical equipment if it is wet or you're standing in water. Turn off the electricity at the main breaker. And don't wade in flood water. There could be downed lines or dangerous debris you cannot see. Open the windows to speed drying of the house (assuming it's safe to do so).
The phone lines may be down or overloaded at this time. Try text or social media to talk to loved ones. Document property damage with your phone or camera. Contact your insurance agent as soon as you can to report any damage.
Depending how long you were without power, inspect the food in your freezer to see if it is safe to drink. Don't drink tap water until told to do so by the authorities. In the meantime, boil water at a rolling boil for one minute or use water purification tablets.
If you have a portable gas-powered generator, use it outside on a dry and level serface. Never use it indoors and never pour gas into it while it is running.
Preparing During the Off Season
The hurricane season in the Atlantic begins in June and lasts until November. The peak time for these storms is mid-August to late October. In the Eastern Pacific, hurricane season is a bit longer, starting May 15 and lasting until November 30.
If you live in a hurricane-prone area, you might assume that your home is fairly storm-proof. And you might be right — but you don't want to find out the hard way that you're wrong. You should never make any assumptions about your home's safety: It's your job to personally make sure that everything's secure. And the time to do that is definitely not when a hurricane is rumbling your way in late August. Take some time in the off-season to ask yourself these questions:
What's my property's vulnerability to storm surge, flooding and hurricane-force winds?
Are the garage doors and roof shingles reinforced?
Do we have any landscaping or trees that could be a wind hazard?
Are there hurricane straps securing the roof to the walls of the home?
If you don't have protection for your windows, now's the time to get it. Store the window covers in a place that will be easy to access. Storm shutters are the most reliable way of protecting windows and doors. Made from aluminum or steel, the shutters are attached to the outside of the house. When a storm arrives, you simply roll the metal curtain down. If you can't spring for shutters, measure all of your windows and glass doors and get 5/8-inch-thick plywood cut to fit them.
High winds can easily topple trees. If the trees are close to your house, trim the branches, or remove the trees outright.
Homeowners Insurance and Flood Damage
It's extremely important to closely read your homeowners insurance policy: Flood damage isn't usually covered, so you'll probably need to take out a separate flood insurance policy from the federal government's National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) if you live in hurricane country.
Cannarsa, Andrew. "How to prepare for hurricane season." Baltimore Post-Examiner." June 9, 2012. (June 30, 2012). http://baltimorepostexaminer.com/how-to-prepare-for-hurricane-season/2012/06/09
FEMA. "Protect Your Property from High Winds." (June 30, 2012). http://www.fema.gov/library/viewRecord.do?id=3263
Fenton, Reuven, Livingston, Ikimulisa and Sanderson, Bill. "Hurricane Irene on path toward New York City and Long Island." New York Post. Aug. 26, 2011. (June 30, 2012). http://www.nypost.com/p/news/national/irene_becomes_major_hurricane_as_T09PLRDmLThEFZj7D9Q5NO
Hurricane Science.org. "Hurricanes: Science and Society." (June 30, 2012). http://www.hurricanescience.org/science/forecast/models/modelshistory/
Ready.gov. "Build a Kit." (Aug. 30, 2019). http://www.ready.gov/build-a-kit