Prepare for the 2019 Hurricane Season with These Expert Tips

Prepare for the 2019 Hurricane Season with These Expert Tips

Find out how to protect your family and your property, when to evacuate and much more.

June 1st marks the start of the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season. Running through November 30th, much of the Eastern U.S. spends their summer and fall on heightened alert for the formation of any tropical systems within the Atlantic basin.

Although hurricanes are often tough to predict ahead of time, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is forecasting a near-normal season. This means there is a chance that 9 to 15 storms could develop, two to four of which could become major hurricanes.

During the 2018 season, there were 15 named storms. Two of those, Florence and Michael, became major hurricanes that caused extensive damage in Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic U.S.

If you live in an area that could be impacted by a hurricane and don't have a plan yet, now is the time to get ready. "You will usually have plenty of notice when a hurricane may hit your area," says R. Preston Wendell, MD, FACEP, Medical Director for Trident Health Emergency Departments in Charleston, South Carolina. "Take it seriously and be as prepared as you can be."

What makes a hurricane
Hurricanes are exceptionally large storms that almost always form above water and can gradually make their way toward land. They typically involve fast winds, lots of rain and rising tides, and may change speed or course over time.

Hurricane winds are classified on a 1 through 5 basis using the Saffir-Simpson Scale. A Category 1 hurricane indicates winds between 74 and 95 miles per hour (mph), and some damage can be expected, from snapped trees to power outages. A Category 5 hurricane means winds will be at least 157 mph, and damage will almost certainly be catastrophic, rendering affected areas uninhabitable for long periods of time. In 2018, Hurricane Michael became the first Category 5 storm to make landfall in the U.S. since Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Hurricanes weaken once they hit land, though high winds, heavy rain and flooding can still wreak havoc in the days following.

If you hear there's a hurricane watch in your area, it means one is possible within 48 hours. A hurricane warning means one will likely occur within 36 hours, in which case it's important to have a plan.

Devising your plan
Before making other preparations—and preferably far in advance—you should create an emergency plan with your family. Learn your evacuation route and designate a place to stay if it becomes too dangerous to shelter at home. Arrange how you'll communicate if there's a power outage, and find out how to get alerts and updates—such as via social media or radio broadcasts—from local authorities. Make sure your whole family knows the plan.

Crucially, you should prepare for family members with different needs. "If you are responsible for young children or an elderly parent, the situation can change from manageable and survivable to dangerous really quickly," says Dr. Wendell.

For seniors or people with health or mobility issues, be aware that extreme weather may worsen health conditions, and prepare for an extended period of time during which they may not have access to regular care. Call your fire department and electric company before a hurricane to ensure electric medical devices will have power, and consult with the manufacturer to see if they can run on batteries or a generator. (Always check a device's settings after a power outage.) Make sure any designated shelter is able to accommodate your loved one's medical needs. If he or she is in a care facility, check the hurricane policy with its managers. "They may expect you to transport your family member," says Wendell. "You need to know what their plan is and what they expect of you."

Plan for your pets, too. Keep dogs and cats close and make sure they're wearing tags or they're microchipped. Since certain evacuation centers won't allow animals, contact area shelters or your local department of animal control beforehand to ask about sheltering.

Whether you're staying or going—if time permits—secure loose outdoor items like garbage cans and children's toys. You may also want to look into acquiring a generator in case you're without power for a long time. If it seems like you'll evacuate, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises you to shut off your main gas valve and main power switch.

What to have on hand
Should you stay in place, it's best to have certain supplies with you; these will sustain you and your family if you're homebound for a period of time, or if certain utilities (electricity, water), services (supermarkets, drugstores) and other items aren't available. These include:

  • Water: The CDC recommends at least 5 gallons per person, which should last up to five days. Buy supplies, like iodine tablets, to ensure the safety of your drinking water.
  • Food: Non-perishable goods are ideal. Make sure they'll last up to five days, including baby formula.
  • Medications: Keep your remaining supply in a water-tight container.
  • Personal items: These include soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, baby wipes, diapers and tampons or pads.
  • Safety supplies: Have a first-aid kit, radio, fire extinguisher, sleeping gear and at least one flashlight. Don't forget extra batteries. Make sure your carbon monoxide detector is working.
  • Contact lists: Phone numbers and email addresses are key for reaching family, friends or help; write them down or program them into your phone (which should be fully charged, of course).

If an evacuation is pending, you may want to have a go-bag set with these items. Remember to fill your car with gas and be prepared to take off should an evacuation be called.

When to go
So, if a hurricane is approaching, when should you stay home and when should you listen to officials and hightail it to a safer area? In short, "If they recommend you should go, you should go," says Wendell. Don't ignore evacuation orders. Shut off gas, electricity and water if there's time. Take essentials only—your phone, IDs, medications, money and go bag—and leave.

Officials may also tell you to wait it out at home, which can be safer. If that's the case, remain indoors during the hurricane and stay tuned to news reports.

When the hurricane's passed
If you left town or were evacuated, you may be tempted to return home immediately after the hurricane is over, hoping to resume life as usual—but that might not be possible. "You may think it's fine to go back,'" says Wendell. "But trees could still fall, there's debris everywhere, roads may be damaged and power lines may be out. It simply may not be safe to just drive up to your house and check on things."

So, wait for authorities to give the go-ahead, and heed their instructions closely. Steer clear of wreckage and debris, avoid downed power lines and stay away from floodwater, which may spread disease or carry hazardous chemicals. Even if it seems shallow, just a few inches can sweep you off your feet, and 12 inches can move a small car.

Once you've arrived home, let your loved ones know you're safe and take photos of damages for insurance claims. "Then you're going to want to check your gas line, your water," says Wendell. If there was a flood, throw out food that may have been contaminated and don't turn on dampened electrical devices. If you use a generator, be aware of the potential for carbon monoxide poisoning and keep it far from the house—at least 20 feet.

And finally, whether you've remained home or evacuated, understand that services may take a while to start up again. "Grocery stores are going to be down. Pharmacies are going to be down. Gas may be out," says Wendell. "Hospitals are going to be extremely crowded because many doctors offices will be closed." Police and emergency medical services may be limited, too, he adds, and depending on the damage, it could be a long time before they're back up to speed.

In that case, says Wendell, "Pay attention to what your local government is saying about what services are available, what services are closed, and when closed services will reopen." It's rules like these—listening to officials, being cautious and preparing however you can—that will help keep you safe through the next hurricane and the many more to come.

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