There are many advantages to living in Florida—the beach, great weather, and some fantastic food. But as with living in any state, there are some things to bear in mind. For the sunshine state, hurricanes are one of those things.
Thankfully, you can count the number of Category 5 hurricanes that have hit the U.S. on one hand. But even so, less intense storms can still damage property and people if not adequately prepared for, so it’s vital to know what to do during a hurricane as the season rolls around.
Here’s everything you need to know about preparing for a hurricane (or the possibility of one) and what you should do when one is imminent.
Preparing for Hurricane Season
Hurricane season runs from June through November, with September being the peak. While a hurricane can hit Florida outside of these months, this is when hurricane preparedness is most important. It’s ideal to take the following steps before June, but it’s never too late.
1. Gather Protection for Your House
Having protection handy is key to preparing for a hurricane. If you do hear about a hurricane watch, the last thing you want to do is scramble for supplies, running to the nearest store, which is likely already wiped out as people panic buy for their own hurricane supplies list.
Purchase these items well in advance:
- Equipment to tie down outside furniture
- Storm shutters for your windows
- Something to bar the doors with
- Sandbags to prevent flooding
- A fire extinguisher and knowledge of how to use it
- Home insurance and flood insurance, of course
Having these items in place means you can jump into action quickly if experts announce a hurricane watch in your area.
2. Gather Supplies for Your Family
You should also make sure that you have an emergency kit ready to grab and go, even if there’s no hurricane threat yet. This can save time in an evacuation, but it can also be helpful if you need to hunker down and wait the storm out. You can’t exactly go running for supplies in the middle of huge winds.
Thus, your hurricane preparedness checklist should also include:
- Water bottles or containers (fill them with filtered water in advance)
- Non-perishable food and snacks (to last a few days)
- Manual can opener if you have canned food
- Any medication your family needs
- First-aid supplies
- Flashlights and batteries
- Portable phone charger
- Battery-operated radio, should you lose your cell signal
- Any pet supplies
- Wet wipes for sanitation
This is the essentials list, but it’s not exhaustive. Be sure to think through what you and your loved ones would personally need if you had to be on the road for hours or weren’t allowed to leave your house for a couple of days. You may even include non-electronic books and games for entertainment.
3. Safely Store Your Important Documents
We’ve all been there—almost falling asleep at night, only for our eyes to snap open and wonder where our birth certificate, proof of insurance, or passport is.
While it’s relatable, it’s not the best position to be in if a storm is approaching because you may need to take these documents with you, or you might need to reference your insurance information after a storm.
Take some time to store all of your essential documents in a water-proof folder or container in a safe place that you won’t forget. Digitally doesn’t count! Some governmental agencies require physical copies. Be sure to include:
- Birth certificates
- Marriage certificates
- Printouts of insurance policies
- Immigration documentation
- Health records
- School records
4. Stay Alert
As hurricane season is approaching, we recommend you stay alert. It’s not healthy to be glued to your phone, doom scrolling in case a hurricane might begin to form over the Atlantic, but check in now and again or turn on notifications for your favorite weather app. If a storm does approach, the earlier you know, the better.
How to Prepare for a Hurricane Watch
The ideal situation is that we breeze past hurricane season without a single notification about one forming; however, this is rarely the reality for Floridians.
Although many storms avoid the state, there are usually a few times when we get notified of a hurricane watch: a warning that a hurricane is possible in the area.
This is when it’s important to spring into cautious action.
1. Consider the Hurricane Category
When a hurricane watch is issued, experts usually have an idea of how strong the hurricane will be. They rank hurricane strength in categories, with Category 1 as the weakest and Category 5 as the strongest.
Whether a hurricane is Category 1 or Category 5, it’s important to prepare your home as if it’s a Category 5. You may think a Category 1 isn’t something to concern yourself with, but hurricanes can rapidly escalate to higher categories or change direction.
2. Keep an Eye on Developments
Now is one of the few times when it’s okay to be a little glued to your phone. Keep an eye on the weather app, even if no notifications are coming through, and make sure you stay informed of developments. Turn on your radio to ensure it’s working in case you abruptly lose your internet signal (which can happen due to circumstances unrelated to the hurricane).
3. Check With Loved Ones in the Area
This is also a great time to check in with the people around you. Make sure neighbors, friends, and family stay informed of the developments. Post on social media, and text them personally.
Some people aren’t as technologically savvy as others and may not have kept up with the recent news. Even if they’d find out eventually, the more warning they have, the better.
4. Plan an Evacuation Route
It’s wise to plan an evacuation route in case officials advise you to evacuate. Heading north into Georgia is usually your best bet for avoiding strong storms.
Work out exactly where you’d go, call ahead to places to check if they can take you in (whether it’s a hotel or a relative), and figure out backup options in case one falls through. You’ll also want to plan your route to get there.
Important: If you have pets, check that the places you’d stay are pet-friendly. Many hotels and apartments will make an exception during natural disasters, but you’ll never know unless you call and ask. If they won’t, you may be able to board your pet somewhere nearby. FEMA has resources to help if your pet may be displaced during a hurricane.
Once you’ve checked in with everyone, have ways to keep up with the news, and have checked that your preparations are in order, it’s time to wait and see if the watch dissipates into nothing—fingers crossed—or if it becomes a warning.
How to Prepare for a Hurricane Warning in Florida
So you know how to set yourself and your property up for the best chance of walking away from a storm unscathed. But what should you do once a hurricane is definitely approaching?
If officials issue a hurricane warning, things have gone from “possible” to “definite,” and it’s time to act.
To Evacuate or Stay?
The first thing you need to decide is if you’re going to evacuate or stay in the house and hunker down until it’s all over. For the most part, you should base your decision on what officials recommend. If they recommend evacuation, it’s because there’s a risk of injury or even death by staying, and if at all possible, you should listen and get out.
If officials say it’s safe to remain home, you can—or you can evacuate just in case.
Unless there’s a mandatory evacuation order, it’s up to you, but listen to the experts and consider their advice carefully. Deciding to stay against the advice of those who know hurricanes best may end in disaster.
If You’re Staying
All of the items you bought to protect your house are about to come in handy. Use the following checklist to prepare your home and family:
- Go outside and tie down all outdoor furniture or store it in a shed. While the shed may not protect it entirely, it gives it a better chance of staying put and not blowing off and damaging others’ property—or worse, injuring someone.
- Have any trees in your yard trimmed. This is also essential for any branches that hang above power lines. If the wind takes one of the branches or limbs out and they fall, your power will go with them. It’s best to try and ensure there’s nothing hanging around the lines at all, but trees that tower over them are especially risky.
- Establish that you have all of the supplies you need, including those listed above. If you don’t, and you have time before the hurricane hits your area, make a run to the store. Medication, non-perishable snacks, and water are the most important—don’t rely on tap water, as it can become contaminated during the storm.
- Put storm shutters over the windows and barricade the doors.
- Make sure your car has a full tank of gas, or that you’ve charged it if it’s electric. Even if you plan to stay, you may have to leave at a moment’s notice.
- If you have time, charge all of your devices, and try to restrict their use. Checking for updates is fine; don’t stay on TikTok for hours, draining the battery. You might need it later.
- Make sure you know where the fire extinguisher is and have taught your family how to use it safely.
- Be ready to turn your power off if power lines come down or there’s flooding.
- Find a safe room to settle down in that’s away from windows and doors in case they get damaged in the storm. This is especially true if there’s a possibility of tornadoes in your area, which often come hand in hand with hurricanes. Anywhere on the northeast side of the eye is notorious for tornadoes, so it’s important to stay safe even if the eye of the storm itself isn’t going over you.
- Stay inside until official sources say the storm has completely passed over. The eye of the storm can be calm and deceiving.
Even if the approaching winds are of a low category, hurricanes can grow or shrink in intensity, so it’s critical to know the hurricane safety measures to protect your house (and the people inside of it). Experts have been known to mispredict categories, and although they generally have a good idea of what’s coming, it’s always good to have a (small) healthy dose of doubt.
If You’re Leaving
If you’re evacuating, you should still take steps to protect your home while you’re gone, but after that, the steps you should take are quite different. Here’s what to do:
- Follow steps 1-6 under the “If You’re Staying” section above.
- Set up sandbags if you anticipate flooding.
- Put your emergency kit in the car and ensure everything’s inside it.
- Call ahead again to the places you plan on staying and confirm there’s room for you. Some places may not be able to guarantee it, which is why it’s always good to have a backup.
- Turn your power off and grab your important documents on the way out.
- Call friends and family to let them know where you’ll be going, so they can contact you if you lose signal on your cell phone.
Remember, the choice is up to you, but it’s usually better to leave if there’s any doubt about the safety and sensibility of staying.
Stay Safe in the Event of a Hurricane
Hurricanes can seem terrifying. The stories of Category 5 winds that have hit the U.S. are spread widely in the media, with death tolls and property destruction imprinted in our brains. It causes us to tense our muscles every time experts drop a hurricane watch.
But, it’s important to remember that death and injury from hurricanes are relatively rare and even less likely to occur if you follow the hurricane preparedness lists above. This is because we’ve developed the technology to predict when they’re coming, so we have the time to prepare and, if necessary, get out of their way.