Florida Hurricane Season Preparedness Guide
Florida oldtimers know that hurricane season is no laughing matter, and hurricane season preparedness is essential. For all the newcomers, those of us who have lived through a number of powerful and destructive hurricanes can’t stress enough how important it is to prepare for hurricane season. We have compiled a list of tips, tools and resources that we hope can help you when (not ‘if’) a hurricane makes landfall in Florida.
Hurricanes are powerful and destructive cyclones. To be categorized as a hurricane, a tropical storm must have sustained winds of 74 miles per hour or more. In 1980, hurricane Allen had a wind speed of 190 miles per hour. Hurricane Katrina and Harvey were two of the most destructive hurricanes on record. In Florida, hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30 every year. While hurricanes are one of the most destructive acts of nature, they can be predicted days in advance, unlike earthquakes, tsunamis and tornadoes. However, we urge you not to wait till the last minute to start preparing for an impending hurricane. If you do, you will soon realize that water, gasoline, non-perishable foods, and other highly important survival materials have quickly sold out.
Before we dive into hurricane preparedness, please familiarize yourself with important hurricane terminology provided by www.stateofflorida.com
- - Tropical Storm Watch: Tropical storm conditions are possible in the area.
- - Hurricane Watch: Hurricane conditions are possible in the area.
Watches are issued 48 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical storm force winds.
- - Tropical Storm Warning: Tropical storm conditions are expected in the area.
- - Hurricane Warning: Hurricane conditions are expected in the area.
Warnings are issued 36 hours in advance of tropical storm force winds.
- - Eye: Clear, sometimes well-defined center of the storm with calmer conditions.
- - Eye Wall: Surrounding the eye, contains some of the most severe weather of the storm with the highest wind speed and largest precipitation.
- - Rain Bands: Bands coming off the cyclone that produce severe weather conditions such as heavy rain, wind and tornadoes.
- - Storm Surge: An often underestimated and deadly result of ocean water swelling as a result of a landfalling storm, and quickly flooding coastal and sometimes areas further inland.
Preparing for a Hurricane: Before
Determine Risk: Do not assume just because you are inland, you are not at risk for hurricane damage. Hurricanes can impact areas far inland. It is important to assess your neighborhood and home's vulnerability to storm surges, high winds, flooding and rip currents. Regardless of the strength of the storm, intense paths of destruction can go from coastal areas to as far as a few hundred miles inland. You can search historical hurricane tracks through this link provided by NOAA. Familiarize yourself with potential local hazards that could arise around where you live, and begin preparing a written plan for how to handle them. Find your local or state emergency management agency and connect with them. They can help you stay up-to-date on new storms and help you prepare for an emergency. Do not forget to visit Ready.gov or Listo.gov to find your state’s emergency management contact information.
Evacuation Plan: After determining if your home is in a hurricane-prone area, you will then need to determine your hurricane evacuation zone. You must decide where you will go in case of an evacuation. Check with local officials to know what local shelters are in your town. Downloading the FEMA app will give you access to real-time active local shelters in your area during a hurricane. Remember, shelter locations change, so it is important to stay current. The organization Hurricane Strong has provided this “Find Your Evacuation Zone” document for you to download or print. Furthermore, find your county's evacuation zone on this interactive map by clicking here. Next, list several different locations you could potentially evacuate to, such as a friend or family member's house, or a hotel in a different city. Try to choose a few options that are in different directions from each other. It is also wise to understand different routes and alternative options for transportation. If you have pets, it’s important to find out what places accept pets, as local shelters typically only allow service animals. Never leave a pet at home. Prepare in advance a ‘to-go’ bag and emergency kit. It is also wise to have a plan in place should you get separated from your loved ones. For those whose medical needs prevent them from evacuating on their own, the EEAP provides evacuation assistance.
Gather Supplies: If you need to evacuate, usually by car, then a full tank of gas is critical. Always fill up beforehand. Other than that, it is important to make sure you have these items available and ready to use:
- - Water (one gallon per person per day for several days, for drinking and sanitation)
- - Food (at least a several-day supply of non-perishable food)
- - Battery-powered radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
- - Flashlight
- - First aid kit
- - Extra batteries
- - Whistle (to signal for help)
- - Dust mask (to help filter contaminated air)
- - Plastic sheeting and duct tape (to shelter in place)
- - Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties (for personal sanitation)
- - Wrench or pliers (to turn off utilities)
- - Medications
- - Waterproof container for important docs and paperwork
- - Disinfectant
- - Pet supplies
- - Manual can opener (for food)
- - Local maps
- - Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery
Prepare Your Home: The Miami-Dade County website has wonderful resources for hurricane readiness. They have created a list of things to do to properly prepare your home. These things include:
- - Make sure all smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors (important for generator use) are operational.
- - Protect areas where wind can enter.
- - Withdraw cash from the bank and get fuel for your vehicle, generator and other gas-powered tools.
- - Have battery-powered light sources available and ready for use.
- - Protect electronics with surge protectors and waterproof coverings.
- - If power is lost, lighting will be poor inside, so keep heavy-traffic areas free of clutter.
- - Bring in lawn furniture or other outdoor items not tied down that could become airborne.
- - Repair or replace broken or damaged fences.
- - Secure loose rain gutters and downspouts and clear any clogged areas or debris.
- - Inspect the roof for loose tiles, shingles or debris.
- - Make sure you have homeowners, flood and wind insurance.
- - Make bed rolls from your existing comforters and blankets.
- - If you will be evacuating your home for the storm, turn off the power at the main circuit breaker before leaving.
Beyond these tips, it’s important to have the trees around your home properly trimmed and pruned, as well as install county-approved shutters. You may also use 5/8-inch plywood. It is important to note that by boarding up windows, your ability to exit your house becomes compromised, so make sure to have a plan for exiting and that everyone in the household is aware of what exits will be available.
Preparing for a Hurricane: During
One of the most important tips for staying safe during a hurricane in Florida is to understand if you live in a mandatory evacuation zone and to leave immediately if the officials tell you to do so. Stay informed by paying attention to emergency information and alerts.
Miami Dade County has also prepared this comprehensive list of what to do if a hurricane is going to impact your area.
- - Monitor your radio or television for weather updates and instructions from public safety officials. Upon activation of the Miami-Dade County Emergency Operations Center, all key service update information will be posted on www.miamidade.gov.
- - Stay indoors, preferably in a room with few or no windows.
- - Take your emergency kit and disaster supplies with you if you move from room to room or if you evacuate to a shelter.
- - If flooding threatens your home, turn off electricity at the main breaker.
- - Use flashlights, not candles or kerosene lamps, as your light source.
- - If you lose power, turn off all major appliances.
- - Avoid using the phone and do not take a bath or shower during the storm.
- - Fight the temptation to go outside during the eye of the storm. There's only a brief period of calm before hurricane-force winds return.
- - Keep children informed about what’s happening and watch for signs of stress.
- - Keep animals in their carriers or crate.
- - Get in the tub and pull a mattress over you to protect yourself from debris if your home begins to come apart.
- - For seaport and airport passenger information, contact your local carrier about closings.
- - Listen for advisories from local law enforcement agencies regarding roadways and bridges being locked down.
When dealing with extreme weather, Ready.org suggests you:
- - Determine how best to protect yourself from high winds and flooding.
- - Take refuge in a designated storm shelter or an interior room for high winds.
- - Go to the highest level of the building if you are trapped by flooding. Do not climb into a closed attic. You may become trapped by rising flood water.
- - Do not walk, swim or drive through flood waters. Turn Around. Don’t Drown! Just six inches of fast-moving water can knock you down, and one foot of moving water can sweep your vehicle away.
Preparing for a Hurricane: After
It is important to stay connected with your local officials to get updates and important information, especially before returning to your home in the aftermath of a hurricane. When helping with the cleanup effort, always wear protective gear and facemasks. You may be exposed to dangerous toxins such as mold, and not be aware of them. Always work with someone else around in case of an injury. If it is safe to do so, turn off all electric breakers during cleanup efforts. Never wade through water, as there could be hidden dangers such as pathogens, dangerous debris, toxins, wildlife, holes, or downed electric poles. Photograph all damage and report it to your insurance company.
We hope our Florida Hurricane Season Preparedness guide will help you better understand the importance of being well prepared this hurricane season, and help you put into place protocols and plans that can save your life. Stay safe out there!