Tips for Hurricane Safety & Preparedness

We recently reviewed ways to receive hazardous weather alerts via NOAA Weather Radio and were reminded by recent catastrophic flooding in Louisiana that it does not take a named storm system to cause catastrophic destruction (life and property). Now, we want to help you review ways to help you prepare for the next tropical event, whether its a hurricane or an “unnamed” storm that causes historic flooding.

It has become cliché: “…there has not been a “major” landfalling hurricane in nearly decade…”  However, unnamed storms and tropical storms can cause as much, if not more, damage than a hurricane.  During the record breaking 2005 Hurricane Season, there were 28 tropical storms, 15 hurricanes, and 7 major hurricanes (Category-3 or higher), including extremely dangerous Hurricane Katrina that made landfall on New Orleans, Louisiana, on August 29th, 2005. In October of 2016, it will be eleven years since the last major hurricane to make landfall on the United States (Wilma; 2005).

Trivia: When was the last Cat 5 hurricane in the Atlantic Basin?

iWeatherNet is a NOAA Weather Ready Nation Ambassador. Image: Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005.
iWeatherNet is a NOAA Weather Ready Nation Ambassador. Image: Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005.

When a tropical storm (winds 39-73mph) or hurricane (winds >74mph) threaten the U.S. mainland, watches and/or warnings are issued by the National Hurricane Center days in advanced in order for the public to prepare. It is very important that if a tropical storm or hurricane watch and/or warning is issued for your region to heed the precautions given by federal agencies such as the National Weather Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and other local government agencies as well.

Hurricane flags
Hazardous weather warning flags for when strong to hurricane force storm systems threaten a region. Image credit: NOAA

Having a disaster kit ready is the first step in being prepared. Remember: If you end up not having to use it, that is a good thing! However, it is better to have one that may not be used versus not having one in a time of needed. The first thing to consider is water. Depending on how many persons are in your household will depend on how much water you need. Typically, storing one gallon of water per person for up to a minimum three days is ideal. Conditions after impact from a hurricane can become volatile for people, as flooding from sea water and/or rain can cut off main highway arteries, public water systems can be compromised, and power can potentially be knocked out for days as well (such as Katrina in 2005). Having fresh, clean water is essential. The second thing to consider is to have non-perishable food for each person every day for up to three days. This includes foods such as crackers, pretzels, canned food such as beans, etc.

FEMA kit
Image of a typical Emergency Preparedness Kit. Image credit: FEMA

After you have put together your water and non-perishable food supply, having a first aid kit is important as well. First aid kits can treat minor injuries and wounds, and can also help with sanitizing potential injuries as well. Some first aid kits these days come with whistles and small flash lights as well, as whistles and flash lights can also be used for calls of distress.

If you know your Morse code, you can also communicate via Morse code with a whistle or even a flash light if the situation you are in is dire. Having a good flash light on hand, as well as extra batteries, is exceptionally important especially if there is no electricity. Below is a Morse code chart that can be very useful to know in times of a crisis.

disaster morse code
Morse Code alphabet chart. Image: Public Domain

Having local knowledge of the geography and road network of your area is important as well. Even having a supply of physical terrain and road maps is important. Here is why: If electricity and telecommunication services and signals are disrupted or knocked out, you will not be able to use map apps on your cellular device. You may not think of that initially, especially since cellular technology is used almost every minute of our working lives. But, having a physical map that cannot be affected by telecommunication disruptions is important.

If flooding does not significantly impact your area, and if you have access to your car, having car chargers and an inverter is important as well. By using your car’s battery, you can keep your electronics charged such as your cell phone, NOAA Weather Radio, etc. While this is not as essential as the items listed above, it is still important to have in case you come across a source of power to potentially call for help. If your budget allows it, purchasing a satellite phone can be a life saving piece of equipment in the event of an extreme disaster. In fact, during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 along the Gulf Coast, satellite phone usage was at an all time high across the states directly impacted by Katrina’s landfall. Satellite phones receive their signal directly from orbiting satellites rather than the cellular towers on Earth, and have capabilities of retrieving some sort of signal no matter where you are on Earth.

Hurricane intensity scale
Hurricane Intensity Scale

In addition to having electronic utility, physical tool kits such as pocket knifes, pliers, and other small tools can be useful for cutting through debris and/or turning off utilities in your house such as electricity if there is major flooding. Water, including salt water, are conductors of electricity. Exposed wires near or in water can result in electrocution — being able to control your environment as best as you can during a disaster scenario is important.

Other items that may not be the #1 priority, but are important to have, also include pots and lighters. If your fresh water source runs low, having the ability to repeatedly boil water is important. Flood waters are usually contaminated with other fluids such as gas, oil, and other gases and debris that could be unknown. A rule of thumb is to boil water at least twice before consuming it in order to make sure that all pathogens and potentially harmful bacteria is destroyed. However, this is why it is important to have at least one gallon of water per person, per day, for up to three days.

Tropical storm and hurricane watches and warnings are always issued days in advanced prior to landfall. If the local government issues evacuation orders, then it is a very good idea to leave the area(s) outlined under the evacuation zone. If a mandatory evacuation order is issued, then it is essential to leave your area. Mandatory evacuations are issued under extreme circumstances like Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as it headed for the Gulf Coast.


The reasoning is that if you decide to stay and become stranded, it could potentially be days before you are rescued. A situation-turned-dire was before Hurricane Sandy made landfall on New Jersey in October of 2012. A personal plea was issued by Gary Szatkowski, the Meteorologist-in-Charge of the National Weather Service in Mount Holly, New Jersey, as Hurricane Sandy approached the New Jersey coastline in October of 2012 (can be found on slide 12). So, it is important to head the orders and warnings given by local government agencies, as well as the federal level agencies such as the National Hurricane Center and your local National Weather Service office. It could end up saving your life.

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