How to Prepare for a Hurricane

Meteorologist image of earth, showing three hurricanes
(©lavizzara – stock.adobe.com)

It’s important to prepare for a hurricane long before severe weather is forecast for your area.

Hurricane season starts on May 15 in the north Pacific and June 1 in the Atlantic and the Caribbean. It ends on Nov. 30. Before hurricane season each year, make sure you and your family are prepared.

In This Article:


Basic Preparations

Stacks of bottled water
Stockpile bottled water before hurricane season — that is, before supply runs out. (Jshanebutt / DepositPhotos)


To be prepared for a hurricane or another emergency, always have these items on hand:

  • Food and Water: It’s important to stockpile drinking water and nonperishable food. Choose products that you can eat without cooking, and rotate food items in your pantry to keep them fresh. Also, keep a manual can opener on hand and stock up on pet food. When a hurricane heads your way, line bathtubs with plastic and fill them with water to use for bathing and flushing toilets.
  • Fuel: Following a natural disaster, a gas grill might be the only cooking method available. Make sure the propane tank is full, and keep spare propane on hand. Also, if a hurricane is near, don’t wait until the last minute to top off your car’s gas tank — fill several approved gas cans as well. But be safe about it — never store gasoline in your home or near an ignition source such as a gas water heater.
  • Lighting: You’ll need several flashlights and plenty of batteries. Also, portable battery-powered lamps are available in incandescent and fluorescent versions. Due to the increased risk of fire, avoid using candles. If you must use them, don’t leave candles unattended, and keep a fire extinguisher nearby.
  • Information: After a natural disaster, a battery-powered weather radio and AM/FM radio are your lifelines to the outside world. Battery-powered televisions also are useful during and after hurricanes.
  • Communication: Charge cell phones and keep a portable charger that you can plug into your car. Also, have a telephone that does not require electricity to operate.

First aid kit
Medical emergencies can arise during a hurricane, so make sure your first aid kit is up to date. (©showcake – stock.adobe.com)
  • Medical Supplies: Fill prescriptions in advance and keep a first aid kit handy. Stock up on supplies like toilet paper, hand sanitizer and disposable diapers.
  • Money: When the power is off after a natural disaster, cash is often the only method of payment. Keep smaller bills and coins on hand, since some stores may not provide change.
  • Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Have battery-operated models that will work when the electricity is out.
  • Tarps and Tape: Stock up on tarps, rolls of plastic, rope, and duct tape to use for emergency repairs after the storm.
  • Tools: Charge cordless tools and make sure you have adequate hand tools to use while the power is out. A gas-powered chain saw comes in handy after the storm, but it can also result in serious injuries when emergency help might not be able to reach you.

Outdoor Preparations

Store any lawn furniture or loose items in your garage. (3 Echoes Content Studio)
  • Yard: Bring any lawn furniture, grills, bikes, toys, garbage cans, potted plants, and other loose items inside or store them in a garage or storage shed.
  • Windows: High winds and flying debris can easily break window glass, allowing the wind to enter your home and cause extensive damage. To prevent this, have storm panels or shutters made to fit each window on your home, then store them in a garage or shed until needed. Plastic storm panels are much lighter and easier to install than either plywood or metal. And since plastic panels allow light to enter your home, you won’t feel like you’re living in a dungeon when the power goes out during the storm. If you can’t have panels made before the storm, Remove screens from the windows, and if available, screw 5/8-inch thick exterior plywood over them.
  • Roof: Since roofs are often damaged by high winds, keep several plastic tarps and a bag of felt nails on hand to cover up any roof damage once the storm has passed. Tuck the top edge of the tarp under a row of shingles or over the peak of the roof ridge to keep rainwater out from under it. For added security, nail strips of wood on top of the tarp to hold it in place.
  • Trees: Don’t wait until the last minute to trim tree limbs that are touching or almost touching your home. High winds can turn these innocent limbs into a sledgehammer creating damage to your roof, siding and windows, especially if they are not impact-resistant units.
  • Drainage: Your home’s ability to drain properly through your roof, gutters, yard, driveway and sidewalks, will be severely tested during heavy rains that occur during severe storms or, even worse, hurricanes. Check now that all shingles, flashing and gutters are clean and working properly. Also check the areas around your home to ensure the flowerbeds and yard surfaces are draining all water away from your foundation.
  • Boats: Take tarps off boats. Then, remove any loose items and tie them down securely.
  • Cars: Park cars away from trees and power lines.
  • Utilities: Locate cut-offs for gas, electricity, and water. Have adequate tools on hand to turn them off if necessary.

Generator Safety

“Today’s Homeowner” host Danny Lipford, pictured with a generator and a gas can
Portable generators make life easier when you’re riding out a storm, but use them safely.

Though generators are valuable after a storm, carbon monoxide poisoning can be fatal. And there are risks of electrocution and fire. Operate generators in the open and at a safe distance from the home.

Don’t use them in an enclosed storage building, garage, carport, basement, crawlspace, or near open windows or doors. Extension cords should be adequate to handle the load, and don’t try to draw more power than the generator is rated to supply.

Finally, turn a generator off and allow it to cool before filling it with gas.


Last-Minute Preparations

cell phone plugged in to a charging cable
Charge any electronic devices in case the power goes out. (Alan Pekrul, Getty Images)

Sometimes, it’s not always possible to prepare for a hurricane too far in advance. Here are some things you can do better your experience:

  • Secure Outdoor Furniture: Loose items in your yard can become flying projectiles during a hurricane due to high winds. Move any unsecured items in your yard inside your house or garage if possible. This includes patio furniture, lawn chairs, bird feeders, hanging plants and toys. If you can’t move outdoor items in, use a strong rope or garden hose to tie them securely down.
  • Move Cars to Safety: Falling trees or windblown debris often damage cars during a hurricane. If you have a garage, park your cars in it and close the garage door. If not, position cars close to your home on the left side of expected winds and away from trees to provide some shielding from the storm. Avoid parking cars near power lines or trees.
  • Find Utility Cutoffs: Identify the cutoff switches and valves for your water, power, and gas and know how to turn them off in case of an emergency. Severe damage to your home can cause a short or power surge in your electrical system and may also result in ruptured water or gas lines. Cutoffs for water and gas are usually located at or near the meter for each utility. To turn off the power to your home, flip the main breaker in your circuit breaker box.

Home Utility Breaker Switch
Locate your home’s switch breaker or utility control panel. (Yusuke Ide/Getty Images)
  • Make Ice: After a hurricane, ice to keep food from spoiling will be in short supply. Set your freezer on the coldest setting, and make as much ice as possible while the power is still on. Also, fill plastic containers or clean milk and water jugs with water and put them in the freezer. Don’t fill to the top to allow for expansion. Once the power goes out, place the ice containers in the fridge or an ice chest to keep your food fresh longer. Open refrigerator and freezer doors as little as possible.
  • Charge Cordless Devices: Charge batteries on cordless tools, flashlights, cell phones, laptop computers, cameras, radios, iPads, iPods, MP3 players, and portable electronic games. Your cell phone could be your only link to the outside world if regular phone service is disrupted during and after a storm, so keep it with you at all times. A 12-volt DC battery charger will allow you to charge devices back up from your car after the power is out.
  • Document Home and Valuables: If you don’t have a home inventory, take photos or video now for insurance purposes in case your home suffers extensive damage during the storm. Send or email the photos to someone outside the area of the storm for backup, and put them on a portable USB flash drive to keep with you. A visual record of your possessions and the condition of your home before the hurricane will be invaluable when dealing with insurance claims.

Filled Bath Tub
To ensure your safety and health, make sure to have a large supply of clean water. (webphotographeer/Getty Images Signature)
  • Fill Bathtub with Water: Whether you’re on city water or a well, water supplies can be disrupted or contaminated after a hurricane. Use water in the bathtub to fill your toilet tank for flushing or washing but not for drinking. Lining the tub with plastic before filling will keep water from leaking out of the tub drain. Five-gallon buckets and pots from your kitchen can also be used to store water. After the storm has passed, water from a pool can be used for flushing toilets. If your house is on a grinder pump, don’t flush toilets or use drains in the house when the power is out to prevent overflowing.
  • Gather Emergency Supplies: Gather these items in a laundry basket or small suitcase so they’ll be handy during and after a storm: flashlights, batteries, first aid kit, battery-powered radio, cell phone car charger, hand sanitizer, prescription drugs, games, sunscreen, mosquito repellant, duct tape, toilet paper, important documents (including your homeowner’s insurance policy), pet and baby supplies.
  • Close Curtains, Shutters, and Blinds: To reduce the chance of flying glass if a window is blown out by high winds or flying debris, close shutters and blinds — both inside and out — along with drapes and curtains.
  • Go to Safe Area of House: If don’t evacuate before the storm hits, take refuge in a windowless hallway, bathroom, or closet in the interior of your home. Bring bed mattresses with you, both for comfort and protection in case your home suffers severe structural damage.

Preparing to Evacuate

Folders with labels
Store important documents in a waterproof container. (DepositPhotos)

Most hurricane-related deaths are caused by rising water from rainfall, which can occur far inland from the coast.

So, if you live in a flood-prone area, prepare to evacuate well before a hurricane arrives.

Also, store the following information and documents in a plastic bag or waterproof container to take with you when you leave:

  • Insurance Policies: Car, homeowner’s, boat and life insurance policies.
  • Financial Records: Statements from checking and savings accounts, stocks and bonds, loans and retirement plans. Also, grab your checkbook and keys to safe deposit boxes along with ATM and credit cards.
  • Medical Records: Include allergies to medications and medical histories for each family member.
  • Personal Identification: Birth certificates, Social Security cards, computer passwords, and contact information of friends and relatives.
  • Household Inventory: A recent list of your home’s contents, along with photographs, will be invaluable when dealing with the insurance company. A DVD or video of your home and possessions is also helpful. (See Home Inventory: How to Document Your Personal Property)

The only thing worse than having your sensitive personal information destroyed in a storm is for it to be lost or fall into the wrong hands. Guard it carefully on the road and in shelters.

Other important items to take include sleeping bags, blankets, pillows, extra clothes, and a carrying cage and leash for pets.

Finally, if you have extra room, consider including irreplaceable items like family photo albums and scrapbooks.


Further Reading