It is best to prepare for a hurricane well before the start of hurricane season, which begins June 1 and continues through Nov. 30 each year. This year there are additional considerations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are several steps you can take to keep yourself and your loved ones safe this hurricane season.
- Have an emergency kit prepared with supplies for your home and vehicle. Review the extra items to pack in your kit, and other considerations due to COVID-19 at Preparing for Hurricanes During the COVID-19 Pandemic.
- Download the FEMA app to receive alerts and use a NOAA weather radio to stay informed.
- Know Your Zone. Evacuation zones designated A through D are in place across coastal Virginia. In the event of a storm or other emergency, residents of one or more zones may be directed to evacuate depending on tides, storm intensity, path, and other factors.
Understand Weather Terminology
Hurricanes are classified into five categories based on the predicted wind speed and the potential to cause damage:
During hurricane season, storms may be tracked using the following link: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/.
- Hurricane Warning: A hurricane warning is issued when a hurricane with sustained winds of 74 mph or higher is expected. Because hurricane preparedness activities become difficult once winds reach tropical storm force, the warning is issued 36 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical-storm-force winds. The warning can remain in effect when dangerously high water or a combination of dangerously high water and waves continue, even though winds may be less than hurricane force.
- Hurricane Watch: A hurricane watch is issued when storm conditions appear possible in the warning area within the next 48 hours. The hurricane watch is issued 48 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical storm force winds.
Before a Hurricane
Check Your Emergency Supply Kit
Before hurricane season begins, check the contents of the emergency kits in your car and home and replace items that may have expired. If you do not have an emergency kit, a supply checklist with basic items that every supply kit should include is available for download. Be sure to add the Additional Emergency Supplies suggested here due to COVID-19. Don’t forget to prepare your pet for an emergency
Reduce Outdoor Hazards
Debris, such as signs, roofing material, siding, and small items left outside, can cause injury and damage property due to strong winds from a hurricane. Before the storm be sure to:
- Bring in lawn furniture, garbage and recycling carts and other items that are not tied down and could become airborne.
- Have trees and shrubs professionally pruned before a hurricane approaches to reduce the risk of flying debris during a storm.
Make an Evacuation Plan
Before a hurricane, it is important to know the evacuation routes in your area should you need to leave due to flooding or a storm surge. Discuss your evacuation plan with your loved ones, especially if you are in a low-lying area or within the greatest potential path of the storm. Find out if you live in an area that may be prone to flooding due to storm surge.
- Mandatory Evacuation Order: Imminent threat to life and property exists. Individuals MUST relocate and seek refuge in an inland, non-evacuation area.
- Voluntary Evacuation Order: A threat to life and property may be imminent. Evacuation not required, but would be advantageous, particularly for tourists, elderly and those with special needs.
If a hurricane warning is issued for your area or you are directed to evacuate the area:
- Take only essential items with you.
- If you have time, turn off the gas, electricity, and water.
- Disconnect appliances to reduce the likelihood of electrical shock when power is restored.
- Make sure your automobile’s emergency kit is ready.
- Follow the designated evacuation routes—others may be blocked—and expect heavy traffic.
During a Hurricane
During the storm, stay indoors during the hurricane and away from windows and glass doors. Because of the strong winds associated with a hurricane, flying debris and falling trees are possible. Seek shelter in an interior area of your home and refrain from going outside; winds often pick up strength as the eye of the storm passes.
Other tips for staying safe during a hurricane:
- Continue to monitor the radio or TV for updates.
- Stay inside and away from windows, skylights and glass doors. Find a safe area in your home (an interior room, a closet or bathroom on the lower level).
- Ensure a supply of water for sanitary purpose such as cleaning and flushing toilets. Fill the bathtub and other larger containers with water.
- If you lose power, turn off major appliances such as the air conditioner and water heater to reduce damage.
- Do not go outside.
After a Hurricane
Many injuries occur in the aftermath of a hurricane.
- Discard any refrigerated food that you suspect has spoiled.
- Stay out of impacted areas; do not sightsee.
- Do not operate charcoal grills, propane camping stoves or generators indoors.
- Do not drive or walk through standing water.
- Stay away from downed power lines.
It is important to take careful precautions to ensure food safety after a power outage. Discard any food that has been at room temperature for two hours or more, and any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture. Just remember, “When in doubt, throw it out!”
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that is poisonous to breathe. Deadly levels of carbon monoxide can quickly build up when the exhaust from grills or generators is not properly vented. The gas emitted by these sources can linger for hours, even after the generator or grill has shut off. Operate all gasoline-powered devices such as generators outdoors and never bring them indoors.
Excess moisture and standing water contribute to the growth of mold in homes and other buildings. When returning to a home that has been flooded, be aware that mold may be present and may be a health risk for your family.
Flood Water Safety
Hurricanes can cause storm surges in coastal areas, as well as create heavy rainfall. This causes flood waters to rise and pool on streets and throughout neighborhoods. Before a storm, find out whether your home is located in a flood prone area and prepare an emergency plan in case you are told to evacuate.
Be mindful of the amount of time spent outdoors removing debris after the hurricane; work slowly to avoid exertion and to prevent back injury. Other steps to take to help prevent muscle and bone injury include:
- Use teams of two or more to move bulky objects.
- Avoid lifting any material that weighs more than 50 pounds.
- Use proper automated-assist lifting devices.
- Use caution or seek professional assistance when removing fallen trees, cleaning up debris or using equipment, such as chain saws.
- Wear eye goggles while removing or cleaning up debris to prevent eye injuries.