In our four years here so far, our family has experienced two years out of four with a major hurricane/tropical storm. Admittedly we have been on the outer edge of the hurricane’s path, so life has been kind. But it is indeed an experience to remember, even when you are still far away from the worst danger point. Like many other parts of expat life, we have had to learn about tropical storms and hurricanes as novices.
The hurricane season starts in June and lasts until the end of November usually. Although the peak time is between late August to October. Most of us think of hurricanes being purely a summer phenomenon. However, Hurricane Sandy, the second most costly hurricane in US history, arrived in NJ in late October. During the season, tropical storms and hurricanes are known to form frequently off the coast of Florida or near the Caribbean.
As this was being written, the first significant tropical storm for 2014, named ‘Arthur’, turned into a hurricane and moved up the Atlantic coast in early July from Florida. Hurricane Arthur, swung into North Carolina and the Outer Banks area, causing significant damage. Ironically, the names chosen for these powerhouses, never seems to conjure up the imagery of frightening natural power and imminent disaster, that one associates with a hurricane. That is until you see the damage done. Katrina, will always have a different effect on me, as a name, after her show-stopping performance in 2005. The naming convention for these storms is to use a new name with the next consecutive letter after the last e.g. the next storm after Arthur will be named ‘Bertha’. Some years there are enough storms to use almost the whole alphabet. Despite this, there is a low probability that any of these storms will travel all the way up the eastern seaboard, and make landfall in NJ as a hurricane. Mostly, they move up the coast past the Carolinas and then move through to Cape Cod, Canada or the Atlantic. But it can occur, and it has, in recent years with Hurricanes Irene and Sandy. The effects of these hurricanes can be devastating.
If meteorologists are to be believed, the likelihood of NJ suffering from such storms will increase in future due to global warming.
How to Prepare for a Hurricane
Sometimes hurricane preparation amounts to just preparing for heavy rain or a moderate storm. This is particularly likely if you are on the outer reaches or if the storm weakens by the time it reaches your location. A number of useful tips for handling low level flooding and moderate storms are covered in the previous article ‘Summer storms in NJ: rain, thunderstorms, and yes…hurricanes too..’ There are however, several other things you should do to prepare for a hurricane:
1. Make A Plan
One of the most important things for dealing with dangerous storm situations is to make a plan, on what to do both before and during the storm. If you think you have a better chance of being safe in a shelter during the storm, make sure you evacuate early enough to travel to the shelter before the storm‘s impact hits. Plan on how to get there and when to leave home for the shelter and have a few alternate routes worked out. If you are staying in your home, ensure you identify exactly where in the house you will sit the storm out. Plan for the period afterwards, and for what actions you can take if things don’t go to plan i.e. flooding is much more severe than anticipated. Do the plan AHEAD of the storm arriving and make sure everyone in your home knows it. 2. Have the Right Equipment & Materials Alternative light & power sources when there is an outage: A loss of power means using either torches or gas/battery operated hurricane lamps for light. Candles are not considered a safe alternative. Having a large, working supply of appropriately-sized batteries is therefore a necessity. If you are planning on staying in your home after the hurricane has passed, having no power long-term means you may need a generator to provide electricity for critical tasks such as refrigeration, heating or cooking. When news is broadcast that a severe storm or hurricane is approaching, all these items tend to sell out fast. Most smart people buy these ahead of time so they don’t have to scramble around at the last minute finding lighting or other power options. Protecting glass windows and doors: Authorities recommend nailing plywood boards across glass windows to avoid glass projectiles and inside damage. If you live in a building that has a chance of severe flooding, it is recommended to leave an axe in the attic, to gain access to the roof, should it be needed. In case of injury: Have a First Aid Kit on hand and keep it with you at all times. Staying updated: Since there is often no power, a battery operated radio is useful to keep updated on storm developments from local authorities or emergency communications. There are also smartphone apps for hurricanes that you can download for your mobile that not only provide weather information but can work like a radio as well. The Red Cross Hurricane App provides a range of different services including the ability to find help and let others know you are safe even if the power is out.
3. Stock Up on Basic Supplies well before the Storm Arrives
Basic food supplies will not be available during a storm or perhaps even afterwards for a while, so authorities recommend establishing a minimum 3 day supply of non-perishable food and drinking water. One gallon per day per person is considered the minimum water needed. Food items to stock might include: canned meats, canned or dried fruits, canned vegetables, canned juice, peanut butter, jelly, salt-free crackers, energy/protein bars, trail mix/nuts, dry cereal, cookies or other comfort food. If you don’t own one already, buy a manual can-opener or two to use with this food.
People who have lived in storm zones for a while, know the drill for preparation. One of the first things they do is go to their local shopping center and purchase supplies to last for a while during and after the storm. So when a serious storm is announced in the media, supermarkets empty quickly of staple foods, batteries and bottled water. While rushing around town to get supplies is not perhaps the best approach, don’t expect much to be available if you leave it to the last minute. You will be disappointed.
Aside from basic food, any other essentials that you need daily such as baby food, medicines or pet food, should be stocked up as well. Ensure you have a minimum of a week’s supply on hand but preferably a month’s. Rather than waiting until a hurricane is forecast to arrive, why not run your food stocks of non-perishable food up over summer, so you can be prepared ahead. Here’s a unique chance to take a leaf out of the survivalists book.
4. Other Pre-Planning
Here are some other tips:
- Do an inventory of your household goods by photographs, video or by written list beforehand.
- Check your insurance policy premium is paid and up-to-date.
- Understand what your insurance policy does and does not cover e.g. what exclusions are there? Cover for flooding, for instance, is not usually provided by insurance companies but can be purchased from the federal government. For more information, contact the National Flood Insurance Program at 1-800-379-9531.
- Keep a waterproof file with all your personal documents in it, which can be picked up and carried easily if needed. Include your insurance policy details and household goods inventory in this to keep it safe.
- Fill up your car with gas.
- Wash the dishes and have a shower before the storm arrives, in case it is not possible to do for a while afterwards.
- Have some extra cash available in case there is no power to operate ATMs or payment by cards.
- Make a checklist of all the above and keep it in a handy place e.g. taped to the back of a closet door, so it can be found easily when needed.
5. After the storm
Even after the storm has passed on, there can still be dangerous situations to avoid:
- Stay away from dangling wires near power poles or elsewhere in case they are live with electricity.
- Do not drive around immediately afterwards unless absolutely necessary, as emergency vehicles can work faster if there is less traffic impeding them.
- If there is heavy rain, be cautious of flooding in low-lying areas.
- Be very careful of trees that may have been weakened by storm winds, in case they may fall, or tree branches or limbs that can fall out afterwards.
- If you have evacuated to a shelter, ensure your home area is considered safe by local officials or emergency shelter staff before returning.
While this article has tried to cover off the main things, there are undoubtedly other tips that can be found online or by talking to others who have experienced tropical storms and hurricanes previously. Below are a few articles which may provide further information:
- Hurricane Preparation (Hurricane.com): some excellent tips on how to prepare for a hurricane!
- Hurricane Preparedness – Be Ready (National Hurricane Center) How to Prepare for a Hurricane (FEMA) downloadable pdf: the complete list of everything
- How to Prepare For a Hurricane: 37 steps with pictures (WikiHow): easy to understand guide
- Keep a hurricane preparation checklist (CNN)
Do you have any useful tips from your own experience with hurricanes?