Cyclone, typhoon, hurricane. Although the name changes by location, this is one violent storm! With winds up to 155 miles per hour and heavy rainfall, these tropical storms threaten lives and dwellings and can cause other dangerous conditions such as flash flooding, storm surges, thunderstorms and rip currents. While coastlines are particularly vulnerable to hurricanes, inland areas are prone to flooding from heavy rain. When you move to a new military installation, be sure to learn the weather dangers particular to that area and always prepare for weather threats. Hurricane safety depends on knowing the risks and heeding forecasters' warnings as storms approach. Military OneSource can also help you learn what to do before, during and after the storm.
Hurricanes usually form way out in the ocean, giving forecasters time to forewarn people to ‘batten down the hatches.' The Atlantic hurricane season lasts from June to November, while the Eastern Pacific hurricane season begins May 15 and ends November 30. If you live in a hurricane-prone area, you should get ready before the season begins. Ready.gov offers information about preparing for a variety of emergencies. Here are some suggestions to help keep your family safe in any weather-related threat:
- Learn the emergency warning procedures, evacuation routes and shelter locations for your community or installation. Include specific guidelines for your workplace and your child's school. You may be able to sign up for an emergency notification text on a mobile device.
- Prepare an emergency kit for your family that is easy to grab at a moment's notice.
- Have a family emergency plan so every member of your family knows what to do in an emergency.
- Prepare your children. Ready.gov Kids uses games and fun activities to teach families how to prepare for emergencies.
- Make plans for your pets. Since many shelters do not accept pets, be sure you have found a place for your pet should you have to evacuate.
- Use technology to be informed. Ready.gov's Get Tech Ready suggests ways to use technology to access critical information during an emergency.
- Create a home inventory. A home inventory will help you file an insurance claim should you suffer damages from a hurricane.
Before a hurricane arrives
Protect your family by learning about the risks associated with hurricanes. Wind is the obvious danger, but by learning about the destructive properties of hurricanes, you can take action to avoid them. Here are some ways to prepare for the storm:
- Learn the vulnerabilities of your specific location. Coastal areas can be hit by a deadly storm surge, sometimes as high as 20 feet. As the hurricane slows down over land, it drops rain for a longer period of time. So inland areas may experience torrential rains resulting in flooding - often sudden flash floods - and landslides. The high winds of a hurricane can also spawn tornadoes. Wherever you live, heed an evacuation notice, even if your area looks safe.
- Know the terminology. As with other weather-related warnings, a 'watch‘ indicates conditions are favorable for the weather event, and a 'warning‘ indicates the storm is on its way. A hurricane warning is issued 36 hours before the onset of tropical-storm-force winds to allow time for preparations. A tropical depression warning also attracts a lot of attention; tropical depressions may turn into tropical storms, which, in turn, become hurricanes once their sustained wind speed reaches 74 mph or higher. Be sure to have a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio that receives updates from the National Weather Service.
- Protect your home from wind. Wind causes tree branches, signs, roofing material and any loose objects to become missiles. To protect your home from this debris, consider replacing your windows with storm windows, or cover them with 5/8 inch marine plywood. Tape will not stop windows from breaking.
- Maintain your property with hurricanes in mind. Keep trees trimmed, gutters cleaned and be prepared to secure outdoor furniture and small sheds. Know how to turn off your propane tank and utilities.
During a hurricane
Once you have prepared your family and home, it's time to ‘hunker' down and listen to hurricane updates while playing games and reading stories. Should the power go out, you'll have to rely on the old-fashioned, non-electronic ways of having fun! Always be ready to move to a safer area of the house should the storm intensify. There are additional ways to make your storm camp safer, and a little more enjoyable, too.
- Be ready for a power outage. Turn your refrigerator and freezer thermostats to the coldest setting and keep the doors closed so food will last longer without power. Have flashlights handy; avoid candles due to fire hazard. Charge cell phones and electronic gadgets that might help you call for help.
- Fill your bathtub with water. This water can be used for cleaning or flushing toilets should your water supply be disrupted.
- Listen to National Weather Service reports. Important storm and emergency information will be broadcast through radio and television reports.
- Gather in a safe place. Stay away from glass doors and windows. Close all interior doors; secure and brace exterior doors. Move to an interior room or hallway on the lower floor when the winds pick up. If necessary, crouch under a table or sturdy object.
- Avoid using your phone. Try to keep phone lines free for true emergencies.
- Do not presume the storm is over if the wind dies down. The center of a hurricane, called the eye, is very calm, but the surrounding edge or 'wall‘ of the eye has some of the hurricane's strongest wind and rain.
Respect the power of hurricanes; they are dangerous storms. Paying attention to the forecasts and following instructions from local officials may save your life. It's good to teach your children about the storm, but there is no need to frighten them. Show them that good preparation will help you to make smart decisions in a weather emergency.
After the hurricane
Once the authorities have indicated the storm has passed, you may think the danger is over. However, many people are injured in the aftermath of violent storms. If you evacuated, do not return home until officials say it is safe. Here are some more tips to ensure your safety and help you begin to put everything back together.
- Stay away from downed power lines. Stay away from loose or dangling power lines, and report them to the power company.
- Beware of flooded roads. Driving after a storm can be dangerous. Water across a road may be deeper than you think. Don't drown; turn around! The storm also may have weakened roads and bridges.
Contact family members. If you have become separated from your family, call the American Red Cross at 800-RED-CROSS (800-733-2767), or visit the American Red Cross Safe and Well program to leave a message for family members.
- Watch out for contaminated water and spoiled food. Be sure your water has not been contaminated before you drink it. Wear protective gloves and boots outside to avoid contamination. Check refrigerated food for spoilage; if in doubt, throw it out! To stay healthy from storm-related damage, see tips from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Be wary of wildlife. Snakes and other animals may be more prevalent after a disaster since they have been displaced from their homes. Wear gloves and boots when clearing brush, and be cautious when reaching into piles of debris.
- Assess the damage of your home. Do not enter a building with flood water around it or if you smell gas. Report gas leaks. If you suspect your home is structurally unsound, hire a qualified building inspector before inhabiting it. Take photos of the damage, both inside and outside, to help you prepare an insurance claim. Contact your insurance company for specific instructions.
Going through a severe storm and rebuilding your life afterward can be traumatic, but you're not alone. If you or a loved one feel overly stressed in dealing with a disaster, Military OneSource counseling is available at no cost to service members and their families by calling 800-342-9647.