Hurricane Basics for Newbies

So, all you central East Coasties ready?

No? Is this your first time? Well, relax. It’s just the biggest whooping wind and rainstorm you’ve ever seen.

Now, if you are right on the coast, pay attention to the evacuation zones because of the Storm Surge. You’ve got low pressure in the center of the storm lifting the water a bit, with a hundred plus mph wind driving it inward. This is especially hazardous if it comes ashore at high tide.

If they tell you to evacuate, tell the spouse and kids it’s time for a vacation. Grab your paperwork—insurance policies and the irreplaceable family photos—and go.

Same with low lying areas inland that have a history of flooding. Grab your paperwork—insurance policies and the irreplaceable family photos—and go.

So, you’re away from the coast, up high and you’re staying?

No problem. Go to the store and get food. If you drink milk, I recommend getting half gallons and freezing them. Quart size freezer bags are handy to fill with ice cubes or freeze water in to keep your freeze and refrigerator cold a few extra days if you loose power. I save those cheap plastic disposable, sealing lunch meat containers. They stack nicely and the ice bricks are handy sizes.

Speaking of losing power, don’t forget candles and batteries.

Food-wise, get what you usually eat, and can improvise heating, just in case. Canned chili, soups, veggies. A small pre-cooked ham or roast is handy for an improvised candle-light dinner.

Get some things that don’t need cooking. Cereal for breakfast, for instance. Peanut butter, jelly, crackers, cheese. Canned fruit.
Speaking of which, fresh fruit is really nice to have on hand.

Water. You can buy the bottled stuff, or just go home and fill up all available vessels. Freeze a bunch of them. No such thing as too much ice.

Bread. Buy an extra loaf and freeze it too.

Dog, cat, and gerbil food. Well, only if you have them.

Okay. Enough shopping. Now police the yard. If it can blow away it will, and possibly through your window. Put it all in the garage. Things like heavy picnic tables can be turned upside down, with the table top flat on the ground.

All done? Then do your laundry, even the sheets. Just in case the power’s out for weeks. At least you’re starting with clean sheets and towels.

Car in the garage? Probably fine. Parked outside? Look around at trees that might fall, and park it away from there, and maybe not on the street, there’s going to be a lot of street flooding.

Then sit back and enjoy one of nature’s spectacles as safely and securely as you can.


  1. I have faint memories of riding out a Cat 1 or weak Cat 2 in north Houston back in the mid to late 1980s. The power went out for a few hours, it rained a lot, got windy, and one pine tree blew down near the nursing home across the street. Granted, by the time a Cat 1 gets to north Houston, it’s lost a lot of its steam, but I was impressed.

  2. For after the storm- be sure to write down all the stuff you wish you had before the storm hit.
    Then pull that out next year before the season comes.

  3. Good suggestions here. “non-perishables that do not require a microwave”, that’s how I phrased it tonight. (store was a madhouse. Glad we went tonight and not Thursday/Frida when it will be a unattended zoo.)

    Charcoal for grill – okay for after the rain if power is still down.
    Water, we’re basically okay – on city/county water.
    Batteries and candles – check. Old fashion hurricane lamps w/oil too.
    Battery powered clocks – check

    Gas for car(s) still needs to be done.

    No geni, we’re in a townhouse. No safe place to store one.

    We’re about as ready as we can get. Not in the direct strike zone, but forecast is for wind and rain. Days of rain. I remember what happened a few years ago when the derecho knocked out power for several days. Not fun.

    1. Gas stations in our area are already running out of gasoline. Apparently people here are taking the threat of Florence seriously.

      Better to be prepared and not need it than to find out you should have afterwards.

      Things I am very glad of. We have a gas water heater. As long as the city has water we can shower. I put in a gas stove top that did not require electricity for the ignition to work. I can use a match to light it if the power goes out.

      1. I wish we had gas appliances. I discovered how great they were when I had the apartment. Unfortunately, all of our current appliances are electric. 😦

      2. Um, two questions, CACS:

        1) if the electricity is out, how does the water get to your house?
        2) if the electricity is out, how does the gas get to your appliances?

        Where I live, both water and gas service depend on there being power to pump the stuff through the pipes. I’ve had several power outages since I lived here, and discovered that when the electricity is out, I have no heat either, because the gas can’t get to my heater. And I have water only as long as the current supply in the water tower lasts – water flows from there to here by gravity, but it gets into the tower via powered pumps.

        1. A typical gas furnace has a safety interlock such that it shuts off if there is no power to the blower, otherwise it could overheat and cause a house fire. City water services invariably have their own backup generators to keep the pumps operational. This is a requirement not only for drinking water, but because those water towers also supply the fire hydrants.
          Several years ago a wall of tornados took out the main lines feeding our entire city. Left without electrical power for eight days, longer in some areas. We were directed via local radio station broadcasts to conserve water to limit the strain on the backup pump system. We never lost pressure.

        2. If you’re on “city water”, it typically comes from water towers, which store enough water for anywhere from a day to a week depending on the community.

          They’re impressively low tech: “gravity makes it go.”

          Oddly, rooftop tanks are common in large New York City buildings, and possibly other places. Street pressure isn’t enough to service higher floors, so it’s pumped up to intermediate tanks and is then (usually) gravity fed to taps.

        3. Answer: I don’t know.

          But even during the longest and most wide spread power outages we have experienced (over two weeks total — the power was sporadic the last few days) we maintained both water and gas service.

          Our gas heat does not work during outages, because it relies on electricity for the fans. A gallon pot of mulling cider on the stove does well at keeping the kitchen nice and cozy.

          Can you imagine having to deal with a few hundred thousand people without water service for two weeks? I suspect that the city water system has back up generators, as Uncle Lar mentions. We have a system of towers, but the water needs to be pumped up regularly to keep pressure. (I hadn’t considered the aspect of maintaining the fire hydrants working, but oh my YES!)

  4. Grab your paperwork—insurance policies and the irreplaceable family photos—and go.

    Add to that any medications that anyone in your family requires, along with relevant medical records.

    Not all shelter have bedding, water or food, so if you are headed to a shelter and are unsure bring that with you just in case. (It is easiest if the food is non-perishable. This can be particularly important if someone in the family has severe food allergies.)

    Grab something that does not require batteries to keep any kids in tow amused, yourself as well.

    It is times like these that you realize the value of keeping a well maintained to-go box and having a family emergency plan.

    1. For any who live in the path, I shall hope for the best.

      I can’t really say that I shall empathize with you – where I’ve lived, I think I’ve lost power for, at the very longest, not quite twelve hours. Barely enough to yell at people to decide what they want before they open the fridge. (The spouse has memories – although of the Great New England Ice Storm back in the 70’s? Not a hurricane.)

      1. When telling a newcomer to New England about hurricanes my advice was — prepare for a snowstorm, only worry less about temperature and more about wind.

    2. That includes the furbabies too. Our Nemo has his own bugout bag with carrier, food, dishes, meds, and a duplicate of his very favorite toy.

  5. Also: do you have a plan for evacuation that does NOT involve major highways/Interstates? If not, make one, and drive it at least once to get a feeling for possible problem points. You might not have any options, but if you do, plan for the worst. The worst is the main way out becomes a very long and skinny parking lot.

    1. Oh Dear Ghod, yes! Do. Not. Follow. Your. GPS. Blindly!!!!!

      It doesn’t know that the easiest way to get you on the Interstate goes through a low spot that always floods. It doesn’t know that the interstate is stop-and-go for tens of miles. It does not understand “find another route, this one is flooded.”

      My next door neighbor . . . twice has evaced . . . the wrong direction.

      Look at the predicted course of the storm. Last I checked, it’ll come inland and turn north.

      So if you’re leaving, go south! Looks like Disney World will be well out of the storm path. What the heck, enjoy the storm!

        1. Exactly. Storm tracks, particularly more than 2-3 days out, can get really tricky (not always, but it depends on how much other stuff is affecting the track).

          The new model that came out at 11pm tonight now is showing a more southerly turn, compared to the old northwesterly path, after the storm makes landfall (but that’s mostly in the Fri/Sat/Sun track, so the uncertainties are really big).

          1. And then circling back around. . .

            Of course, we’ve been hit by many ghosts of hurricanes here in New England and it’s less troublesome that the still live ones.

      1. About ten years ago a string of tornados tore up northern Arkansas. I was making a delivery run up there the next night, and was surprised to see that while entire counties were without power, every Wal Mart was lit up, parking lots and all. Presumably they had their own generators.

      2. Do NOT plan on ducking through the Appalachians; supposedly Knoxville on the far side is looking at tropical storm winds.

    2. The TV pre-hurricane news I remember best consists of two shots: one of a Home Depot with plywood over its windows, and one of a highway with empty lanes one way and stop and go the other. . . .

    3. Have good maps and be prepared to change routes in reaction to the unexpected road closures. Ooda loop is not just for engaging an enemy in battle.

  6. Here in Houston, last year, Hurricane Harvey was interesting because there was so little wind(by hurricane standards), but So. Much. Rain. The result was no loss of power, but we couldn’t get out of the local high spot of three or four streets for about five days.

  7. I need to clear my consensus, to speak up.

    I live in Northern Queensland. We face this every year, every Wet–seriously, we do. It’s absolutely the scariest part of living here, but it beats all the fires in the South. Anyway, I’ve dodged two Cat 4s and a Cat 5, since I’ve been in the Far North and now the North. You don’t ride out a Cat 4 in a coastal region, you run and you pray. There was that guy in Cooktown that made it in a bank vault, but he was only there because his Ute wouldn’t start–it threw a rod. He was amazingly lucky–he’d waited too late.

    A Cat 4 destroyed two cities here last year and it took weeks to even get to them sans helicopter. What you’re looking at is very familiar to any Queenslander, and it’s not your ordinary North American hurricane. She’s not even out of the favorable water yet, guys. She’s going to build.

    I’m American, I know the U.S. media makes a cat out to be a lion, but Aussies will call a lion a cat, so as not to alarm anyone–after all, it might not be hungry. Take it from my Aussie side, that thing means business, Mate. No shame in running from something like that. Your houses aren’t even rated to Cat 3 like ours are. I hear that West Virginia is very nice this time of year!

  8. Other hurricane basics: even if you’re far inland, think of this as two windstorms in opposite directions, a bunch of tornadoes, and a whole heap of flash flooding. That breaks it down from one massive threat into the things you have to prepare for.

    If you’re evaccing, play a game called “What would I be devastated if theives stole/ save from a fire if I had five minutes to get out? (This includes small, portable things you can sell or don’t want looted, like medication, CPAP, laptops, jewelry and guns) What paperwork do I need to start a new job and put the kids in a new school?” Medical records, birth certificates, social security cards, diplomas, bank account info / insurance info… yeah, if your house is gone and you end up spending 6 months in another state, these will make it a lot easier to get another job and get the kids in school there.

    If you’re staying, It’s a little late to get a WaterBob for this one if you don’t already have one, but even filling empty five-gallon buckets and the bathtub from the top now will make it possible to flush the toilet and make your life much more civilized when the water and power is out.

    Plan for your food like you’re camping, only doing it in your house. Because if the power’s out, you’re camping in a hopefully-weatherproof tent.

    Plan for the cleanup. How much bleach do you have? If you get water in the house, there is no such thing as too much bleach. Do you have contractor grade trash bags? They make cleaning up storm debris a whole lot easier. Shovels, pushbrooms, mops, rakes, chainsaws (and preblended gas for the chainsaw) Mosquito repellent in mass quantities, sunscreen (you’re gonna be out there working), fans to try to dry things out if you still have power… Do you have tarps to cover the holes in your roof where shingles used to be? Plywood to board up your windows before the storm?

    Have you learned how to tape up your windows? Go to youtube now while you have power and learn. (No, it doesn’t make them shatterproof. It makes the cleanup a whole lot easier by letting something punch a hole and not shattering the entire pane.)

    And now, for batteries. Electric drills? Electric chainsaw? Kindles? Laptops? Cell phones? Charge ’em now. And, do you have the nifty inverters that’ll let you charge batteries off your car? That makes it a lot easier, because you can often get gas and run the car in many parts well before you get power back at home.

    Good luck, and God be with you.

    1. I just learned about USB solar chargers – apparently, they are mostly meant for cell phones. Relatively cheap, and could be quite valuable in the aftermath.
      Don’t forget to charge up radios, laptops, IPads, etc. – then, use them sparingly. Oh, and charge that Kindle, and load up on books (bought or loaned from your library).

  9. If you’ve spent much time outside, miles from the nearest tree, you’ve likely experienced stronger ground level winds.
    I remember being profoundly unimpressed. (Typhoons love Okinawa. I got to experience five or six of them over two six-month stints.)
    But there’s an awful lot of rain. Which makes the soil soft. And the wind uses tree trunks for levers. Not to mention flooding.
    The damage can be much worse than you’d expect.

    But before it hits, go out and see the stripes across the sky, and the light turning funny. Feel the air turn hot and moist, like the breath of some inconceivable predator. Experience the unease as your monkey brain starts freaking out over the dropping barometric pressure, but doesn’t have an obvious threat to assign the feeling of danger to.
    But don’t spend too much time standing out in the wind and diving rain. Do you want to look like Dan Rather, and act like an idiot? (Or is that too redundant?)

  10. “Then sit back and enjoy one of nature’s spectacles as safely and securely as you can.”

    ?? I’ve always figured that noplace is safe in a major hurricane, except for an underground bunker. To “stay and ride it out” is to court death; you might survive, but that doesn’t mean it’s a smart thing to do.

    On a more mundane level, in addition to normal storm supplies like water, food, etc., I would suggest that everyone invest in a USB portable hard drive, back up every important file you have to it, and take it with you when you go. (If you don’t have that many important files, a large flashdrive will serve just as well.) Along with a laptop that also has a USB hub and charger cords for every device you own – phone, Kindle, tablet, etc. And remember that as long as you have a car with a working engine, you have an emergency generator capable of charging small electronics. Get a power inverter for the 12v AC socket, and you can even run or charge a laptop off it.

    1. If you’re far enough away from the shore that you don’t have to worry about the storm surge, and not in a flood zone, then it’s just a really big storm. Yeah, maybe a tree will fall on your house and kill you. It can do that anytime you’ve got saturated ground and wind.

      This is a major hurricane, so personally I’d consider evacuating if it lived within 25 miles of the shore. But those hurricane winds die down fast over land, to a mere 60-70 mph . . .

  11. If you have a generator, a collection of DVDs is good – we had TV thanks to the generator, but no cable. Which also meant no internet, and cell service was pure crap except in the wee small hours – I had to drive up into town most days to get enough signal for phone calls. So I’d get up at 2 AM, switch over the generator, and check in with friends and family online before everyone else woke up and started using the limited bandwidth.

    Something to keep you occupied in addition to books. You may think that you would be happy to spend 9 days with nothing to do but read, but believe me – it gets old. Now is a good time to see if you remember how to knit/crochet/tat/whatever.

    If you have a generator that isn’t a whole house generator, you’ll need extension cords and some small fans and lamps.

    Flashlights. We each kept a small LED flashlight on us at all times, and had more staged around the house. The larger flashlights were kept in specific spots, and marked with glow sticks (it gets really, really, REALLY dark at night).

    1. “Something to keep you occupied in addition to books. You may think that you would be happy to spend 9 days with nothing to do but read, but believe me – it gets old. ”

      Very much true. Besides Pam’s suggestions, a pair of pocket binoculars might be useful — it’s never too late to start birdwatching. And don’t forget that anything with a keyboard can be used to write as well as read. For that matter, you can even resort to [shudder] pen and paper.

  12. You have SPAM? I didn’t know they still made it. Is it still awful?

    Denver doesn’t really have disasters. Snow will occasionally shut things down for a day or two, but that’s about it. A tornado is possible, but we’re close enough to the mountains that they are very, very rare. I suppose it could flood, being in a river valley, but reservoirs catch a LOT before it hits rivers.

    That said, the bug out bags are hanging on the wall next to the back door. Not worried about food; we have tons at all times and if power goes out, we’ll feast trying to empty the freezer (upright, so it won’t stay cold if opened much). Water is sketchier. We have several gallons as bottled water, but that will go fast. A WaterBob is on the list. It just doesn’t seem urgent.

    The dryer has been broken for the past month (part arrives today, hopefully), so we know we don’t need laundry for at least that long (although if it’s not fixed by weekend-errand time, I’m buying more socks).

    We keep meaning to dry-run a power outage by flipping the breaker on Friday and seeing how long we last – making a list of all the stuff we wish we had (and not opening the freezer). I want more oil lamps, first.

Comments are closed.