New to Florida? Here’s a guide to help prepare for your first hurricane season
From sandbags, flushing without power and evacuations, everything you need to know during your first hurricane season
Did you recently move to Florida, and now you’re feeling a bit unsure about your recent relocation with Hurricane Ian expected to impact the state this week? Tropical systems impacting the Sunshine State are a part of life here.
Florida was the No. 5 state for inbound moves in 2021, according to the annual National Movers Study. South Carolina, also a state with tropical impacts, was No. 3 in the same study, which means many new residents are living through their first hurricane season this year.
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With this guide, you'll get to know the do's and don'ts of hurricane preparedness.
Do you have flood insurance?
First up, let's start with what to do well before a hurricane is barreling toward either of Florida's coasts. Get your flood insurance. This is not a regular part of home insurance, and if you were inland before, it might not be something you needed.
Take a look at the FEMA flood and risk maps to determine if you need flood insurance.
Flood insurance also needs to be in place before a storm approaches. Most policies have a 30-day waiting period before flood insurance kicks in.
Even if you are miles from the coast, storm surge is a genuine threat.
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Water makes up nearly 90% of all tropical cyclone deaths – primarily by drowning in either storm surge, rainfall flooding or high surf, according to a 2014 study conducted by the deputy director of the National Hurricane Center Dr. Edward Rappaport.
Take care of your trees now
The beautiful older trees that tower above many neighborhoods can be a cause for downed power lines or home damage during a storm. It's time to check those trees above your home for rot and call a tree service to have them cut before a storm.
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My advice: Do this before hurricane season. Once a storm is coming, you can bet those tree trimmers will be in demand and hard to get out to your property in time.
What to do when a storm is approaching
As soon as forecasters put Florida in the cone of uncertainty, it's time to gas up your car(s), get some cash and check your hurricane kit for any last-minute supply needs.
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We usually know about the threat of most major hurricanes about three days before landfall, according to the National Hurricane Center. Don't wait until evacuation orders are given or the day of landfall to try and find gas. With the current shortages and skyrocketing prices, filling up your tank during the 2022 hurricane season won't be a pleasant experience. Please be nice to others.
This is also an excellent time to cut down any loose tree branches and secure any objects that might fly away.
Most Floridians will also say this is a good time to buy beer. To each their own, make sure you have the essentials first.
Where and when to use sandbags
When a storm is approaching, follow your city, county or municipal emergency management offices for information about where and when to pick up sandbags.
Some of these pickup locations will have sandbags, sand, and shovels, and help with filling the bags is usually provided. Other stations may only have sand and bags, but you need to BYOS (bring your own shovel). Pay attention to the posted sandbag locations, hours and what is and is not provided.
How do you know if you need sandbags? If you live in a second-story condo, you can pass on the sandbags. If you live in an area prone to urban flooding, sandbags can be used to set a barrier around doors and entryways to your home.
What do you do with sandbags when you no longer need them? This is my least favorite part about hurricane season.
If the sandbags didn't come in contact with floodwaters, you could hang onto them for another storm.
After hurricane season, spread the sand on your lawn, garden or landscape beds. Depending on the bag type, you can recycle those or throw them in the garbage.
Prep your hurricane kit
You'll repeatedly hear this: Get your hurricane kit ready. This includes non-perishable foods (PB &J, anyone?), flashlights, batteries for those flashlights, a portable phone chargers, any medication you might need for at least a week and plenty of water.
Do you have pets? Make them a hurricane kit, too. Have enough food and water for about a week and any medicines they might need.
If you decide to buy a generator to keep your refrigerator or small appliances running - use it safely. That means do not run it inside your home or garage. It needs to be placed well away from any entrances to your home. Click here for safety tips to follow when operating a generator.
Carbon dioxide is a silent killer, and it claims lives every year after a storm.
Drinking and flushing water
Don't be last-minute Joe at Publix trying to buy enough water to fill a swimming pool. If you buy a few gallons here and there and store them in a cool, dry place, you will feel pretty smart when everyone else is scrambling to find water.
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Also, when a storm is coming, this is the time to fill your bathtubs and several buckets with water. I can tell you after Hurricane Irma hit, when we didn't have power, those buckets came in handy to act as a manual toilet flush.
Evacuation orders and routes
Find out what your evacuation zone is and how you will determine if you are under evacuation. Again, this is a good time to learn which emergency management officials cover your area and sign up for their alert system.
Click here for a step-by-step guide to finding your evacuation zone.
During a storm, if you are not in a mandatory evacuation zone but are thinking about evacuating, consider a few things. Listen to what the National Hurricane Center forecasters and professional meteorologists with news outlets like FOX Weather are saying. Think about your personal situation. Do you have health issues? A storm could knock out power to critical medical devices.
Before you are told to evacuate, have a plan for where you will go. Counties will have a list of open shelters when this does happen. Some are pet-friendly, others are not. Bring with you everything you will need should you not be able to return home for an extended period.
Making a hotel reservation might be difficult if you live on the coast and head inland. Listen to what the experts say early on and make that reservation in advance if you think you might want to evacuate.
Find more information about preparing for an evacuation here.
Final words of advice
From a Floridian who has lived through many hurricane seasons, I can tell you no two seasons are alike, and the same goes for every tropical storm or hurricane. Do not make plans based on years past or what someone once told you about "riding out a Category 4 storm." Stay up to date on the latest forecasts, models and potential impacts with the FOX Weather app and listen to experts with the NHC.