While the rest of the world is jealous of us South Floridians 99% of the time, when hurricane season comes around, some of that jealousy rolls out like the tide.
Officially, the Atlantic hurricane season is from June 1 to November 30, but as the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML) notes: "There is nothing magical in these dates, and hurricanes have occurred outside of these six months, but these dates were selected to encompass over 97% of tropical activity.
Hurricanes are a specific category of tropical cyclones. A tropical cyclone is a rotating, organized system of clouds and thunderstorms that originates over tropical or subtropical waters and has a closed low-level circulation. Tropical cyclones rotate counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere. They are classified as follows:
- Tropical Depression — A tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds of 38 mph (33 knots) or less.
- Tropical Storm — A tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph (34 to 63 knots).
- Hurricane — A tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds of 74 mph (64 knots) or higher. In the western North Pacific, hurricanes are called typhoons; similar storms in the Indian Ocean and South Pacific Ocean are called cyclones.
- Major Hurricane — A tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds of 111 mph (96 knots) or higher, corresponding to a Category 3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.
Whatever they are called and categorized, it is important to note that Floridians and buildings are well prepared to handle hurricanes. Since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, major strides have been made in building codes, preparation guidelines and safety procedures so that a storm's impact is kept to a minimum.
The International Hurricane Research Center is a Type I research center located at the Florida International University. It is there that codes, standards and practices are carefully studied and developed.
As a former technology and emergency planning executive, I prepared companies for the worst. And while no plan is perfect, the following should help you prepare for a storm.
Personal & Family Storm Preparedness Guide
Approximately 72 hours before the storm is predicted to arrive, you should begin to get your family prepared for the storm. As a rule of thumb, Florida Power and Light (FPL) and local emergency agency preparedness begins 72 hours before a storm. Therefore, I suggest this is also an appropriate time window for you to begin preparations.
Early Storm Preparations
At the first sign that a storm may affect our area, here are some things you should be doing to prepare.
- Know your evacuation route (in case an evacuation order is issued for your area)
- If you or a family member has special needs, contact your local emergency management office now (approx. 72 hours ahead of storm arrival).
- Trim trees and clear debris/items from your property that can easily become airborne. Make sure you have your trash/debris at the curb for pickup well in advance of the storm.
- Test your generator and fill gas containers with fresh gas (generators should be run monthly to ensure they are in working order, gas should be no older than one year old, and oil and filters need to be changed every 30 hours of use)
- Install or mount your hurricane shutters
- Maintain a printed emergency contact list for your family and friends
- Make copies of insurance and important documentation and have it available in a portable, waterproof container
- Photograph your property, inside and outside your home, should an insurance claim be necessary
Where applicable, ensure your storm supplies are stored in easy to carry containers, such as coolers or backpacks.
- First Aid Kit – ensure the medical supplies inside are not out‐of‐date
- Prescription Medicine – make sure you have enough supply for 7‐10 days
- Battery‐powered Radio and/or Television – make sure you have plenty of fresh batteries on‐hand.
- Flashlights – ensure you have extra batteries and bulbs
- Non‐Perishable Foods – you’ll need 3‐7 days worth of food for each person atyour home. Make sure you have a manual can opener available.
- Plastic Plates & Utensils – enough so that you can eat meals without having to wash dishes
- Water – it is suggested you have a 3‐7 days supply of fresh water for each person at your home (use 1 gallon/day/person as a guideline)
- Specialty Items for Infants, Elderly, Disabled and Pets – Don’t forget the diapers, pet food, etc. that are required...
- Cash! – Make sure you have a good amount of cash on hand. This will allow you to make purchases after the storm at businesses that may not have electricity or working credit/debit card validation machines.
- Corded Phone – make sure you have at least one working corded phone available for use should the power go out.
SPECIAL NOTE: As of June 12, 2009 the government mandated the shutdown of all analog TV broadcasts in the USA. Under normal conditions, when using cable or satellite, this has little impact on viewers. However, when forced to view TV using an antenna (which is likely during a hurricane) only TVs with DIGITAL TUNERS will work! This means most of the portable and battery powered TVs that you have relied upon in prior years WILL NOT WORK! Please consult http://www.dtv.gov/ and https://www.dtv2009.gov/ for more information. You must purchase a new TV that has ATSC or Digital tuning capabilities to be compatible with the new standard. You can buy one of these portable TVs by going to www.tinyurl.com/hurricaneTVs.
“Last Moment” Preparation Items
- Fuel Vehicles – Try to have full tanks on all your vehicles. Port Everglades closes 48 hours before a storm and fuel delivery trucks are banned from delivering gasoline to gas stations once winds are above 30 mph. Try to perform fueling at least 36 hours before a storm’s arrival.
- Set Refrigerator and Freezers to COLDEST Setting – This way, if the power goes out, your food will last longer.
- Ice and Frozen Water Bottles – It is a good idea to prepare as much spare ice (and freeze a few water bottles) as can fit in your freezer. It will keep your foods colder for a prolonged power outage and allow you to have cold water on hand if necessary.
- Charge Your Cell Phones Fully – Try not to use your cell phone until after the storm has passed so that you can conserve battery power (in case the power goes out)
- Pool Pumps – Turn off the pool pump, ensure timer won’t turn it back on automatically, and cover the pump.
- Unplug Extras – Just before the storm arrives, unplug all unnecessary items from the wall socket. This will protect them from any surges.
- Place Flashlights and Corded Phone – Find logical locations for easy access to these important items should the power go out.
- Park Vehicles Safely – Try to place vehicles in areas where they are shielded from wind and potential flying debris. If you are in an area that floods easily, seek the highest ground...potentially even a short walk from your home!
- Fill Bathtub/Sink – In case the water supply becomes non‐potable and your water supply runs out, it is advisable to have some tap water in reserve.
While some of these preparations may sound like overkill, it is always better to be over-prepared than under-prepared. Having spent much of my life in the Northeast, I find it interesting that Floridians nearly cower at the thought of a blizzard but can face an impending hurricane with such resolve. In the end, most of the storms end up as a whimper. Thank goodness...
Helpful External Links
- Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale
- Stormpulse - amazing hurricane tracking site
- Current NOAA Storm Information
- NOAA Hurricane Home Page
- Hurricane Preparedness Library
- FL Division of Emergency Mgmnt.
- Live South Florida Radar Loop
- Live South Florida Traffic
- Accu-Weather Hurricane Center
As a Realtor®, I suggest you continue to purchase your dream home without hurricane season worrying you too much. Like the rest of us, you'll buy windstorm insurance and never look back. The pluses far outweigh the windy negatives.