Always Be Prepared - Boy Scout Motto
Every time a hurricane comes I see a lot of distress in people. There is a lot to do and a short time to do it. This is stressful. You can help your future self by doing a few things now (winter is a great time to get started), so that when the storm is less than a week away you have a lot fewer items on the table.
I organized the preparation section in order of priority. Water, then food, then light, etc… Each segment has its own priority. The first bit is needed, and later measures are maybe over kill. It comes down to your financial means and peace of mind. To what lengths do you need to go to not worry about it?
Our priority at this point is to ensure we have the basics at all times. This can be done with a minimal cost, and in such a way to prevent standing in long lines or chasing delivery trucks.
You can go for weeks without food (you won’t need to find that out if you follow this guide), but only a few days without water. Every hurricane I have ever been through has had runs on bottled water. Everyone needs water, but you already have a near infinite source of water in your house. Basically people are running to the store for the containers. Instead of buying water bottles just fill your own at home. Buy collapsable water carriers. They can be found at camping or boating stores or online. Each one comes packed in a small bag all folded up. You can store lots of them in a box in the back of a closet. They last for years and are reusable. At ~10 bucks a piece, they are easy to afford. A week of water (1 gallon per person per day) is easy to have now.
When the storm comes you don’t worry about water. You have those bags at home. Fill them before the storm and stay away from the crazy stores. +1 to sanity.
As an alternative if you use a lot of water bottles, then buy a few extra big cases of water bottles. As you use them up, buy new ones and use up the oldest. That way you are never without a few cases in case a hurricane comes.
When the time comes you can also fill up your tub to have water for flushing the toilet. More on that when we get closer to the storm. If you are really paranoid about water you can buy some kind of life straw filtration system. You can filter rain water or your tub water into drinking water. Pretty extreme, but they are cheap and last forever if you keep them dry.
No showers or AC means you get stinky pretty quick. Keep a few extra sets of baby wipes around. They make small hand washing jobs easy, and can give you a basic shower substitute in a pinch.
Right behind water at the store is food. No bread, no peanut butter etc. One method is to buy the canned food you would need at the beginning of the season. Canned food only lasts so long, so maybe donate it to a shelter around Christmas.
I would suggest buying some kind of MRE style or canned freeze dried food. It can be advertised as camping food or for emergencies and comes in buckets, bags or big cans. They can be affordable at only a few dollars a serving. Depending on what you buy it has a shelf life of a few years, or a few decades. Buy a few days or a week of food for the family and stick it in the back of the closet. No matter what, you are fed. Most only require water, but you have that covered already. Want a hot meal? That is coming up.
That having been said, I would still suggest going grocery shopping before the storm. Earlier the better. Pick up stuff to get you up to and through the storm. If managed properly your fridge can last a while.
Without power your fridge will start warming quickly. I suggest filling gallon storage bags with water and freezing them before the storm. It provides spare drinking water and keeps the freezer cooler longer. You can move ice from the freezer to the fridge once the power goes out to make it keep longer. Make sure you have a decent supply of those gallon sized zipper bags.
It can be tricky to judge coldness. You don’t want to eat tainted food and get food poisoning. A fridge thermometer (~5 bucks) might be a good investment. Stay out of the fridge when you don’t need to be in there, and you can keep it cold for a few days. The freezer can stay for another day or two after that. It depends on your conditions of course, use good judgement.
Most houses use electric to cook. If you own a grill have extra charcoal or propane on hand to use for cooking. If not, a small sterno stove or propane camp stove could be good. Lots of options out there, find the one that is right for you. Keep the stuff on hand before the season starts and it is one less thing to worry about. Matches or lighters are a good thing to have on hand no matter what.
Accessory Power and Light
Depending on your situation you could get by with a hand full of power banks for your phone, a larger battery bank (see my build of a deep cycle battery power source), or maybe a generator. Have enough flashlights and batteries to be out for a week. Think about rechargeable batteries. They are really good these days, and don’t leak battery acid in your favorite devices for too long. If you do go with alkalines, make sure you check the date on them. They are best stored in the original packaging until needed.
I am a huge fan of lithium ion 18650 batteries. The flashlights that use them are more expensive than AA lights, but can be very bright and very efficient. You can power personal fans, recharge cell phones, and provide a lot of light with these versatile batteries. I could write a whole guide on them. Read up on their benefits and consider buying some.
A lantern or two would be good for lighting up large areas. There are many LED lanterns out there that run for days or weeks on a single set of batteries.
However you do it, have plenty of lights. Candles are an OK last resort, but with modern LED flashlights you get much better light with no risk of burning the house down. Don’t underestimate the benefits of having good flashlights.
Think about entertainment when the power is out. There might be a lot of time to kill with no power, but conditions too poor to go outside. Cards, a radio, portable gaming systems, whatever. Often cell service is very reliable, so it might just be the need to charge your phone. Don’t rely on this though, cell phone towers are not impervious to storms.
I didn’t own a generator before Irma, but do now. I would suggest making a plan about what you want to run, then think small. Many people have loud gas guzzling 4 and 5kW screaming generators. These generators are big and heavy, tough to deal with, and can easily suck 4-5 gallons a night. Instead of trying to back feed your whole house, power only what you need.
My philosophy is to be light and agile. A smaller portable 2kW generator is enough to run the smallest window AC they make, my big fridge, and still have power to spare. It is smaller, lighter, and more fuel efficient than many alternatives. Figure out what your family can live with and without and plan accordingly. Don’t just buy the biggest generator you can find. If you do back feed into your house learn about how to do that properly and disconnect yourself from the grid. It could save a lineman.
Own enough gas to run your generator for at least a few days. Gas can be slow to come back once the storm has passed. Filling all the tanks at the beginning of the season means you don’t have to rush for it, but you will need to add fuel stabilizer and worry about it going bad. Dump it in your car once the hurricane season has passed. Otherwise keep the empty cans around and fill up well ahead of the storm.
Take care of your tools and your tools will take care of you - I don't know, but it is good
Whatever you have, plan to take care of it. I am by no means an expert on small engine maintenance. Once again, the time to think about your generator is not right before the storm. Fire it up at the beginning of hurricane season for 20 minutes under some load and make sure it properly powers a few devices. The motor could be ok, but the electrical portion could have issues. Teach the whole family to start and run it. Take care of the maintenance schedule and regularly change oil. Try to run the tank out of fuel and let the generator run dry until the carb is clear. This helps a lot. I have tried to start generators for people that hadn’t been run in years and had fuel left in them. It was an anchor, not a source of power. Don’t spend hundreds of hard earned dollars to only have a paperweight when you need electricity.
Secure the home
If you live in an apartment, the grounds are not really your responsibility. If you rent, work with your landlord. If you own, have an idea what needs to be done with all the stuff you have outside. Heavily potted plants are probably fine. The plastic pink flamingos need to go inside. This isn’t rocket science, but know that you might be moving a lot of stuff around and think about where it needs to go and how long it will take. As with many things, if you have a basic plan it can make things go much faster when the time comes.
Get your renter or homeowners insurance info so you know who to call after the storm if you need to make a claim.
A medium or large tarp can be good for repairs after the storm. Depending on your roof style and physical capability you should look up how to safely tarp your roof. It can mitigate damage after the initial storm. It might be a long while before a roofer will come out.
Most people where I am have stucco homes. They do well unless there is a crack. Wind driven rain can cause water damage through even small cracks. Use something appropriate for the siding in your house and fill them in spring (when it is cooler out) every year. It will help keep the weather from destroying the siding all year, and keeps the water out during a tropical event.
How does your fence look? Mine looks terrible, but I put a few fresh screws into every old picket and sunk a new post next to sagging ones a year ago. Two hurricanes came through since I did that and my fence is fine despite looking a little grim. A lot of my neighbors had theirs collapse. A little work before the hurricane season can save you from having to do a complete replacement.
Keeping the yard trimmed up can be helpful. Trees that are close to the house should be well cropped of dead and dying limbs. It might be a good idea to find out which trees do well in a storm and which do not. The non-natives tend to have issues. Maybe get rid of it before it ends up in the living room.
One last note, do not do any yard trimming right before the storm unless you know it will be picked up by the yard trash pickup services. Limbs on a tree that look bad are a potential risk. Limbs cut down and stacked in your yard are free ammunition for the storm. Leave it on the tree unless you can store it in the garage.
This assumes you own a house. The time to think about getting hurricane shutters is not 3 days before the storm. Plywood is ok, officially rated shutters are best. They come in many forms. I don’t have a lot of advice other than to get shutters if you don’t have them, and try them out if you do. It helps to know what is missing (my house was missing two panels and needed one heavily modified), and to have already put them up once before as practice.
If you have the kind of shutter that has a bunch of threaded studs sticking out of the house there is something you can do to help yourself. Put a little dab of petroleum jelly on all the studs, and keep the caps on when not in use. The jelly keeps them from rusting, along with the caps, makes the caps go on and off much easier, and makes the wingnuts go on smoothly.
Having a few clear shutters, or the ability to look outside would be nice. I am trading a few of my metal shutters for polycarbonate ones. They are pricey, but a little light coming in and the ability to see out will be worth it.
Congratulations, you are way over half way there. A storm could hit tomorrow, and you have already secured food, water, lights, power, and know what to do about your dwelling.