If you live in an area in the United States that has hurricanes, it is SO important to be prepared for anything! What to pack, when to evacuate, and how to secure your home – from a mom that’s lived through three hurricanes. Plus — grab a printable hurricane supply list.
I’ve included affiliate links to items on our hurricane supply checklist that we use to stock up and prepare for emergencies; disclosure policy available here.
What I’ve Learned Living through 3 Hurricanes in Texas
UPDATE July 2020: I originally published this post in August 2017, while waiting for Hurricane Harvey to arrive. I’m updating this post for the present Hurricane season to include some of what I learned in Harvey and Tropical Storm Imelda too.
I’ve evacuated one hurricane (Rita) and hunkered down for two (Ike and Harvey). All experiences were scary (Ok…more like terrifying!!), even though we were fairly well prepared.
I am by no means a hurricane expert, and I don’t consider myself a “survivor,” as I was fortunate. However, I have lived through three major hurricanes and a tropical storm flooding event, so I wanted to share my experiences to hopefully help others prepare.
Hurricane Rita & the 30 Hour Evacuation
My first hurricane hit right after I moved to Texas. Some welcome present!!
Our family lived near the coast in an area that was under evacuation order, so we had no choice but to leave. An area that’s been evacuated has no services and no guarantee of help if you decide to stay. So if you’re supposed to leave…go!!
Also, as soon as you get an evacuation order, get out of town!
During Rita, my brother and I took one car and headed out early to make sure we got the hotel room we booked (a good thing because the hotel gave another family the key to our room even after we checked in!!)
My parents and my sister stayed a few extra hours to get the house ready to leave (something we should have done sooner). Those hours made a HUGE difference in travel time. My brother and I made it to our hotel in 10 hours. My parents, sister, and all our pets made it in 30 hours. (The trip takes 3 1/2 hours under normal conditions).
Yes, you read that right…a 30 hour evacuation drive.
Almost 3 million residents of southeast Texas left their homes, making it the largest mass evacuation in US history. A large number of those were not under a mandatory evacuation order, but were urged to leave at the last minute.
The highways simply did not have room for all the cars trying to head out of town at the same time, causing a traffic jam that lasted a day and a half. I thought that 10 hours to San Antonio was crazy, but I had no idea at the time that I wouldn’t see the rest of my family for a full day later.
We were lucky — our entire family made it to our destination eventually. My sister, who must have eyes like a hawk, spotted a small gas pump on private property where the owner was selling at a fair price to travelers. This kept my family from being stranded.
Thankfully for us, Hurricane Rita changed paths and didn’t hit our city or our home. The worst casualty for our family was one of our cars that died on the journey and had to be abandoned. (But believe it or not was still waiting for us to rescue it when we returned home!)
Moral of the story: Leave early and only when your area is told to do so by local authorities. And be ready for anything.
Hurricane Ike & the most important thing we did to prepare to “hunker down”
During Hurricane Ike, the city of Houston didn’t want to repeat the mistakes of Rita, so residents were told to stay put unless they lived in a mandatory evacuation zone. At the time, I lived in an apartment in the city with my brother and sister, so we had to stay there. And like any college kids we planned a “hurricane party!”
Though we had a little fun, we still made sure to prepare as best as we could. We weren’t able to board our windows (and our apartment did not do it for us either), but we did stock up on food.
But the most important and helpful thing we did to get ready for staying home during the hurricane was to fill our bathtubs up with water. Surprisingly, we didn’t lose power. However we did lose water for two full days. The water in our bathtubs allowed us to flush our toilets. If we hadn’t done this the situation would have gotten really dicey…really fast.
Riding out a hurricane is nuts. I remember vividly seeing the 2-foot thick tree in front of our living room window bent in half from the winds. I also remember the entire apartment complex shuddering under a particularly strong blast. I could not believe that our building was not seriously damaged. Again our family was extremely lucky.
Moral of the story: make sure you can take care of ahem waste if you stay put during a storm.
Hurricane Harvey: the Worst Flood in Houston’s History
Harvey was unique for me in that I was a blogger at the time, and I documented what happened, as it happened.
Instead of recounting it all here, I’ll provide links to the full blogs posts that I wrote as our family dealt with the storm:
- Read about our Hurricane Harvey experience and photos during the storm here
- See photos of the flooding in our local area here
- Learn what people really need after a disaster here
Hurricane Supply List and How to Prepare for the Storm
Because it’s been a a few years since my last hurricane, I decided it would be a good idea to check up on our hurricane supply list.
It’s amazing how your brain blocks out all of the traumatic experiences and you can start to feel complacent during the good times!
Whether you’re riding it out or hitting the road, here’s a list of what to do to get ready. This is based on my own experience and research, so be sure to check with your local authorities for additional suggestions.
When it comes to hurricanes, there truly is no such thing as being too prepared!
How to Prepare Your Home for a Hurricane
- Move cars to garage, covered area, or high ground
- Shutter windows or cover with fitted boards (taping windows has been debunked by experts, so don’t bother…it’s a pain to clean later)
- If in a flooding zone, move valuables to second story or attic
- Store important documents in a waterproof container (bring with you if evacuating)
- If staying at home during the storm, fill bathtubs with water. This way if you lose water service (it happened for me during Hurricane Ike) you’ll be able to flush toilets.
- Test smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors
- Trim trees and remove damaged limbs that could be knocked loose by high winds
- Check for and repair any leaks before the storm
- Turn your fridge and freezer to coolest setting so it will be at the lowest temperature possible should you lose power
- Secure or bring in all outdoor furniture or items that could be blown during a storm
- Fully charge cell phones and electronics
- Let your family or friends know your plan during the storm, whether you’ll be staying or evacuating.
- Stock your car with an emergency “bug out bag” with a change of clothes and basic supplies, should you need to leave unexpectedly
What Supplies Do I Need for a Hurricane?
Don’t forget! Grab a free printable copy of our hurricane preparedness checklist here. I’ve got detailed info about each item below:
- Solar-powered lantern — We have this Luci inflatable solar powered light and love it!
- Hand-crank rechargeable lantern — It’s always a good idea to have multiple sources of light just in case.
- Bottled water or other stored water — Aim for 1 gallon of water – per person per day – for at least 5 days.
- Paper towels and toilet paper — I stock up on toilet paper before every season!
- Garbage bags — Believe it or not, my husband used sturdy plastic bags filled with old towels to create “sand bags” during Hurricane Harvey. That quick thinking prevented serious flood damage!
- Canned food — Or other non-perishable food (that doesn’t require heating) and a manual can opener. We always have at least a 30 day supply of emergency food because our area tends to flood and we can’t always leave the house for more supplies.
- Flashlight — Hard to beat the classic MagLite!
- Candles and matches — Use only as a backup of your backup, as these can be a fire hazard!
- Emergency Radio — This Emergency Hand Crank Radio can even power a cell phone for short time!
- Batteries — Be sure to get different sizes for your flashlights, radio, etc.
- Car chargers for cell phones — If the power goes out and you don’t have a generator, you can use your car to keep phones charged.
- Games and books — To keep the family entertained, should power go out.
- First aid kit — Every home and car should have one!
- Backup prescriptions — A 30 day supply at minimum, but if you can get 3 months at a time even better!
- Insect repellant — This one isn’t cheap, but it really works and it’s natural! Because after the rains come mosquitos…
- Sunscreen — In case you’re outside doing repairs or cleanup afterwards.
- Hand sanitizer — If water supply is disrupted, it’s important to have a way to clean and sanitize hands. Flood waters carry bacteria and can be dangerous! Click here to learn things you can use instead of hand sanitizer in an emergency.
- Portable fire extinguisher
- Diapers and wipes — If you have a baby, you don’t want to run out of these!
- Pet food and supplies — Don’t forget things like cat litter too!
- Formula or baby food
TIP: Many of these things are small enough to fit into a duffle bag or rubbermaid box to make a “bug out bag.” That way you have everything ready should you need to evaluate or “bug out” in a hurry. Click here to see our bug out bag checklist!
Another option is to purchase a ready-to-go bug out bag, like the Complete Earthquake Bag from Redfora. I don’t know how they did it, but they crammed TONS of emergency supplies like the ones listed above in a portable backpack!
How do I know if I should evacuate?
Before Hurricane season begins, create a tentative evacuation plan in place before a storm hits, so all you have to do when you get the evacuation order is confirm your hotel.
When a Hurricane is on it’s way, watch closely for updates from your local authorities. Follow instructions their instructions regarding an evacuation. This is so important!! The evacuation for Rita was a disaster in itself because thousands of people were on the roads that didn’t need to be and it created a 24-hour traffic jam.
On the flip side, if there is an evacuation order for your area…GO! If you choose to stay, there may not be first responders available to help you in an emergency.
The next thing to remember is to ALWAYS keep your cars’ gas tanks full during Hurricane season. That way you’re ready to go at a moment’s notice and don’t have to fight the crowds at the gas station.
What to do during a hurricane evacuation:
- Once you receive an evacuation order book your hotel immediately. They will sell out.
- If your area is under an evacuation order, go as soon as you can. Part of my family stayed behind a few extra hours during the evacuation for Rita and those hours made a HUGE difference. My brother and I made it to our hotel in 10 hours (which is three times longer than the trip would normally take), while the rest of my family didn’t arrive for almost 30 hours. Yes, really…30 hours for what is usually a 3 1/2 hour drive.
- Bring as much food and water as you can pack. You don’t know how long you’ll be in the car or what options will be available on the road. During our evacuation for Hurricane Rita, gas stations ran out of gas and restaurants ran out of food.
- Make arrangements for pets as soon as possible. If your pets are traveling with you, be sure to bring plenty of food and water for them too.
- Check in to your hotel ASAP and always keep one person in the room to watch it in case the hotel overbooks and gives a room key to someone else (it happened to us!)
Again, these tips are based on my own experience and research living through two hurricanes. For more information on how to prepare, check out www.Ready.gov.
Do you have anything to add to this list? Share your hurricane preparedness tips in the comments below.
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