Virginia Water Resources Research Center

The Water Cooler

Time to be ready for hurricanes

A 60-Watt incandescent bulb can consume up to 6,000 gallons of water a year

Alan Raflo

by Alan Raflo

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30, with August to October the usual period of peak activity. On May 22, 2008, the Climate Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its outlook for the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season. Allowing for various uncertainties (which are detailed in the full outlook document), the outlook estimated a 65-percent probability of an "above-normal" Atlantic hurricane season in 2008, and a 60- to 70-percent chance for each of the following ranges of activity: 12 to 16 named storms; 6 to 9 hurricanes; and 2 to 5 major hurricanes (major hurricanes are those rated "Category 3" or higher on the Saffir-Simpson Scale and that have sustained winds of at least 111 miles per hour). A "near-normal" season typically has 6 to 14 named storms, 4 to 8 hurricanes, and 1 to 3 major hurricanes.

The Climate Prediction Center notes that the outlook is "a general guide to the expected overall nature of the upcoming hurricane season. It is not a seasonal hurricane landfall forecast, and it does not imply levels of activity for any particular region. Hurricane disasters can occur whether the season is active or quiet. Residents, businesses, and government agencies of coastal and near-coastal regions should prepare for every hurricane season regardless of the seasonal outlook."

Hurricane Preparedness Week, organized by NOAA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), was May 25-31, 2008. The NOAA/FEMA Web site for the week includes information about historical tropical storms, potential impacts of tropical storms (including high winds, storm surges, tornadoes, and inland flooding, and recommendation preparation and response actions.

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Hurricane safety and preparedness tips

(source: Virginia Department of Emergency Management, Aug. 2005)

Before the storm

  • Know your risk. Find out if your home is in the storm surge or flooding zone. Consult your area emergency management office for this information.
  • Identify where to go if you are told to evacuate and the safest route to get there. Choose several places—a friend's home in another town, a motel, or a shelter. Remember, public shelters and many motels don't allow pets in their facilities.
  • Get ready for a possible power outage by gathering a minimum one-week supply of foods that don't require refrigeration or cooking, such as canned goods, as well as bottled water, flashlights with extra batteries, a first-aid kit, and battery-powered radio. If you need to evacuate, make sure you can consolidate these items into a portable "go" kit, like a backpack or duffel bag.
  • Purchase a NOAA Weather Radio for National Weather Service reports, watches, and warnings.
  • Re-check your supply of plywood, tools, batteries, tarps, and plastic sheeting for roof repairs.
  • Cut dead trees and limbs that could fall on your home.
  • Consider retrofitting your garage door by installing horizontal bracing onto each door panel. High winds that enter through the garage can blow out doors, windows, walls, and even the roof.
  • Make sure you have a current flood insurance policy (not typically part of a homeowner's policy). A 30-day waiting period is generally required to purchase flood insurance, so take time now to visit your insurance agent to learn more.
  • Take pictures of your property before the storm to help validate your claim and remember to take your policies with you if you need to evacuate.

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When a hurricane is approaching

  • Listen to your local radio and TV stations for updated storm information. A hurricane watch means possible danger. If the danger increases, a hurricane warning will be issued.
  • If you have space in your refrigerator or freezer, consider filling plastic containers with water, leaving about an inch of space inside each one. (Remember, water expands as it freezes, so it is important to leave room in the container for the expanded water.) Place the containers in the refrigerator or freezer. This chilled or frozen water will help keep food cold for several hours if the power goes out.
  • Fill your bathtub with water to use for toilet flushing in case water services are unavailable following the storm.
  • Bring in garbage cans, lawn furniture, and other items that could blow away.
  • Fill your car's gas tank and prepare to evacuate if told to do so.

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During the storm

  • If you are not advised to evacuate, remain indoors and away from windows. If necessary, seek refuge in an interior, windowless room. Cover yourself with pillows or a blanket for protection from falling debris.

After the storm

  • Listen to your local radio stations for official disaster relief information and instructions.
  • Prepare to be without power, telephone, or any outside services for a week or more.
  • Watch out for downed power lines, weakened structures, rodents, and snakes, and avoid standing water.
  • Avoid drinking tap water unless officials say it is safe. Eat only foods you know to be safe.
  • Be extra careful when handling power tools, gas lanterns, and matches.
  • Operate generators outdoors only in a well-ventilated, dry area, away from air intakes to the home. Never use a generator indoors or in attached garages. Poor ventilation can result in carbon monoxide poisoning or death.
  • Avoid using candles as a light source. Deadly fires can result.

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Tips about pets

(source: National Hurricane Center: "Hurricane Preparedness - Pet Plan")

Before the disaster

  • Contact your veterinarian or local humane society for information on preparing your pets for an emergency.
  • Make sure that your pets have current vaccinations.
  • Have a current photograph.
  • Keep a collar with identification on your pet and have a leash on hand to control your pet.
  • Have a properly-sized pet carrier for each animal (large enough for the animal to standand turn around).
  • If you plan to shelter your pet, work it into your evacuation route planning. Specialized pet shelters, animal control shelters, veterinary clinics, and friends and relatives out of harm's way are all potential refuges for your pet during a disaster.

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During the disaster

  • Bring pets indoor well in advance of a storm; reassure them and remain calm.
  • Pet shelters will be filled on first-come, first-served basis; call ahead and determine availability.
  • Animals brought to a pet shelter typically are required to have a proper identification collar and rabies tag, proper identification on all belongings, a carrier or cage, a leash, an ample supply of food, water and food bowls, any necessary medications, specific care instructions, and newspapers or trash bags for clean-up.

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After the disaster

  • Walk pets on a leash until they become re-oriented to their home. Often familiar scents and landmarks may be altered and pets could easily be confused and become lost. Also, downed power lines, reptiles brought in with high water and debris can all pose a threat for animals after a disaster.
  • If pets cannot be found after a disaster, contact the local animal control office to find out where lost animals can be recovered. Bring along a picture of your pet if possible.
  • After a disaster, animals can become aggressive or defensive; monitor their behavior.

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Take the hurricane preparedness quiz:

The Virginia Department of Emergency Management's Web site provided this true/false quiz in August 2005 (no longer available). It has been slightly edited here for space.

  1. Your family disaster plan should include a phone number for an out-of-state friend or family member. T/F
  2. Candles are the best source of light during a power outage. T/F
  3. Most deaths that results from a hurricane happen during the height of the storm. T/F
  4. It takes as little as two feet of water to carry away most vehicles. T/F
  5. Pets are welcome at emergency shelters. T/F
  6. Most homeowners insurance policies cover flood damage. T/F
  7. Virginians need be concerned only about hurricanes that make landfall in Virginia. T/F
  8. Tropical storms or depressions can cause more damage than hurricanes. T/F

Answers available here (opens in a new page).