It’s not easy to forget the devastation many Floridians experienced with Hurricane Irma in 2017 or the fear that we’d be hit by Jose shortly after. Some residents in the Florida Keys were still living in tents in December. Texas continues to make repairs after Harvey and some areas of Puerto Rico were without power for more than 5 months after Maria. (Currently, Puerto Rico’s power grid is back up for 97% of the coverage area, but it might not be stable – last Wednesday brought a freak accident causing new blackouts.)

The point is… Hurricane Season 2018 is fast-approaching, and hurricanes are no joke.

The time to prepare is now.

What to Expect in Hurricane Season 2018

Hurricane season in the Atlantic runs from June 1 to November 30, but according the the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center, most storms hit between August to October during the peak of the season.

Scientists at Colorado State University (CSU) are predicting an above-average hurricane season in the Atlantic this year. Approximately 14 named storms are predicted in total, with 7 storms reaching hurricane status and 3 of those storms reaching winds of 111 mph or greater. The report also predicts a 39% landfall probability for the US East Coast, including the full Florida peninsula.

For reference, this is similar to the hurricane seasons of 1960, 1967, 1996, 2006, and 2011. However, it’s worth noting that 2017’s hurricane activity in the Atlantic was 245% of the average season, whereas this prediction for 2018 comes in at about 135%.

“It takes only one storm near you to make this an active season.”

Michael Bell
Associate Professor of CSU’s Department of Atmospheric Science

To make these predictions, scientists analyze many factors, including sea surface temperatures and wind speeds. For 2018, a major impact is made with the expectation of a less significant El Nino this year.

The Climate Prediction Center won’t release its first forecast for Hurricane Season 2018 until late May, and scientists at CSU will release updates for the season on May 31, July 2, and August 2.

What to Put in Your Hurricane Kit

Prepare a hurricane kit before the season starts, and replenish as-needed, including items such as:

  • A list of emergency numbers
  • Enough water to last a minimum of 3 days
  • Enough non-perishable food to last a minimum of 3 days, with manual can opener
  • A first-aid kit that also includes prescription medication (if low, get a refill before a hurricane hits)
  • A lighter or matches (or both)
  • Sanitation and personal hygiene items
  • Battery-operated radio (with extra batteries)
  • Flashlights (with extra batteries)
  • Waterproof container for safekeeping of cash and important documents
  • A cooler and several ice packs
  • A (practiced) evacuation plan for the household and basic evacuation information for the immediate local area
  • A (practiced) plan for if family members become separated
  • An updated flood zone map for your local area
  • Any basic tools that may help in case of entrapment, such as a crowbar or hammer
  • Special needs items for babies or pets
  • Any magazines, books, or games desired for recreation purposes

Hurricane Kit

How to Prepare Family Homes for Hurricane Season

Start at FloridaDisaster.org. They make family disaster planning simple with a family emergency plan template.

Designate two contacts. One should be local and one should be out-of-town, and your children should know how to get in touch with both.

Be sure to protect your roof. Install straps, roof clips, and/or roof chips to ensure the roof stays attached to the frame structure during a hurricane, instead of blowing away.

Protect your windows. Add functional window shutters as a way to prevent the glass from being shattered by flying objects. In a pinch, cover windows with any form of wood. Tape helps as well, as it prevents glass from shattering everywhere, but the window itself would still be broken and require replacement.

Secure garage doors. Try installing garage door braces to help hold it in place during high winds.

Bring as many outdoor items as possible inside. For very large items, such as cars, motorcycles, or boats, try to move them into a shed or garage space if it’s available. Smaller items will be easier to bring inside, including potted plants, tools, children’s toys, or patio furniture.

Clear rain gutters. This can help prevent leakage problems during a storm. While doing this, make sure gutters, downspouts, and even A/C condensers are all secured before the season begins. If possible, double-check these before getting hit by any hurricane.

Trim all shrubs and trees. Any plant with large branches near your home should be trimmed before the season begins.

Get sandbags for areas of your home which may flood. This is particularly helpful for homes along beaches, rivers, or lakes, to prevent rising water from seeping in around door frames.

Consider disabilities and special needs of family or neighbors. FloridaDisaster.org again offers an excellent resource to facilitate gathering a plan for families with disabled, special needs, or elderly members.

Consider investing in a backup generator. If you get hit hard and lose power, this could make the experience a little less stressful.

Hurricane Preparedness for Commercial Businesses in Florida

In the path of a hurricane, businesses face a unique set of complications. They may have to shut down operations and evacuate, but they may also lose different team members based upon evacuation policies of each individual’s residence or personal safety needs.

Temporary loss of workforce or damage to business headquarters can do more than interrupt company proceedings. It can hit the company pockets hard, and as experienced with some major power outages after Irma in 2017, it might be an extended period of time before doors re-open.

Florida offers a number of resources for small businesses which might not have the bandwidth to deal with an extended crisis. The Florida Chamber recommends AppRiver cloud-based services to avoid potential email downtime during hurricanes. After a natural disaster, the Governor may activate the Emergency Bridge Loan Program, where small businesses can apply for assistance in the event of severe damage. In addition, the Small Business Administration (SBA) offers disaster loans to businesses of any size, private non-profit organizations, renters, and homeowners alike for low interest rates.

As standard practice, FloridaDisaster.org recommends all businesses strive to have a disaster continuity plan in place and encourage team members to have emergency family plans as well.

For more information on how to build disaster continuity plans and prepare your business, visit their Planning for Businesses resource page here. For personal insight from the Florida Chamber, email Carolyn Johnson at cjohnson@flchamber.com

Stay Updated on Flood Zones & Local Evacuation Policies

The US Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers a flood zone map where you can search for updates based on your exact address. Check this map at least once per year and be sure to double-check it prior to a hurricane, as flood zones change often based upon construction or new drainage systems.

FEMA also offers a Flood Hazard Mapping Updates Overview Fact Sheet as a supporting document for the interactive flood zone tool, which it recommends you download and read here to help better understand your flood zone information.

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) offers a comprehensive set of evacuation route information, covering details such as shoulder usage and designated evacuation roads. After particularly bad traffic during evacuation for Hurricane Irma, Florida announced a plan of action to improve evacuation routes, including improvements with shoulders, road widening, dynamic message signs, expanding fuel capacity at existing department-own facilities, and more. Changes are to begin July 1, 2018 and continue for several years at the discretion of Governor Scott.

What about Pets?

Most indoors pets may be fairly simple to care for during a hurricane, as long as evacuation isn’t required. Just plan for your pet as you would plan for any other family member, including non-perishable food, clean drinking water, and medication for at least 3 days, as well as any basic sanitation needs (such as kitty litter).

Dogs specifically require a little more planning. Keep watch on the progression of the storm and be sure to take your dog outside for a bathroom break shortly before winds pick up. It will be unsafe to take them out again until after the strong winds have passed. If potty training or caring for an elderly dog, it may be helpful to get puppy pads as a backup plan for the hurricane.

If you need to evacuate in the event of a hurricane, the state of Florida strongly urges you to bring your pets. Be sure to plan in advance for pets. Make arrangements at a kennel or loved one’s residence that is outside of the evacuation area.

Public shelters managed by the American Red Cross will not allow pets. However, you may be able to find other pet-friendly shelters with proper planning, just keep in mind that pet-friendly shelters are for persons living in mandatory evacuation areas only.

Before hurricane seasons starts, ensure pets are up-to-date on any necessary vaccinations. Many shelters or kennels will require proof of:

  • Dogs: corona, bordetella, distemper/parvo group, and rabies vaccines
  • Cats: feline leukemia, rhinotracheitis/calicivirus, panleukopenia, and rabies vaccines

Also prior to hurricane season, make sure each pet has its own carrier that allows the animal to stand up and turn around. Facilities may also require food and water bowls, a leash, pet toys, at least 3 days worth of food and 3 days worth of medication. Label everything with your pet’s name.

Be sure each pet has a collar with a rabies tag and an ID tag, including name, address, and your most accessible phone number.