The National Hurricane Center upgraded Hurricane Florence to a Category 4 storm on Monday, with 130 mph winds likely to strengthen ahead of an expected East Coast landfall potentially as early as late Wednesday night or Thursday morning.
While it’s too early to know the exact location of the storm’s landfall, early forecasts point to North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia bearing the brunt of it, with areas as far inland as Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia potentially facing heavy rainfall―as much as 1 or 2 feet in some places―and corresponding heavy flooding.
According to meteorologist and environmental journalist Eric Holthaus, Florence could be the strongest storm in recorded history to hit the East Coast north of Florida:
“It’s important to remember that, while the forecast can still change, all signs point to Florence being one of the worst hurricanes in U.S. history,” Holthaus warned on Twitter. “If you are in harm’s way, act now to protect your family. Start your prep process. Help others. Do not underestimate this storm.”
With those ominous words in mind, here’s some basic hurricane preparedness advice:
Stock Up on Basic Supplies
The government recommends that you have at least three days of food and water on hand (budget one gallon of water per person per day), plus medications, first-aid supplies, a flashlight and batteries, and cash (ATMs may not work during or after a storm).
Don’t forget to account for others who rely on you, including pets. Do you have enough food, water, and other supplies for them, too?
For a more thorough list of recommended items―like can openers, hand sanitizers, a wrench, etc.―see the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s recommendations here.
Time for a Refill
Refill your prescriptions and your car’s gas tank. Charge your devices. Fill up your bathtub with clean water and crank your freezer to the coldest setting. If the power goes out, open your fridge only when necessary in order to preserve the temperature (and the food) for as long as possible.
Around the House
Secure or store items that could become dangerous debris in high winds. Patio furniture, trash cans, and pieces of wood traveling at speed can seriously injure you and damage your home.
Install exterior-grade or marine plywood that’s a minimum of 5/8-inch thick over your windows.
Learn how to turn off your house’s utilities (natural gas, water, and electricity) and when it’s appropriate to do so. Read more on that here.
Is your insurance coverage adequate? There are big differences between hurricane insurance and flood insurance, and those both differ from the coverage needed for a tropical storm. You might need all three. More on that here.
Back Up and Physically Move Up Everything
Gather together important documents―like passports, birth certificates, etc.―in a portable, waterproof container you can take with you if you need to evacuate. Xavier University has a handy list of what documents you should consider for safekeeping.
Back up any important digital files to either the cloud or an external hard drive you can stash in a safe, waterproof spot. Make sure that spot is different than the place where you store the computer it’s backing up, lest you lose both to the same rising waters or leaking roof.
While you’re at it, move family heirlooms and other valuables you can’t take with you to a second floor, attic, etc.
Figure out ahead of time where to go―and how to get there―if you have to evacuate. A safe route should steer clear of potentially flooded areas, which you should never try to walk, swim, or drive through.
Learn ahead of time how to receive emergency notifications. If you’re using a radio, figure out the station that’s broadcasting weather alerts (here’s a search tool to find the best station for you).
Tell family and friends about your plan, and coordinate ahead of time how to stay in touch during the storm if, say, you need to evacuate. Note that text messages may work even when phone calls do not.