A few years ago I read about a woman who moved from the Southwest to New York City, and a hurricane hit two days later. She had no idea what to do. Why would she? She was used to droughts and brush fires, not preparing for a hurricane with its devastating winds and massive levels of rainfall.
If you are new to hurricane country, and you are if you live within 100 miles or so of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, then these tips are for you. Even if you’ve weathered a hurricane or two in your time, you still might find something new to help you better prepare for the next one.
And there will be a next one!
All disasters have several things in common: emergency service disruption, empty grocery stores, potential for panic, loss of phone service and electricity, and so forth. But all disasters also have their own nasty little unique signature, and newcomers shouldn’t have to find out the hard way what they are. So I started thinking about what newbies can do to make very basic hurricane preparations in just a couple of days.
I have two aims here. First, I want to provide you with a few Very Basic Shopping Lists for urgent, minimalist prepping — if that’s all the time and money you can spare. Next, I’ll provide tips for hurricane-specific prepping.
Preparing for a hurricane
Hurricane-force winds are in excess of 70 miles per hour. They can snap trees, utility poles, and even church steeples. They can rip off siding, roofing and gutters. Now, add the likelihood of pounding rain to the mix and you quickly realize that your house needs prepping as much as your family does.
Outdoor furniture, grills, doghouse, etc. all need to be stowed indoors. Garages and basements are preferable to sheds, which could get flattened. Do any shutters (close them if they actually move), gutters, roofing or trim seem iffy? Strap, nail, bungy or duct tape them down now before they become windblown projectiles. This doesn’t just protect your home; it also helps prevent damage to other homes and the lawsuits that can follow.
The worst place to be the day before a hurricane is a grocery store, Walmart or a home improvement store. Most of the good stuff is gone in a flash, the lines are an hour long, the credit swipers fail, tempers flare in the parking lot and there are often teams of pickpockets working the place. Instead, try smaller hardware stores and places like Big Lots and dollar stores. Wherever you go in your pre-hurricane prepping, go in the morning, bring at least two people (for heavy stuff and to divide and conquer) and bring well-guarded cash. All of that goes double for hunting/camping stores.
To get you started, here is a Very Basic Shopping List:
- Duct tape
- Plywood to cover damaged windows/roofs
- Hammer and nails (You wouldn’t believe how many people have no way to attach plywood once they get it.)
- Tarps and bungee cords/rope
- Empty buckets to collect broken glass (see other uses below)
- Chain saw for removing fallen trees but buy this only if you already know how to use one and have the cash. Never, never, never attempt to remove a pole, tree, or anything else that’s touching power lines! My Dad and brothers, all either firefighters or police officers, had a highly technical term for people who do this. The term was,”the deceased”.
- Check out this Costco shopping list for “apocalypse shopping” for more ideas.
2. Fuel/ light
There’s a very good chance of power outage in a hurricane. It usually lasts just a couple days, but during Hurricane Sandy it was an entire week! And we didn’t even live in the boondocks. If you choose to buy and use a generator, make sure you have enough fuel and outdoor extension cords. Generators have come a long way and are now very simple to use provided you follow all safety protocols, especially proper ventilation!
TIP: Learn more about buying a generator. Good advice here.
If you use a generator, it will need to be kept outside. Be sure to have a way to secure it to a wall or something else strong and stationary. During one hurricane, homeowners reported waking in the morning to find a running lawnmower sitting where their generator had been the night before. Yes, generators become a hot commodity for thieves who know they can easily sell them to desperate people.
Read more —> Survival Diary From 3 Hurricanes & Lessons Learned
There’s also your car to consider. You might still be required to show up at work, even in the aftermath of the big storm. On the fifth powerless day after Sandy, I had a terrible time finding gas. All the stations were out or couldn’t pump because they had no power. When I finally found a station, it was 8 miles from my house, cash only, 20 gallon limit and real policemen directing traffic and enforcing the rules. (And yes, I got actual goosebumps when I began to wonder, “What if this were permanent?”)
For light, candles are good but battery powered LED lanterns are better. Here’s a Very Basic Shopping List to help you prepare for loss of power and lights.
- Generator, if you know how to use one and have the cash. Don’t assume that a neighbor will be able to help you figure out how to use one. They’ll have their own problems to deal with.
- Gas or diesel in regulation cans
- Propane for grilling (in case you have an electric stove)
- Battery powered radio, preferably with hand crank. If it has a solar panel, that’s even better.
- Lots of batteries in various sizes. Truly, you can never have too many batteries. Keep them in their packages until you need them.
- Solar phone charger
- Lanterns and flashlights
- Candles and matches
- Charcoal for grill or campfire…which brings us to…
On the fourth day of the Sandy blackout I heard the neighbors having a 15-round, multi-combatant screaming match over who used the last packet of ketchup. Clearly, Cabin Fever and Electronic Withdrawal had claimed another family. Even if you have a generator for your TV, the cable may be out. Many Americans no longer keep DVDs, preferring to pay for on-demand and Netflix, which may also be down. The video games will keep kids occupied, until the generator gives out.
It’s folly to be electronically addicted anyway, but let’s leave that for another day.
In hurricane country, it’s common to lose power in an area that hardly suffered any damage or to still be blacked out several days after everything appears cleaned up. That’s because the storm may have taken out a major transformer further away or many poles may be down in a small area. Also, there are only so many repair crews and restoration efforts have to be prioritized to stuff like hospitals, fire stations, major roads, Senators’ houses — that sort of thing.
Do you own any board games or sports equipment? Do you know the rules of baseball or any other games? Those non-electric forms of entertainment will get you by through very long days and nights.
If you don’t have a generator or don’t want to squander fuel on entertainment; just redefine “home theater”. Acting out Shakespeare (complete with cheesy costumes made from curtains) or other famous works is a riot and might even reveal a talented actor in the family. Or why not re-enact/re-imagine scenes from classic movies? Especially ones with costumes, accents and the opportunity to over-act. “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” is particularly fun and can occupy a whole day!
Then there’s simply reading to family out loud. This was a common evening activity before TV. Careful about content though; you don’t want to read books about violent crime or vampires and then realize there’s no nightlight!
And since you’re “roughing it” anyway, why not go camping in you own yard? Or right in the living room? Your “tent” can be a real tent or couch cushions. Make it a game.
Goodwill and Salvation Army are good places for all these entertainments and may also be a good source for things like flashlights, tarps, camping gear, etc.
Very Basic Shopping List
- Books, fiction, biographies, and non-fiction. If they’re good read-alouds, that’s a huge bonus.
- Marshmallows (proper roasting really is an art)
- Deck of playing cards or Uno
- Board games
- Books about the olden days (Little House Series, etc.)
- A few DVDs, if you have a generator
- A baseball and bat, soccer ball, frisbee,etc
- And, hey, did I mention books? Keep them positive and uplifting, nothing dark!
- …then there’s homemade “play-doh”!
There’s a decent chance of flooding in a hurricane due to heavy rain and storm surge . Flooding means contaminated water.
Bottled water is the first thing to disappear at the stores, and you should always have at least 2 or 3 cases of bottled water anyway. Even if you have stored water, there are some additional exigent steps you can take. Like scrubbing and bleaching the bathtub to sanitize it (don’t forget a new stopper to prevent leaking!), and filling it with water. Bathtub volumes vary widely but 30 gallons is a reasonable minimum. Remove anything that might fall in and contaminate the water. You can wash with a cloth or bucket elsewhere. Keep door locked if there are toddlers, elderly, or handicapped children in the house! This will prevent both drowning and contamination. There are also food-grade buckets and washed out soda bottles for water storage.
TIP: If you don’t have time to scrub, bleach, and sanitize a tub, consider buying a low-cost WaterBob. I own 2 of them — one for each tub.
For sanitation, biodegradable moistened towelettes are a lifesaver and they’re a decent price and widely available. Or there’s witch hazel. Witch hazel is to the bathroom cabinet what duct tape is to the garage. For bathing, dampen a couple inches of washcloth with the stuff, and just wipe down skin in one direction; repeat until clean. To “shampoo”, just wipe down hair starting at part and re-part every few inches as though you were touching up roots.
Read more about dealing with hygiene during power outages —> Off-Grid Living: Take Care of Personal Hygiene
Plumbing can become an issue following a hurricane, and that’s why we store water. So what about the toilet? There are options at camping/ hunting stores or Army/Navy stores if you have any nearby. If you don’t, a few empty buckets (with lids) double-lined with garbage bags and saw dust, dirt, or cat litter will suffice in a pinch. Pour a cup or two over poop, but no need to bother for pee.
As for food, a few canned convenience foods for now never killed anybody, especially ones that are acceptable when eaten cold. If the grocery store is already in chaos, bypass the canned meats and soup (which are probably gone anyway) and head to the baking aisle where you’ll find nuts, seeds, dried fruit, coconut, canned/powdered milk and yes,Virginia…chocolate chips.
TIP: Print out this list of foods that don’t need to be refrigerated. Great in any emergency.
The ethnic food aisles are next: ready-made polenta , instant couscous, pepitas, boneless sardines, etc. Before you brave the grocery store, or if it’s already picked clean, try the Dollar Stores, small ethnic groceries, and odd lot stores. If you’re in a “mart”, the camping/fishing department gets picked over pretty fast, but there may be freeze dried foods left.
Very Basic Shopping List
- Bottled water, if there is any left
- Bleach, (for sanitizing water and containers)
- Witch Hazel
- Empty buckets with lids to use as toilets if plumbing fails
- Canned stew, chili, soup, etc.
- Canned tuna and other meats
- Take-out condiment packets in case the fridge dies
- Crackers and cookies
- Pet food (because that’s who really ate the last ketchup packet next door!)
- Peanut butter/Nutella
- If you have grilling ability, fresh veggies that grill well
- Canned, powdered or shelf-stable milk
When a storm is coming, half of New England runs out and buys milk and bread. I don’t know why. I could understand it if they bought really healthy bread or also bought peanut butter or canned meats to go on the bread, but they mostly don’t. And what’s with the milk? At least they typically buy cereal, too. But there’s a decent chance you’re gonna lose your fridge.
We call these people, “French toast people,” because they don’t even have the ingredients for French toast. Think about it…
Many people have tried to explain this tendency. I’m sure there’s a Cultural Anthropology student somewhere who’s written their Master’s Thesis on this. I can see the title now :
“An Examination of Northeast Corridor Impending-Inclement-Weather-Psychosis and the Maltose/Lactose Acquisition Phenomenon”.
Now, lest anybody get their Yankee dander up, I’m not just from New England. I’m from Rhode Island. Chowder-eating, Del’s Lemonade-drinking, quahog-stuffing, Johnny Cake flipping, Rhode Freakin’ Island. Rhode Island invented the bread and milk thing. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s all for coffee milk? I beg newcomers to just take a moment and accept it.
Does the South do something like this? Tell the truth, now.
Oh, and don’t forget the universal-solvent of Western Civilization. That weight-in-gold substance without which Michael Bay-level destruction, abject despair and possibly cannibalism will surely ensue: COFFEE!
Coffee doesn’t matter to me, but at some point during the Sandy blackout I went to the store to see if there was any half-price meat. Alas, no, but I beheld something odd. There were about 10 customers roaming the nearly ravaged aisles and 2 teenage cashiers were standing at their registers with nothing to do but text. But there was a line 52 people deep at the service desk. I know because I counted. As I walked along the line to see what the problem was, I noticed that most of them wouldn’t make eye contact and were awfully sheepish and well-behaved for people in a line so very long and slow. Then I saw that the service desk was not their goal. And I doubled over laughing.
Dunkin’ Donuts had its own generator! No donuts in sight, but 2 exhausted staff were cranking out coffee as fast as they could. And no non-fat-half-caff-mocha-latte-chino either. Co-ffee
If you’re worried that you, too, might be in a 52-deep line, you should also have a French press or Bialetti so you can brew without power. Also include some sugar and some non-dairy creamer or those little creamer capsules…
…’cause a bunch of Rhode Islanders grabbed all the milk.
Prepare for hurricanes and a lot more with these resources
- 52 Prepper Projects by Dave Nash
- Countdown to Preparedness by Jim Cobb
- Food Storage for Self-Sufficiency and Survival by Angela Paskett
- The Pantry Primer: How to build a one year food supply in three months by Daisy Luther
- The Preparedness Planner (Print it out for a customized plan!)
- The Preppers Blueprint by Tess Pennington
- The Prepper’s Pocket Guide by Bernie Carr
- Survival Mom: How to Prepare Your Family for Everyday Disasters and Worst Case Scenarios by Lisa Bedford
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