Potentially 'catastrophic' Hurricane Florence is approaching the East Coast — here's what you should do to prepare

Korin Miller
A NOAA satellite image shows Hurricane Florence as it travels west and gains strength in the Atlantic Ocean on Sept. 10, 2018. Weather predictions say the storm will likely hit the U.S. East Coast as early as Thursday. (Photo: NOAA via Getty Images)

Mid-September is typically the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season, and people are talking about major storms that may surface. At the moment, all eyes are on Hurricane Florence — a potentially “catastrophic” storm that could wreak havoc all along the East Coast. With predictions like these, an important question inevitably comes up: What should you actually do to prepare when a hurricane is in your forecast?

If you’re in the path of a hurricane and you’ve been advised to leave by officials: Do it. “Think in advance about who you have inland and where you can stay, or where your nearest safest place is which you may have access to,” hurricane researcher Jennifer Collins, a professor at the University of South Florida, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Having a place to go could save your life.”

If you’re not under an evacuation order, there are a few important things you can do. As early as you can, put together what Collins calls “phase one” preparations, like a family first aid kit, pet first aid kit, paper plates, toilet paper, a manual can opener, flashlights, batteries, and entertainment for kids that doesn’t require electricity, like coloring books and crayons. “I also recommend going through each room in your house and videoing what you have for insurance purposes,” Collins says. Then, send it to yourself through the cloud or email so you have it in case something happens to your phone.

By the way, you don’t just want to think about flashlight batteries. “Have plenty of backup batteries for not only lights, but phones — ways to recharge phones and computers,” Jack E. Nicholson, director of the Florida Catastrophic Storm Risk Management Center at Florida State University, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

As the storm gets closer, “Make sure you have nonperishable food that hasn’t expired to feed all people and pets for at least three days,” Kimberly Wood, an assistant professor in the department of geosciences at Mississippi State University, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Ideally, this is food you can prepare without electricity. Extended power outages can occur due to winds or flooding. If a large area sustains even moderate damage, it can take a while to fully restore power.” You also want to buy food you’ll actually want to eat — not just things you think you need. “If you end up not using it during the storm itself, you can eat it later,” Wood explains.

Another crucial step is to make sure you have fresh water available for all people (and pets) for three days, Wood says. “You can fill empty (and washed) milk jugs with water rather than just relying on bottled water,” she says. You should also fill up your (clean) bathtub as the storm approaches, Matt Rogers, of the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere at Colorado State University, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “A full bathtub provides a good deal of clean water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning,” explains. “After a hurricane, water and sewer services can be unavailable, and having clean water on hand is critically important.” Freezing bottles or jugs of water ahead of time can help keep food colder longer and double as drinking water once it melts, Wood says.

As early as you can, fill up your car with gas, Collins says. “The gas station lines will get longer as a storm gets closer, and gas stations will often run out of gas,” she says. You’ll also want to hit your local ATM. “Having cash is a good idea,” Nicholson says. “ATM machines could go down if power goes out.”

Many people stock up on milk and bread at the grocery store when a storm is looming, but milk can spoil easily, Wood points out. Still, the bread is a good idea. She recommends getting nonperishable spreads like peanut butter to go with it.

Ultimately, “Everybody’s needs are different,” Rogers says. “The exercise here is to imagine what it would be like to live in your home with no power, cooling or heating, lighting, or clean water for several days, perhaps with a flooded basement or first floor. You may have to leave your home and evacuate to a different area — imagining those scenarios, the important thing to do is think about your needs.”

People always joke about stocking up on alcohol when a hurricane is looming, but it’s actually a bad idea to be drinking during a hurricane, Collins says. “I would advise keeping your wits about you during a storm,” she says. “At the last minute, it can change track, and you want to have your wits about you so you can make good decisions.”

Of course, it’s important to stay calm, but information is power. For further tips on how to stay safe, check the National Weather Service’s hurricane preparedness advice.

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