irma nasa What to do before, during, and after a hurricane

A GOES satellite image showing Hurricane Irma in the Atlantic Ocean. The storm is a category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale. (US Navy photo)

By Katie Lange, DoD News

Hurricane Harvey just devastated the southeast coast of Texas, and now Hurricane Irma is forcing Floridians, those in the southeast U.S. and people across the Caribbean to prepare for the worst.

Hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30, peaking between mid-August and late October. No matter where you live, everyone in hurricane-prone areas should know what to do and have a plan for before, during and after a storm hits.


Tropical depression: A system of clouds and thunderstorms with a defined surface circulation and sustained winds that do not exceed 38 mph.
Tropical storm: A system of clouds and thunderstorms with a defined surface circulation and sustained winds 39-73 mph.
Hurricane: A system of clouds and thunderstorms with a defined surface circulation and sustained winds 74 mph or higher.
Storm surge: An abnormal rise of water pushed ashore by a storm, over and above the predicted astronomical tide. Storm surges, which are often the greatest threat to life and property, are affected by a number of complex factors and can vary in magnitude despite hurricane categories. For example, Hurricane Katrina, a Category 3 hurricane, had a storm surge of 28 ft., while Hurricane Charley, a Category 4 hurricane, had a storm surge of 6-8 ft.
Storm tide: A combination of storm surge with normal tide, increasing the amount of water (e.g., a 15-foot storm surge with a 2-foot normal tide creates a 17-foot storm tide).
Hurricane Watch = Hurricane conditions possible within the next 48 hours.
Hurricane Warning = Hurricane conditions are expected within 36 hours.

Storm categorizations:

  • Category 1: Winds 74-95 mph, very dangerous winds will produce some damage.
  • Category 2: Winds 96-110 mph, extremely dangerous winds will cause extensive damage.
  • Category 3: Winds 111-129 mph, devastating damage will occur.
  • Category 4: Winds 130-156 mph, catastrophic damage will occur, well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of roof structure and/or some exterior walls.
  • Category 5: Winds exceeding 157 mph, catastrophic damage will occur, high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed with total roof failure and wall collapse. Category 3, 4 and 5 hurricanes are considered “major hurricanes.”


gettyimages 842958300 What to do before, during, and after a hurricane

Shoppers gather supplies at a Home Depot store as residents in the area prepare ahead of Hurricane Irma on September 05, 2017 in Tampa, Florida. (Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

Make a hurricane plan:

  • Know your hurricane risk. Talk to your local emergency management agency.
  • Make an emergency plan.
    • Sign up for alerts and warnings
    • Make a family communication plan
    • Plan shelter options
    • Know your evacuation route
  • Build or restock your basic disaster supplies kit, including food and water, a flashlight, batteries, chargers, cash, and first aid supplies.
  • Consider buying flood insurance.
  • Familiarize yourself with local emergency plans. Know where to go and how to get there should you need to get to higher ground or to evacuate.
  • Stay tuned to local wireless emergency alerts, TV, or radio for weather updates, emergency instructions, or evacuation orders.



Basic Preparedness Tips

  • Know where to go. If you are ordered to evacuate, know the local hurricane evacuation route(s) to take and have a plan for where you can stay. Contact your local emergency management agency for more information.
  • Put together a go-bag: disaster supply kit, including a flashlight, batteries, cash, first aid supplies, medications, and copies of your critical information if you need to evacuate. Add items to meet the household needs for children, parents, individuals with disabilities or other access and functional needs or pets.
  • If you are not in an area that is advised to evacuate and you decide to stay in your home, plan for adequate supplies in case you lose power and water for several days and you are not able to leave due to flooding or blocked roads.
  • Make sure your family emergency communication plan is up to date.
  • Many communities have text or email alerting systems for emergency notifications. To find out what alerts are available in your area, search the Internet with your town, city, or county name and the word “alerts.”

Preparing Your Home

  • Hurricane winds can cause trees and branches to fall, so trim or remove damaged trees and limbs before hurricane season to keep you and your property safe.
  • Secure loose rain gutters and downspouts and clear any clogged areas or debris to prevent water damage to your property.
  • Reduce property damage by retrofitting to secure and reinforce the roof, windows and doors, including the garage doors.
  • Purchase a portable generator or install a generator for use during power outages. Remember to keep generators and other alternate power and heat sources outside, at least 20 feet away from windows and doors and protected from moisture; and NEVER try to power the house wiring by plugging a generator into a wall outlet.
  • Consider building a FEMA safe room or ICC 500 storm shelter designed for protection from high-winds and in locations above flooding levels.

When a hurricane is 18-36 hours from arriving:

  • Keep an eye on the latest weather updates and emergency instructions. Bookmark your city or county website for quick access to these things.
  • Plan ways to communicate with family members if you lose power. For example, you can call, text, email or use social media. Remember that during disasters, sending text messages is usually reliable and faster than making phone calls because phone lines are often overloaded.
  • Review your evacuation plan with your family. You may have to leave quickly so plan ahead.
  • Keep your car in good working condition, and keep the gas tank full; stock your vehicle with emergency supplies and a change of clothes.
  • Bring loose, lightweight objects inside that could become projectiles in high winds (e.g., patio furniture, garbage cans); anchor objects that would be unsafe to bring inside (e.g., propane tanks); and trim or remove trees close enough to fall on the building.
  • Cover all of your home’s windows. Permanent storm shutters offer the best protection for windows. A second option is to board up windows with 5/8” exterior grade or marine plywood, cut to fit and ready to install.

When a hurricane is 6 hours out:

  • If you’re not in an area that is recommended for evacuation, plan to stay at home or where you are and let friends and family know where you are.
  • Close storm shutters, and stay away from windows. Flying glass from broken windows could injure you.
  • Turn your refrigerator or freezer to the coldest setting and open only when necessary. If you lose power, food will last longer. Keep a thermometer in the refrigerator to be able to check the food temperature when the power is restored.
  • Turn on your TV or radio, or check your city or county website every 30 minutes in order to get the latest weather updates and emergency instructions.


gettyimages 843861792 What to do before, during, and after a hurricane

A photo taken on September 7, 2017 shows damage in Orient Bay on the French Carribean island of Saint-Martin, after the passage of Hurricane Irma. (LIONEL CHAMOISEAU/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Listen to local officials for updates and instructions.
  • Check in with family and friends by texting or using social media.
  • Return home only when authorities indicate it is safe.
  • Watch out for debris and downed power lines.
  • Avoid walking or driving through flood waters. Just 6 inches of moving water can knock you down, and a foot of fast-moving water can sweep your vehicle away.
  • Flood-water may be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines and may hide dangerous debris or places where the ground is washed away.
  • Photograph the damage to your property in order to assist in filing an insurance claim.
  • Do what you can to prevent further damage to your property (e.g., putting a tarp on a damaged roof), as insurance may not cover additional damage that occurs after the storm.

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