Illustration of dark storm clouds over a green plot of land
Illustration: Sinelab

This year’s hurricane season season is expected to be “above normal,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says. What does that mean? NOAA says it’s likely that that the Atlantic and Gulf coasts will see 13 to 20 named storms, with six to 10 becoming hurricanes with winds of 74 miles per hour or higher. Three to five of those could be major hurricanes, with winds of 111 mph or higher.

Homeowners in hurricane-susceptible areas, such as those along the East and Gulf coasts, should consider retrofits, like hurricane shutters, tailored to local conditions. But wherever you live, you can do plenty to limit the impact of extreme weather.

Take Preventive Steps

Keep up the upkeep. Remove dead tree trunks and limbs. Check your roof for decay once a year—use binoculars to avoid the risk of ladders—and hire a roofer if needed. Clean, fix, and secure gutters and leaders. Get your deck inspected every spring.

Get a weather radio. The devices, $25 to $100 or more, provide severe weather alerts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Look for one with the NOAA All Hazards logo. These meet voluntary industry standards, have undergone NOAA usability and performance testing, come with a backup battery, and have either a tone-alert feature—which keeps the radio silent until there’s a weather alert—or Specific Area Message Encoding, which lets you limit alerts to particular regions.

Make Some Bigger Investments

Consider a generator. In our generator ratings, prices for recommended models run from $550 for a small portable unit capable of powering a large space heater and charging cell phones to more than $4,000 for a permanently installed machine that can power an entire house. With portables, look for safety technology, which turns off the unit when it detects elevated carbon monoxide.

More on Emergency Preparedness

Retrofit right. Buy code-conforming hurricane shutters, impact-resistant windows, and wind-rated garage doors if you live in a wind zone. The cost to buy and install shutters on 10 windows is $2,350; a garage door in Florida is $1,200 to $3,000, according to estimates from the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, an organization that tests building materials.

Add metal hurricane clips to strengthen junctures in exposed roof rafters; they can be installed for about $10 each. When replacing a roof, use shingles that do well in our tests for wind resistance. You also can use the specialized building methods and materials that meet IBHS Fortified Roof standards.

Get Ready When the Forecast Turns Bad

Start outside. Store outdoor furniture. Put vehicles in a garage. Shut windows and doors. “They used to say, crack the windows to equalize the pressure,” says Anne Cope, IBHS chief engineer. “But shutting everything limits the extent to which Mother Nature can rampage through your house.”

Set up smartphone alerts. Government alerts are on by default on iPhones. On AndroidOS 10.0 and higher, make sure they’re on by going to Settings > Apps and notifications > Advanced > Wireless Emergency Alerts. Don’t put your phone on silent or night mode. Keep location settings on.

Move valuables to higher floors. Standard homeowners insurance won’t cover storm flooding damage. Flood coverage from the National Flood Insurance Program pays only up to $2,500 for the loss of certain valuables.

Prepare for a Water Emergency

Focus on stocking this necessity in case the storm affects your water supply. You can live far longer without food than without water.

Store enough. You’ll need at least 1 gallon per person per day, for at least three days. But ideally, have enough for two weeks.

Ensure that its safe. Buy sealed, prefilled jugs, or sanitize and fill food-grade jugs. Keep containers cool (50° to 70° F), out of sunlight, and away from toxic substances, such as pesticides and gasoline, that can permeate the plastic. Replace the water every six months. (Use the old water for nondrinking purposes, such as washing your car.) Consider lightweight water sacks for your “go bag”($42 for one-hundred 4-ounce packages at the Red Cross store); they last up to five years, says David Ofwono, director of First on Compliance, an emergency preparedness consulting company based in California.

Find storage space. If it’s limited, get creative, says Brenda Muhammad, executive director of Focusing Our Resources for Community Enlightenment (FORCE), a Syracuse, N.Y., not-for-profit that teaches emergency skills. “Put [water containers] under your bed, or put a plank and cloth on a few of them and create an ottoman,” she suggests. Look for stackable products; we found stackable 5-gallon food-grade (approved by the Food and Drug Administration) bottles for around $13 apiece at an online emergency supplier.

Before a storm, fill your bathtub. Use this water for flushing and washing—not drinking. Or buy a capped, plastic bladder that can hold drinkable water in your tub.

Understand emergency advisories. A boil-water advisory from health officials means you can drink tap water that has been boiled for at least 1 minute (3 minutes at elevations above 6,500 feet). With a do-not-drink advisory, even boiling might not make tap water safe—so use only stored, potable water for drinking, cooking, and brushing teeth.

“‘MacGyvering’ pays off. We shut down the water main so the pipes wouldn’t freeze, but kept the faucets on. I started collecting drips in empty bottles. In 24 hours, we filled 8 to 10 gallons.”

Yvette Beltran-Southwell, Lewisville, Texas, after the February 2021 “Winter Apocalypse”

Plan for Electrical Outages

Have flashlights and extra batteries on hand. If the lights go out, take these steps.

Unplug everything. When power returns, a surge can damage connected machinery.

Make a plan for meals. In an unpowered but closed refrigerator, food typically stays at a safe temperature—40° F or below—for about 4 hours. Cook raw meat and perishables within that time. Food is safe for 2 more hours above 40° F, or 1 hour if the outside temperature is above 90° F, says Sana Mujahid, PhD, manager of food safety research and testing at CR. A full freezer stays cold for about 48 hours; a half-full freezer, half that. Food in a cooler is good if it remains below 40° F. Use an appliance thermometer—about $6 online—to check.

When it’s hot, hydrate and seek air conditioning. Drink extra water. And don’t wait until you’re thirsty, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

When it's cold, conserve heat. Keep everyone in one room; one with a south-facing window will be warmest. Layer clothing. Use only a portable propane heater designed for indoor use, and follow ventilation instructions carefully.

2 Things to Do If You Have to Evacuate

Learn
How to
Build a ‘Go Bag’
Contents should include:
1.
Water and nonperishable, nutritious food.
2.
Phone charger, flashlight, and radio (battery or hand-crank).
3.
Change of clothes, sturdy shoes, personal items.
4.
IDs, personal docs, key contacts, maps, cash in small bills.
5.
First-aid kit and meds.
6.
Duct tape.
For more info, including a complete supply list for sheltering in place, go to the federal government's Ready website.
For more info, including a complete supply list for sheltering in place, go to the federal government's Ready website.
Learn
How to
Shut Off Your Utilities
1.
Label electrical box, and water and gas shutoff valves
2.
Practice shutting off water; replace defective parts.
3.
Consult your utility on gas shutoffs; guidance and equipment vary by area. (Always have a pro turn gas back on.)
4.
If you have time, unplug appliances and shut off water and electricity (individual breakers first, then main circuit).
5.
Smell gas? Leave. Call 911 or the utility.
Illustration: Rodrigo Damati

Editor’s Note: A version of this article also appeared in the July 2021 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.