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Hurricane Preparedness – Tips for Hurricane Season in Florida

How to Prepare for a Hurricane (1)

Another year, another hurricane season in Florida. Hope for the best and prepare for the worst is our motto here in central Florida!

Three years ago we compiled a huge list of last-minute hurricane preparation tips when Hurricane Irma was headed straight for Florida. While there are plenty of “hurricane supply kit” lists for emergency supplies to buy in advance, this is a hurricane prep list and things to do to prepare your home if a hurricane is approaching. We are not hurricane experts, just Florida natives who have been through 5+ hurricanes crossing right over Polk County, Florida.

Some of the tips below are to prepare for a “worst-case scenario,” but that is the whole point here. Hurricanes are unpredictable, and even a well-built house can sustain unexpected roof and water damage from a falling tree or other debris. Please follow all safety recommendations from your local government and emergency operations professionals.

All of these tips are relevant to anyone preparing for a potential hurricane regardless of where you live. If you’re local to the Lakeland, Florida area that we cover, we’ve also included sources for Polk County Hurricane Updates and emergency shelter information.

A few of the links below may be affiliate links, we receive a small commission if you purchase hurricane supplies through our links. These are items we genuinely own and use ourselves. Thank you for supporting Lakeland Mom.

TIPS FOR HURRICANE PREPAREDNESS

When is Hurricane Season?

The Atlantic Hurricane Season starts on June 1 and hurricane season ends on November 30. In Florida, we watch for Atlantic hurricanes that form and track through the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico.

The peak of hurricane season is from August to October, but hurricanes can occur anytime in the season, and on a rare occasion, outside of these dates. (There is also an Eastern Pacific hurricane season off the western coast of the United States that doesn’t impact Florida).

Hurricane Supply List

If possible, buy these items well in advance to prepare for hurricanes and possible power outages. Once there is a storm approaching, generators, battery operated fans, and lanterns become almost impossible to find. Save money during Florida’s Disaster Preparedness Tax Free Weekend from May 28 – June 6, 2021 – you won’t pay sales tax on eligible items.

▪️ Car tank full of gas! We’ve seen gas stations run out every time a hurricane threatens the Lakeland area. No need to stock up, but be sure you have the gas you need in case you need to evacuate.

▪️ Water – bottled water to drink in case tap water is not safe. FEMA recommends at least one gallon of water per person (and pet) each day for hydrating and preparing certain foods. See below about filling tubs. 

▪️ Food – non-perishable food and fruits that don’t require refrigeration (if you lose power you’ll want to avoid opening the fridge to save food as long as possible). Be sure you have a manual can opener. Suggested items include nuts, crackers, peanut butter, bread, granola and energy bars, bananas, apples, oranges, applesauce, raisins, trail mix. Wine also does not require refrigeration.  ;-)

▪️ Flashlight or lantern AND batteries – 1 per person, lanterns are helpful for lighting up a large space. (Remember if your power goes out the streetlights likely do too, making it extremely dark in your house at night). We ordered this set of 4 lanterns from Amazon for $7 each. You can also check Amazon for other options if you need less than 4 lanterns. Stock up on batteries during Florida’s Disaster Preparedness Tax Free Weekend.

▪️ Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities (be sure you know where to turn off the water and gas line if applicable)

▪️ Cash – if a business has no power, many online payment systems will not be working either

▪️ Generator – in case you lose power for more than a few hours and need to run a fridge, freezer, or other appliances. Buy one in advance off Amazon or at Lowe’s or Home Depot – once a named storm is approaching they become impossible to find. (Be sure you know what you’re doing – never, ever operate a generator in a garage or inside a home).

▪️ Portable Power Station – these can charge phones and electronic devices, lamps, C-PAP machines, and more. Some have the option for solar power. Prices start around $120 and go up depending on what you plan to use it for.

▪️ Battery Powered Fan – if you lose power, you will want one of these!! Be sure it is batter powered and doesn’t require electricity. We found a highly rated 10″ fan on Amazon for $25, a fan/light combo dubbed the “Hurricane Survival Kit” for $20, and a variety of other options at other price points (take our advice and keep one of these stashed away at home – they were nowhere to be found locally after Hurricane Irma)

▪️ Find a full list of suggested hurricane supplies on Ready.gov

Hurricane Preparedness List

There are things you can do in advance to ride out a hurricane at home and be prepared for a power outage. If you are evacuating and home damage is possible, these are things you should do before you evacuate if time permits.

▪️ Charge all devices – Phones, tablets, laptops, old phones (even if just to use as a light source).

▪️ Charge external batteries/portable power sources for your phone. (Hide them from the kids – you’ll want them for cell phones only if you have no power!) If you don’t own a portable charger, you can get one off Amazon starting at just $20 – I use mine on a weekly basis year-round.

▪️ Take pictures or video of every room in your house. Open closets and drawers. If you have to file an insurance claim, this will help you remember what you need to list and show proof of items.

▪️ Gather up important documents and store in a waterproof container. Birth certificates, social security cards, passports, etc. Keep it with you in case you need to evacuate after the storm.

▪️ Text FLPrepares 888777 to get text updates on the storm. Send your zip code to get area specific info.

▪️ If you have an external hard drive to store photos or other computer files, locate it and keep in a waterproof container.

▪️ Know what you need to gather up before it is dark – if the power should go out early you don’t want to be scrambling to gather things up in the pitch black. Phone, portable radio, tablets, extra chargers, flashlights, batteries, water to drink, portable DVD players to entertain kids, snacks, pillows and blankets to get comfortable. Keep in mind you might be in one spot for HOURS while the storm comes through.

▪️ If you have noise canceling headphones get them out for small kids, the noise from a hurricane can be scary.

▪️ Take a shower just before the storm hits so you’re clean in case of interruption in water.

▪️ Gather valuables in one place in case you need to evacuate immediately after the storm. (Jewelry, watches, keepsakes, etc.)

▪️ Prep for your pets – be sure you have food and water for them inside the house. Figure out how/where they will go to the restroom during the storm when you can’t go outside. (We’ve seen suggestions to put a patch of fake grass or real grass in a baby pool?)

▪️ Make a list of what you would need to take with you if you have damage to your home or need to evacuate after the storm. Valuables, documents, clothing, kids items, pet needs, etc. Better yet, pack it up in advance and be prepared.

While some of these things seem drastic, think about what you would do if a tree fell on your home or a section of your roof were to come off. We certainly hope that never happens, but the point here is to prepare for a worst case scenario situation in advance so you’re not scrambling if something horrible happens when a hurricane strikes.

Securing Your Home for a Hurricane

While you can’t really create a “hurricane proof house” there are things you can do to prepare for an approaching hurricane.

▪️ CLOSE ALL INTERIOR DOORS – From disastersafety.org – “closing interior doors in a hurricane helps compartmentalize the pressure inside the home into smaller areas reducing the overall force on the roof structure, which gives the roof a better chance of staying intact.” This can be done when the storm is closer.

▪️ Bring in ALL loose items outside your home. Furniture, plants, wreaths, hoses, small grills, flags, etc.

▪️  If you evacuate, shut off electric, gas, and water at the main panel(s).

▪️ Put keepsakes inside large plastic bins. Know which ones would come in the car if you have damage and need to evacuate after.

▪️ Do NOT put your keepsakes in the dishwasher as has been suggested on Facebook, the dishwasher is designed to keep water in but not out, so if your house floods your dishwasher will too.

▪️ Decide on the safest spot in your house to ride out the storm. Stay away from windows and exterior doors. The safest room is often a bathroom or walk-in closet near the center of the house with no exterior walls. Or a basement if you have one.

▪️ Do your laundry and wash your dishes in advance.

▪️ Clean your bathtubs and then fill them with water OR fit empty garbage cans with 2 liners (in case of a hole) and fill with water. If there is a water main break or a boil water notice issued you can use it to wash off or flush the toilet (To do this remove the cover from the tank, pour in water until it is approx. 1/2 inch below the top of the tall overflow tube, and flush). Fill up other buckets or large containers if you have them. Get a pitcher to scoop water from tub into the toilet.

▪️ Turn your refrigerator and freezer to the coldest settings. If we lose power they will stay colder longer.

▪️ Fill plastic containers and Ziploc bags with water and freeze them. The less air in your freezer the longer it will stay cold. They can also be thawed if you need water or used as ice in a cooler.

▪️ If you’re worried about knowing whether freezer food has thawed, freeze a small cup of water and then set a quarter on top. If the quarter is frozen in the middle or bottom of the ice after a power outage you’ll know the food thawed as well.

▪️ Empty all garbage cans, litter boxes, and anything that could smell. If the A/C goes out and the house gets warm, smells get worse.

▪️ Line your windowsills and door frames with towels, even with a good seal the pressure and wind can cause water to come inside.

▪️ Close blinds and curtains – if windows break the covering can help keep glass from spreading. (Taping windows provides no protection and wastes time.)

▪️ Bring anything you might need during the storm inside from the garage to avoid opening the door.

▪️ Consider lowering your A/C temp in advance to cool down the house – if the power goes it will stay cooler longer. Keep curtains closed to keep the house cooler.

▪️ Unplug appliances you don’t need in case of a power surge.

▪️ Have rags and mops handy to clean up any minor damage or water leaks after the storm.

▪️ If you have a basement or are in a low lying area, move furniture and electronic devices off the floor.

▪️ Know in advance how to manually open your garage door if you lose power. All electric garage door openers have manual releases or manual operators.

▪️ Be sure any generators are OUTSIDE THE HOUSE AND GARAGE and will not generate carbon monoxide fumes into your house. Also, allow your generator to cool off before refilling it with gas – splashing gas on hot generator components can lead to a fire. We repeat – DO NOT RUN A GENERATOR INSIDE!

Staying Safe During a Hurricane

If you’re riding out a hurricane at home, it can get scary, especially if it is dark outside and you can’t see the strength of the wind {speaking from personal experience}. Your home and the things in it are replaceable, your people are not, so be sure to follow safety recommendations from local emergency officials.

▪️ Stay calm – keep in mind that your kids take their cues from you.

▪️ Wait out the storm in a room or closet with no windows, or a room where you can stay far away from windows and potential breaking glass. In addition to storm force winds that can damage your home or send debris through windows, tornados can also be spawned by hurricanes.

▪️ Beware of lulls. This could mean that the eye of the storm is passing. Winds will calm and the rain will probably stop if the eye is over your area. Don’t be fooled.

What to do After a Hurricane

▪️ Don’t drink tap water until you can confirm it is safe.

▪️ If you smell gas in your home or neighborhood, call 911.

▪️ Check on neighbors and local family members.

▪️ Travel with caution. Just because the storm is over doesn’t mean it is safe to travel. There may be flooding, damaged trees, and electrical wires to worry about. Pay attention to road conditions. Do not walk, swim, or drive through flood waters or storm surge.

▪️ Do not assume a fallen power line has no electricity – fallen power lines can be deadly.

▪️ If you evacuated, check with emergency officials before returning home.

What to do with Leftover Hurricane Supplies

We all hope that we don’t actually need to use our hurricane supplies! Hurricane season lasts through November 30, so keep your supplies handy until then. Do not return things you bought to prep for the hurricane (such as unopened water or food) to the store. They will most likely be thrown out based on the store’s return policies, and can be put to good use in our community.

PLEASE DONATE your unwanted non-perishable items to a local food pantry or somewhere that can use them at the end of hurricane season.

POLK COUNTY HURRICANE PREPAREDNESS

Where to get Hurricane Updates in Polk County, Florida

These websites and Facebook pages are a valuable source of information before, during, and after a Hurricane. Keep in mind that Facebook and Twitter are often the most timely sources of information.

▪️ Alert Polk – Sign up to receive vital updates when severe weather is threatening our county or about crime trends in your neighborhood. When you subscribe for emergency notifications, you’ll also have the option of receiving community informational alerts. Click to Sign Up Now.
(You don’t have to live in the county to register, alerts are sent based on any address you enter so it can be a vacation home, elderly parents home, child’s school, etc.)

▪️ Polk County Emergency ManagementFacebookTwitterWebsite863-298-7000

▪️ Polk County GovernmentFacebookTwitterWebsite863-534-6000
Citizens Information Line – 863-401-2234

▪️ Polk County Sandbag Fill Sites – sites will be announced at the links above prior to emergency events. Visit the Polk Disaster Preparedness Website for tips on sandbagging your home properly.

▪️ Polk County SheriffFacebookTwitterWebsite863-298-6200
Animal Services – 863-499-2600

▪️ Polk County SchoolsFacebook Twitter Website 863-534-0500

▪️ Lakeland ElectricFacebook Twitter WebsiteCurrent Outage Map863-834-9535
Report a Power Outage – (863) 834-4248
Fallen Power Lines/Water Outages – 866-834-4248
Lakeland Electric Hurricane Guide (very helpful!)

▪️ City of LakelandFacebookTwitter Website – Parks & Recreation Facebook – 863-834-6000

▪️ Lakeland Police DepartmentFacebookTwitter – (Non-Emergency): 863-834-6900

▪️ Lakeland Fire DepartmentFacebookTwitter – (Non-Emergency): 863-834-8200

▪️ City of Winter Haven FacebookTwitter Website – 863-291-5600

▪️ Winter Haven Police DepartmentFacebookTwitter – (Non-Emergency): 863-401-2256

▪️ Winter Haven Fire DepartmentFacebook – (Non-Emergency): 863-291-5677

▪️ Red CrossFacebook Twitter Website863-294-5941

▪️ Radio – WONN – 1230 AM & 107.1 FM, WPCV – 97.5 FM

▪️ TV Stations:
WFLA Channel 8 Tampa
Fox 13 News Tampa
Spectrum Bay News 9 Tampa
ABC Action News WFTS Tampa
WESH 2 Orlando
WFTV 9 Orlando

▪️ Weather Updates (in addition to news stations):
National Hurricane Center
Denis Phillips
Mike’s Weather Page

* FUN FACT * – The NOAA Aircraft Operations Center (AOC) is located here in Lakeland, Florida at the Lakeland Linder International Airport. The AOC serves as the main base for NOAA’s current fleet of specialized environmental data-gathering aircraft, including the agency’s “hurricane hunter” planes. NOAA moved into the Lakeland facility in 2017. Follow them on Facebook for updates and helpful hurricane tips.

Polk County Florida Hurricane Shelters

Polk County Emergency Shelters – Not all public shelters are automatically activated for each emergency. They are opened as needed and are not pre-assigned by geographic area. During an emergency please monitor Polk County Government Television, Facebook or Twitter, or other local television and radio stations for open shelter information. Have your survival kit ready to take with you – a 7 day supply of necessities. Weapons and alcoholic beverages are not allowed at any public shelter. Pre-registration is is required for those needing transportation assistance to any shelter. Click here to see an Emergency Shelter Map from 2019 (we will update as soon as we see a 2020 Shelter Map).

Pet Friendly Shelters – Polk County has 3 pet-friendly shelters that allow residents who own pets to shelter with their pets. Dogs, cats and birds are the only types of animals allowed to shelter in Polk’s pet-friendly shelters and must be with their owners.

Polk County Special Needs Shelters – 3 Special Needs Shelters are available, these are emergency facilities capable of providing special medical or nursing care which does not necessitate an acute care hospital setting. Eligible persons desiring special needs sheltering or transportation should pre-register with Emergency Management – (863) 298-7027.

Polk County Hurricane Shelter Map

Use the link below to download a map of storm shelters in Lakeland and Polk County Public Shelters for emergency use.

Hurricane Evacuation Zones in Polk County

Follow Polk County Emergency Management on Facebook or Twitter for evacuation zones and evacuation information. If a tropical storm or hurricane is impacting Polk County with wind and/or rain, mobile and manufactured home residents are always advised to evacuate to a safe location or stay with a friend. Residents in areas prone to flooding are also advised to evacuate as roads may become impassable once they are flooded. Emergency Public Shelters should always be the option of last resort. Call 863-401-2234 for more information on evacuations and shelters.