Hurricanes and tropical cyclones

Habitat Ready: Disaster preparedness for homeowners

A hurricane, or tropical cyclone, is an organized system of clouds and thunderstorms that rotates around a well-defined center and originates over warm tropical waters.

Hurricanes can produce many destructive hazards, such as heavy rains, storm surge, destructive winds and tornadoes. Although hurricanes can be dangerous killers, planning ahead and being prepared can reduce the chances of injury and major property damage.

Make sure you’re prepared with this hurricane preparedness checklist below.

Before a hurricane/tropical cyclone

  • Check out FLASH Hurricane Strong for do-it-yourself ways to strengthen your homes against flooding, high winds and lightning.
  • Review your family preparedness plan.
  • Establish a family communications plan.
  • Assemble a hurricane survival kit or review your hurricane supply list.
  • Have a family evacuation plan in place.
  • Secure your property:
    • Cover windows. If storm shutters are unavailable, use 5/8-inch exterior-grade or marine plywood cut to fit each window. Use screws to attach them.
    • Trim trees and shrubs around your home so that they are more wind-resistant.
    • Clear loose and clogged rain gutters and downspouts.
    • Reinforce garage doors so wind doesn’t enter and cause structural damage.
    • Bring in outdoor objects (furniture, toys, tools, etc.), anchor objects that cannot be brought inside, and remove outside antennas.
  • Know the difference between a hurricane watch and a hurricane warning:
    • Hurricane watch: Hurricane conditions are possible. Stay tuned to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio or TV for information. Be prepared to evacuate if necessary.
    • Hurricane warning: Hurricane conditions are expected or occurring. Take shelter or evacuate immediately.

Additional considerations for COVID-19

  • Unless you live in a mandatory evacuation zone, it is recommended that you make a plan to shelter-in-place in your home, if it is safe to do so.
  • If you live in a mandatory evacuation zone, make a plan with friends or family to shelter with them where you will be safer and more comfortable.
  • Only evacuate to shelters if you are unable to shelter at home or with family or friends. Note that your regular shelter may not be open this year. Check with local authorities for the latest information about public shelters.
  • If you need to go to a disaster shelter, follow CDC recommendations for staying safe and healthy in a public disaster shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a hurricane/tropical cyclone

  • Listen to a NOAA weather radio or TV for updated information.
  • Be prepared to evacuate, and do so immediately if necessary.
  • Keep valuables and important documents with you in a waterproof container. Consider scanning and sending copies of documents to yourself via email so that you have an electronic version available after the storm.
  • Turn off utilities if instructed to do so. Turn the refrigerator thermostat to its coldest setting, and keep its doors closed. If you suspect flooding, duct tape your refrigerator shut.
  • If electricity is lost, turn off appliances to avoid power surge when electricity is restored.
  • Fill the bathtub and other large containers with water to ensure a supply for sanitary purposes.
  • Take refuge in a small interior room (closet/hallway/bathroom) on the lowest level and away from windows and glass doors.

After a hurricane/tropical cyclone

  • Continue listening to a NOAA weather radio or TV for updated information.
  • Avoid damaged areas, stay off roads and remain on firm ground.
  • Avoid floodwaters. The water may be contaminated.
  • Return home only after local officials declare it is safe. Enter your home with extreme caution. Do not enter if floodwaters remain.
  • Inspect your home:
    • Leave the house if you smell gas or chemical fumes.
    • Check for damage to walls, the foundation, the electrical system and water lines.
    • Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches or other flammable liquids immediately.
    • Notify your insurance company if your home is damaged.
  • Help injured or trapped people. Do not move seriously injured people unless they are in immediate danger of death or further injury. Call for help.
  • Open windows and doors to help dry the house.
  • Check food supplies and drinking water. Anything that has come in contact with floodwater may be contaminated and should be thrown out.
  • Clean and disinfect everything that got wet.
  • Watch out for snakes and other animals. Use a stick to poke through debris.
  • Avoid making phone calls except in serious emergencies.

Additional considerations for COVID-19

  • You should continue to use preventive actions like washing your hands and wearing a face covering during clean up or when returning home.
  • It may take longer than usual to restore power and water if they are out. Take steps to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning if you use a generator.
  • If you are injured or ill, contact your medical provider for treatment recommendations. Keep wounds clean to prevent infection. Remember, accessing medical care may be more difficult than usual during the pandemic.
  • Dealing with disasters can cause stress and strong emotions, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is natural to feel anxiety, grief, and worry. Coping with these feelings and getting help when you need it will help you, your family and your community recover.
  • People with preexisting mental health conditions should continue with their treatment and be aware of new or worsening symptoms. Additional information can be found at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration page.
  • When you check on neighbors and friends, be sure to follow social distancing recommendations (staying at least 6 feet, about two arms’ length, from others) and other CDC recommendations to protect yourself and others.
  • If you need to go to a disaster shelter, follow CDC recommendations for staying safe and healthy in a public disaster shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • If you are sick and need medical attention, contact your healthcare provider for further care instructions and shelter-in-place, if possible. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 9-1-1 and let the operator know if you have, or think you might have, COVID-19. If possible, put on a cloth face covering before help arrives. If staying at a shelter or public facility, alert shelter staff immediately so they can call a local hospital or clinic.

Additional resources

Emergency/preparedness information

Current storm information

Other information

Disaster supply kit

A disaster supply kit includes items your family might need to survive in the event of a disaster. You can purchase a pre-assembled emergency supply kit or create your own.

Read more

You can help a family rebuild after a disaster

Families who partner with us rebuild their homes alongside volunteers, pay an affordable mortgage and are grateful for your help.