Alief resident Hailey Reyes was stranded without menstrual products when Hurricane Harvey devastated the Houston region in 2017.
Then a freshman in high school, Reyes and her father attempted to leave his home in Rosenberg near the Brazos River multiple times, but floodwaters trapped them.
“As he would attempt to take me back home, we would get stuck and then we would just be like, ‘No, we’re not going to risk this,’ and we would just go back,” said Reyes, who is 21 now. “I just remember being really confused and I was like, ‘How am I gonna tell my dad this? What am I going to do?’”
Reyes’ experience is a reminder of the uncertainty and complications of hurricane season in the Houston region, and how it’s never too early to start preparing and stocking up on necessary items before a natural disaster hits.
Hurricane season officially started June 1 and runs through Nov. 30, the six-month period when most activity in the tropics generally occurs. Here are the common things typically overlooked or misunderstood during hurricane season.
Plan before a hurricane makes landfall
Byron Frankland, emergency management coordinator for the city of Galveston, said he has shutters on his home ready to go in case of a hurricane. He recommends people start preparing now rather than worrying about it later.
Start buying cases of water and plywood and store them now, he said. Grab enough food and water for at least three days per person in the group and prepare that same amount for any pets.
“A lot of people procrastinate and wait till the last minute and then they decide that they’re gonna go get plywood or whatever, you know, to shutter their homes or businesses, and of course, everybody is at the local lumber store trying to get plywood,” Frankland said.
Additionally, people should pack up medications in their original containers from the pharmacy if they evacuate, said Scott Tafuri, emergency management coordinator for Galveston County. Your information and doctor’s information would be easily accessible in case a refill is needed.
External battery chargers or packs for your cellphones are also important to stay up to date with news and communication from officials, he said. Invest in an emergency weather radio, which has access to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s weather broadcast channel to receive updates if a power outage happens. Pack extra batteries, flashlights and a first aid kit as well.
Evaluate your property and check if any trees could potentially fall on your home. Additionally, make sure to have adequate insurance to mitigate property damage and property loss. Frankland recommends taking pictures of homes, properties and vehicles before and after a hurricane for insurance claims.
Additionally, he advises residents to store important documents such as insurance policies, titles and deeds in a sealable plastic bag.
Tafuri said people should clear up their yards and remove anything that might be blown away by wind.
If you plan to use a generator, take it out and learn how to properly use it before a disaster strikes, said John Cangialosi, a senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
“If you have a generator, please don’t use it for the first time after a hurricane,” Cangialosi said. “The problem we’ve seen the last five or six years is we’ve lost way too many people due to carbon monoxide poisoning.”
Difference between a watch and warning
The National Weather Service issues alerts depending on how a hurricane is forecasted.
If a hurricane watch is issued, it means hurricane conditions are possible in the areas mentioned. This is when people should put up shutters and gather supplies, Cangialosi said.
If a hurricane warning is issued, it means hurricane conditions are expected.
“If a storm is five days away, and you’re in that cone of uncertainty, you should just be monitoring the storm,” Cangialosi said. “There’s no need for panic. There’s no need for evacuations at those time periods, that’s when you start really going back over your plan and putting it in place.”
Unlike tornadoes, hurricanes give people enough time to make a plan.
“You should just take action gradually, and luckily, for hurricanes, we have that luxury,” Cangialosi said. “So the good news is, we have that time, but the bad news is, there’s more panic, because there is time. So we urge people to not panic and try to think logically and stick to the timelines.”
Deciding to leave your home
The Houston-Galveston Area Council has four designated evacuation zones for the Houston area, depending on your ZIP code. You can look at the evacuation map here.
If you plan to evacuate, in addition to going to a friend or family member’s house that is not in an evacuation zone, a shelter is another option.
“If you do need to evacuate, you never need to go far, we’ve sometimes seen people fleeing the state, or driving 1,000 miles, that is never needed,” Cangialosi said. “So typically, you just have to get out of the labeled evacuation zones to be safe.”
Staying in place and returning home
If you remain in place, Cangialosi recommends preparing as if you’re going camping. Make sure you have enough food and water for everyone in your group for at least three days.
People need to consider having activities to entertain children and pets so they do not become bored.
If floodwaters enter your home and continue to rise, Tafuri recommends moving upstairs but don’t enter your attic because there is no way out. If your house starts flooding, call 911.
Returning to your home might be difficult, Tafuri said. People need to be mindful of possible damage and a lack of utilities.
“You have no power, water, stuff like that until some of the utilities come back online. Maybe a better idea not to come back right after the storm,” Tafuri said. “So just something for people to be mindful of because, you know, with 110 degrees, in August, let’s say you don’t have AC running, it’s pretty miserable.”
Hurricane season predictions for 2023
This year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says there is a 40 percent chance of near-normal hurricane activity in the Atlantic with a forecast of 12 to 17 named storms with winds of 39 miles per hour or higher, according to its newly released predictions for the 2023 hurricane season.
The administration predicts five to nine of those storms could become hurricanes with winds of 74 miles per hour or higher. One to four of those could become major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher, with winds up to 111 miles per hour.
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Experts say the predicted number of storms does not indicate how dangerous this year’s hurricane season could be. Last year’s storm totals were average compared to previous years, but the overall season was deadly because of Hurricane Ian, which struck southwest Florida and South Carolina, and Hurricane Fiona, which hit near Puerto Rico and then downgraded to a tropical storm that hit near Canada.
“How many (storms) you get doesn’t really correlate to the specific impacts,” Cangialosi said. “So we try to get people not so consumed with what the seasonal forecast is, because what you do and how you respond is the same every year either way.”
In 2017, Hurricane Harvey hit Rockport as a Category 4 hurricane. But then it stalled for days over the Houston region as a tropical storm, Cangialosi said, resulting in heavy rain that led to flooding across the region.
“Pay attention how strong the storm is, but don’t neglect the weaker ones because they can still cause significant flooding, which historically has been the number one killer,” Cangialosi said.
People often rely on their previous experiences when dealing with hurricanes, but not all storms are the same, Cangialosi said.
Some residents of Fort Myers, Florida, were not concerned last year when Hurricane Ian was headed toward them, because of their experiences with Hurricane Irma in 2017, he said. Hurricane Irma missed certain areas of Fort Myers and had weakened by the time it reached them. Hurricane Ian made landfall as a Category 4 causing flooding and extreme damage, something residents did not expect.
“Try to make educated decisions and follow orders from local officials because your experiences don’t necessarily apply,” Cangialosi said. “History doesn’t repeat in the exact same way.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the government entity that created the region’s hurricane evacuation map. It is the Houston-Galveston Area Council.