Capital Weather Gang • Perspective
We still don’t know how to talk about floods
The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

How to prepare for Hurricane Irma

(NOAA/NASA/The Washington Post)

How are you preparing for Hurricane Irma? Tell us in the comments, and we’ll add your good ideas to the list.

There’s no way to sugarcoat it. Hurricane Irma is a catastrophic storm, and it’s heading toward Florida and potentially the Southeast Coast. If it makes landfall in Florida, it will be the first hurricane to do so since Wilma in 2005. The effects could be devastating for a population that has ballooned in recent decades.

Because of the potential impact, Florida and Southeast residents should be executing their emergency plan now. Even if the storm doesn’t make a direct landfall, the region is still at risk for severe impacts. Wind gusts could exceed 100 mph and torrential rain will cause flash flooding. More than half of all hurricane deaths are caused by flooding, and the majority of those occur while people are in their cars.

By preparing now, you can keep your family safe.

Even if officials don’t issue a mandatory evacuation for your area, you still need to be prepared for the worst. offers these tips to prepare for a hurricane and/or flood.

What everyone in the cone should do

Determine where you will go if you need to evacuate. Map an evacuation route so you’re ready to go if the order comes down. Unfortunately, Florida only has a few major highways that allow for evacuation to the north, and those will be crowded.

Fill up your gas tank.

If you’re in South Florida, find friends or neighbors who lived through Hurricane Andrew or Hurricane Wilma and ask them what they would do. Their advice is invaluable.

Establish an out-of-town emergency contact to keep in touch with as much as possible. Choose text over voice whenever possible.

Take photos of every room and piece of valuable furniture or electronics before you leave. These will be critical if you need to file an insurance claim.

Trim damaged trees or branches so they’re less likely to fall during the storm.

Secure all gutters and downspouts and clear them out to prevent home flooding.

Board up your windows if you’re close to the coast.

Do your laundry and dishes now, before the power goes out or before you’re forced to evacuate.

Cover your air conditioning unit so debris does not damage it.

Bring your lawn furniture inside.

Reinforce or doubly secure your garage door.

Fill Ziploc bags 3/4-full of water stack them in the freezer. The more space you can fill with water bags, the better. This will slow the thawing process if the power goes out. It might be enough to save much of what’s in the freezer and the refrigerator.

Put your important documents, heirlooms and photos in double plastic bags and seal them.

Park your car in a garage if at all possible. If that’s not possible, park the car downwind from the house or another structure so it’s protected from the storm.

If you’re evacuating

If you’re ordered to evacuate, don’t waste time. The sooner you leave, the safer you’ll be. It might be wise to leave before the order if you can sense it coming. Pack up the essentials, but don’t spend more than a couple of hours deciding what to take.

Hotels will be crowded, so plan to make many calls for availability. Even better — stay with friends or relatives if you can.

You can go to a shelter as a last resort; they will be crowded and uncomfortable and should be used only by people who have nowhere else to go. You will probably not be able to bring your pets. You should take your emergency kit with you to the shelter, since it will probably not be able to provide anything more than a roof over your head.

Contact your bank and let them know you will be out of the area. This will help prevent the bank from shutting down your bank cards during an emergency.

What to pack

  • Cash
  • Clothes
    • Pack essentials like undergarments and socks in a plastic bag so they stay dry
  • Some food and water for the road
  • Cellphone with chargers and a backup battery
  • Prescription and nonprescription medications (like pain relievers)
  • Diaper bag for baby
  • Toys and books for children
  • Pets and their supplies (food and water for three to seven days, leashes, harnesses)
  • Important documents, copies of insurance policies, ID cards (in a plastic bag)
  • Flashlights with extra batteries
  • First-aid kit
  • Local maps
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Your most important family heirlooms
    • Secure your photos and albums in double plastic bags to keep them dry

If you’re staying

If you’re not ordered to evacuate and you decide to stay in your home, you should still be prepared for the worst. Prepare to lose power and running water. Have adequate supplies for several days if not a week. And know that roads may be flooded or blocked, so if you decide not to leave you probably won’t be able to change your mind.

You can use a portable generator for power should you lose electricity, but never turn on the generator indoors and never plug a generator into a wall outlet. Don’t run it in the rain or in flooding. You can prevent the generator from getting rained on with a makeshift canopy.

Fill your bathtub with water and keep it full as long as the water is potable. (The water in the tank — not the bowl, the tank — of your toilet is also potable, in an emergency.)

Items to have at handy

You may already have these items. Make sure they are easily accessible. It’s best to have these items all in the same room.

  • Water — at least 1 gallon daily per person for three to seven days
  • Food — at least enough for three to seven days
    • nonperishable packaged or canned food and juices
    • food for infants or the elderly
    • snack foods
    • paper plates and plastic utensils
  • Baby bag and enough diapers for a week
  • Everything your pet needs — food, water, litter, leash, etc.
  • Duct tape and plastic bags
  • Batteries
  • Toilet paper
  • One flashlight for each member of the family, plus battery lanterns for ambient light
  • First-aid kit, medicines and prescription drugs
  • Fully charged cellphone with external battery pack or a traditional (not cordless) telephone set
  • Cash (with some small bills)
  • Keys
  • Toys, books and games for the kids
  • Important documents (birth certificates, medical records, Social Security card, insurance policy, etc.) in a waterproof container or watertight, resealable plastic bag
  • Tools