As has become abundantly clear to most of the United States, extreme weather events can be sudden and devastating. Last year saw 13 severe storms hit the U.S., costing $95 billion in damages, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The most expensive weather event of the year was Hurricane Laura, which cost $19 billion. The hurricane made landfall earlier than normal for hurricane season when it hit Padre Island, Texas, on July 25 with 90-mile-per-hour winds.
Experts are anticipating an even earlier and more severe start to hurricane season 2021 as they've seen above-normal activity in the Atlantic basin. This is backed up by a recent analysis of satellite imagery that suggests global warming is increasing the chance of major hurricanes going forward.
With the risks of severe weather events like hurricanes on the rise, homeowners need to be prepared. To get an insider's look at how to prepare for hurricane season, we surveyed over 700 residents from hurricane-prone states on how they get ready for rough weather. What do they stock up on? How do they make sure their home is secure? And how do you decide when it's time to evacuate? Read on to see what they had to say.
To be afraid, or not to be afraid
We started by asking people how fearful they are of hurricanes, since the more you fear a thing, the more likely you are to prepare.
According to our survey, the vast majority of people living in hurricane-prone areas fear hurricanes to some degree. Only 7.3% said they're not fearful of hurricanes. Florida residents were the most likely to say they're not afraid, despite Florida being the state that experiences them most frequently.
Most people – over 30% – said they were somewhat fearful, while one-in-four were slightly fearful, and slightly less than that were moderately fearful. Almost 14% of people living in hurricane-prone states said they were extremely afraid of hurricanes.
Most residents living in affected states took hurricane preparation at least slightly seriously. Less than 2% didn't take preparation seriously at all, which is significantly less than the 7.3% who said they weren't at all afraid. This suggests that even those who are not afraid of hurricanes understand the importance of preparing for them. Over half of respondents said they take hurricane preparation moderately or extremely seriously, and 56.1% said they begin preparing before the official start date of hurricane season.
Hurricane season in 2021 begins on June 1, but could start as early as May 15 in future years. The National Hurricane Center says it will start issuing its Tropical Weather Outlooks on May 15 this year, even though the season doesn't begin until the following month. Homeowners who want to prepare ahead of hurricane season may want to get started now.
When to leave
It's never easy to decide whether to evacuate your home or try to ride out a hurricane.
The CDC says to let the authorities be your guide and never ignore an evacuation order. That said, more than half of respondents in hurricane-prone states said they typically ride out the storm at home. Just over 13% say they usually evacuate and around 36% say they take it one storm at a time.
The category of a hurricane plays a big part in whether people decide to stay home or evacuate. For over 76% of people, the hurricane's category level has a moderate or major impact on their decision. Less than 8% of people said the category rating has no impact on their decision. Hurricanes are rated on a Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale of one to five, with five representing the most severe risk of property damage due to a hurricane's wind speed. The scale does not take into account other potentially hazardous conditions, such as flooding. Category 3 or above is considered a major hurricane.
Most people say they would only evacuate for a major hurricane, but 8% of respondents said they might evacuate for a Category 2 storm. Only 4% said they'd evacuate for a Category 1 storm. Around 13% said they wouldn't evacuate unless it was a Category 5 storm, and 9.7% said they won't evacuate for any level of hurricane. Floridians were once again the most likely to take the gamble and say they wouldn't evacuate no matter the category level, and among Floridians who would be willing to evacuate, over 18% said it'd take a Category 5 hurricane to drive them from their homes.
While it may sound brave to hold your ground against a hurricane, experts say one of the biggest mistakes you can make during a hurricane is trying to ride out the storm after being advised to evacuate. To make sure you don't miss an evacuation order, tune into emergency services for announcements when a storm is expected to hit your area.
How people prepare for a hurricane
Preparation can help bring peace of mind, so we asked people how they prepare for hurricane season.
People reported spending $194.90 on average to prepare for a hurricane – except for Florida residents, who spent $25 more than average. Just because they're less likely to live in fear of hurricanes, doesn't mean Floridians aren't taking adequate steps to prepare.
The most common items people reported stocking up on ahead of a hurricane were drinking water, batteries, toilet paper, and flashlights. Interestingly, the most common food item for stockpiling was peanut butter. Over 54% of people said they bought peanut butter before a hurricane – in fact, people were even more likely to get peanut butter than cash or gas.
For almost 32% of people, alcohol was an important hurricane preparedness item, likely in anticipation of a hurricane party or simply to help endure the stress of a storm. People who bought alcohol ahead of hurricanes say they spent $51.90 on average. We should note that hurricane parties are not encouraged, as people need to stay vigilant about storm updates.
Beyond stocking up on food and other essentials, the most common preparation people made ahead of a hurricane was to charge their cell phone. Staying up-to-date on storm news is important during a hurricane, and given the plethora of emergency preparedness apps, a cell phone is a good way to do so. In fact, communication is so important during hurricanes that officials are pushing wireless companies to improve service restoration during storms. While riding out a storm, it's recommended that people keep their phones plugged and charging as long as they have power, and having a backup portable charger isn't a bad idea.
The second most common preparation people reported making was to bring loose outdoor items inside. Loose outdoor items can be damaged during storms, or worse, cause property damage if picked up by heavy winds. A number of people (29.1%) also said they trimmed the trees and shrubs around their home to reduce the chances of them causing similar damage. Just make sure to remove pruned branches before the storm hits or bungee them to something that won't blow away.
Other important preparations included filling their car's gas tank and moving vehicles to higher ground. Luckily, as long as you have car insurance, your car will be covered against hurricane damage. People also gather important documents and fill their bathtubs and/or sinks with water before a hurricane hits. Remember, these water reserves are for flushing the toilet, washing your clothes, or cleaning dirty dishes; it's not for drinking or bathing, as any lead used to glaze tubs and sinks can leach into the standing water.
Hurricanes of the future
The National Health Center is discussing if hurricane seasons should begin earlier in future years given the rise in tropical activity in the Atlantic Basin in the past decade.
Experts say hurricane season is getting worse, with storms strengthening as the world gets warmer, and two-thirds of respondents agreed. Of course, Floridians were less likely than average to say hurricane season is getting worse: Nearly 41% saying they didn't think hurricane season was getting worse. The majority of people in hurricane-prone areas think there will be more storms in 2021 compared to last year.
Given the increase in hurricane season severity, are people still investing in real estate in hurricane-prone areas? According to our survey, they are. Over 50% of respondents say they still would or already have invested in real estate in hurricane-prone places. Property prices reflect this: The Florida real estate market has been on a tear lately, although some experts think rising insurance premiums may put a damper on it. Texas's real estate market is similarly overbid, and home prices in North Carolina are on the rise as buyers flood the market. So, as menacing as hurricanes may be, they don't seem to be much of a deterrent for home buyers.
Even if hurricanes continue to increase in number and intensity, over one-third of current residents in hurricane-prone areas said they wouldn't move. Another 37% said they were unsure. For 29% of people, this is as bad as they're willing to put up with. If hurricanes continue to worsen, they're moving to safer ground.
Toughing it out in Texas
Texans have had a particularly hard time weather-wise in recent years – so much so that we deemed it necessary to ask them some additional questions about severe weather preparation for both hurricanes and winter storms.
After a winter storm that could cost state agencies more than any other disaster in state history this past February, forecasters at Colorado State University are not anticipating a higher than normal chance of a hurricane impacting Texas this year. Given that severe weather is likely of more concern for Texans than anyone else right now, we asked them to share their experiences with us.
Almost every Texas resident we surveyed said they were impacted by the February 2021 winter storm, and eight in 10 said they're going to prepare even more than before for hurricanes and winter storms. Some of the advice they shared included keeping water on hand, both for drinking and flushing toilets. Generators were also on the to-buy list for many residents, and one 33-year-old woman said a nonelectric heat source is a must.
It all comes back to preparedness. As one respondent noted, you can't always count on your home state to prepare for you. It's up to each resident to ready themselves and their homes for extreme weather events. Hurricane-prone states have one advantage over many other forms of severe weather in that authorities can see a hurricane coming. With hurricane season around the corner, now is the time to begin preparing.
Protecting yourself and your home
Climate disasters cost Americans $1.875 trillion between 1980 and 2020. The 13 severe weather storms in 2020 cost $95 billion, with Hurricane Laura – the Category 4 hurricane that hit Louisiana in August 2020 – costing $19 billion alone. All in all, 2020 set a new record in the number of climate disasters, and experts are anticipating it will only get worse, at least where hurricanes are concerned. The devastating costs caused by extreme weather like hurricanes serves to highlight the importance of adequate preparation and protection.
While you're securing the outside of your home ahead of hurricane season, it may also be time to look at the items inside your home, too, such as your major appliances. As almost any Texan will tell you, life is rough when your hot water heater breaks or central heating stops working. That's why Cinch Home Services wants to help you protect yourself and your home. Our home warranties are designed to help control the costs of breakdowns and repairs: You can't prevent a hurricane, but you can count on our service providers to help keep your house running smoothly from the inside out.
We surveyed 701 people living in hurricane-prone areas about their feelings on storms and the preparation measures they take ahead of them. Respondents were 52.9% women and 46.4% men. Five respondents were nonbinary. The average age of respondents was 38.7.
Respondents were asked to report whether they'd ever been through a hurricane in that a storm impacted the area in which they live. Respondents came from the following U.S. states:
- Alabama: 25
- Florida: 271
- Georgia: 50
- Louisiana: 42
- North Carolina: 95
- South Carolina: 42
- Texas: 152
The remaining 25 respondents came from other hurricane-prone states with low sample sizes.
The data we are presenting relies on self-report. There are many issues with self-reported data. These issues include, but are not limited to: selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and exaggeration.
Fair Use Statement
The realities of hurricanes can be startling. Hearing from other residents who live in hurricane-prone states can help us all better react and prepare for extreme weather. If you know someone who could benefit from reading our findings, we'd be glad for you to share this study with them. We ask only that you share strictly for non-commercial purposes and include a link back to this page so that our writers and designers can get the credit they deserve for putting it together. Thank you.