I live in Houston, and all that’s been on our minds lately is Hurricane-turned-Tropical Storm Harvey, which has been shredding southeast Texas to pieces since late last week. While I have been fortunate thus far—my family, friends, and neighbors are safe, and our house is still intact and dry—there are many of my fellow Houstonians whose lives and properties have been severely impacted by Harvey.

Having lived in Houston for most of my life, I’ve experienced quite a few hurricanes, storms, and floods. I thought I’d take this opportunity to discuss the importance of properly preparing for hurricanes and all-around bad weather. I’m no expert, but I’ve been through my fair share, including Ike in 2008 when the roof of my old house was ripped apart by powerful winds. With that said, here’s an incomprehensive checklist of must-dos to be as prepared as possible for impending severe weather and natural disasters.

5 Things to Do to Prepare for a Hurricane

  1. Fill up your gas tank. Oil refineries in the Gulf of Mexico are the source for more than half the country’s oil and gas supply. Hurricane Harvey has virtually shut down all the offshore refineries, which means gas will be scarce not only in Houston but nationwide if only for a short while. In case things get really bad and you need to evacuate, make sure you have a tank full of gas in all your automobiles. Fill up a couple of days before the storm strikes as everyone will be following the same logic, and you could find yourself waiting almost an hour just to fill up or, worse yet, to learn the pumps have run dry.
  2. Buy enough water and non-perishable foods for your family for five days. Buy canned and non-perishable food items such as bottled water, canned tuna, instant noodles, peanut butter, fruit preserves, and crackers. The hubs and I also bought cereal, almond milk, and bananas, but keep in mind your power may go out, rendering your fridge a ticking time bomb against bacteria. (In this scenario, it’s a great excuse to fire up the grill and commiserate over food with your neighbors.) Stock up just enough to tide your family and pets over, but don’t be greedy—there are others who need to feed their families too. And don’t forget to pick up all the meds and prescriptions you might need in case the pharmacies become inaccessible.
  3. Take precautions to protect your home. Because flooding is a recurring issue in Houston, the hubs made a run to Home Depot to look for suitable water blockades. Initially, one thinks of piling sandbags in front of doorways to keep the water out, but these were all sold out by the time the hubs got there. In lieu of sandbags, a cheaper, possibly more effective solution is to buy tarp and unperforated bags of potting soil. Stack the bags of dirt atop the tarp to make a 12– to 18–inch barricade outside all doors leading into your first floor. The good thing about using potting soil instead of sandbags is you can use it in your garden afterwards, plus it’s cheaper. Don’t forget to move trash bins, flower pots, outdoor furniture, grills, and any other loose debris indoors in case winds knock them over or blow them into your housing structure. A coworker of the hubs had her grill fly thirty feet during Harvey—don’t let this happen to you!
  4. Charge your batteries and fill your tub. In case you lose power and water, you’ll want enough batteries for your flashlights and water to flush the toilet. We also added containers filled with water to our freezer to keep it cold in case the electricity gives out.
  5. Have an emergency plan, and make sure every family member knows about it. Have a family meeting in which you discuss general safety measures and possible evacuation plans. If water enters the house, salvage what you can and climb to a higher story. If you’re in a one-story home and water is rising, find a safe way to get on your roof and wave a white bedsheet to signal for help. Hopefully rescue teams are out and about and ready to take you to higher grounds or a temporary shelter.

Most of all, be kind to your neighbors, and do what you can to help. I’ve always seen the best of human nature come out during disaster relief.

Have you survived severe weather before? What did you do to prepare? What lessons did you learn in hindsight? What am I missing in my checklist?

Last but not least, prayers for my beloved hometown of Houston.


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