Your Storm Watch Guide
June marks the beginning of the Atlantic Hurricane Season, and that means preparations are underway across the Gulf and Atlantic Coast states. In North Carolina, weather is already a big deal, but the threat of powerful cyclones marks a new level of danger. While we cannot predict the future, we do know that preparation is key. Use this guide to get ready before storms arrive.
North Carolina is no stranger to hurricanes, also known as tropical cyclones, and their potentially devastating impacts.
Data from the N.C. State Climate Office shows that more than 380 tropical cyclones between 1851 and 2020 affected North Carolina, either by making direct landfall or coming within 150 miles of the state.
While the eastern and coastal parts of the state are more likely to be pounded by the storms, other parts of the state, including the Triangle, have been known to have intense hurricane experiences as well.
Whether you’re new to the state or you’ve lived here your entire life, it’s important to be prepared for hurricanes and the impacts they can bring.
The News & Observer has created this hurricane preparedness guide to help.
What is a hurricane?
A hurricane is a type of storm called a tropical cyclone.
▪ A tropical cyclone is a rotating low-pressure weather system that has organized thunderstorms. The storms can bring large amounts of rain, high sustained winds, dangerous storm surges, tornadoes and rip currents.
▪ Hurricanes generally form in the Atlantic Basin, which includes the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, the eastern North Pacific Ocean and, less frequently, the central North Pacific Ocean.
Tropical cyclones are classified by their maximum sustained winds.
▪ Cyclones with maximum sustained surface winds of 38 miles per hour (mph) or less are called tropical depressions.
▪ Cyclones with maximum sustained winds between 39 and 73 mph are called tropical storms.
▪ Storms with maximum sustained winds of 74 mph or higher are called hurricanes.
Hurricanes are further classified by the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale:
▪ A category 1 hurricane has sustained winds between 74 and 95 mph. Category 1 hurricanes produce “some damage” — think damage to roofs, house siding and gutters, plus large tree branches being downed. Power outages are possible and could last several days.
▪ A category 2 hurricane has sustained winds between 96 and 110 mph. Category 2 hurricanes produce “extensive damage,” including major damage to roofs and siding, along with shallow-rooted trees being uprooted. Near-total power loss should be expected, and could last for several days up to weeks.
▪ A category 3 hurricane has sustained winds between 111 and 129 mph. Category 3 hurricanes cause “devastating damage.” Well-built homes could suffer major damage, such as the removal of roof decking and gable ends. Trees will snap and be uprooted, blocking roads. Electricity and water will be unavailable for several days to weeks after the storm passes.
▪ A category 4 hurricane has sustained winds between 130 and 156 mph. Category 4 hurricanes cause “catastrophic damage.” Well-built homes could lose much of their roofs and some exterior walls. Most trees will snap or be uprooted, and power poles could also fall. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months, and most of the area will become uninhabitable for the same time frame.
▪ A category 5 hurricane has sustained winds of 157 mph or higher. Category 5 hurricanes also cause “catastrophic damage.” A high percentage of homes will be destroyed. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months, and most of the area will become uninhabitable for the same time frame.
When is hurricane season?
“Hurricane season” technically begins June 1 and runs through Nov. 30. Peak hurricane season is mid-August to late October.
But hurricanes can, and do, occur outside of that window. Since 2010, at least five tropical cyclones outside of hurricane season have impacted North Carolina to some extent:
▪ Tropical storm Alberto (May 19-22, 2012)
▪ Tropical storm Ana (May 8-11, 2015)
▪ Tropical storm Bonnie (May 27-June 4, 2016)
▪ Tropical storm Arthur (May 16-19, 2020)
▪ Tropical storm Bertha (May 27-28, 2020)
Preparing for a hurricane: Emergency kits
The best time to prepare for a hurricane is before one ever makes its way to North Carolina.
You can start preparing well in advance by making an emergency kit, which will mostly contain items you likely already have at your house.
A basic emergency kit should include:
- Water (one gallon per person per day for three to seven days)
- Food (nonperishable and canned food supply for three to seven days)
- Battery-powered or hand crank radio and/or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radio
- Extra batteries
- Cell phone with charger
- First aid kit and first aid book
- Manual can opener for food
- Wrench or pliers to turn off water
- Blanket or sleeping bag (one per person)
- Prescription medications
- Contact lenses and/or glasses
- Seasonal change of clothing, including sturdy shoes
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, soap
- Extra keys to your house and car
- Important documents (insurance policies, copy of driver’s license, Social Security card, bank account records). It’s helpful to digitize these documents, as it will make them easier to move and keep them safe.
- Fire extinguisher
- Cash and change
- Books, games or cards
During the COVID-19 pandemic, you’ll also want to include these items in your basic kit:
- Face masks
- Hand sanitizer
- Sanitizing wipes
If you have a baby or young child, you’ll also want to include these items:
- Baby wipes
- Baby powder
- Canned food and juices
If you or someone in your family has functional needs, don’t forget these items if they apply:
- Container for hearing aid/cochlear implant processor, to keep them dry
- Extra batteries for hearing aid/cochlear implant
- Communication card explaining the best way to communicate with you
Don’t forget about your pets, either. Include these items for your furry friends:
- Canned or dry pet food
- Water for three to seven days
- Food dishes
- Collar, leash and/or harness
- Immunization records
- Identification tag (should contain the pet’s name and your phone number)
- Current photos of your pets, in case they become lost
- Medicine your pet requires
- Pet beds and toys
- Pet carrier
Preparing for a hurricane: Flood insurance
Homeowners and renters insurance policies typically do not cover flood damage. To cover flood damage, you can purchase additional flood insurance.
One inch of flooding or water damage can cost up to $25,000 in clean-up and repair costs.
▪ The N.C. Hurricane Guide says without flood insurance, most people have to pay out of pocket for damages and repairs, or take out loans to repair and replace damaged items.
▪ With flood insurance, you can recover much faster, the guide says.
While you might think that you only need to purchase flood insurance if you live in a high-risk flood area, the N.C. Hurricane Guide says more than 20% of flood claims come from non-high risk flood areas.
▪ You can assess the flood risk at your home at flood.nc.gov.
Most flood insurance is administered through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), but you have to purchase coverage through an insurance agent or company.
▪ Talk to your insurance agent, or visit floodsmart.gov to find an agent in your area.
The N.C. Hurricane guide offers the following insurance tips:
Ensure you have enough homeowner’s insurance to repair or replace your home, car or boat. Know your policy’s deductibles and the procedures to take when property is damaged or destroyed.
A separate policy for flooding is likely necessary, regardless if you own or rent. Remember that new flood insurance policies often require a 30-day waiting period.
Create a home inventory by documenting the estimated value, date of purchase and brand name and description of the valuable items in your home, including furniture, electronics and jewelry.
During a hurricane: Watch vs. Warning
Knowing the difference between storm watches and warnings can help you and your family stay safe as a storm threatens your area.
Watches mean that severe conditions haven’t occurred yet, but could in the near future.
▪ A tropical storm or hurricane watch means that tropical storm or hurricane conditions are possible within 48 hours.
If a warning is issued, it means dangerous weather is imminent.
▪ A tropical storm or hurricane warning means that tropical storm or hurricane conditions are expected within 36 hours.
During a hurricane: Flooding roads
Tropical storm systems can bring heavy rains, sometimes in a relatively short period of time, leading to flash flooding or longer term river flooding.
▪ Six inches of fast-moving water can knock over and carry away an adult.
▪ 12 inches of fast-moving water can carry away a small car.
▪ 18-24 inches of fast-moving water can carry away most large SUVs, vans and trucks.
Never drive on flooded roads. Remember: Turn around, don’t drown.
You can sign up for flood alerts in your area, or see current flooding reports around North Carolina, at fiman.nc.gov.
During a hurricane: Staying informed
It’s important to stay informed during storms, so that you’re aware of emergency alerts and changing weather conditions.
▪ Emergency messages are shared via TV, radio, NOAA weather radio and through internet and cell phone services.
- Emergency Alert System (EAS) messages will be broadcast on TV and radio stations. Only a few designated agencies — the National Weather Service, N.C. Emergency Management and state Highway Patrol — can originate EAS messages in North Carolina, so you know they’re coming from important, trusted sources.
Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) come directly to cell phones and other mobile devices. These short messages look like text messages and are accompanied by a unique alert tone. There is no need to enroll in these alerts, but there are options to change these alerts in your phone’s notification settings. Leave them turned on in order to stay informed when emergencies happen. WEA messages are received if your phone is located in the warned area at the specific time of an emergency.
Many counties and local emergency management offices operate local alert systems. You must opt-in, or sign up, for these services to receive emergency messages from your local government. Visit ncdps.gov/ncem/localEM for links to alert services offered by local governments in North Carolina.
▪ Local media, including The News & Observer and local TV stations, cover hurricanes and will bring you up-to-date information throughout the storms. Try downloading each outlet’s app to your phone or bookmarking their websites for easy access.
During storms, you may lose power or internet access. It’s important to have multiple ways to receive emergency alerts and information.
▪ Remember to keep a battery powered radio, along with extra batteries, in your emergency kit. Battery powered radios don’t require power from your house to work, so you’ll be able to use them — and hear emergency alerts — even if the power goes out.
▪ If you’ve cut the cord and no longer have traditional TV services, it might be helpful to keep an antenna around. Antennas will require your TV to have power, but they won’t require internet like live TV streaming providers, such as Hulu or YouTube TV, making them useful if you lose internet access during a storm.
▪ You might be able to stream local news on your phone using your TV provider’s app or a local news station’s app. But remember: streaming will drain your phone battery, so make sure you only do this if you still have power or access to charging.
Additional trusted sources of information during storms include:
During a hurricane: Evacuating
Some areas of North Carolina may be advised to evacuate due to an approaching storm system.
▪ Monitor ReadyNC.gov for the latest information about which areas are being evacuated.
▪ If you are asked to evacuate, promptly follow instructions from local officials.
▪ Leave early enough to avoid traffic and severe weather.
▪ Know your evacuation destination and be aware of available shelters. Notify family and friends of your plans.
▪ If there is time to do so safely, turn off gas, electricity and water at your house. Unplug appliances before leaving.
▪ Take your emergency supply kit with you. Bring extra cash, medications and important documents when you evacuate.
▪ Remember, specialty items (infant formula, diapers, specific dietary foods, durable medical equipment and some medical supplies) may not be available at emergency shelters.
▪ Not all shelters are pet friendly, so double check before bringing your animals.
▪ Keep your cell phone charged and calls brief to minimize network congestion.
▪ After the storm, be patient and listen to local officials for instructions on returning home. Re-entry into communities may be initially limited to first responders and residents.
During a hurricane: Staying put
If you choose to remain at home during the storm, or conditions in your area do not warrant an evacuation, ensure you are prepared to be self sufficient for several days.
▪ Stay tuned to local media for emergency information and remain alert of changing weather conditions.
▪ If the eye of the storm passes over your area, be aware that severe conditions will quickly return.
▪ If needed, cover the windows and doors of your home with plywood and shutters.
▪ Plan to stay in an interior room on the first floor of your home, away from windows.
▪ Bring loose outdoor items, such as deck chairs and garbage cans, indoors.
During a hurricane: Power outages
Power outages are likely during hurricanes.
▪ If you have a generator, never run it inside your home or garage. Carbon monoxide fumes can build up and become deadly. Plug appliances directly into the generator.
▪ If you smell gas at any point during a power outage or otherwise, leave your home immediately and call your utility provider.
▪ During an outage, do not open refrigerators or freezers unless absolutely necessary. Cold air can escape, allowing food to thaw and spoil more quickly.
Remember to keep a battery powered radio and extra batteries in your emergency kit so that you can get emergency alerts even when your power is out.
Flashlights are also key so that you have a light source during power outages.
After a hurricane: Returning home, assessing damage
Following a major storm or disaster, some areas may be inaccessible, even if evacuation orders are no longer in place.
As you return home from an evacuation and survey your home, the N.C. Hurricane Guide offers the following tips. These tips can also apply to any home that suffered damage, regardless of whether you evacuated for the storm.
▪ Follow directions. Local and state officials will determine when it’s safe to return home and will advise the public on the safest routes. A staged re-entry process may be used to facilitate a safe and orderly return. Watch your local government’s website or social media channels for re-entry instructions after an evacuation.
▪ Watch out. Avoid walking or driving through flood waters, which may hide additional hazards. Never drive through flood waters or around barricades, as streets and bridges may be washed out.
▪ Inspect carefully. Once you return home, walk around the outside of your house to check for loose power lines (but do not touch them), gas leaks and structural damage. If you smell gas or if there is structural damage, do not enter the area until local officials have declared it safe.
▪ Dispose of storm debris. If you are clearing debris, be careful not to block roadways, fire hydrants and utility boxes. Local officials will provide information on how to properly dispose of debris, but in general, use these tips:
Separate debris into separate piles: limbs and brush; household trash; and other materials, such as construction debris.
Place debris at the curb for trash pickup, or haul waste to a permitted landfill.
Limit open burning and never burn trash, lumber, tires, plastics and other man-made materials.
▪ Beware of drinking water safety. Following a storm, drinking water can become contaminated and may cause illness. Listen for public announcements about the safety of the public water supply. If you are on well water and extensive flooding has occurred near your home, do not drink the water and do not turn on the electricity to your pump until flood waters recede. Use bottled water until your well has been disinfected and your water has been tested.
The N.C. Hurricane Guide offers the following insurance tips if you have damage to your home due to a storm:
Contact your insurance agent as soon as possible to arrange a visit. Be patient as insurance companies are likely handling a very large volume of requests.
Before making repairs to your home, take photos and prepare a detailed inventory of all damaged property.
Make only those repairs necessary to prevent further damage. Do not make permanent repairs without first consulting your agent. Unauthorized repairs may not be reimbursed.
Save receipts for materials purchased for temporary repairs.
Before renting temporary shelter, check with your insurance company or agent to determine what expenses will be reimbursed.
After a hurricane: Disaster assistance resources
If you are a homeowner or renter whose home has been damaged in the storm, the following resources, among others, are available to help you recover.
▪ NC 2-1-1 (nc211.org) — NC 2-1-1 is a public information portal for residents to obtain real-time communications and resources related to disasters.
▪ Federal Emergency Management Agency (disasterassistance.gov) — In severe disasters, FEMA may provide support to individuals and families for temporary housing, counseling and other assistance. FEMA grants may help you make basic repairs so your home is safe, sanitary and secure. FEMA will provide information through the media and community outreach about federal assistance and how to apply.
The N.C. Hurricane Guide says FEMA may offer the following housing assistance options after a disaster:
- Rental assistance offers temporary financial help so disaster survivors have somewhere to live while they make plans for permanent housing. Those eligible for rental assistance are homeowners or renters whose primary residence is determined to be uninhabitable after a FEMA inspection, who has housing needs not covered by insurance and who needs to relocate while repairs are under way.
- Transitional sheltering assistance pays room and tax costs at participating hotels for disaster survivors. Those eligible for this assistance are survivors whose primary home is uninhabitable or inaccessible due to the disaster and who has housing needs not covered by insurance. Survivors do not need to wait for FEMA housing inspection to be considered eligible.
- Home repairs help disaster survivors make basic repairs so that their homes are safe, sanitary and functional. Those eligible for FEMA home repairs are homeowners whose primary residence is found to be uninhabitable after a FEMA inspection and who has a housing need not covered by insurance.
- Direct temporary housing provides temporary travel trailers or manufactured housing units to eligible survivors. Trailers and manufactured housing units are a temporary solution for survivors whose primary home is uninhabitable, have uninsured housing needs and have no other practical temporary housing options available within a reasonable commuting distance from their primary residence. Renters whose pre-disaster rental is determined to have major damage or is destroyed may also be eligible.
▪ U.S. Small Business Administration (disasterloanassistance.sba.gov) — In times of disaster, the SBA offers low-interest loans for businesses, homeowners and renters. There’s no obligation to accept a loan, the N.C. Hurricane Guide says, but the SBA offers the largest source of federal disaster recovery funds, and you could miss out if you don’t submit an application.
After a disaster, beware of fraud and scams. Report any suspicious activity or potential fraud from scam artists, identity thieves and other criminals to local officials.
After a hurricane: Helping others
If your home didn’t suffer damage from a storm — or even if it did — you may be wondering how you can help your neighbors and fellow North Carolinians recover.
It’s important to donate according to actual need, rather than overwhelming aid and assistance groups with excess or unneeded donations.
▪ Check in with aid and assistance organizations online or by phone before donating to make sure your donations are fit to survivors’ needs.
▪ Monetary donations may be the most effective way to assist survivors and organizations after storms. Monetary donations gives assistance organizations the ability to purchase, or provide vouchers for, what survivors actually need. Additionally, when these organizations or survivors purchase goods or services locally, they pump money back into the local economy, helping businesses recover faster.
Make sure to donate to a trusted organization.
▪ Only donate to reputable organizations to ensure your contributions are used responsibly. The North Carolina Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) website (ncvoad.org) provides a list of vetted disaster relief organizations providing services to survivors in North Carolina.
If you want to volunteer your time and labor for recovery efforts, make sure to only go where volunteers are requested and needed.
▪ Check with local organizations for information about where volunteers are needed.
▪ Until volunteers are specifically requested, stay away from disaster areas. When unaffiliated volunteers self-deploy, it can create additional burdens on communities where resources for food and shelter are already scarce.
▪ Potential volunteers are asked to register with nc.gov/volunteer or with a voluntary or charitable organization of their choice before volunteering.
Additional resources and useful links
▪ Download a copy of the official North Carolina Hurricane Guide at readync.gov/media/6/open.
▪ Stay up-to-date during storms and prepare for them beforehand by checking ReadyNC.gov.