Hurricanes are one of the most dangerous natural disasters to occur. In the U.S., the east coast and coastline along the Gulf of Mexico are particularly vulnerable. Pet owners that live in hurricane prone regions must take precautions to ensure their family, including pets, are safe during hurricane season. Being prepared for natural disasters and learning tips for hurricane pet safety, is the best way to protect your family from Mother Nature. We will take you through what makes a storm a hurricane, how hurricanes form, and where they occur to help you better prepare if you find yourself in the calm before the storm.
What Makes a Storm a Hurricane?
Hurricanes are storms that originate in tropical waters and are characterized by winds that reach 74 mph. Hurricanes are further categorized on a scale of 1 to 5 based on maximum sustained winds, with a category 5 hurricane being the strongest and potentially most dangerous. Hurricanes start out as tropical depressions, which is a cyclone of wind and thunderstorms of less than 39 mph. When winds reach between 39 mph and 74 mph, these cyclones are called tropical storms. Once these winds reach a sustained rate of 74 mph or greater, the storm is officially designated as a hurricane.1
Where Do Hurricanes Start?
Since hurricanes start over tropical or subtropical water, there are two parts of the world that hurricanes primarily originate: the Atlantic Basin and the eastern North Pacific Basin. The central North Pacific Ocean has hosted hurricanes before, but much less frequently. On average, there are 12 hurricanes a year that originate in the Atlantic Basin that may impact the U.S. The Atlantic basin includes the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.2
Hurricane season begins on June 1 and ends on November 30, but of course hurricanes can occur outside that time period. Hurricanes are named according to a list of alphabetical names issued by the World Meteorological Organization. The practice of naming hurricanes began in 1953 in order to eliminate confusion by having a specific list of names that can be used globally. Originally, only female names were used, but in the late 1970s, male names were added. The predesignated list alternates between female and male names, and the first hurricane of each year is given the name that begins with the letter “a.” The letters “q,” “u,” “x,” “y” and “z” are not used, and if there happens to be more than 21 hurricanes in a year, the subsequent hurricanes are named according to the Greek alphabet beginning with Hurricane Alpha. In total, there are six lists of names that rotate each year so no name is repeated more than every seven years. Also, if a hurricane is particularly deadly or results in tremendous destruction, the name is retired out of respect, and a new name is designated in the list.3
Preparing Your Pet for a Hurricane
To properly prepare for the safety of your pets during a hurricane, there are a couple of steps to take before a storm. First, check with local officials to find out which hurricane shelters (permanent and temporary) will allow you to bring your pet after a storm. Find out what options are available before the storm, because it may be too chaotic during a hurricane. For example, while the American Red Cross generally does not accept pets due to health and safety concerns, many other evacuation shelters and emergency sites will accept pets. Do your homework and find as many shelter options as possible. Also, you will need to show proof of vaccination in most shelters, so make sure your pet’s health care is up to date and keep an updated copy in your emergency kit, as well as current photos of your pet’s face and full body.
Create an Emergency Kit
Speaking of emergency kits, your family should always have a well-stocked kit ready. The kit should include all the necessary supplies you and your family require, as well as anything your pets will need. Medical records, a collar with ID and leash, medication, food and water, products for disposal of pet waste, a crate or carrier and maybe even a favorite toy or blanket to keep your pet calm should all be included in your kit. Make sure the emergency kit is kept in a dedicated area that is easily accessible, and practice evacuation drills with a designated meeting place outside the home in case you must evacuate. Also, since a hurricane can strike when no one is home, speak to a neighbor or friend who has access to your home and is willing to retrieve your pet in an emergency.
Pet insurance can also help provide peace of mind should your pet need veterinary attention during or after the storm. Pets Best policies allow you to visit any licensed veterinarian in the U.S. in case your or your pet is displaced by a hurricane.
What to Do If You Stay in Your Home During a Storm
If you can safely remain in the home during a hurricane, have a designated safe room. The best safe rooms are windowless and close to the ground. During a hurricane, remain calm, and keep pets indoors. If you are forced to evacuate, however, do not leave your pets unless human safety is at risk and you have no other option.
Evacuating During a Hurricane
If you do have to leave your pet at home during an evacuation, make sure to have a clearly visible sign on the doors and windows indicating your pet is inside to help rescue efforts. Leave enough food and water for your pet and consider keeping them in a crate with your pet’s name and your contact information written on the outside. While no pet owner wants to evacuate without a pet, there may be a situation where human safety results in leaving your pet behind. Of course, once the hurricane is over and it is safe, you should retrieve your pet as soon as possible, or arrange for rescue.
Finding a Pet After a Hurricane
After a hurricane, there can be tremendous destruction, fear and confusion. Your pet will undoubtedly be anxious as well. If you become separated from your pet, you should immediately search the surrounding area including favorite hiding spots. Hopefully, your pet has an updated collar and is micro-chipped, which will greatly help reunification. As aid and rescue efforts begin after a hurricane, there will be many owners looking for lost pets. Check local animal shelters, including temporary emergency shelters. If possible, physically go to each shelter because it is often difficult to identify a pet over the phone. Moreover, your pet could be injured or simply look different after the trauma, so don’t be surprised if your pet doesn’t recognize you immediately or acts differently.
Post flyers, use social media, visit pet health care providers and remember, your home and neighborhood may be destroyed or altered, so your pet may be confused when trying to get back, so make sure you focus on your home’s surrounding area.
Hurricanes, as well as tropical storms, can be extremely dangerous to humans, property and pets. If you live in a region that is prone to hurricanes, make sure you are prepared so that you can ensure your pet remains safe with your family during a hurricane.
1 Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale [online article], Retrieved on September 9th, 2019, from https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/aboutsshws.php
2 How do hurricanes form? [online article], Retrieved on September 9th, 2019, from https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/how-hurricanes-form.html
3 Why do we name tropical storms and hurricanes? [online article], Retrieved on September 9th, 2019, from https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/storm-names.html
Pet insurance offered and administered by Pets Best Insurance Services, LLC is underwritten by American Pet Insurance Company (APIC), a New York insurance company or Independence American Insurance Company (IAIC), a Delaware insurance company. Please see www.americanpetinsurance.com to review all available pet health insurance products underwritten by APIC. IAIC is a member of The IHC Group, an organization of insurance carriers and marketing and administrative affiliates, please see www.ihcgroup.com for additional information. Please refer to your declarations page to determine the underwriter for your policy. Each insurer has sole financial responsibility for its own products.