For many families with young children, June marks the beginning of summer and all of the fun it brings, like longer days, more playtime and opportunities to relax with the family. Along with this summer fun, however, June also kicks off hurricane season for the Atlantic coast, which runs through the end of November. Whether you live on the coast or plan to take a vacation by the sea, make sure you stay informed about weather forecasts and be aware of the necessary precautions to protect your little ones in case a tropical storm or hurricane heads your way.
Tropical storms and hurricanes are strong wind storms, also known as cyclones, that form over the ocean. Tropical storms are considered pre-hurricanes with winds ranging from 39 to 73 miles per hour. When these winds reach 74 miles per hour or more, the storm is called a hurricane. Each year, approximately 10 tropical storms develop over the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, or Gulf of Mexico. Out of these 10, six will actually become hurricanes, bringing with them heavy rains, large waves, hail and wind that can be devastating to neighborhoods and homes.
While there is no way to change the weather effects of hurricanes, there are simple steps families can take to protect children before, during, and after the storm.
BEFORE a hurricane strikes:
1. Talk about hurricanes with your children. Discuss why hurricanes occur and what they are made of. Use simple words that young children can understand to explain that a hurricane is a natural event outside of our control and its occurrence is nobody’s fault.
2. Know the risks in your community. Find out if you live in a hurricane evacuation area. Assess your risk for a power surge, flooding or wind damage that may accompany a hurricane.
3. Practice evacuation drills. Practice your family’s evacuation plan so that you can evacuate quickly and safely during an emergency.
4. Learn your child care provider’s disaster plan. If your child’s school is at risk, learn how the school emergency plan addresses hurricanes. Make sure to ask about the school evacuation plan and if you would be required to pick up your child from the existing school site or another location.
5. Stay informed. If a hurricane is approaching, use a NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Weather Radio or listen to a local station on a portable, battery-powered radio or television. The NOAA radios broadcast continuous weather information from the nearest National Weather Service Office 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Be ready to act if a hurricane warning is issued.
DURING a hurricane:
6. Evacuate if instructed to do so. Follow your evacuation plan if local authorities advise it or if you feel unsafe. When evacuating, avoid flooded roads and watch for washed-out bridges. Local officials may close certain roads, especially near the coast.
7. Stay indoors if not evacuated. If you are not advised to evacuate or are unable to do so, stay indoors away from windows, skylights and doors. Continue to monitor weather reports and do not go outside until the storm has passed.
AFTER a hurricane:
8. Limit media exposure. Shield children from any graphic images of the hurricane, including those on the internet, television or newspapers.
9. Ensure utilities are available. Before returning children to areas impacted by a hurricane, make sure utilities such as electricity and plumbing are restored in living and learning spaces (e.g., homes, schools, child care facilities) and that physical and environmental hazards have been cleared.
10. Involve children in recovery. After a hurricane, encourage children to join clean-up and recovery efforts in age-appropriate ways. Participation can increase their sense of control over the situation and nurture empathy and other character traits that encourage emotional maturity and development.
While the topic of natural disasters is not an easy family discussion, it’s crucial to talk to your family and develop an emergency response plan in case of a natural disaster. For more resources to help you talk with your child about hurricane preparedness, visit SavetheChildren.org.