Your Guide to Handling Hurricanes and Severe Storms

If you live in an area prone to hurricanes or tropical storms, being prepared before a weather event can save you thousands of dollars in damage out of pocket.

How to prepare for a hurricane

What to do after a hurricane

How to prepare for a hurricane

If you live in a hurricane-prone area, it's important to have the right supplies on hand, make sure your home and belongings are protected with insurance and hurricane-proof your home to lessen the damage.

Prepare your house for a hurricane

Upgrading your home or business with storm-resistant features will help you avoid hurricane damage. You may also get a discount on your homeowners, windstorm and flood insurance.

Upgrades to hurricane-proof your house

  • Storm shutters
  • Impact-rated glass
  • Reinforced roof-to-wall connections
  • Reinforced roof-deck attachment
  • Roof covering and shape
  • Storm-resistant doors and garage doors
  • Secondary water resistance
  • Grade yard pitch away from the home

If you're in the process of buying a home, or have recently done so, ask the prior owner if the home has any windstorm certifications. Certifications usually need to happen during the construction process to be eligible for an insurance discount.

It's also important to know when any home repairs or additions happened (like a new roof). Having this information will help you identify any gaps in your property's storm-resistant features and decide which upgrades to make to keep your home safe during a hurricane.

If your property isn't certified, you can get an inspector to review any upgrades to lessen storm damage and make recommendations on how to protect your home. Some homeowners can get an inspection for free in certain hurricane-prone states, like Florida and Texas. You can also ask your insurer for recommendations.

Get hurricane insurance for your home

Depending on where you live and your insurer, you may need to purchase multiple insurance policies to protect your home from hurricane damage. This is because most standard homeowners insurance policies don't cover flood damage. Additionally, damage from wind and hail may not be covered by your home insurance in places that have a lot of storms, like Florida and Texas.

Homeowners in hurricane-prone areas may need to purchase home, flood and windstorm insurance to protect against the different types of damage a hurricane may cause.

If you have a mortgage and live in a moderate- to high-risk flood zone, you will probably be required to purchase flood insurance. Homeowners can buy a separate flood insurance policy through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) or a private insurer. It's also typically a good idea since any water damage after a hurricane won't be covered if you don't have flood insurance.

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If you need flood or windstorm coverage, you should purchase a policy immediately. Many insurers require you to have coverage for up to a month before you can make a claim for storm damage, so you can't get coverage if a storm is already headed your way.

Graph showing the states with the cheapest NFIP flood insurance rates in the country

Average NFIP flood insurance rates by state

State
Average cost per year
Alabama$735
Alaska$804
Arizona$757
Arkansas$938
California$881
Show All Rows

Compare Rates

Your homeowners policy won't cover hurricane damage to cars, boats, motorcycles and other vehicles — they're protected by their own insurance policies. However, your insurer will only pay for repairs if you have comprehensive coverage.

In addition to having the right coverage, homeowners can prepare for a hurricane by taking inventory of the items they own and their value. Having a detailed list of your belongings will help speed up the claims process and make sure you get a big enough settlement to buy quality replacements.

What do you need to prepare for a hurricane?

Take the time to put together an emergency kit before a storm is headed your way.

It's much easier to find the supplies you need when you shop in advance. Items like water, flashlights and plywood can be difficult to find if you're in the path of a big storm since your neighbors will be stocking up, too.

You can buy a premade emergency supply kit, or you can assemble one yourself. Make sure to freshen your emergency kit occasionally so you always have enough supplies and none are expired.

Hurricane supply list

  • Water
  • Nonperishable food
  • First aid kit
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Candles and matches
  • Any tools needed to turn off utilities
  • Duct tape, plastic sheeting and plywood
  • Portable weather radio
  • Garbage bags and moist towelettes
  • Local map
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If a storm is coming your way, you should also gather important items, like prescription medications, your passport and infant formula, in case you have to evacuate quickly.

What to do after a hurricane

After a hurricane, you'll need to evaluate the damage to your home and file a claim with your insurance company.

Filing a hurricane insurance claim

Start by contacting your insurer to notify it of the damage and begin the claims process. Next, you should take lots of photos and videos of the damage to share with your insurer.

After you file a claim, your insurance company will send an adjuster to assess the damage.

It's important to ask what you're allowed to do in terms of cleaning up your property before the adjuster arrives.

If you've already thrown away, moved or cleaned up items, the adjuster won't be able to see the full extent of the damage. Cleaning up too much can also make your claims process take longer, or you could receive a smaller payout.

It may take several days before an adjuster is able to review your claim after a hurricane. That's because hurricanes typically cause damage for many property owners in your area, which means the insurance company may not have enough adjusters available to get to everyone quickly.

If the damage to your home is bad enough that you need to temporarily stay somewhere else, you can also file an additional living expenses (ALE) claim. Your insurance company will need receipts and documentation related to your expenses, like a hotel bill. Make sure to track your vehicle's mileage so that you can be reimbursed for trips between your house and temporary home, too.

Loss of use coverage can include:

  • Hotel costs
  • Gas expenses
  • Moving costs
  • Food costs
  • Costs to wash clothing
  • Lost rental income

Cost of hurricane damage

Hurricanes and tropical storms can cause significant damage. A large portion of storm damage is due to flooding, which can ruin your belongings and harm your home's structure.

Hurricane Harvey was the most costly hurricane in the past decade. The NFIP paid around $9 billion in claims settlements to repair damage after Harvey. On average, households with flood damage received $97,910 from the NFIP.

Hurricane Sandy resulted in the highest number of claims — 144,846 flood insurance claims were filed with the NFIP after the storm. The average claim payout per household was $61,688 after Sandy.

Hurricanes with the highest NFIP claims: 2012-2022

Storm
Year
Total claims paid
Average payout per household
Primary states affected
Hurricane Harvey2017$9 billion$97,910Texas, Louisiana
Hurricane Sandy2012$8.9 billion$61,688New Jersey, New York
Hurricane Ida2021$1.3 billion$45,331Louisiana, Tennessee
Hurricane Irma2017$1.1 billion$33,345Florida
Tropical Storm Imelda2019$752 million$68,772Texas
Show All Rows

Flood insurance only covers a portion of storm damage. However, tropical storms can cause tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in flood damage per household.

Those numbers don't include homeowners insurance or windstorm insurance claims. Keeping your policies updated and making sure you're covered against all elements of a hurricane can be critical to recovering financially after the storm.

SBA disaster loans

Your insurance may not cover all of the repairs your home or business needs after a hurricane. If you aren't able to afford necessary repairs, consider applying for a disaster loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). SBA disaster loans aren't only for small businesses — the SBA offers different types of loans for different scenarios and needs.

The SBA will usually set up offices in declared disaster areas where you can receive help in person. You can find more info by phone (1-800-659-2955), email ([email protected]) or on the SBA website.

Once you determine that borrowing money is the right decision for you, you should apply for a loan as soon as possible. It can take up to four weeks to get approved for an SBA disaster loan.

How the SBA helped after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria

In 2017, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria made landfall in the U.S. within 30 days of each other. These three storms affected an estimated 26 million Americans and caused $265 billion in damage. Together, Harvey, Irma and Maria resulted in the most costly flood damage since 1980.

  • Total SBA loan amount: $7.2 billion
  • Average SBA loan amount per household: $51,064
  • Number of SBA loans approved: 141,000
  • SBA disaster loan approval rate: 41%
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Handling repairs after a hurricane

After a storm, take time to assess the damage and take pictures. You'll need to decide whether you want to make repairs yourself or hire a contractor.

Essential cleaning supplies

  • Heavy-duty trash bags
  • Sponges
  • Detergent
  • Shop-Vac or canister vacuum
  • Buckets

Before you decide to handle the repairs yourself, check to make sure your home's structure is stable and your utilities and systems are working properly. Ask a professional before using any damaged appliances, and throw out any food and water that was exposed to mud or floodwater.

If the damage is extensive, you should hire a contractor. This is especially true if you have significant water damage, which can lead to structural damage and mold issues. When shopping for repair quotes, consider getting a quote from a government-approved contractor.

Make sure to have a written contract and agreement in place before a contractor starts work on your home. The contract should include:

  • Any agreements made between you and the contractor
  • A list of materials required
  • Warranties for both the materials and labor
  • The contractor's contact and license information
  • A clear start and end date for the project

We also recommend requesting to see the contractor's insurance information and setting a payment schedule — you shouldn't pay the full cost up front. Most importantly, don't hire a contractor until you have your insurance settlement since the finalized amount will determine your budget.

Frequently asked questions

What should you do if a hurricane is approaching?

If a hurricane is headed your way, you should secure your home with storm shutters or plywood and gather important or valuable items, like prescription medication and personal documents. Make sure you regularly check your local news station or weather radio for evacuation orders. If you're not required to evacuate or you choose to stay in your home, stock up on essential supplies like water, canned goods and batteries.

How far inland should you go for a hurricane?

There's not a set rule for how far inland you should go to stay safe during a hurricane. You should plan your evacuation based on the size of the hurricane. Larger storms can cause high winds and flooding far away from the coast.

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy produced hurricane-force winds over 500 miles away from its center, or eye. For reference, that's around the same as the distance between New York City and Charlotte, N.C.

Is hurricane damage covered by homeowners insurance?

Some hurricane damage, like lightning strikes and damage from falling trees, is covered by your home insurance. However, flooding is excluded from most homeowners insurance policies. Some insurers may also require you to purchase separate windstorm insurance if you live in a hurricane-prone area.

Methodology

To calculate the average NFIP flood insurance rates by state and hurricane claim payouts, we analyzed data provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

SBA loan data was provided by the SBA’s Disaster Assistance Response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.