Tampa Bay is bracing for Hurricane Eta, which strengthened overnight and continues to shift eastward.
The storm’s developments in the last 24 hours have left Floridians with less time to prepare than usual for the high winds and storm surge that could hit the area. Tampa Bay is already feeling the effects, and tropical-storm-force winds and rain are expected.
As the storm approaches, residents should use the next several hours to prepare their homes, though time had run out by Wednesday evening.
In a news release issued just before 5:30 p.m., Pinellas County officials urged residents to conclude hurricane preparations and prepare to shelter in place the rest of the night.
“The winds and possible flood conditions will make driving unsafe and outdoor conditions dangerous,” the news release states. “Emergency Management staff recommend people stay home overnight, calling 7 p.m. to midnight the period of heaviest impact. People should not drive, walk or swim through flood waters.”
Ideally, Florida residents have hurricane kits and supplies on-hand and focused earlier on securing items in their yard and home.
If the quick turn in events has you scrambling, here’s a breakdown of how to keep your home and family safe.
Bring in loose items from the yard
If you haven’t already, do this quickly. This includes patio furniture, lawn decorations and any loose items in your yard that the storm-force winds could launch at your home. Check for any trees or foliage that may need trimming or cutting down, too, to reduce flying debris. The same goes for loose objects. Powerful winds could turn items such as flower pots or lawn decorations into projectiles.
Snap photos before the storm hits
Don’t forget to take fresh photos of your home and possessions soon, before conditions worsen. These images need to be stored on the cloud. Should any damage occur to your home or property, you’ll want updated images to compare.
Seal doors and windows
Doors and windows need to be tightly sealed. Unfortunately, if your roof is damaged or something is leaking, now is a bad time to fix those problems. Scrambling to get a contractor out to your house at the last second might not be an option.
Taping your windows won’t protect them. Instead, they should be covered with plywood that is at least ⅝ of an inch thick or hurricane shutters. Google will help show you how to hang plywood.
If you have tarps, keep them handy to help cover any damaged areas.
Examine your garage door, too. Depending on how old the door is, it could be vulnerable to a storm with significant winds. Consider bracing or reinforcing your garage door with a kit from a home improvement store. Google can show you how.
Don’t forget about pandemic supplies
Whether your hunkering down at home or need to evacuate, your hurricane kit should include personal items you cannot do without. Include items that can help protect you and others from COVID-19, such as hand sanitizer, or bar or liquid soap if not available, and two cloth face coverings for each person.
Have a plan for your pets
Know which evacuation shelters in your area accept animals. Keep all of your pets' vaccination records and microchip information in a ziplock bag or other waterproof casing. Get a cooler and ice packs ready to keep any refrigerated medications cold, and keep a week’s worth of any needed medications ready.
Make sure you have at least a week’s worth of food and water for your pet, in addition to your own supply.
Charge your devices
Now is the time to make sure your electronic devices, including cell phones, are charged. If you have external charges, make sure to plug those in, too. They won’t do you any good if they’re low on juice.
Also, make sure you pull flashlights out and have fresh batteries for them.
Protect your documents
Start with your most fragile possessions: What’s on paper. Create a checklist for the important documents and photos you need to preserve and protect.
Physical copies of documents and photos should be stored in waterproof containers or bags. If possible, don’t just use any plastic container. Consider using bags and bins that are specifically designed to be waterproof. Ziploc bags work but they’re cheap and disposable. There are sturdier — but more expensive — options such as dry bags used by divers and campers. There are also waterproof and fireproof document organizers, folders or pouches you can buy.
Don’t forget photos
Again, choose a sturdy waterproof option to keep your precious photos safe. You can store the physical photos, videos and old home movies you want to preserve in the same way you protect your documents. Make a list of the photos hanging around your home that you’ll need to grab in case things worsen.
Protect your business
Many people are still working from home during the coronavirus pandemic. Whether you commute to an office or have a desk set up at home, don’t forget to power down any computers or machines. If power is lost and then restored, that could cause power surges that could damage your electronics.
Know what to do if tornadoes occur
The storm brings threats of isolated tornadoes and a tornado watch remains in effect through 5 p.m., according to a local advisory from National Weather Service.
Tornadoes are possible in and near the watch area. If a tornado warning is issued, that means that the formation of a tornado is imminent or has already happened in your area.
You should quickly move to an interior room on the lowest floor of a sturdy building — preferably as far away from windows as possible. If you are in a mobile home, a vehicle, or outdoors, you should try to move to the closest substantial shelter and protect yourself from flying debris.
Have a radio, TV or a device connected to the internet to get updates from officials. Bring all members of your family with you to your safe room, including your pets. Make sure your emergency supplies are accessible, including your mobile devices and a portable backup battery charger.
Don’t use your car as a shelter, don’t open the windows in your home, and don’t park under an overpass. A wind-tunnel effect can cause higher wind speeds.
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2020 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide
HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane
PREPARE FOR COVID-19 AND THE STORM: The CDC's tips for this pandemic-hurricane season
PREPARE YOUR STUFF: Get your documents and your data ready for a storm
PROTECT YOUR PETS: Your pets can’t get ready for a storm. That’s your job
NEED TO KNOW: Click here to find your evacuation zone and shelter