Tropical Storm Elsa strengthened into a hurricane Friday morning. And although the storm’s path remains uncertain, Florida appears to be in its sights.
If the storm hits Tampa Bay, according to the Friday morning forecast, tropical storm force winds likely will arrive early Tuesday morning. They would come on the heels of a holiday weekend when many Floridians will be focused on things other than safety.
Don’t be caught unaware. Here are five things you can do right now to prepare for the storm.
1. Check your hurricane kit
You already should have one of these. If not, it’s time to get to work.
The Times hurricane guide lists everything you need, and the Florida Division of Emergency Management also has a checklist for disaster supply kits. Think first aid gear, a week’s worth of water and nonperishable food, cash, personal documents, a two-week supply of medication and radios that don’t have to be plugged in.
Your kit also should include pandemic basics: two masks per person, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that even those who have been vaccinated wear masks if they wind up in hurricane shelters. In addition to stemming spread of the coronavirus in close quarters, they can also help psychologically, conveying a sense of safety amid a potential disaster.
2. Charge up — but be ready to go analog
Make sure your smartphones, tablets and laptops are fully charged in case of an emergency or evacuation. Charge your power banks and portable chargers. Bring a surge protector with multiple outlets, along with all your cables, if you head to a shelter.
And have other gear ready in case you run out of juice, can’t get to an outlet or find yourself without a way to connect to the internet. That means everything from a battery-powered flashlight (with extra batteries) to physical maps. Consider, too, what you might need to pass the time: Rather than draining your phone battery by playing games on it or scrolling through Twitter, have books and board games at the ready.
3. Prepare your home and car
If you haven’t checked off every box on the Times’ property protection guide, you may be too late to take some steps before Elsa’s possible arrival — securing the right insurance policies, fixing your roof, getting problematic trees trimmed or removed. But there are still things you can do.
Identify objects around your home that strong winds could lift and turn into missiles. Clear out your yard, bring your plants and lawn ornaments inside and store the patio furniture in your garage (or sink it in your pool, as some prefer to do). If you don’t have hurricane shutters, you can learn online how to cover your windows with plywood at least 5/8 of an inch thick.
With the storm days away and its path uncertain, counties haven’t set up sandbag stations. If they do, sandbags can help prevent minor amounts of water from getting under your doors, but they won’t stand up to major flooding.
In case you need to leave your home, have a full tank of gas. Bring Fix-a-Flat tire sealant and other tire repair materials, as well as a spare set of keys. If you’ve been meaning to install new windshield wipers or get your oil changed, don’t delay.
4. Protect data, documents and photos
Make a list of your most important personal, medical, financial and property documents, as well as any physical photographs significant to you. Be ready to store them in sturdy, waterproof bags or bins. Tupperware won’t work; Ziploc bags will. If possible, spring for reusable bags or cases that are both waterproof and fireproof. Have a waterproof pouch for your phone, too, ideally one you can wear around your neck.
Physical photos and videos should go in sturdy, waterproof bins. Include photos of your home and belongings to have ready for an insurance adjustor if you suffer damage in the storm.
Back up digital photos and documents on an external hard drive or in the cloud. You can also use smartphone apps — including the iPhone’s notes app — to scan physical documents.
5. Know where to go in an emergency
Before a storm hits, know whether your home is in an evacuation zone and where your county’s nearest hurricane shelter is. Links to emergency information for all counties in the Tampa Bay area are at the bottom of the hurricane section on the Times’ website.
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2021 Tampa Bay Times hurricane guide
IT’S STORM SEASON: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane
THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: Seven hurricane myths that need to go away
BACK-UP YOUR DATA: Protect your data, documents and photos
BUILD YOUR HURRICANE KIT: Gear up — and mask up — before the storm hits
PROTECT YOUR PETS: Here’s how to keep your pets as safe as you
NEED TO KNOW: Click here to find your evacuation zone and shelter