Right Before a Storm

You may have only a few days, perhaps less, to get ready for the storm. But there still are things you can do to prepare for possible flooding, power outages, and evacuation.

On this page:

Charge your cellphones.

  • Fully charge your cellphones as well as any backup battery packs you own.
  • Try to minimize use of your phone, especially if the power goes out. You want your phone to be usable in emergencies, such as having to call for help.
  • If your phone has power-saving options such as a low-power mode, use those to extend the battery life. You also can extend battery life by dimming the screen and closing apps that you are not using.

Listen to local news for weather and emergency information.

Many local communities have emergency alert systems that can email, text, or call you with emergency information. Sign up for that service before a storm. Tune in to local news and listen closely for these flood-related weather watches and warnings:

Flood watch:

Flooding in your area is possible. You should leave or be prepared to move to higher ground on short notice.

Flood warning:

Flooding is occurring or is about to occur soon. If authorities advise you to evacuate, do so immediately.

Flash flood watch:

Sudden flooding from intense rainfall is possible. You should leave or be prepared to move to higher ground on short notice.

Flash flood warning:

A flash flood is occurring or about to occur. Seek higher ground immediately.

If you have a car, fill the gas tank.

  • You need to do this before the storm because gas stations may be closed during emergencies. They also may be unable to pump gas during power outages.
  • If you do not have a car or other vehicle, contact friends or family members before the storm to find someone who would be able to help you evacuate.

Confirm your evacuation route and emergency shelter locations.

If you need to evacuate, listen for information from local officials about roads that are closed and emergency shelter locations. Some shelters may be closed because they too are flooded or because there are not enough people to staff them. In addition to local news, another way to find open shelters is to text the word SHELTER followed by your ZIP code (for example, “SHELTER 73026”) to 43362. You will receive a response from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). If your community has a 211 call service, they may have shelter information too.

Here are some other steps to take:

  • Review your evacuation plan and make sure your emergency “go” bag is ready.
  • Contact family members and friends in safe locations to ask if you could stay in their homes if necessary.
  • Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to be the “family contact” in case your family is separated during a flood. Make sure everyone in your family knows the name, address, and phone number of this contact person.
  • Confirm your pet plan. Only some shelters will welcome pets. A friend or relative may be a good alternative.
  • Bring your ID and other important documents.

Take steps to protect your food and water supply.

  • Turn your fridge and freezer temperature to the coolest possible setting. This will help preserve the food inside for a longer time during a power outage. Also, freezing refrigerated items that you may not need immediately, such as fresh meat, will keep them at a safe temperature for longer.
  • Place appliance thermometers in both the fridge and freezer. This will help you after power returns, when you need to determine if food is safe.
  • Store nonrefrigerated food and bottled water on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated floodwater.

Identify potential hazards and know how to turn them off or secure them.

  • Turn off the gas and water supplies before you evacuate. For water, this means closing the shut-off valve that controls the water supply to your entire house. If you turn off the gas for any reason, a qualified professional must turn it back on. Never attempt to turn the gas back on yourself.
  • Turn off electricity for the house when there is standing water in the house or when you evacuate. You also are advised to turn off the electricity if there are fallen power lines outside.
  • Tie down or bring in outdoor furniture.

Fill bathtubs and sinks for cleaning and toilet flushing (not for drinking).

  • Sanitize the sinks and tubs first by using bleach. Rinse them. Then fill them with clean water.
  • After a flood, do not flush toilets until you know that sewage lines are intact.
  • To use water for flushing, refill the toilet tank after each flush.

Move valuable items to safe places within your home.

  • These valuable items include furniture, rugs, computers, televisions, other electronics, and important documents.
  • Move these items to higher floors, where floodwaters are less likely to reach them. If your home has only one floor, move them to the highest place you can, such as onto a shelf.

Place sandbags around your property.

Sandbags do not provide total protection from flooding. But they can direct water away from the areas where water is most likely to get into your home. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • You don’t need or want a barrier around the whole house. Focus on doorways and other points where water is most likely to enter the home.
  • If a flood is expected, some communities will offer free sandbags to residents. Listen to the news to find out if this is happening in your community.
  • Ask for instructions on how to place sandbags properly. If they are not placed correctly, they won’t do any good.
  • The American Red Cross estimates that it takes two people about one hour to fill and place 100 sandbags. This time will be reduced if you receive the bags already filled. But it still is hard work. Ask neighbors to help, and help them too.