Though hurricane prediction models have improved in recent years, it’s still hard to know how strong a given storm will be. And despite growing concern over recent extreme weather events, an Esurance survey found that the vast majority of us are ill-prepared for them.

But when a mild tropical storm escalates to hurricane level, we can never be too prepared. (A tropical storm is named when its wind speeds reach 39 mph and becomes a hurricane at 74 mph.)

Here are 4 reasons to take every hurricane season seriously.

1. Fewer storms doesn’t necessarily mean fewer U.S. landfalls

Because hurricane forecasts include the total number of storms predicted for the entire Atlantic Ocean, there’s no telling how many might hit the U.S. Of the 12 hurricane-level storms in 2010, none made landfall on U.S. soil. On the other hand, 1983 had just 4 named storms — but one was Hurricane Alicia (a Category 3), which struck the Houston area with surprising quickness.

2. Even a “slow” season can be a destructive one

A quiet hurricane season is good news for most of the Atlantic. But the number of major hurricanes isn’t the real issue — it’s whether you’re affected by the ones that do strike. Hurricane Alicia, for example, caused $4.5 billion in damage.

3. The greatest threat to safety and property is storm surge

Abnormally high waves and water levels are the biggest causes of hurricane devastation, particularly if combined with a high tide. Storm surge can rise to over 20 feet in height, affect hundreds of miles of shoreline, and penetrate tens of miles inland. It’s also been known to occur hours before or after landfall, causing unexpected flooding.

Because many variables affect it, surge is not included in the Saffir-Simpson wind scale (meaning a Category 2 hurricane may be less destructive in terms of wind than a Category 4, but could be equally or more devastating in terms of surge).

4. A typical homeowners policy covers wind and water damage, but not flood damage

Most standard homeowners or renters policies will cover damage caused by windstorms, including hurricanes. If a strong gale or an uprooted tree were to destroy your roof, you’d likely be protected. Water damage caused by things like a backed-up drain or broken pipe is also generally covered.

Flood damage, however, is another story. Though it’s easy to assume that “water damage” would cover any water-related incident, “flood damage” is considered a separate category and typically requires a separate policy. It’s wise to check your policy before hurricane season begins so you can see what’s covered and make sure your coverage limits are adequate.

How to prepare for hurricane season

If you live in an area that’s prone to hurricanes, the best way to protect yourself, your family, and your property is to make preparations well in advance. Here are a few things you can do.

Make an emergency plan. Review your community’s evacuation routes. Discuss where you’ll meet your family, how to get to a safe place, and how you’ll get in touch if you’re separated.

Include your pet in your plans. Make sure your pet has been microchipped or has ID tags with a current phone number. Track down a pet-friendly hotel or emergency shelter and keep a sturdy carrier on hand so you can bring your pet with you.

Stock up on supplies. Put together a kit to keep in your car. It should contain enough nonperishable food and water for several days, along with flashlights (and batteries), a first-aid kit, and a weather radio.

Do a home inventory. Make a list of your household items and their estimated value. Store the list and your insurance policy in a safe place either online or somewhere outside your home.

Fortify your home against wind damage. Install building code-approved hurricane shutters or plywood window covers. Reinforce door hinges, screws, and seals.

Secure your outdoor property. Loose items in your yard can be swept up by high winds and cause damage. Make sure trash cans, grills, swing sets, and patio furniture are stored indoors or tied down.

Here’s hoping this season holds fewer (and less scary) surprises than your average State Fair fun house. And just in case, it’s always good to be prepared.

And of course, it’s always a good idea to make sure your insurance is up to date and up to snuff. Get a homeowners insurance quote from Esurance to see how we’re making insurance surprisingly painless.

Safe and smart | Home safety


about Ellen

Ellen has spent many years as a professional wordsmith, helping to shed light on such topics as world travel, cargo pants, and the porosity of bath tiles. As a freelance copywriter for Esurance, she brings her boundless curiosity to the world of insurance. Outside work, she can be found cheering on the San Francisco Giants, hiking in the Oakland hills, and (barely) resisting smuggling penguins home from Antarctica.