Run for Your Lives: Five Questions to Ask When You Are Considering Evacuating for a Hurricane

It's almost July and we have our first Atlantic storm of the season in Tropical Storm Arlene. Fortunately, it doesn't appear that Arlene will grow larger than a minimal hurricane, if that, before it makes landfall along the Mexican gulf coast. Unfortunately, it won't come close enough to us to help alleviate our drought, either.

Named storms occur, in general, about once every two years in June. We had a major hurricane last June, so Arlene is not necessarily an indicator this will be a super busy Atlantic hurricane season, but, like all the public service announcements and billboards tell you, it is hurricane season, so better to be prepared.

If we learned anything during the Hurricane Rita scare of 2005, it's that evacuation from a big storm can be messy and that many people in our area have no clear understanding of when and if they should evacuate in the event of a storm bearing down on Houston and Galveston.

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5. Are you in an evacuation zone? If you are unsure, you can just check the Harris County evacuation map (see example above). Note how much of the Houston area is NOT in any evacuation zone. That is because, in the vast majority of situations, evacuation is just not necessary. Obviously, if you live within one of these zones and an evacuation order is issued, you should leave. Many people who have lost their lives in hurricanes did so because they refused to leave their homes when told.

4. Do you care for anyone that needs medical attention? If someone in your care is sick or elderly and requires medical attention, particularly electricity, don't take any chances. Be prepared to leave when evacuations are ordered in zones near you for the safety of those in need.

3. Does your home routinely flood? Are you in the flood plain? One way to find out is by checking the interactive flood plain map based on Tropical Storm Allison. If your home floods on a regular basis, it's probably a safe bet you'll want to be elsewhere when a hurricane hits, if for no other reason than your own comfort level. But water is the number one cause of deaths during a storm, so there's another good reason.

2. Do you live north of the Beltway or west of the Beltway and north of I-10? There's a joke over on our friend SciGuy's blog about people needing to evacuate from Katy. It was born out of people from that area asking for evacuation advice in the comment section. Even people from College Station asked the question. The reality is, anyone who lives north of the Beltway or west of it and north of I-10 probably should stay put. Wind is scary and, yes, storms can generate tornadoes as well, but when you live more than 100 miles from the coast, your chances of facing the worst storm winds and rain are significantly decreased. I'm not saying it won't possibly be scary, but, unless you are planning a vacation in Colorado at the same time, you're probably fine where you are.

1. What is the projected path and timing of the storm in question? The projected path is important because the worst area of the storm is north and east of the center. The most damaging winds and rain extend out 50 to 100 miles from the center in most storms. So, if you are on the west side of a storm and are expecting to be 100 miles from where it hits, you're in good shape. Paths are unpredictable, however, and the exact landing spot is difficult to determine, so plan ahead. If the projected path brings the storm to your doorstep in three days, best get moving as soon as possible to avoid the massive traffic jams that can happen during an evacuation.

The bottom line is that most people don't need to evacuate. They do so out of fear and it is understandable, but they often create real problems for the people who truly need to get out of the way of a storm. While we don't always get a lot of warning before a storm hits, we get a lot more than when a tornado does, so have what you need before hurricane season starts and be ready when and if the time comes.

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