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Basenji looking out of a car window in the rain.
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In this era of climate change, you can’t take storms too lightly. Hurricanes, in particular, have grown stronger as the oceans have warmed and provided more fuel for them. As Hurricanes Florence, Harvey, and Irma have recently demonstrated, dog owners have many reasons to thoroughly prepare for hurricane season. Here’s what you need to know.

What Causes a Hurricane?

Meteorologists maintain databases of information about such forces of nature. Kathryn Sellwood, an assistant scientist with the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Science (CIMAS), says that they measure hurricanes by maximum wind speed using the Saffir Simpson Scale. At the low end, Category 1 has top wind speeds of 95 mph and is “very dangerous.” Category 5 has wind speeds of 157 mph or greater and is “catastrophic.” Last year’s Hurricane Michael was a Category 5.

Sellwood, who also works at the Hurricane Research division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), says that meteorologists have been naming storms like Michael since 1953. In fact, the World Meteorological Organization created lists that repeat every six years for each ocean basin. For 2019 in the Atlantic, including the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, it begins with Andrea and Barry and leads up to Van and Wendy.

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When is Hurricane Season?

Tropical cyclones, also known as hurricanes, don’t obey the same kind of logic as other storms. Their wobbly paths are dictated by speed, water temperature, and the topography of any land that they cross. That’s why the time to make a plan for yourself and your dog is before the six-month season begins on June 1.

Hurricane on a map heading toward the US.

Who Should Prepare for Hurricanes?

“Since hurricanes form and strengthen over the ocean, coastal areas are the most vulnerable to both wind and flooding from storm surge,” Sellwood says. In the United States, that includes Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas, as well as Louisiana and Texas. But while those states consistently see the most threats, “it’s a matter of where the storms form and what the prevailing wind currents are,” Sellwood says. “The Northeast has always been vulnerable to hurricanes since the Gulf Stream brings plenty of warm water north. But usually, as hurricane season progresses, the type of weather patterns that bring cold fronts to the Northeast help to steer tropical storms away from the coast.” In addition, due to the curvature of the planet, the storms eventually track back eastward. This helps keep the Northeast dry. Still, Hurricane Sandy in 2012 is a reminder that it’s not off limits.

Tom Sharpe, CEO of AKC Reunite, which initiated a program for Pet Disaster Relief in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina struck, agrees that you don’t have to live on the coast to feel effects. As Hurricane Florence did to North Carolina’s interior in 2018, hurricane-force winds “can tear down trees, take out power, and cause massive inland flooding,” he says. “You’ve got to be ready.”

Mom and daughter filling the back of a car with luggage next to a Labrador retriever.

How to Get Yourself — and Your Pet — Ready

It’s better to be safe than sorry, so pack a pet disaster bag and leave it ready to go by the door. In it, keep the following:

  • Any papers that prove ownership, breed and sex, medical history, and vaccinations.
  • A printed photo. Remember, you might not be able to access digital photos if your dog goes missing.
  • A three-day supply of food, water, treats, medications, and poop bags.
  • Restraints and comforts: collars, leashes, kennels, toys, blankets, bowls, and bedding.

What to Do When a Storm Is Predicted

First, find out if you have to evacuate. If you plan on riding out a storm at home, make sure you have supplies, including toys and treats to help with boredom. Remember puppy pads and cleaning items, as fallen power lines make it dangerous to take your dog outside even during the eye or after the storm lets up. Make sure that whatever safe room you have prepared for yourself is large enough for your companion. If your dog is anxious about being confined, or about storms in general, ask your vet about safe medications to give or natural remedies to spray in the room. Sprays will also help with odors if your dog has a nervous digestive tract. Keep leashes and kennels close at hand, along with battery-powered lights and radios, in case an emergency evacuation is in order.

In case you do have to evacuate, research which shelters or hotels will accept dogs and then follow recommended routes, even if they’re heavily trafficked. Sometimes storms change paths or cause unforeseen circumstances, so even if you don’t think you need to evacuate, things may change. Sharpe also recommends microchipping and registering your dog, as a collar and tags can slip off too easily. “One of the reasons Reunite gets involved is that people are not prepared,” he says. “Then they’re put in bad situations and have to make difficult choices.”

Two Afghan Hounds sitting in the back of a car with an open hatchback next to luggage.

What to Do After a Hurricane

If you and your dog do become separated during a hurricane, begin your search at the local animal shelter. “Emergency responders will publish pet-friendly shelters where you can go and then they will notify you about where they’ve taken rescued pets,” Sharpe says. “Local media is the best resource is the best for that kind of information.” AKC Reunite also publishes as much of that information as possible, since regional communications often go down for days after such events.

What to Expect in 2019

Sellwood says it’s still too early to predict this year’s hurricane season, but that “it’s possible that El Niño conditions will be present this year. This tends to suppress Atlantic hurricanes.” Does that mean you can relax with your dog on your lap or at your feet? Not necessarily. “Remember that [Hurricane] Andrew was the only storm in a slow hurricane season,” Sellwood says. “It only takes one.”

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