Hurricanes/Tropical Storms

August and September represent the height of hurricane season for Harford County, but they can occur any time between June 1 and November 30. This is the time of year when tropical storms and the occasional hurricane can travel up the Atlantic Coast and impact the Mid-Atlantic. Depending on the category and other weather factors, a hurricane or tropical storm will feature many different weather hazards such as coastal and inland flooding, isolated tornadoes, heavy rain, and very strong winds. The higher the category, the worse the impacts can be from a storm. Damaging winds and heavy rain can lead to a myriad of potential problems across the county.

Watch out for: 
  • Flying debris such as signs, roofing material, small items left outside
  • Extensive damage to trees
  • Widespread power outages
  • Damage to underground utilities (from uprooted trees)
  • Structural damage
Coastal Flooding2_HdG
"Hide from the wind, run from the water."

The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale defines the intensity of hurricanes:
Saffer Simpson scale for hurricanes
A storm surge is caused by a dome of water pushed ashore by powerful tropical cyclone winds. Storm surge can wash out buildings, trees, marinas, boats, roads and bridges. It is often the greatest threat to life and property from a tropical storm or hurricane.

Storm Surge
If you reside on a coastline in Harford County, you must:
  • Strictly follow local building codes.
  • Evacuate when ordered.
  • Have a go-kit ready for your family and your pets.

Before the storm

Prepare your family
  • Assemble and maintain a disaster supply kit.
  • Make emergency plans for pets.
  • Check on emergency equipment: working flashlights, generators, batter-powered radio and cell phones.
  • Gas up and service family vehicles.
  • Check prescription medications and other vital supplies, refill if needed.
  • Have cash on hand in case the power is out for several days.
  • It’s suggested you evacuate if you live in a mobile home, on the coastline, near a river or near a flood plain.
Prepare your home
Preparing your home to withstand high winds can mean the difference between minor and major repairs after a hurricane. That’s why it’s so important to strengthen your home to resist high winds. Some key tips:
  • Shutter your windows. Glass can be broken by flying debris. Protecting your windows can keep storm winds and rain out and your roof on. Duct tape will come loose and provides no protection.
  • Check weather stripping and caulking around windows and doors, replacing if necessary.
  • Check your garage door. If your door needs replacing, look for a reinforced, wind-rated model.
  • Think about other improvements. The Federal Alliance for Safe Homes has step-by-step instructions for reinforcing your home’s roof, gable ends and other vulnerable areas.
  • If you have questions about your home’s storm readiness, consider having a home inspector review your home’s condition. If you are considering hiring help, be sure to use a licensed, reputable contractor.
Prepare your yard
Getting your yard ready to weather the storm can keep you and your home safe.  High winds can turn even the heaviest items into deadly projectiles that can break through your windows, doors, and walls. To prepare:
  • Clear your yard and porch area of lightweight objects. 
  • Before any storms threaten, properly prune trees and shrubs. Do not leave piles of branches that can become flying debris in high winds.  Trim back dead or weak branches.
  • Keep your gutters and downspouts clear and in good repair.
  • When a tropical storm or hurricane warning is issued, bring in all yard items such as furniture, toys, birdbaths, bird feeders and barbecue grills.
  • Do not drain your pool. Super chlorinate the water and turn off all electricity to the pool for the duration of the storm.

During the storm

Some important tips to remember:
  • Stay tuned to local news (WXCY-103.7FM, WHFC-91.1FM) and Harford Cable Network (COMCAST Channel 21, Armstrong Channel 7, and Verizon Channel 31) for updates.
  • Follow instructions issued by local officials.
  • Use your battery-powered Hazard Alert Radio when power is lost.
  • Make sure your emergency supplies are out and ready.
  • Make any last-minute preparations to secure yards, windows and vehicles.
  • Stay indoors.
  • Close all interior doors – secure and brace external doors.  Stay away from windows, skylights, and glass doors.
  • If your power goes out, use flashlights, battery-powered lanterns or chemical light sticks.  Burning candles can become hazardous if left unattended.
Food and safety guidelines
Hurricanes and tropical storms can cut power to your house for days – even weeks.  While power outages can be annoying, they also present health concerns from food spoilage, especially when held above 40 degrees F. 
Here are some tips to help keep you safe:
  • Before the storm’s arrival, take inventory of items in your refrigerator and freezer.
  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible.
  • A full freezer with minimal door opening can keep frozen items safe for about two days.
  • Discard any perishable food that has been above 40 degrees F for two hours or more and any food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture.
  • If power will be off more than six hours, transfer refrigerated perishable items to an insulated cooler filled with ice or frozen gel packs. Keep a thermometer in the cooler to be sure the food stays at 40 degrees or below.
  • Never taste food to determine its safety! Some foods may look and smell fine, but if they’ve been at room temperature longer than two hours, bacteria that causes food-borne illness can multiply quite rapidly.
  • For more information, contact the County Health Department’s Environmental Section at 443-643-0300.

After the storm

The storm has gone through and it’s time to assess the damage.  Hopefully you have stored enough batteries to keep your radio running if power is out because you’ll want to hear news reports about damage, road closures, power outages, and other emergency instructions.  Expect between three and seven days of uncertainty, depending on the storm, so you’ll need to rely upon what you’ve stored for food, water, medications, and entertainment.  The stronger the storm, the more severe the damage.  It could be weeks or longer before life gets back to normal.  Consider these realities in your planning.  Also, heed the following common sense safety steps during the recovery.  If you evacuated, return home only when authorities say it is safe.

Drinking water
A boil water order may be issued during a heavy rain, a tropical storm/hurricane, a water main break or other significant event that affects the drinking water supply. What that means is the possibility exists of microbial contamination in tap water. 

Boiling is the most effective way to kill bacteria, viruses, and parasites in water. Health officials recommend bringing a pot of water to a full rolling boil for one minute to kill pathogens and make the water safe to consume. A very important thing to remember is that water must be brought to a full rolling boil before you start counting one minute. Let the water cool to room temperature before drinking it. 

House inspection
  • If your home has been flooded, use extreme caution around electrical service. Have a licensed electrician check to see if it is safe before using the power.
  • If you smell gas, vacate the structure immediately and call 911.
  • Promptly report any damage to your insurance company and take pictures before any clean-up begins.
  • Look for hazards such as broken or leaking gas lines, flooded electrical circuits, or submerged furnaces, or electrical appliances.
  • Remove any water from your home as soon as possible to reduce any further water damage.
  • Make sure you have plenty of ventilation moving through the house.
Home repair and contractors
  • Never let anyone into your home without first asking for identification. Representatives of utilities, government agencies, and reputable businesses will have proper identification.
  • Hire only licensed and insured contractors. Any company or person doing work at a residence must have a Maryland Home Improvement License and they must be insured through the Maryland Home Improvement Commission in Baltimore, 410-230-6309/1-888-218-5925.
  • The Harford County Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits’ Plumbing Section (410-638-3215) issues licenses to plumbing contractors; and the Electrical Section (410-638-3363) handles licenses for electrical contractors. Both sections can verify a license.
  • Insist on and check references of previous customers.
  • Obtain at least three written estimates.
  • Avoid contractors who ask for advance payment in full.
  • A building permit must be obtained either by the homeowner or the contractor.
Know the laws protecting your rights. Because the demand for qualified contractors after a disaster usually exceeds the supply, do not lose your money to a home repair con artist.