When Hurricane Irma was bearing down on my new house, the scariest part was when they announced the tornado warning. The walls in my garage are concrete so I thought that would be the safest place in the house.
Boy was I wrong.
Garages are not a safe place to take shelter during a hurricane or tornado. When used correctly, hurricane rated garage doors offer offer substantial protection, but it’s still not enough to withstand the wind speeds of strong hurricanes or tornadoes. In addition to the garage door, most garages are made of thinner construction than your home which can pull away and put everyone inside at risk.
Even though your should never use your garage to ride out a hurricane or tornado, there are things you can do to make it safer.
We’ll get into those a bit later, but first let’s go into more detail why your garage isn’t safe in a violent storm.
What Makes Your Garage Unsafe in High Wind
So why is hiding out in your garage a bad idea in a hurricane or tornado?
Here are a couple of reasons:
Not every garage door is wind rated: In fact most ARE NOT! If you live in one of the southern states most affected by hurricanes, then chances are pretty good you’ve got a wind rated garage door on your house. However, outside of coastal states it’s rare to find
If your garage door isn’t wind rated, they’re almost always made of thin material that cannot withstand hurricane-force winds. It’s also common to see hurricane-force winds pick up trees, signs or debris and fling them through garage doors during the storm.
Garage doors aren’t very secure: Garage doors cover a large area and only secure to the house at a few points. If they are damaged, or worse ripped off, that leaves anyone inside at the mercy of the storm.
Garage doors are not waterproof: It’s hard to keep water out of your garage. Flash flooding is common in extreme storms and can cause parts of your garage to become submerged. If you live near rivers or lakes, the storm surge could even cause a person to become trapped inside.
Everything can become projectiles: Remember that barn scene in Twister? Garages are full of items that would be very dangerous if they fell over, collapsed or went airborne during high winds.
While the garage can prove useful in some instances during a hurricane, it is not safe to take shelter and ride out the storm.
How to Make a Garage Safer in a Hurricane
That said, this doesn’t mean there isn’t prep work to do in the garage before the storm hits.
Here are some simple steps you can take:
- Get it off the ground. To avoid water damage, I moved anything I could off the ground before Hurricane Irma hit. Here you can see my lawnmower sitting on two paint buckets and some extra wood flooring panels. Get creative and use what you’ve got.
- Bolt all shelving securely to the wall. Collapsing shelves are dangerous during a natural disaster like a hurricane, tornado, or earthquake. Avoid this by securing all of your garage’s shelves and workspace storage to the wall with brackets.
- Reinforce your garage door. For extra protection, secure your garage door with a hurricane brace. It’ll be less likely to get damaged from hurricane-force wind and impacts.
- Install a generator. Thousands of generators are sold in the days leading up to a hurricane. It’s a great backup in case you lose power for days or even weeks following a massive hurricane.
- Park your car in the garage and keep it stocked with emergency supplies such as extra fuel if a hurricane is imminent.
- Make sure your garage is up to code. Even though this isn’t a last-minute prep, this is critical in older homes. Walls, support beams and other structural elements should be inspected occasionally by a structural engineer. This helps ensure that they’re aren’t any structural weaknesses which could fail in a hurricane or tornado.
Put Your Car in the Garage in a Hurricane
In bad hurricane-force winds, hurricanes are strong enough to pick cars up off the dry pavement. That means if you leave your car out in a hurricane, it could potentially end up as a piece of life-threatening debris aimed at someone else.
The smartest thing to do with your car is to store it inside your garage during a hurricane. Side note: you DID declutter your garage, right?
This keeps your car protected and also keeps it from becoming a projectile. If you leave your car outside it’s susceptible to damage from flying debris or flash flooding.
You’ll want to fill your tank up before you park your car though. In case the hurricane hits harder than expected, or you need to make a quick exit, it’s a good idea to have a full tank of gas.
We’ve all seen the pictures of highways with bumper-to-bumper traffic from people evacuating. It’s important to be prepared.
You should also keep some basic hurricane supplies in your car, just in case you need to evacuate. Don’t go overboard here. Just add some bottled water, some dry food stuffs and a small overnight bag just in case.
It’s important to be prepared before the emergency really hits.
Store Outdoor Items in the Garage During a Hurricane
This probably goes without saying, but you want to make sure that anything outdoors that could get picked up by the wind is safely stored inside.
Hurricane-force winds turn every piece of debris into a potentially lethal projectile. This includes innocuous things like lawn decorations and furniture.
Before the storm hits, go around your yard and collect these items and store them inside for safekeeping during the hurricane:
- Patio and lawn furniture
- Bird feeders
- Hanging and potted plants
- Children’s toys
- Dog houses
- Lawn equipment
- Swing sets
- Garden art/statues
- Barbeque grills
Try to look at everything in your yard as potential projectiles if they were picked up by hurricane-force winds.
Storing these things in the garage is an important part of keeping your garage (and home) safe during a hurricane.
Store Your Hurricane Supplies Indoors
When stocking up rations, water, and potential emergency supplies for a hurricane, it’s not a good idea to store these kinds of supplies in the garage if you have other pantry areas in the house itself where they can be stored. There are several reasons why it’s better not to store emergency supplies in the garage if you can help it:
Hurricane supplies such as rations and water are at risk in a hurricane from being blocked off by debris or damaged by the storm if they are stored in a garage. This can make post-hurricane recovery more difficult.
- Temperature and humidity fluctuations: Unless you have a temperature-controlled garage, the fluctuations in temperature and humidity in garage storage are a bad combination with food when it comes to long-term storage.
- Potentially blocked off by storm debris: Because a house’s garage door is one of its greatest vulnerabilities in a hurricane, the garage may collapse and block off access to vital supplies needed in the hurricane’s aftermath.
- Insect and pest exposure: Let’s face it, it’s hard enough to keep pests and insects out of your garage, especially in summer months when the garage door is open. It gets harder when your house is damaged during a hurricane or tornado. If you don’t store your supplies in a secure container, you’re likely to have them raided by the local wildlife.
We hear it every time a big storm is approaching, but it’s critical to be prepared. A little work ahead of time can go a long way to keeping your home, garage and loved ones safe during a hurricane.
Just remember, your garage isn’t a safe place to shelter from the storm.