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 substantial protection. However, it’s still not enough to withstand the wind speeds of intense hurricanes or tornadoes.
Even though you 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. First, let’s go into more detail why your garage isn’t safe in a hurricane or tornado.
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 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 are only secured 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 expected in extreme storms and can cause parts of your garage to become submerged. If you live near rivers or lakes, the storm surge could 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 your garage has its role during a tornado or hurricane, it is not safe to take shelter and ride out the storm.
How to Make a Garage Safer in a Hurricane or Tornado
There’s some prep work to do in the garage before the storm hits.
Here are some simple steps you can take:
- Get it off the ground. I moved anything I could off the ground before Hurricane Irma hit to avoid water damage. For example, I stacked my lawnmower on two paint buckets and some extra wood flooring panels. There are better ways to store your lawn mower in your garage, but you need to 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 if 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. A structural engineer should occasionally inspect walls, support beams, and other structural elements. This helps ensure that there aren’t any structural weaknesses that could fail in a hurricane or tornado.
Put Your Car in the Garage in a Hurricane
We’ve all seen the videos of tornadoes and hurricanes picking cars up off the dry pavement.
If you leave your car out in a hurricane, it could be a projectile aimed at someone’s house.
The best place for your car is inside your garage during a hurricane or tornado. That means you’ll need to declutter your garage to free up space.
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. If the hurricane hits harder than expected, or you need to make a quick exit, it’s good to have a full gas tank.
We’ve all seen the pictures of highways with bumper-to-bumper traffic from people evacuating. It’s better to leave early, rather than too late.
You should also keep some basic hurricane supplies in your car if you need to evacuate. Don’t go overboard here, and just add some bottled water, some dry food, and a small overnight bag.
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 ensure 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, store these popular yard items inside for safekeeping:
- Patio and lawn furniture
- Bird feeders
- Wind chimes
- Hanging and potted plants
- Children’s toys
- Dog houses
- Lawn equipment
- Swing sets
- Garden art/statues
- Barbecue 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 vital for 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 good to store them in the garage. It’s better to keep them in the pantry or other climate-controlled areas of the house.
There are several reasons why it’s better not to keep emergency supplies in the garage if you can help it:
Supplies like rations and water could be damaged or blocked by debris. This can make post-hurricane recovery more complex.
- Temperature and humidity fluctuations: Unless you have a temperature-controlled garage, the changes in temperature and humidity in garage storage are a terrible combination with long-term food storage.
- Potentially blocked off by storm debris: our garage door is extremely vulnerable in a hurricane or tornado. Debris may block 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. 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 any spiders living in your garage make them their new home.
The warnings come every time a big storm approaches, so you need 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.
Remember, your garage isn’t a safe place to shelter from the storm.