Hurricane Hilary Threatens California; Here Are 16 Essentials You'll Want To Have

Road Closed With Flooded Waters, Near Marina With Lines of Boats


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Road Closed With Flooded Waters, Near Marina With Lines of Boats

Weather the Storm

Hurricane Hilary is racing toward California, and millions of people in the Southwest could soon be dealing with its impact. If it makes landfall in California as a tropical storm, it would be the first in 84 years, according to NBC News

A few simple steps taken in advance make storm preparation affordable even on a tight budget. The American Red Cross and Federal Emergency Management Agency recommend a three-day supply of food, water, and other essentials for evacuating to a safe zone and two weeks' worth for sheltering in place.

Opened First Aid Kit With Bandages, Cream, and More

First Aid and Medicine

A well-equipped first-aid kit is essential for any household, stormy weather or not. But storm prep requires extra supplies. The recommendation to keep three days of supplies to evacuate also applies to household medications and medical devices, including syringes, prescription drugs, hearing-aid batteries, contact lens cleaner, and related items.

Hands Putting AA Batteries Into a Grey Flashlight, Selective Focus

Flashlights and Batteries

Have at least one flashlight or lantern for every member of the household. LED lights powered by lithium-ion batteries are usually cheaper, both upfront and long-term, while those powered by more-expensive alkaline batteries are usually brighter and more powerful. Stockpile extra batteries for the lights and any other battery-powered emergency items, such as fans. Alkaline batteries (AA, AAA, C, D, and 9-volt) are especially prone to corrosion, so emergency devices not in use should never be stored with alkaline batteries inside.

Eton Emergency Hand Crank Weather Alert Radio With LED Flashlight, White
American Red Cross

Weather Radio

The American Red Cross sells a specialized hand-crank weather radio plus flashlight and smartphone charger for $40, but consumers can make do with a cheaper battery-powered device. (Also, battery-powered objects are far more convenient than hand-cranked ones.) Any emergency device should pick up weather radio frequencies from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in addition to the more common AM and FM stations.

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Hands Holding Cash in Three $50 Dollar Bills, Just Received From a Bank ATM, Selective Focus


When power goes out in an extended area, ATMs and credit-card readers don't work. Whether evacuating or sheltering in place, keep enough cash on hand, preferably in small bills, to get by until the power is restored. Even when an emergency isn't looming, etting aside $1 and $5 bills is also a good way to build up a savings cushion.

Closeup of Manual Can Opener Laid on Top of Plain Closed Can, No Wrapper on It, Selective Focus


Any emergency kit requires a supply of food that can be stored without refrigeration and eaten without cooking or preparation. Many ordinary canned heat-and-serve foods, such as baked beans, pasta, and stews, also double as emergency rations. They can safely be eaten cold, though they won't taste as good. Store at least one manually operated can opener with the food supply — and keep an eye on expiration dates. Other inexpensive foods include crackers and no-refrigeration sandwich fillings, such as peanut butter, honey, and single-serving jams and jellies; canned fruit or fruit cups; pudding cups; trail mix; raisins and other dried fruit; granola or energy bars; summer sausages; and meat jerky.

Related: Emergency Supplies to Stock up on at Costco and Sam's

Closeup of a Black Nozzle on a White Propane Tank, Selective Focus, Top of Tank

Cooking Fuel

A barbecue grill or wood- or gas-powered camp stove can cook and heat foods outdoors. But never use such items inside a house, garage, or any other building. Even with all windows open, there's a deadly risk of toxic, suffocating fumes filling the space. If cooking outdoors isn't possible, keep a supply of ethanol gel cans (used for chafing dishes), which don't generate enough heat for cooking or boiling water but typically are sufficient for warming canned items.

Several Plastic Water Bottles With Blue Caps, Selective Focus, Half View

Drinking Water

Minimum recommendations call for a gallon of water per person per day, though residents of hot climates and those prone to excessive perspiration need more. Empty plastic soda or juice bottles can be washed and reused to store tap water but don't use milk jugs or dairy containers, because it's impossible to know that washing has removed all traces of milk proteins.

Water alone is sufficient to prevent dehydration and maintain good health, but drinking nothing but lukewarm water gets monotonous after a while. Consider stocking powdered drink mix and shelf-stable liquids, including single-serve milk and juice boxes. Choose drinks sold in cardboard boxes or plastic bottles rather than breakable glass.

Ice Cube Tray Filled With Ice Cubes and Three Loose Ice Cubes, Selective Focus of Loose Ice Cubes
john shepherd/istockphoto


When you first hear that a storm might strike during the coming week, start making and storing as much ice as the freezer can handle. Also, start eating as much food as possible out of the fridge and freezer to avoid waste in case the power goes out. Fill clean, empty plastic bottles with water and freeze them to serve as an emergency supply of ice and water. Be sure to leave a couple of inches empty at the top, so the freezing water has room to expand. The filled bottles even reduce electricity consumption in normal circumstances, because keeping ice frozen uses less energy than cooling empty air, and helps food stay cold during a power failure.

Hand Turning on Water of a White Bathtub Surrounded by Tile, Selective Focus of Hand Feeling Water Coming Out of Faucet

Nonpotable Water

Natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes, flash floods, and earthquakes can threaten public water supplies. Sometimes tap water must be boiled before drinking or bathing with it because of storm-runoff contamination, but it's still safe to flush a toilet with it. Far worse is a disaster bad enough to cut off water supplies altogether. Bottled water bought for drinking is too expensive to flush down the toilet. Instead, fill the bathtub (make certain the plug doesn't leak) and store water in large pails or washtubs to shelter in place after a storm. Add bleach to forestall microbial contamination, and use this water only for flushing, not drinking or bathing.

Closeup of a Disposable Wet Wipe Out of Package, Aqua Wipe Dispenser, Selective Focus

Personal Hygiene Items

For personal cleaning without water, use pre-moistened towelettes or baby wipes — not as good as a shower or bath, but better than not washing at all. Also maintain a two-week supply of any additional hygiene items required by members of the household. Parents who usually rely on cloth diapers for their children may want to instead rely on disposable diapers during emergencies.

Closeup of Several Packages of Paper Plates on a Shelf at Store, Selective Focus on the Left Stack

Disposable Dishware and Cookware

A lack of clean running water can leave you with no ability to wash and reuse regular dishware and utensils, so make sure to stock up on disposables. In addition to paper plates and plastic utensils, lay in a supply of small, disposable aluminum pie pans or chafing dishes to use as "cooking" pots for heating emergency canned foods.

Four Plain White Plastic Bags Filled With Groceries on Beige Tiled Floor

Plastic Shopping Bags

Don't discard those plastic shopping bags — save them for an emergency. If a natural disaster is bad enough to suspend regular garbage pickup for several days, plastic bags with no rips or tears in them are a good way to store used disposable dishes, empty cans, dirty diapers, and other stink-inducing, vermin-attracting forms of garbage until it can be thrown away for good. Tie each bag shut to keep the stink in and the bugs out.

Woman Pulling Clean Clothes Out of Dryer, Focus on White Laundry Basket in Front of It

Clean Clothes

When preparing for an impending disaster, it's easy to overlook everyday tasks such as doing laundry. But washing machines won't work during power outages, and wearing fresh socks and underwear every day becomes even more important when limited water supplies mean rare opportunities to bathe. Also, be sure to have at least one pair of good, sturdy shoes — if a natural disaster leaves the ground littered with debris, wearing sandals that offer only minimal protection for your feet is a bad idea.

Focus on Wired Bladed Fan, Selective Focus
Focus on Wired Bladed Fan, Selective Focus by jugbo (CC BY-NC-ND)


With air conditioners out of commission during hot-weather power outages, battery-operated fans are the next best thing. The ideal minimum is one fan per person, plus two extra fans to draw air in and out of open windows. People who live in hot but dry climates can set up a makeshift swamp cooler by simply running a battery-operated fan over a shallow pan of water. The moving air causes the water to evaporate, drawing heat out of the atmosphere as it does. But swamp coolers won't work in humid conditions; if the air is already hot and muggy, adding more water to only makes matters worse.

Seven Lit Tea Lights, Selective Focus, Arranged in a Rectangle
Christopher Tamcke/istockphoto


In cold weather, turn metal coffee cans into crude space heaters by burning four or five metal-cup tea-light candles in the bottom (after tearing off the can's paper or plastic labels, of course). Keep the coffee-can space heaters on stable, fire-resistant surfaces, beyond the reach of pets or small children, and never leave burning candles unattended. Vegetable-wax candles don't emit toxic vapors but like any open flame do consume oxygen. When using metal coffee cans as a primary heat source, crack open a door or window every few hours to let in fresh air.

Playing Cards, Selective Focus on Four, Rest Blurred, Displayed in a Few Rows of Fans
JR Images/istockphoto


In addition to basic survival supplies, stock some books, portable board games, decks of cards, puzzle books, and other nonelectronic amusements. After the initial excitement of a storm wears off, life without electricity (or sleeping in an emergency shelter) can get tedious quickly. A few engrossing reads, a deck of cards, coloring books, and word games can help young and old alike pass the time until life returns to normal.