Hurricane Idalia: Here's what to do when you're told to evacuate

Yahoo News spoke to a tropical meteorologist about what to do when government officials tell you to evacuate ahead of a storm.

Idalia strengthened to a Category 1 hurricane on Tuesday morning as it barreled toward Florida's Gulf Coast, where it could become a Category 3 hurricane before it's forecast to make landfall on Wednesday morning as the United States' first major hurricane of the season.

Hurricane warnings and watches are in effect, while evacuation orders are being issued for more than 20 counties along the state's Gulf Coast as the National Hurricane Center warned of "life-threatening storm surge inundation." Here's a list of evacuation orders from the New York Times.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has also activated the National Guard. “This is going to be a major impact,” he said during a press conference Monday, warning that residents should prepare for the storm to be a Category 3 or higher.

Read more from Yahoo News: Where is Storm Idalia? See radars tracking the storm, via Naples Daily News

Yahoo News spoke with Joel Cline, a tropical meteorologist with the NHC, about what to know if you’ve been told to evacuate ahead of a hurricane. Some responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

1. Top things to do to prepare for an evacuation

The No. 1 thing you want to take is a large sealable plastic bag to protect all the important papers that you don't want ruined in a flood: insurance certificates, proof of ownership, family photos.

Read more from Yahoo News: Can you get home insurance while Idalia targets Florida? What to know before the storm, via Miami Herald

The basics for survival: your clothes and food that you want to take. If you’ve got a pet, make sure the place you're going will allow a pet to stay. A lot of times, places that prepare food will not allow pets because they don't want the risk of food getting contaminated. That’s why it’s important to plan ahead.

Read more from Yahoo News: Hurricane season with pets: How to include furry friends as Idalia approaches, via the Fort Myers News-Press

Also, since gasoline lines are going to be long and grocery and hardware stores are going to be packed, be sure to get an early start on supplies.

2. Evacuate if and when local officials tell you to

If you’re in a hurricane evacuation zone and local officials are telling you to leave, do it.

People often engage in so-called anchoring — that is, they latch on to a fact that supports what they want to hear, like the storm won’t be as bad as it could be, so they make a decision based on hope instead of facts.

Read more from Yahoo News: Here's what the hurricane categories mean, via CBS News

Also, don’t think about a previous storm system that happened years ago. People might think, “I lived in Florida and I survived that hurricane just fine.” Well, yes, you’re several hundred miles away, or maybe 50 miles away. So the impacts aren’t the same. But this storm is different. Pay attention to the latest information about this storm and make your decisions based on that information, not what you think went on during a storm from years past.

The key question to consider is: What are you going to do if you stay? There’s no help coming. You’re staking your life on that decision.

3. It’s not necessary to travel hundreds of miles to evacuate

The NHC urges people to go tens of miles, not hundreds of miles. We want you off the road and not clogging it up. Get away from bodies of water — you don’t want to be next to a river or on the low side of a dam.

If you’ve evacuated to a hotel that’s well inland but right near a river, you may not have done anything to save your life.

4. Keep updated on the forecast

Go to a trusted source — like your local government officials,,, — all those places will take you to information about the actual hurricane and what the latest impact will be from wind or storm surge, rainfall and flooding or a tornado event. Check multiple times during the storm, because the forecast changes. That’s why we work around the clock so that we can update the forecast every three hours. When it gets closer to land, they have hourly position points as well.

5. Consider the short-term and long-term effects of a storm

It’s as if there are two time scales when it comes to hurricanes. Short-term effects are large, in-your-face kinds of things with storm surge, rain, flooding and high winds, and if you’re in the direct path, it’s more than likely going to be one of the worst things that you’ve ever witnessed in your life.

But after the storm passes, there is the longer-term impact that many people often don’t consider: being without power for several weeks and not being able to travel in your car because there’s flooding between you and the place you want to go. Flooding can be immediate, but it can also continue for weeks afterward.