Hurricanes are devastating forces of nature, and they are not to be underestimated. When discussing this topic, we are mindful of how serious hurricanes are and that they destroy people's homes and livelihoods. This article aims to answer common questions we get during hurricane season, particularly about how to recover a swimming pool in the aftermath of a hurricane.
Covered in this article:
- How can hurricanes affect swimming pools?
- Destruction of pool equipment
- Electrical damage
- Removal of pool water
- Debris in the pool
- Toxins introduced to the pool
- Dead animals in the pool
- Destruction of pool equipment
- How to clean a pool after a hurricane
- Water testing
- Physically clean out the pool
- Chemically purge the pool
- Alternative ways to chemically clean the pool
- Potentially drain and refill the pool
How can hurricanes affect swimming pools?
We should all be aware of the devastation hurricanes can cause. The energy of a hurricane can drain entire harbors, flatten neighborhoods, and throw cars for miles. But rarely do we hear about the damage they do to swimming pools...probably because swimming pools are a low priority when it comes to recovering after a hurricane. And rightfully so, as they are a luxury item compared to the power grid, drinking water infrastructure, or roads and bridges.
But any pool professional knows that if a body of water sits stagnant for long enough, it will become a cesspool for bacteria, mosquitos, and more. So while pools are not a top priority, the sooner they can be cleaned up and remediated, the easier it will be. The longer it takes to address the pool, the more cleaning there is to do.
Hurricanes can destroy swimming pools and put foreign objects and substances into them. Let's get specific.
Destruction of pool equipment
The most likely damage to a pool will be to its equipment. Sure, deck furniture and branches can be blown into the water and maybe damage accessories or surfaces of the pool, but since in-ground pools are flush to the ground, there's not really a lot that can destroy the vessel itself. Equipment, however, is above ground.1
Strong winds and flying debris can easily open PVC pipes and pool filters. It's rare to see equipment completely broken away from the concrete pad if it's plumbed well...PVC plumbing is actually quite sturdy. More likely, a pipe will crack, or the electronics will be ruined. Hopefully, it's covered by the homeowner's insurance.
The most hazardous potential damage we can think of is electrical. You name it is severed wires, exposed connections in water, broken electrical panels. No matter what you do, before inspecting the equipment set, shut off power at the breaker before examining the setup. If you see anything out of place, get a qualified, licensed electrician to fix it. Do not mess around with electrical work if you are not adequately trained in it. There is more than enough power for the equipment set to kill you.
And please have humility in this. It's common in the pool industry to act like we are more qualified than we are. If you are qualified for this, that's great! You can offer your electrical services to your fellow tradesmen who are not as qualified. We know dozens of pool professionals who are lucky to be alive today because of close calls on electrical work. It's not worth the risk.
Removal and replacement of pool water
In a hurricane, swimming pools will likely lose water from strong winds but will also have rain or seawater refilling (or even flooding). Rain dilutes, but who knows what's in seawater? Storm surges can flood like a tsunami, and the water picks up whatever is in its way. Mud, sand, trash, plants, you name it. There are too many unknowns to safely assume you know what's in the pool after a hurricane.
Sure, we can expect dilution of CYA since we know CYA is not in seawater or rain. But we cannot be so sure about the dilution of TDS if seawater gets into the pool. For all we know, the pool could have 30,000 ppm salt now. According to the US Geological Survey, the Atlantic Ocean has approximately 35,000 ppm salinity in it.2 And for that matter, after the hurricane, municipal water quality is not guaranteed either. Drinking water treatment facilities were destroyed during Hurricane Katrina, which led to major problems.3You won't know the best course of action until the pool is cleaned out and the water is thoroughly tested. More on testing in a moment.
Debris in the pool
Debris includes tree branches, trash, mud, sand, and any other foreign objects that do not belong in your pool. We have seen photos of cars blown into pools and boats from the harbor. Never underestimate the raw power of a hurricane.
Toxins introduced into the pool
While the physical damage is obvious, the biological ramifications of hurricanes are much less obvious. They are often understated or ignored. The truth is hurricanes throw massive amounts of water around, and that water can either be contaminated already or pick up new contaminants along the way. While there is no way of knowing the severity of toxins that could be in the water without lab testing, you can safely assume you will need to super chlorinate.
This aspect of pool damage should warrant a valid insurance claim to cover the cost of laboratory testing the water if the homeowner decides to. We're talking about a more detailed test than pool testing equipment can provide.
Dead animals in the pool
Another unfortunate possibility after a hurricane is dead fish and other wildlife in your swimming pool. These decaying animals add another element to the biological contamination of the pool. The sooner you can safely remove them, the better. We do not need to elaborate on this topic.
How to clean up a pool after a hurricane
If the home was destroyed, the pool is not a top priority, and we totally understand that. But apart from the coastal areas with the most destruction, most pools in the surrounding areas will have a similar amount of wind and water impact on the pools. In order of priority, here is a simplified list of things to do to recover a swimming pool after a hurricane:
We mentioned this in a few sections earlier. The first priority of pool care is keeping the water safe. After a hurricane, you've got your work cut out for you, and testing is part of that responsibility in our opinion. And again, insurance should cover the testing cost if you get a lab test. And let's be practical about this...we know most people will not bother to get a lab test, and that's okay. Assume the worst and treat the pool accordingly.
If you are unsure what is necessary, consult your local government for proper remediation and treatment of the water before developing a plan of action.
Physically clean out the pool and filters
Nothing replaces the labor of physically cleaning out the pool. Remove furniture, branches, leaves, trash, mud, and whatever else got in the water. It could take hours per pool. We know.
Many people ask us how to remove mud and sand from pools chemically. But you don't chemically remove these things. You physically remove them by netting them out and vacuuming what remains to waste. This may require a separate waste pump instead of using the pool pump. You may need to get creative. After Hurricane Katrina, we heard that septic trucks were used to pump out the bottom of pools to get the sludge out while leaving behind most of the water for the pool companies to manage. This may be an option in your area.
This also includes cleaning out the filters. In some cases, replacing filter media may be required. Once the pool and filter are cleaned, you can focus on chemistry.
Chemically purge the pool
Treat it like a green pool cleanup if the pool is physically clean enough to begin circulation and filtration again. Even if the water looks clear, there are almost certainly non-living organics, phosphates, and more in there. If you send water samples to a lab, the test results may take a while to come back. So in the meantime, you can get the pool mostly cleaned up and sanitized.
In any case, remediation of the water will be easier in conjunction with purging the pool because chlorine will have less of an oxidant demand. Less oxidant demand allows for more chlorine contact time (CT) to kill whatever is in your water.4
To be clear, we're talking about assisting chlorine against organics and phosphates. Chlorine is the only thing in our green pool cleanup process that kills germs or other living microorganisms.
Alternative ways to chemically clean the pool
Another option to accelerate this process is to use a flocculant to drop as much out of suspension as possible, accelerating the cleanup process. We do not often advise flocculants because they leave behind alum in the water (which is a long-term byproduct, and the Orenda philosophy does not allow for long-term byproducts). But in this case, you have an extreme circumstance that calls for extreme measures. We will not pretend that our solution is the only solution to chemically remediating a pool after a hurricane.
But if the pool is so filled with muck and other contamination, your best option may be to drain and refill the pool.
Drain and refill if necessary
If you are going to drain and refill the pool, consider two things:
- If you drain it all while the soil around the pool is saturated with water, you risk floating the pool shell out of the ground. Do NOT do this if you are a DIY homeowner; instead, have a licensed, insured pool professional do this for you.
- Do not use the pool's pump system to vacuum waste. Instead, use a waste pump/vacuum to remove the garbage and water from the pool. You don't know what's lurking in there, and there's good chance debris can ruin the normal pool pump. You're better off using a dedicated trash pump for this job.
Refilling the pool allows for a hard reset of the water, which we recognize might not be possible for a while after the hurricane. If the water grid's infrastructure is down, you'll need to wait. But time is of the essence because the longer that dirty water sits in the pool, the more likely it is to become a biological Petry dish for germs and mosquitos. It's up to you to determine how long you're willing to wait.
We see hurricanes as a devastating force of nature that needs to be respected and expected. This article aims to offer guidance on how to recover a swimming pool after a hurricane. Following the steps listed should help you get the pool back up and running in a short amount of time, though we know that pools are a low priority compared to things like home and roof damage.
When the time comes to clean up the pool, we hope this article helps you do it efficiently. If you have questions, let us know.
1 Some pools are above-ground, and we recognize that. But generally speaking, above-ground pools are not common in hurricane zones like Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. In-ground pools are. If you do have an above-ground pool in a hurricane zone, it's unlikely to survive a hurricane.
2 Water Science School. (2018). Saline Water and Salinity. US Geological Survey (usgs.gov).
3 Patterson, Impellitteri, Fox, Haught, and Goodrich. (2007). Emergency Response for Public Water Supplies after Hurricane Katrina. US Environmental Protection Agency (epa.gov).
4 ...IF the pathogens detected in the water can be killed by chlorine in the first place. In some cases, you may need specialized treatments to address them. If so, you can find treatment options by researching sources like the Model Aquatic Health Code and other sources online, or you can consult local health officials and agencies. As far as we know, there's a known process for removing just about anything from water...even if such things are not common in swimming pools. If you need help finding a solution, you can ask us for help.