01 June 2010

It's hurricane season

It's now hurricane season officially. Although The Gulf Coast and Florida are assumed to be at the greatest risk when it comes to these storms, other people elsewhere on the east coast ignore them at their own peril. Though it's been a while; DC, New York, Boston, Charleston, Savannah and many more cities have been devastated by them in the past.

I have never had to deal with something of the scope and scale of a Hurricane Katrina or a Hurricane Andrew, the Category 1 storms I've made it through were bad enough. Though it pains me to quote him, then-governor Jeb Bush remarked in 2004 that "there's no such thing as a minor hurricane."

In 2004, Florida got hit by four, count 'em, four named storms in a little more than six weeks. Prior to 2004's season, I believed the conventional wisdom that it's possible and even preferable to ride out low category storms. Newsflash, the conventional wisdom is a lie.

Tropical Storm Bonnie

It started in August of that year, with a  tropical depression in the Gulf of Mexico. It smacked into Apalachicola on August 12th as Tropical Storm Bonnie. At that point though, folks here were busy panicking over Hurricane Charley. Hurricane Charley was due to arrive on August 13th and St. Pete Beach was the predicted landfall. That's less than five miles from where I'm sitting now. The county where I live started evacuations on the 11th and like a fool I stayed put. Everyone said that it was going to be a minor storm and so I decided to wait it out.

Hurricane Charlie

I went to bed on August 12th expecting a category two hurricane to arrive the following afternoon. I figured that I would lose power and that it would rain a lot. When I woke up Friday morning, the Category 2 Charley had turned into a Category 5 storm over night. We were still in the bull's eye at that point and since I'd not evacuated, the option to evacuate was gone. The bridges out of here had been closed down the night before.

I remember walking around and saying good bye to my earthly possessions that morning. I wasn't being hysterical or irrational. I knew that the sustained winds of a Category 5 storm would destroy my home and my neighborhood and that if I were going to survive the day I was going to have to think fast. Talk about a wake up call. My plan was to crawl into my bathtub and then pull a mattress over myself and hope for the best. I knew the windows would shatter and that the roof would probably blow off. I just hoped that the walls would hold. I remember resigning myself to the idea that I was going to have to start over from scratch if I made it through the storm.

At 11am that morning, Hurricane Charley took an unanticipated turn to the right as it tracked up the coast and it wiped Punta Gorda off the map instead of us. The storm passed us by about a 75 miles to the east and because it was such a compact storm, it barely even rained. It was the best let down I ever experienced.

I had a meeting the following week in Fort Myers, just south of where Charley made landfall. 30 miles from where it came ashore it looked like a nuclear bomb had gone off. The trees, the light posts, the billboards, everything that once stood upright was twisted and fallen over on the ground.

Hurricane Frances

The season wasn't done with us yet. Less then a month later, Hurricane Frances ground ashore near Stuart and worked its way across the Florida peninsula. It grazed us as a tropical storm and everyone lost power for a few days. Two weeks after Frances, Hurricane Jeanne hit at Hutchinson Island, two miles away from Stuart. It followed almost the same path across Florida and hit us as a Category 1 storm. Jeanne knocked power for at least a week for a huge number of people. Trees came down, the wind whipped and the rain fell horizontally. Roof shingles and lawn furniture cartwheeled like tumbleweeds.

Hurricane Jeanne

Having ignored an evacuation order I should have known better than to ignore and having ridden out a Category 1 no one saw coming that year was enough for me. I toyed very seriously with leaving my beloved Florida after that.

All of our experiences in 2004 pale when compared with the horror show that was 2005's Katrina. I still get sick when I think about that one.

The point of all this? Mostly it's to urge everyone to take weather bulletins and evacuation orders seriously. Even if you're safely out of the hurricane zone, odds are your area faces some other natural disaster. We keep what are called hurricane kits at the ready and that kind of disaster preparedness is a good thing to keep in mind for anybody. The St. Pete Times' Hurricane guide this year lists what should go into the perfect hurricane preparedness kit. To wit:

Food and drink
  • Drinking water: 1 gallon per person per day.
  • Nonperishable food supplies: Enough to see you through the first few days. A severe storm can interrupt delivery of fresh food to stores. You need to be ready to feed yourself until stores restock and reopen.
  • Comfort foods to relieve stress (cookies, pastries).
  • Toilet paper, paper towels, plates and napkins, plastic tableware and drinking cups, wet wipes, plastic wrap, trash bags.
  • Two coolers: one for food, one for ice.
  • Manual can opener.
Health and safety
  • Flashlight and batteries for each person in your household.
  • Light sticks.
  • First aid kit with bandages, antiseptic, tape, compresses, pain reliever, antidiarrhea medication, antacid.
  • Medications for routine illnesses such as colds.
  • Liquid soap, hand sanitizer, wet wipes.
  • Water purification kit.
  • Two-week supply of vitamins, over-the-counter medications and prescription medicines.
  • Fire extinguisher.
  • Battery-powered clock.
  • Infant necessities: medicine, diapers, formula, bottles, wipes.
  • Supplies for the elderly or the ill: Depends undergarments, bed pads, medications, special foods.
If you evacuate
  • Pillows, blankets, sleeping bags or air mattresses.
  • Folding chairs or cots.
  • Extra clothing and shoes.
  • Personal hygiene items: toothbrush, washcloth, deodorant, etc.
  • Food and water.
  • Earplugs. Shelters can be noisy, and someone sleeping near you may snore.
  • Prescription medications in their original containers. Shelters are not hospitals and do not have access to drugs or medicine. Bring what you need.
  • Books, handheld games, cards, toys, needlework, iPod.
  • Cleaning supplies: mop, bucket, towels, disinfectant.
  • Camera or camcorder to record property and document damage for insurance claims.
  • Plastic trash bags.
Be sure to have . . .
  • Cash. If the power goes out, ATMs will not work and credit card networks will be down.
  • Ice.
  • Paperwork: insurance policy, identification, home inventory, medical insurance card.
  • Cell phone charger for your car. Also have a land-line phone (one that's wired to the wall, not wireless).
  • A full tank of gas.
What's on everybody's mind this season is the fact that there are untold millions of gallons of crude oil floating around the Gulf right now. Oh, did I mention that there's what's very likely the world's worst environmental disaster ever going on right now? Heaven help us.

In the meantime, The St. Pete Times has the definitive hurricane guide again this year and you can find it here. And when a weather disaster's building, the best and least sensational source for updates is the National Hurricane Center's website. All they show are cold clear facts and in the panic that surrounds these storms, cold, clear facts are the road to salvation. So chin up, it's hurricane season!


  1. Nice post, Paul! I have ridden out my fair share of storms: Rita, Katrina (which was just building steam when it hit here) and Wilma. Not fun considering there are days afterwards without power (meaning no air conditioning in stifling heat) and the worry in advance that you've captured so powerfully. I have to admit, it's the thing I'm not going to miss when I head north for good later this month...

  2. While the odds favor you more in New York, no one's really safe on the entire east coast. I have a sense of foreboding about this season. But then again, I say that every June 1st.

  3. Florida definitely gets the bulk of the storms. In '96 we rode out Fran here in Raleigh, 2 hours inland. 80 mph sustained winds all night in a 3rd floor apartment was more than enough to make me never want to be near one again. And that was only a Cat 1.

    Battened & prepped is a smart way to be.

  4. It's almost as if they fit a geographic pattern as well as a cyclical one. It seemed that in the '90s, it was all about the Carolinas. Stay alert, stay alert.

  5. I have never been in a Hurricane and never care to be Paul. My heart goes out to those who have been victims of their wrath and devastation.

    Here in Canada we are contending with forest fires that are extremely unusual for this time of year. For example; our neighbouring province of Quebec presently has fifty-two wildfires burning out of control which is causing a smoke haze over our city Ottawa (On.)reaching as far as Cape Cod (Mass.).

    Re the Oil Spill; in two words HORRIFIC and TRAGIC! With a total of seven Oil Rigs off of our Canadian Eastern shores; it is a subject well worth discussion particularly among 'our' Leaders and hopefully a lesson will be learned by ALL.


  6. Seven oil rigs off your eastern coast? I don't know anything about it. Is this a recent event Brenda?

  7. Becky above - I too was living in Raleigh for Fran, except I was on the 2nd floor of an apartment. Wasn't that the longest night ever?!!?! We were without electricity for 1 solid week and it was sooo humid and hot! I worked for BFI (garbage company) in sales & marketing and so work was demanding for everyone there scrambling to work with the state & federal officials concerning the clean up. It was quite an experience, but of course nothing compared to people that have lost absolutely everything in a storm.


  8. Nothing quite prepares you for what it's like to live through one of these storms. No power in August is no fun.

  9. We are fortunate to be a little further inland... Opal was still a hurricane when it strolled up our fair state in 1995 and that was my first experience with a tropical system that was still hurricane strength.

    With the amount of trees down and the tornadoes that it spawned we had this far away from the water, I couldn't imagine riding one out on the coast.

  10. Paul .... the answer is NO! I cannot find the original source re the number (as have cleared my history when doing research a week ago) however do a search: offshoretechnology.com Three of the largest to date are mentioned, and are off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador.

    Also one of the 'deepest' of all operations is soon to commence. This one again is located off of the shores of Newfoundland and is presently causing quite a controversy in our House of Parliament.

  11. Very good advice for preparedness anywhere! We always have the threat of earthquakes here in Cali and the subsequent threat of Tsunamis.

    I don't know how many oil platforms we have off the Central Coast, but you see them as you drive along the HWY 1 off the Channel Islands near Santa Barbara --some of the most expensive real estate in the country (Oprah owns a house in Montecito as well as many other Hollywood celebs.)

    A family friend who I grew up with was at my father's memorial service who I hadn't seen in years. He has lived in his family's home (used to belong to his grandmother) for over 35 years here in Santa Maria and had worked as a foreman on an oil rig all that time until recently. He changed jobs and ended up on an oil rig that was badly maintained and unsafe. He decided to quit and take a land-based job with the oil company in the oil fields.

    It was interesting to hear the perspective of someone who had spent his adult life on these California offshore rigs who basically said they were a disaster waiting to happen. His comments were made to me prior to the spill in the Gulf. It's disturbing to know they (the CA government) is considering building new ones when they haven't enforced taking care of the ones we already have.

  12. Thanks for the follow-up Brenda. Pam, if the only good that comes from this is the reevaluation of offshore drilling, then so be it. It was hardly worth sacrificing the Gulf of Mexico over, but I hope it'll be a lesson learned.

  13. I remember Opal too Nick. Water backed into Tampa Bay from that storm and it flooded my yard. It was strange to see mullet swimming in what had once been a bed of my beloved heliconia.

  14. What you don't mention is to try and find shelter for your mother-in-law that isn't in your home. She stayed with us during Charley , which was fine, then left and returned with her cat, and three suitcases during Frances and then refused to leave during Jeanne.
    Let's just say my husband knew it was time to take her home when I as quietly sitting with my girls making halloween decorations. Anyone who knows me, knows I don't DO arts and crafts and seeing me there with a big pair of scissors and his mother next to me "giving advice"....let's just say we did reach the peak of cabin fever during those days.
    Charley was the only storm that caused serious damage in central Florida, but between the three storms we had no power for over two weeks, it was hot and we didn't have enough of the supplies on your list, since we never really felt in danger in Central Florida.

    So yes, good list Paul and glad you're bringing it up.

  15. Gene's brother got married on Sanibel Island on October 4th after hurricane Charley. I'll never forget what that place looked like...but the nice thing about it was we had the island to ourselves!
    I cannot imagine living through a hurricane. I have recurrent nightmares about tornadoes (most likely from being scarred by the Wizard of Oz as a child) so hurricanes creep me out just by association.

  16. I've always loved a storm - the wind, thunder and lightening have always thrilled me! A few years ago we had a storm with hurricane force winds coming across the city in an unusual direction. The result was a devastated section of Stanley Park (one of our city's jewels)... a large area of forest was flattened and, like you said about Fort Myers, it looked like a nuclear bomb had gone off! While certainly a small sampling of what a hurricane must be like for people in the Gulf, our city's citizens were in shock over the descructive forces of nature. Couple that more personal experience with the coverage we saw of Katrina... needless to say, these events were real-life eye-openers! I still love storms, but with a newfound respect for their power.

    Thanks for this post, Paul... very interesting, especially what you shared about how you felt the morning you thought you'd be caught in a category 5 storm.

    Thanks you also for dropping by and sharing luv with Kelly... turns out she discovered that she'd backed up most of her pics, so that's good!


  17. Thanks V! How's business in Vancouver? Your house is coming along beautifully by the way.

  18. We experienced "Ike" almost two years ago. It wiped the Bolivar Peninsula clean, with the storm surge going inland 14 miles! We lost shingles, therefore, water came in the attic, down walls and through woodwork and baseboards. We did get new floors, woodwork and a new kitchen from this! Anyway, to add to your list, have several of the large blue roof tarps on hand. You won't be able to get any after a storm, should you lose shingles. Clean out the fridge should power be unavailable for a few days, unless you have a generator. Also, when you see a storm a day or two away, wash all your clothes, clean the house etc., in case of no power for awhile. If you shelter in place, charge all batteries, keep you cars gassed up, no less than half a tank. Two good sites to help prepare for any type disaster: www.flash.org, www.ibhs.org. www.wunderground.com is a great weather site!

  19. Brilliant additions, thanks! Blue tarps are vital and I guess because my list originated in St. Pete, it assumes that people have a store of them on hand already. In 2004 they were part of the dress code on this side of the Gulf. Cleaning and having clean laundry ahead of time is a great idea too. I always remember to get cash from the ATM the day before because you just never know. Another one of my tricks is to take a couple plastic gallon jugs and fill them with water. Put them in the freezer and let them freeze. Forget they're there if you can. Three of those things will keep a refrigerator cold for about three days when the power goes out.

    Good luck to you guys this season and we'll keep everything battened down over here.


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