June 1st is the official start of hurricane season, but we’ve already gotten a taste of what is to come this past weekend. Sub-tropical storm Alberto has kicked the hurricane season off with an early warning shot, soaking much of the southeast with rain and even causing several deaths. It’s almost like Mother Nature thought we all needed a reminder that it is that time again – time to get prepared for a hurricane.
Everyone knows about the hurricane risk here in Florida thanks to dramatic coverage from the Weather Channel. When you live in New York, or Wisconsin, watching Jim Cantore hang on for dear life while a hurricane rages around him is fascinating and even entertaining. But when you’ve moved to Florida (or another part of the southeastern coast), then you realize…OMG that is my backyard he is talking about! It becomes a whole different thing.
When we were new Florida residents, we were introduced to hurricanes in terrifying fashion during the infamous 2004 season. Within six short weeks, three major hurricanes targeted our home in northeast Florida.
The first hurricane of that scary season in 2004 (Charley), we were not prepared for a hurricane at all. It was seemingly destined for Tampa and North Florida, when it suddenly took an un-forecasted early right turn across the Florida peninsula. The turn spared Tampa major devastation but brought the forecast line for the monster Category Four storm practically right over our house. I was home alone with our baby daughter. My husband, on his way home from work an hour away, still vividly remembers my panicked phone call. “You have to come home NOW. The hurricane is coming HERE.” He raced home and we were quickly joined by his parents, who’d found themselves ordered evacuated from their home on the beach side of our community with virtually no notice. We ended up being out of power for five days.
(Of course, in those days, we didn’t know enough yet to understand that the forecast line taking it to Jacksonville was still a threat to us. Especially since it placed us on the “bad” – right – side of the storm.)
You’d think that (and the two more storms that followed in quick succession that year) would have been enough for our family to get prepared for a hurricane at our home. But after those six weeks, years – and years and years – passed with no further storms visiting us. Those stressful and scary weeks faded from memory, and we got complacent.
It wasn’t until after Hurricane Irma last fall that I finally decided to get prepared for a hurricane. We’d had a scary major storm the previous year (Matthew) too but I hadn’t started prepping after that. So what was different about Irma? First, our power stayed out for almost an entire week with Irma. We live six homes off of a main power line that had been buried in a grid hardening upgrade a few years after the 2004 storms. We’d started to feel that we were now immune to the threat of a lengthy outage – even after power at my mom’s nearby home was out for days after Hurricane Matthew in 2016. The lengthy outage after Irma shattered our illusions of security that we’d keep our power in almost any situation.
Irma was also scarier than previous storms because of the scale of the damage. It took an almost worst-case scenario path right up the center of the state and into Georgia, spreading damage over a massive area. Nearly two-thirds of Florida residents lost power. Restoration crews were stretched thin from the vast scale of the damage and parts of town were out of power for two weeks. It took five days before a tree laying on a power line that crossed our road – a massive safety hazard – was even removed.
We knew Irma was going to be bad but evacuating prior to the storm wasn’t really an option because of gas and hotel shortages. People in areas like ours were being advised to shelter in place (unless they lived in waterside areas) to facilitate the safe evacuation of residents from even more seriously threatened areas further down in the state.
But there’s one final thing that really pushed me into being more prepared for a hurricane. Right after Hurricane Irma passed, when local emergency services were still on limited availability due to numerous calls and impassable streets, our generator blew up in a cloud of smoke as my husband was walking away after starting it up. Fortunately, no one was hurt. But in a horrifying instant, I realized that help might not be coming very quickly and I had virtually no first aid supplies in the house beyond a few Band-Aids.
That was the moment that I vowed we would be more prepared before the next storm hit.
There is something about living in disaster territory that almost makes you develop a sense of sang froid about the risks. It is, in a way, necessary to some extent to live with the risk or you’ll turn into one big ball of constant anxiety. But that sang froid can turn dangerous if you aren’t careful. We were in good company not preparing for storms – in 2015, a AAA survey showed that almost half of Floridians were not preparing for hurricanes.
So, if you live at risk of hurricanes and haven’t been preparing – or if you are one of the hundreds of thousands of new residents who’ve arrived in hurricane country since the last season – I have a new blog series for you! This week, I’ll be sharing what we’ve learned about getting prepared for a hurricane from riding out a half-dozen hurricanes in our home. Check back tomorrow for the first installment of my top recommended hurricane supplies to have on hand.