WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

Leslie: Hurricane hacks and other things Irma taught me

Posted September 14

Last Thursday, I arrived in Fort Myers, Fla., where my elderly parents live. My mom had just badly broken her arm, and my stepdad doesn't really drive, so my plan was to bundle them into their car and drive them back to North Carolina until Hurricane Irma was over and the power came back on.

My parents had different plans: They refused to leave.

Because of Mom’s accident, they hadn’t really prepared. Their supplies were minimal. But they pointed to forecasts that said the storm would hit the state’s east coast, not their west coast town.

The forecast changed Friday night, putting Fort Myers in the crosshairs. Saturday at noon, their neighborhood was put under immediate mandatory evacuation. We scrambled to find a place to stay and to get a few things packed up.

The rest is a long story. We all came through it just fine, but it was a long, difficult week. And I learned a few lessons along the way that I didn’t learn from standard hurricane prep or from covering storms for news.

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BUCKETS: If you wait till the last minute to buy water in bottles or even jugs, you’re likely to have a hard time finding much, if any.

One partial solution is to get some 5-gallon pails from your local home improvement store. (Get lids, too, if you can.) You can fill them up before the storm hits and you get put under a boil-water advisory. You’ll still want some smaller bottles and jugs in case you have to evacuate, but a few of these buckets can buy you a week of safe water when you get home.

FROZEN DIME: Everyone knows you’re not supposed to open your freezer until your power comes back on. But if you’re not home when that happens, how do you know how much it warmed up?

Put a dime on top of an ice cube tray or a small container of water you’ve frozen for this. When the power comes back on, check the dime. If it’s still on top of the ice cube or the dish, your freezer stayed frozen, so you don’t have to toss all that food. If the dime is in or under the ice, then your freezer thawed out and then refroze, so the food may not be safe to use.

FIND STUFF: It’s easy to say, “Yes, we have candles/batteries/radio/cooler/etc.,” but when’s the last time you saw them? Can you find them in a hurry, possibly in the dark? Are all your important papers in one place? If not, go looking for them before you need them.

If you are told to evacuate on short notice, you will have neither the time nor the mental bandwidth to go hunting for this stuff. You will be too busy figuring out where and when you’re going, packing clothes and bedding, loading the car and so on.

PRESCRIPTIONS: Don’t wait until the day or two before a storm to get your prescriptions refilled. Everyone else will. You will wait for hours to get them, and you may not get them at all.

TEXT ALERTS AND SOCIAL MEDIA: Many counties’ emergency management services now have text alert by address. You just enter your phone number and address, and they’ll contact you with emergency notices specifically for your neighborhood. This is really valuable in a large storm when local news has to cover multiple counties, and there’s no good way to find more specific information.

Also, be sure to follow emergency services and utilities on Facebook and Twitter. When conditions are changing quickly, social media pages are more likely to have the latest information than websites.

BATTERY/HANDCRANK RADIO: This is not optional. You need one. When the power goes out, it’s how you find out what roads are open and when you can go home. If power to cell towers is out, you may not have enough signal to listen on your phone. You may also have run out of phone battery by then.

BUG SPRAY AND SUNSCREEN: No, you won’t need these during the storm, but you will need them afterward as you pick up your yard, sit outside your non-air-conditioned house and so on.

SLOW RECOVERY: Expect it to take longer than usual – maybe a LOT longer – to get places after the storm. If stoplights are out, major intersections will slow to a crawl. Lanes may be closed due to accidents, utility trucks or fallen trees or other debris. This could be the case for days.

STAY WELL: If you need to go to the Emergency Room, by all means, go – but expect to wait for a long time. In a widespread power outage, walk-in clinics and urgent cares will not be open, so people have no choice but to go to the ER instead.

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