Living with Hurricanes: The Difference Between Panic and Preparation

Recently someone accused me of panicking in getting ready for Hurricane Dorian, and after I stopped laughing, I realized they didn’t grow up in Florida and don’t know hurricanes like I know hurricanes. I mean, I’ve lived here since 1973. I’ve seen a few.

What’s the deal with Hurricane Snacks?

Mmmmmmmm, hurricane snaaaaaaaaaaaaaacks…..!

Hurricane snacks should look like someone gave a four-year-old a hundred dollars and then locked them in the chip and cookie aisles until they spent it all.

But seriously, though – hurricane snacks are non- or low-perishable food that take little or no cooking. Chips. Crackers. Peanut butter. Granola bars. Fruit (but do not buy the fruit more than 24 hours before holing up because it will rot in a nanosecond in this humidity). Bread. Cookies. Ice cream, if you don’t mind eating it all in one sitting if you lose power. Cheeses or spreads that need no or low refrigeration (can be kept in a cooler or freezer with ice for two days without killing you if you eat it warm). Canned foods that do not need to be heated to eat (if you lose power and do not have a camp cookstove or grill); canned beans, canned tuna, etc. Instant coffee and dry creamer (but again, you’ll at least need a cookstove or grill to boil water).

For the life of me I do not understand stockpiling pasta if you’re expecting all the power to go off… whatcha gonna do? Eat it crunchy? Do you have a camping cookstove or grill with cast-iron pot that you can boil the pasta in? If not… hope your teeth are hardy.

I was going to the grocery store to do regular shopping anyway, so I picked up a few snacks – granola bars, wheat thins, breakfast/protein bars, graham crackers. Things that I knew would last and also that Tim would eat, power out or not. I even got cookies, which is not something I get all the time. Hurricane snacks.

Preparation is being realistic about what you and your family usually eat, planning how to eat if you can’t cook anything, and buying accordingly and with a plan for everything. Panic is buying everything on the shelves, no matter what it is, or without thought of how it might need to be cooked.

Why do you suddenly need all the bottled water?

Don’t get me started on the water. Look; if you live within city limits and are on city water, you probably have no water problems. You don’t need bottled water unless bottled water is a thing you usually keep around anyway. You may want to dig some bottles out of your recycling, clean them, and fill them with water and stuff them in the freezer, though – these make great blocks of ice for keeping your fridge cool if the power goes out.

If you live out in the country, though, like I do, and have your own well, chances are really good that unless you’re my one prepper friend, you have an electric well with no solar backup and no hand pump. That means that if your electricity goes out (and you do not have a generator), you won’t have any running water until the power comes back on. You’ll have to drink, make coffee with, cook with, bathe with, and refill toilets with the water you store before the power goes out. Not to mention your pets, who will have to drink water, too.

Now, I think we can all agree without lecturing people that using bottled water to flush your toilets is more of a poor choice than, say, being a yarn dyer and filling up your dye pots with water that can, while not drinkable, be used to refill toilets and wash hands. But also, lecturing people who are in crisis mode about what to buy and not buy isn’t helpful to anyone. They don’t hear you and you just shout into the void, getting your friends who feel the same way all riled up. You can’t preach to people who are hungry, is what I’m saying. Be kind to people who are buying bottled water and if you know them personally, maybe ask them (or talk to them at the beginning of hurricane season, in May) if they have access to other things.

One more thing about not yelling at or making fun of people buying water – just this morning I talked to someone who’s brother was driving down from Georgia to help. He stopped at a WalMart and asked if he could buy a palette of bottled water to take down to his sister’s house not just for the family but to also make sure that the older people who lived on the same street would also have water, in case they were too infirm or too frightened to go out and get some. WalMart told him “no”. We all know that HellMart is the devil, so, just, whatever… my point is to please just… be kind. You don’t know why they’re buying what they’re buying.

Preparation is filling buckets or pots around the house with water for washing or toilet-filling if you might lose power and no longer have that water running from a faucet every time you turn it. Panic is filling your only bathtub with water six days before the hurricane (how are you going to bathe?) and punching little old ladies to get to the bottled water before they do.

What else do you stockpile as if the apocalypse was coming?

The same things I stockpile year-round since I live in the country and rain and wind and power outages are pretty much a regular Thursday around here.

Batteries. Battery powered fans. Battery powered camp lights. Candles and kerosene lanterns that my dad used when I was growing up (the lanterns, not the candles) as backup for the battery powered lights. Lighters – good for lighting said lanterns and candles and also good for lighting the grill so you can cook or heat water. Wet wipes and hand sanitizer – good to have around for cleaning up if you don’t have running water. Books – good old-fashioned “dead tree” books that you can read without having to run down the battery on your Kindle. Similar to books, you want games; board games, card games, anything to pass the time (especially if you have kids). Toilet paper. Bug spray. Pretty much anything you’d want while going camping is good to have in your hurricane kit.

Preparation is knowing what you need to have before you need to use it, and planning accordingly. When I was growing up we always had a “hurricane shelf” – a shelf in a closet or pantry where all the stuff we needed for hurricanes always lived, year-round. Once a year, in May, you take a look at it, see what’s been pilfered from it in the last year (most likely batteries) and buy accordingly. Panic is … you know, I am not even really sure what panic-buying for supplies would look like. Maybe buying all the batteries on the rack, because you know you need batteries but you don’t remember what size?

Why don’t you just evacuate?

That’s a more complicated question than it seems like. Yes, there are people who stay because they are stubborn. But a lot more people stay because leaving takes money, and money is hard to come by.

You need to be able to afford to take time off work, if your work doesn’t close for the weather. You need to be able to afford gas and have a vehicle that’s reliable enough to get you far enough away. You need to be able to afford multiple hotel room stays, or to have friends or family in wherever you are evacuating to who can take you in. You need to be able to take your pets with you (a lot of people won’t leave, or won’t go to shelters, because they have to leave their pets at home – a Sophie’s Choice that most people will make on the side of staying with their pets).

There’s also a matter of timing. Hurricanes are going to go where they want and as we’re seeing with Dorian, they’re going to take their time getting there. If your plan is to stay on the same coast you live on, is the place you’re evacuating to also in the cone of danger? Do you really want to evacuate Florida only to have the hurricane skip over and hit you in a hotel room in South Carolina instead? So a lot of people will wait until about 12 hours before landfall to evacuate, just so they know a safer way to go.

The problem with that is that if you wait that long, you’re on the road with hundreds – if not thousands – of people also evacuating. Florida really only has two major Interstates – 75 on the west-to-middle, and 95 on the east. Getting everyone out of South/Central Florida on one of the two major roads is a logistical nightmare. Traffic. Food and restroom stops. Filling up for gas. The resources are going to dwindle fast with so many people vying for the same things in the same few areas. Is it worth probably being stuck in so much traffic that you’re stalled out on 95 when the hurricane hits?

Evacuating is a complicated problem and the answer isn’t the same for everyone.

Preparation is making an evacuation plan before the hurricane is even formed… knowing where your cat carriers are and having clean clothes and necessary prescriptions easy to get to… having a plan of what direction you will go in, or at least knowing that you should head to an inland state like Tennessee and not, like, the beach in South Carolina. Panic is getting into your car with no idea of where you’re going and possibly not even a full tank of gas.

What’s your favorite hurricane song?

Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season, by Jimmy Buffet. Even though it’s not really about hurricanes, exactly.

One Comment

  1. Lloyd

    yer yer Dad’s daughter…

    MY fave hurricane song…
    again Mr. B

    Now I don’t know
    I don’t know
    I don’t know where I’m a gonna go
    When the volcano blow
    Let me say now, I don’t know
    I don’t know
    I don’t know where I’m a gonna go
    When the volcano blow
    Ground she’s movin’ under me
    Tidal waves out on the sea
    Sulfur smoke up in the sky
    Pretty soon we learn to fly
    Let me hear ya now, I don’t know
    I don’t know
    I don’t know where I’m a gonna go
    When the volcano blow
    Now my girl quickly say to me
    Mon you better watch your feet
    Lava come down soft and hot
    You better lava me now or lava me not
    Let me say now, I don’t know
    I don’t know
    I don’t know where I’m a gonna go
    When the volcano blow
    “Mr. Utley”
    No time to count what I’m worth
    ‘Cause I just left the planet Earth
    Where I go, I hope there’s rum
    Not to worry, Mon soon come
    Now I don’t know
    I don’t know
    I don’t know where I’m a gonna go
    When the volcano blow
    One more now, I don’t know
    (Ah, he don’t know)
    I don’t know
    (He don’t know, mon)
    I don’t know where I’m a gonna go
    When the volcano blow
    But I don’t want to land in New York City
    Don’t want to land in Mexico
    (No no no)
    Don’t want to land on no Three Mile Island
    Don’t want to see my skin aglow
    (No no no)
    Don’t want to land in Comanche Sky Park
    Or in Nashville, Tennessee
    (No no no)
    Don’t want to land in no San Juan airport
    Or the Yukon territory
    (No no no)
    Don’t want to land no San Diego
    Don’t want to land in no Buzzards Bay
    (No no no)
    Don’t want to land on no Ayatollah
    I got nothing more to say
    I don’t know
    I don’t know
    I don’t know where I’m a gonna go
    When the volcano blow
    Just a one more, I don’t know
    (He don’t know)
    I don’t know
    (I don’t know, man)
    I don’t know where I’m a gonna go
    When the volcano blow

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