I wrote this a few years ago and updated it in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy was heading toward Washington, D.C., where our adult sons lived. Some of the advice is directed toward them. Sure, they are from Florida but those inside-the-beltway types can forget the basics. And, of course, a lot of their Yankee friends were clueless.
My most recent update was added in September 2017 after Hurricane Harvey.
You know how the Weather Channel expert will stand in front of a map and show you the path of a hurricane with a big sweep of his hand? For years I explained to people that the spot where his hand intersected land was my house. In other words, I’ve been through many hurricanes, beginning at the age of five with H. Donna. I’ve learned a lot about preparing for a hurricane over the years and thought it would be only polite to share that with some of you who haven’t had the pleasure of southern coastal living.
Trusting others is good, but being prepared is better.
How to Prepare for a Hurricane
- Get a bottle of the good stuff.
Whenever a hurricane approaches, I always buy a very nice bottle of what I call Hurricane Wine. This is the time you want to have something you would like but haven’t allowed yourself to indulge in. If it’s your last bottle, you want to make sure you go out with the good stuff. Because there is not much you can do about the approaching storm, I find that a small indulgence is just the thing to smooth the nerves… and make yourself think you have some control… over something! Beer? This is not the time for a cube of Lite anything. Make sure your beer is worthy. New flavors and nuances help refocus your own excess energy. The storm won’t stop to muse over the nutty quality, but you will. In my old age I’ve become fond of bourbons, all forms of whiskeys, and gin and tonics. Anyway, now is the time to upgrade the liquor. And remember: you can’t have enough tonic water on hand. Don’t forget the limes.
- Junk food.
While this may seem like a contradiction to Step 1, this is not the time to “be good.” If you only allow yourself a bag of Cheetos, the large fluffy kind, not the crunchy kind, once every decade, and the last time was only six years ago when you spent the weekend under the covers in bed after you found out that your (now) ex went to Vegas with his assistant, it is OK to buy a bag again so soon. Oh, so you couldn’t possibly eat a whole bag? Trust me. You can. And a lot more. Whether it’s that food you regularly give up for Lent… say, Cheezits (surely there must be more than one of us who does that) … now is the time to stock up. If it’s the one thing you crave, try to have a lot on hand. You will probably need it. You’ll be surprised how well it goes with the good stuff.
What if that food indulgence runs to a juicy steak? It’s best not to go out to buy any. You don’t want to buy perishables at this time. (Note: You may as well just toss the fresh produce now. By the time you polish off the bacon rinds and Southern Comfort, you’ll be too full for a salad.) But if it’s already in the freezer, leave it there… a full freezer thaws less quickly than a partially empty one. So….
Fill containers with water NOW and pack your freezer. If you lose electricity, it will help keep your food safe as you work your way through the eating plan. Pre-cooled water in the fridge will help the milk to stay fresh. Even if you evacuate, fill the freezer with containers of water.
My sister Ann’s advice: If you’re going to buy ice, forget cooling the meat and cook it up. Put that ice to good use by getting your beer nice and cold.
- Paper towels, toilet paper, bleach, trash bags.
Seriously. And while you are at it, fill the bath tubs and sinks. I don’t know why water and toilets seem to be affected by power outages, but for some reason you may have to throw buckets of water in the toilets to get them to flush. This is especially important after a couple bags of Nacho Cheese Doritos.
Post-Harvey, one of the surprising shortages was clean underwear. Because, well, what happens when you leave with just what you can wear and it’s been a week and there is no home, stores, laundry, or electricity. You can wear your jeans for a week, but, well… you get the picture. Make sure you have plenty. Hanes and Fruit of the Loom should be doing underwear drops in conjunction with the National Guard. And right now, as Irma approaches, this is probably one of the few things left in the stores. I know I missed my opportunity to stock up on water.
For the car. And, if it’s not too late, get another full propane canister for the grill. When the food starts thawing you are going to want to do a lot of cooking. Start with the meat – it’s the most expensive, and you will need the protein to keep your strength up when you are hauling tree trunks… or large signs and utility poles, depending on your location.
The EOD (explosive ordnance disposal school) guys here are all 20ish and share a house and have nothing but (lite) beer in the fridge… they will be glad to help you eat all the meat because they were too Hurricane Partied up to get any. Then they are your friends forever and won’t mind if in the future you ask them to quit revving their motorcycles at 3 a.m. You probably have a similar group of young men nearby who eat massive quantities of meat.
More from my sister, Ann: I remember one time, when we didn’t have electricity for 3 days, we invited all the guys from the store over, and grilled up all of the meat in the freezer. We had chicken, filet mignon, ribs and hamburgers. No vegetables. No carbs of any kinds. Not even buns for the burgers. Just meat. But of course, some good beer. They loved it.
Can you drink your morning/afternoon/evening caffeine at room temperature? Make up a pot or two now. The last thing you want to be doing is walking a half-mile or so to find a convenience store with hot coffee because the ‘cane hit during the night and you didn’t have any made and you left your wife and two small boys home standing in front of big plate glass windows watching all the huge oaks topple like dominoes and ripping up sewer lines. Between falling trees and downed power lines you would be lucky – LUCKY! – to live long enough to see your children reach adulthood.
Twenty-eight years later, I can say now that their father was, apparently, lucky.
- Make three hotel reservations.
When you live near the middle of the American part of the Gulf of Mexico, you already know that hurricanes have a habit of making U-ees, becoming a Cat 5 and heading straight toward your house, no matter what Jim Cantore or Dr. Rick Knabbs said just as you dropped off to sleep the night before. With the storm bearing down on you in the morning, however, you have a better idea of its path. If you have a reservation to the west, north, and east, try to outsmart the storm and run in the opposite direction of its path. (Good luck with that!) Don’t forget to cancel the other reservations.
If you live along the Atlantic seaboard, you can eliminate heading east (the Atlantic Ocean, unless you think you may as well try your luck at finding an open casino). Heading west is your best bet, but not entirely foolproof. Worst hurricane I’ve gone through just in terms of personal inconvenience was Hugo and we lived about 300 miles inland.
As I may have gently suggested to one of you this morning (and don’t say I didn’t warn you) you can still take the train to Philadelphia and then catch one to Harrisburg and stay with your aunt or uncle. They may get wet, but you should all be OK. Unless it’s like Agnes in ‘72. Then just stay on the train until you get to Pittsburgh. Maybe that aunt and uncle will let you sleep at the store. And feed you some of the four kinds of meat from their freezer that they will be grilling and have some of the cold beer they sacrificed the meat for.
What to pack
If you are on that train to Harrisburg but decide to head on to Pittsburgh, they’ll want cash to extend that ticket. Also, cash works when the electricity is out, especially when entrepreneurs don’t want an electronic trail of their price-gouging. Price-gouging for things that you are happy, HAPPY, to pay for. Think of it as slipping something nice to the maitre d’ for the good table. Which you want.
Because there are some nice young men from, oh, Mississippi, who may show up in your neighborhood with a Bobcat and a boom and a few other pieces of road clearing equipment. They will be going house to house and offering to clear your roof, yard, car, driveway and/or street. You and your neighbors will be ecstatic because you won’t have to wait for the county or federal government to take care of things. And these entrepreneurs do not take American Express.
- The good jewels, the silver, computers and back up hard drives, the animals, and the kids. And sleeping bags. Also, don’t forget the bottles of the good stuff and the junk food. When you are stuck in gridlock on, say, I-10 going maybe 15 mph, you’ll wish you had twice as much as you thought you could possibly eat and drink. Of the good stuff! When you realize that You Are Not Moving and that a Cat 4 is headed straight at you and thousands of other cars stranded on that same, say, I-10, which the authorities did not have the good sense to figure out that you open ALL lanes headed away from the center and that you are but a bunch of Matchbox cars to Opal as she bears down on you, you will wish you had brought more of The Good Stuff. That 300-mile trip that you can make in 4 hours is going to take you 12 hours. But at least you made a hotel reservation, right?
If space is tight and you are trying to decide whether to leave the computers or the animals behind, I’d opt to leave the kids. Your dog won’t talk back and you have all the pix of the kids… asleep in their cribs, in their Halloween costumes, the first day of school pictures with them hiding their heads behind their backpacks… you have them backed up on that external hard drive. You did back the pictures up, right? Kidding kidding kidding. Of course I would bring the kids. I don’t know how to back up anything. Our tech support moved to D.C., works 24/7 AND got married besides, so mostly I just look at my computer with a blank stare. And Lord knows I know better than to ask my brother. Or teenaged daughter, especially while she is on a three-day mandatory hurricane lockdown in a Louisiana college dorm. Y’all will want to hear the Tiger Princess’ hurricane story sometime, I’m sure.
Evacuating with children
- Keeping them entertained.
I always like to take along books and snacks. (No liquids, though. Potty breaks in gridlock take a level of creativeness that genteel eastern seaboarders won’t be up for.) Most of you probably don’t have books. I think they were banned during the Clinton administration when people realized that when a Harvard-educated president replies, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is,” that books were useless. If you can’t find books, just tell them to take along their iPads and Mac books. And you’ll need that extra cash (see above) to bribe them to let you use their chargers when you forget yours. They can’t remember to brush their teeth, but they know what it takes to keep the systems running. And they charge dearly for that knowledge. I know as adults it’s called consulting, but it still seems like price-gouging to me especially when we bought all the hardware in the first place. But like I said… we are happy to have the info.
The most important thing to pack for the kids: Benadryl. A wise pediatrician recommended it to me when my middle one was little and would literally scream the entire time in the car on a trip and for hours in any hotel room. I was an older mom and was pretty old-school and thinking Thorazine, but we got to like the Benadryl effect. Be careful, though! While it might be tempting to really really quiet the little ones, you don’t want to end up on Nancy Grace.
- The hotel.
Aren’t you glad you made that reservation? Hopefully you still have it when you arrive. There are people circling the highways like zombies hoping for a room.
The downside is that you, the spouse, the dog, the cat and all three kids are staying in it. Some of those kids could easily be 6-feet-tall or taller. This is where the sleeping bags come in handy. Someone has to use them. It may as well be you … in the van. Where you hid the bottles of good stuff.
- Buy a chainsaw.
The best advice I ever got was to buy a chainsaw before you return because there won’t be any left when you get back home. (Oh! Garbage bags, too.) This was from the next door neighbor, who, before we all evacuated, was talking to my husband about the storm. My husband mentioned that he thought we would be OK as far as trees falling on our house except the one in the neighbor’s yard near our bedroom. Our neighbor said, “Well, let’s just take care of that now,” and he and my husband cut down the tree. Talk about Best.Neighbor.Ever. Fortunately, the neighbor bought another chainsaw before returning home after evacuating, because we didn’t.
Another time, after a big one, the across-the-street neighbor’s brother-in-law drove down from Birmingham with his chainsaw and his wife. His wife half-joked that after his truck his favorite thing was his chainsaw and that she knew she took third place. She said he was never happier than when he was using his saw. Remember: the guy with the chainsaw gets to be king.
For northern urban neighbors, a chainsaw might not be of much use to you if you get hit by a big one. There may not be enough trees on your balcony or roof top to warrant it. Maybe cutting through sheet metal, though.
I hear that in some of your cities it is illegal to own a hand gun. Probably most definitely a power rifle won’t pass there, either. This confuses some of your neighbors to the south. In fact, depending on where you live, say Kennesaw County in Georgia, as a homeowner you would be required to own a gun. And a chainsaw is a poor substitute. It might scare the neighbor’s 6-year-old but probably not their pit bull.
So this is what you do. Save yourself a whole lot of trouble and get that 50- or 60-inch flat screen, a couple of your laptaps, maybe some ipads that you don’t use anymore, the other phone, and some electronics. Put everything in a pile near your front door. Put an empty suitcase there, too. That way when the looters come, maybe they won’t go any further in and they will be happy enough to just take the stuff and leave you alone. The suitcase makes it look like this is the stuff you planned to take with you, anyway.
Now, where we live, this is not as much of a problem. Sure, you can chalk it up to Southern hospitality, but mostly it’s because people here are kind of expecting you to back up that hospitality with fire power.
So, if you stumble across your neighbors, I mean the looters, in your home, offer them a steak while they are at it. You don’t want to get them mad.
Besides, if you are lucky, maybe they’ll invite you over to watch the Super Bowl with them. Or election returns, depending on your circumstances.
And probably on your own 60-inch TV.
That picture quality is just as good as you remember, isn’t it?
Good luck. Stay indoors. I see I still have some Cheezits left. That and a little bourbon, and I’m set.
– Words Of Wisdom From “Sista Fud”