There’s more to surviving hurricane season than knowing how and when to evacuate. Even in summers without any significant hurricanes coming near the island, I have noticed that hurricanes still interfere with life, and cause stress.
We usually are very lucky to get plenty of warning about every major storm of the season. The tracking begins very early, when they still are far from Florida. Although this early warning can save lots of lives, it also wears on the nerves, as we pay attention to every single storm for days and days. There’s usually a storm somewhere, so this means we are looking at storms and worrying about the results for most of the summer. If nothing else, it is distracting and tiring.
From June through October, we tend to obsess about watching tropical updates on the local news channel and on the Weather Channel, at ten minutes before the hour. Then there are all the programs about storm disasters. It’s enough to make you nervous even if no storm comes your way.
Then, if it looks like a storm might be coming your way, life is interrupted even more. At our house, we begin to pay attention to how many bottles of water we have, and to how much canned and dried food. If the predicted cone-shaped path of the hurricane continues to include Anna Maria Island, we then start organizing our important possessions. We make sure we have enough plywood for the windows. In the years before we had a mainland evacuation destination, we also would look around for motels on the mainland, and often we’d make a reservation just in case we needed it. The problem is that it’s sometimes difficult to know, ahead of time, exactly which nights you might need that reservation. And you might not need it at all. But if you wait, the motels will be full and there is the risk of having nowhere to go.
All of these things interrupt life, even if the storm ends up taking a turn away from Anna Maria Island. The problem is that one has to prepare before it’s obvious that preparation is necessary. The time to board up the windows is before the weather gets really bad. There is always that awkward time when we are trying to decide whether boarding up is necessary. It’s so much work, and the house is so dark afterward. We have endured several storms with the house boarded up and have been very glad to have that extra protection. But we’ve also boarded up and then just had to take it all down again. It certainly interferes with life’s normal routines.
It’s the price we pay for living in paradise. And as the years pass, we are learning some ways to cope better.
One thing we’ve learned about emergency food supplies is not to be too ambitious with dried and canned foods. We used to buy entirely different foods for emergency situations that what we eat day to day. Since most summers pass without the need to use emergency supplies, those foods just sat in bins after summer. They were not interesting enough meals to eat in non-emergency conditions, so we often ended up discarding these foods when their expiration dates passed. Now we’ve learned to make our emergency supplies things we eat every day: our favorite crackers, peanut butter, even chips and dips, a few good soups, canned asparagus, beets, mandarin oranges and stuffed grape leaves. We build up our supplies at the beginning of summer and as the hurricane season ends, we start using these things. So they are not wasted.
Another strategy that helps keep things simple is to try to keep very few items in the freezer during hurricane season. If the power goes out, food in the freezer is a big concern. One has to eat it as it thaws, because there is a limit to how long it is safe, even if kept on ice. Such concerns can be avoided with a generator, but the noise of generators is sometimes worse than life without electricity. We prefer to keep things simple and avoid the need for a generator. If the refrigerator is not too full, this works out fine. It can get hot without air conditioning, but often the temperatures are a bit cooler with the storms, and we have not suffered too much in this regard.
If one prepares well for hurricanes, right at the beginning of the season, it should be possible to ignore all the storm tracking until it becomes obvious that the chances of a hit are quite high. Since major hits are rare, it might be possible to coast through summer oblivious, but prepared—with less stress, not glued to television tropical storm reports. It could be worth giving that approach a try for this summer’s Atlantic hurricane season preparedness.