Hurricane Lessons – 2017

Irma from ISS

The 2017 hurricane season is officially over. And that’s good because it’s been a tough one. I’ve been lucky. Whew!

2016 Season Lessons

2016 was my first real encounter with a major hurricane, Hurricane Matthew. Five days out, it was initially projected to be a category 4 to 5 storm with it’s track coming right up my drive way.

It took me a day and half to figure out, organize and get the storm shutters up. A labor intensive effort that left me physically drained.

Next, to stay or flee, that was the question. I figured a go, no go decision could be made when the hurricane was 3 days out. Then I’d have a better idea of when and which direction to go.

Sounded easy. Native Floridians told me to flee from anything above a category 3.

But life just isn’t ever so easy. As I watched the hurricane track wobble, and predictions s track and intensity vary, my decision to stay or leave stalled.

When Matthew was 2 days out, I still had no idea which way to go to escape the most intense part of the storm. And it was too late to go anywhere, as there was no longer any gas available.

I figured I could go a 100 miles or so and get out of the path. But not so. To flee a hurricane in Florida, one must flee the entire state, and probably the adjoining state as well. In reality it’s more like 500 to 600 miles rather than 100. And a full tank of gas and a spare gas can just didn’t cut it.

So, I stayed put. And lucked out. But vowed to never get stuck in that mental situation again. Next time:

  • shutters go up first thing when the hurricane is 5 days out
  • the stay or flee decision is made by the end of day 5
  • that decisions is based first on strength, then on track projections
  • flee all category 5 storms regardless of track projections
  • leave no latter than noon when the storm is 4 days out
  • get at least a state and a half away from the coast

Hurricane Irma – 2016 Lessons Applied

Almost a year later, here comes Hurricane Irma. She didn’t catch me by surprise. I’d been watching her grow in western Africa, a week before she became a tropical depression, and eventually a hurricane. So, I had time to think and plan.

At 5 days out, Irma was a category 5+ hurricane with projected tracks much like Hurricane Matthew. Nothing survives 200+mph winds. It’s 3 times as wide as Florida.

It’s a no brainer. Time to flee:

  • up go the shutters
  • secure the yard
  • fill all emergency water containers
  • fill the tubs
  • cover or protect delicate/susceptible items
  • prep the car
  • pack up the car with essentials

Leaving, I expected the worst for our stuff:

  • to completely loose the house and all belongings
  • to face an extended period without lodging, electricity, water
  • a big financial loss fighting with the insurance companies

But it’s only stuff. Others have gone through worse. And we will survive and live for another day if we got out.

When faced with the high risk of loss of life, it’s amazing how the apparent value of stuff shrinks. With a couple of boxes and a suitcase in the trunk. We were ready to go.

By noon, day 4, my wife and I were headed north in bumper to bumper traffic. Gas was still available. But hotel accommodations weren’t. They were gone in Georgia. And they were almost gone in South Carolina. Fortunately, we had friends in the Carolinas. And fled there.

Although, we escaped the worst of Irma’s furry, it hit the Carolinas as a category 1 storm. It left behind flooding, downed trees and power lines, debris cover roads, and submerged coastal roads from the storm surge.

After the storm passed, it took another 3 days before any of the major Carolina roads were passable, and a return to Florida was just barely possible on the interstate. All other roads were flooded and covered with debris. Access was restricted and denied to many towns. And the once mighty interstate was reduced to gravely single lanes.

Everyone from Florida was on the road toward home. Its was solid bumper to bumper traffic, creeping at 45mph at best. And often at less than 5mph.

And just my luck. After idling along at about 5mph for awhile, traffic slows, then stops. Gramps behind me didn’t get the memo. Bang! I’m rear ended. Luckily, no major damage.

Returning Home

Irma’s eye passed about 50 miles west of my home as a category 4 storm. The winds and rain were far worse than what Hurricane Matthew produced when it passed as a strong category 4 storm, 30 miles from us, a  year before.

Irma had double the rain, and 30% stronger winds. But it was not the same 185+mph sustained, 250+mph gust monster that we fled.

We had survived. Now I hoped the best for our stuff:

  • a damaged roof
  • some interior water damage
  • several weeks without power/utilities
  • no water
  • no landscaping
  • lots of debris

We found:

  • flooded streets with water almost up to the steps
  • all landscaping destroyed
  • lots of debris
  • but no house damage
  • utilities off for only a couple of days

Wow! Certainly not what I expected when I left the place. But not everything or everybody nearby was so fortunate.

2017 Lessons Learned

Stuff is Just Stuff

Before fleeing, I thought I had a lot more valuable stuff. That it is hard to reduce it to a couple of boxes. And figured my wife would have even a harder time doing the same.

Not so! I got away with just a half a box. She packed one box and a suitcase. So much for all our treasure! I now wonder why I spent so much time, energy and effort moving all that stuff, 5 times around the country, in the last 10 years. For this next move, I’ll have a better plan. 🙂

For Sale

Home, after 2 hurricanes, I’d had enough of the subtropics. Time to plant a For Sale sign in the front yard I thought. And apparently I’m not the only one that had that thought. For Sale signs have sprung up, with a couple of them on every block.

But upon reflection, I like living here. And the risk of getting killed by a hurricane isn’t any different than  risks in other areas from fires, flood, earthquakes, tornadoes, hail, blizzards, etc.

When gramps rear ended my car, that was the real risk. And it more risky than the hurricane. We all face it everyday, everytime we drive. And probably with, at best, just a passing thought of the risk as we fasten our seatbelt.

Sell the car and get a donkey? Nah, they bite and will kick you in the head! 🙂


A little more than a dozen people have died as a result of the two hurricanes in this area. They survived the hurricanes, but died as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning, electrocution, or unattended medical emergency.

Tragically, 90% of those deaths were the results of stupidity. And there’s simply no excuse, as the media constantly warns about the danger of running emergency generators inside.

Fortunately not all stupidity is fatal. But some is certainly worth remembering

Just before Irma hit, a young woman was filmed as she brought 2 open faced, 5 gallon Home Depot buckets designed for mixing paint, into a gas station. She

  • filled the buckets with gas
  • covered the open tops with plastic food wrap
  • placed them inside the car with her car seated children
  • drove away
  • and apparently survived!

The Best

Through 2 hurricanes, I’ve only experienced the best with other hurricane affected people. They care, share, are concerned, and watch out for each other, whether neighbors or not. A real surprise for me in Florida!

I personally know of only one instance of attempted theft in the hurricane’s aftermath. A couple of yahoo’s didn’t get or understand the stuff memo. They were caught while attempting to break into a liquor store. The authorities made short work of that. And the culprits were excoriated by the press.

Wonder how long it will take to get back to normal? 🙂

I’ve Learned

  • hurricanes are fickle
  • they can strip, break, uproot  and  trash an entire lot of large, virgin growth timber better than a bulldozer
  • and leave a bed of lilies 50′ away from that lot of trees, untouched
  • large pine tree trunks can be bent 6′ above ground level, parallel to the ground without breaking
  • standing water takes 2+ months to drain away
  • it’s worth propping up small to medium size uprooted trees
  • save the props, they can be used again next year

Enough for now.