Now that life is returning to "normal" for many of us here in southeast Florida, I wanted to organize my post-hurricane thoughts and attempt to address some storm-specific issues, both for my own benefit and (hopefully) to help anyone else living in areas threatened by the occasional typhoon, cyclone, hurricane, or whatever you call them in your hemisphere.
Obviously, a lot of what I've been thinking about lately is just general preparedness, disaster relief, et cetera, so I'll try to limit my rambling observations to Irma-related items, and add relevant comments to existing forum topics. I hope others with different experiences and perspectives will add to this post-hurricane discussion so that we can all better respond to the next major storm. And there will be a next major storm.
One of the things that sets hurricanes apart from other natural disasters is that we usually get plenty of advance warning before they hit. That gives people time to put up storm shutters and prepare for the event and the aftermath. It also gives people time to totally freak out on a massive scale. After seeing images coming out of post-hurricane Houston, Floridians seemed more concerned than they've been about other storm warnings in recent years. In the days leading up to Irma's arrival, reactions seemed to be evenly split between Panic and Denial (usually it's Denial and Annoyance).
As I mentioned in another discussion thread, I went through Hurricane Andrew, and that experience changed the way I react to potential storms. Before we were even in the official Irma forecast cone, I was checking my shutter hardware and buying fresh batteries. While many of my neighbors were at the beach enjoying a three day weekend, I was filling up our vehicles and spare fuel cans. By Tuesday morning, gas lines were starting to appear in Broward. By Thursday, long lines of frustrated motorists surrounded the few stations that still had some fuel. I don't remember seeing so many people deciding to gas up and get out of town before.
I was surprised by the public response, and if I had waited to gas up, I would've lost valuable preparation time waiting in lines. Or I might not have been able to get as much fuel as I wanted. Either way, avoiding unnecessary pre-storm stress was helpful. Lesson learned: stay informed and act early.
As for staying informed, this is the first hurricane season that I've relied on Twitter for storm updates. Despite my general dislike of the platform, I've managed to find some valuable sources of information - and I've also managed to avoid getting sucked into time-wasting, energy-sucking political arguments. In addition to following the National Hurricane Center, I subscribe to individual tropical weather nerds and surf forecasters, as well as various local government agencies, politicians, and reporters. Together, they provide a wealth of useful intelligence not available via generic weather forecasts, attention-seeking "storm chasers," or emergency broadcasts.
Even though we didn't get the direct hit that had been predicted, Irma really beat up our neighborhood. We lost electrical power and all phone service (landline and cellular) during the storm itself, and the street in front of our home was completely blocked by fallen trees and branches. Fortunately, our house didn't suffer any structural damage, but some neighbors weren't so lucky:
They had put up storm shutters (and perhaps did everything else possible to prepare), but now their house is wrecked. We experienced a relatively mild impact from Irma (winds were less than 100 mph here) in southeast Broward county, so seeing that tree knocked over was a bit of a shock.
We were also fortunate with our vehicles. We don't have a garage, or even a carport, which means our Land Rovers are vulnerable to wind, rain, and everything else. While some people took their cars to long-term parking at the airport, that seemed like it would be taking up space for airline passengers who were actually trying to evacuate. Instead, we took advantage of our city's public garage in downtown (as did a local car dealership, which eventually resulted in civil penalties and criminal charges after the resulting social media storm). I'm not sure if our city leaders will continue to offer free garage space to residents when the next major storm warning is issued, but at least it worked this time. Given the fact that Irma veered away from us, my wife and I felt okay (but not great) about parking one of our trucks immediately adjacent to the house during the storm, on the protected (downwind) side, so we'd have it available as soon as the winds died down. I would've preferred to have had it in a garage, protected by a reinforced door, but that's not currently an option.
Irma also caused our city to issue a boil water order. Before the storm, I filled up the containers we had on hand, and went to our storage unit to retrieve more. Surprise! Our local public storage facility decided to cease operations at noon on Thursday. Major planning failure on my part. We were okay with what we had, but if it had taken the city longer to effect repairs, I would've been a lot less comfortable with our supply situation. Another lesson: if you're going to need it (or just want it), keep it on you or on your own property.
The boil water order, by the way, was largely ignored by our neighbors, who either didn't get the message (because they weren't getting emails or text messages and they don't listen to AM radio) or chose to dismiss it because it was inconvenient. Also, people who don't know how to start a camp fire find it difficult to boil water without a functioning electric stove or microwave oven. And “stocking up” on bottled water seems to be generally interpreted as buying a sixpack of smartwater at Publix, which doesn't last very long when you have a thirsty family. I'm not going to let my neighbor's kids suffer because their parents suck at hurricane preparation, however, so unless things get really Mad Max after a storm, I'll have enough to share (or to build strategic alliances in the post-apocalyptic wasteland, which is a separate discussion).
The city also enacted a post-hurricane curfew, which – like the boil water order – was ignored by a lot of people. But it did seem to discourage some folks from driving around in the dark and running into storm debris and downed trees, so that was helpful. It also caused the neighbors take a dim view of any strangers wandering outside after 2200.
If the moderators are okay with this, I'll continue with my hurricane-related ruminations later this evening.