Growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, the closest I came to a hurricane when I was little was Hurricane Andrew in 1992. My grandparents were in Miami and my stubborn grandfather refused to evacuate. They didn't put tape on their windows because in Miami they were doing it so often without storms, and the tape was so difficult to take off, that they went without it. My Grandmother stayed up all night at the window watching the rain and winds. She said the limbs fell from trees like toothpicks. The sliding glass doors rumbled and she was sure they would blow in. The storm lasted the entire night and half way through, parts of the roof started leaking. When the storm got worse, she woke my grandfather to come see. Just as she did, the windows in their room blew in right onto the very bed he had been sleeping on. The wind coming through the house sounded like a railroad. In the morning, their car in the one car garage was fine, but my Grandfather's needed a new paint job. There was a boat in their back yard. The roof had leaks in their bedroom. The tree limbs had fallen in a neat pile under the tree, but as children, the worst of all things possible to us had happened: the beloved south Florida mango tree had fallen. They had someone place a tarp on their roof and they had to sleep on their pull out couch in the living room for a month before everything was fixed. They made out well compared to the families in Homestead an hour south, but needless to say, they put their house up for sale and moved to Jacksonville the following year. We knew that storm was horrible, but it was still so far away that we had little action in Jacksonville from the storm. It kind of left us interested in what it felt like to experience a Hurricane.
In it was not until I moved away that this wish was granted, and I quickly realized that a hurricane wasn't a fun thing to endeavor. In 1999, I was in school at College of Charleston when Hurricane Floyd headed towards the east coast. Since much of Charleston is below sea level, and floods every full moon at high tide all the way up through the Charleston markets downtown with no hurricane, we evacuated. We got on the highway and headed to my roommate's home town of Williamsburg, Virginia. We had clothes, water, and snacks and some jamming music. Little did we know it was to miss Charleston and head north east to Wilmington, North Carolina and follow us the whole way to Williamsburg. That would have been good to know, because when we got on the road, we came to a standstill on the highway. So we got off to get on a "faster" side road and were stopped there, too. We sat for eight hours in the hot sun hanging out with the neighboring vehicles before we began to move and drove the rest of the way to Williamsburg where it rained for days. Turns out we should have stayed in the hurricane shelter dorms in Charleston where they were much more prepared for the storm! Evacuating is no fun, but warnings to evacuate should be heeded where warned.
My next bout with hurricanes, four to be exact, was in graduate school at University of Florida in 2004. Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne all criss crossed Florida right in the center, and that center was Gainesville where I lived. My roommates were all from New England, had no idea about hurricanes, and they took each warning seriously. Being from Jacksonville and watching many hurricanes come and go with no real damage, I just watched them prepare as classes were canceled for each storm. They filled the bath tub with water for flushing toilets and other possible needs. I thought that was interesting! They purchased snacks, water and canned goods and filled coolers with ice. They had propane ready for their outdoor grill and man, did we use that many times. They all thought it was a good idea to move our cars to the Stephen C. O'Connell Center (where our Florida Gators play basketball, volleyball, and compete in gymnastics and swimming) parking garage so they wouldn't be smashed by Gainesville oak trees. They picked up outdoor items that would blow away. And lastly, they got out lots of games to play. During the three days that classes were canceled for each storm, the power was out and it was hot and boring! You can't go outside because if you live in an area with above ground power lines, any damaged power lines could be dangerous and the water puddles could be charged. The trees were down so we couldn't get our car that was in the garage down the street to pick up our cars. We were stranded for days. It is hard to stay inside and be hot and bored! But they did such a good job at preparing that the only thing we missed was our air conditioning (sheesh-its HOT here in Florida without AC!) and the TV (sheesh-it sure is boring without the TV, and that was before I had a smart phone...).
Now I'm a Florida mom with two children and last year we went through Hurricane Matthew. We prepared a bit last minute due to being busy with work. It was a couple of days before the storm that I finally went shopping for food and water. Water was almost gone, bread and peanut butter were limited, and I took the last pack of batteries. This year, with Hurricane Irma coming, I've already filled up my car with gas and I'll be getting water today, a week out. We went through heavy winds and three days of heavy rain, however Hurricane Matthew stayed off the coast and weakened so we were spared 6 miles inland. We did not evacuate, we never lost power, we had our tv going the entire time to keep our kids occupied while they couldn't go outside. However those on the coasts, especially St. Augustine, suffered from storm surge and many homes were flooded. We know we need to prepare early and prepare for flooding, winds, and power outages. If the hurricane had the strength it was predicted to be, a category 4 rather than the category 2 it was downgraded to, we know we would leave next time.
There are many websites to help you get ready, like the NOAA Hurricane Preparedness website Ready.gov and the Jacksonville Hurricane Preparedness local website: Jax Ready. Scroll down below for our Florida Native Mom's guide to hurricane preparedness.
Before the start of hurricane season, Which is June 1
1. Research the Ready.gov/hurricanes website to prepare your home and a safety kit.
4. Find your closest hurricane shelters and if you have pets, locate the shelters that take pets HERE.
5. Purchase pet carriers to have on hand.
6. Develop a family communication plan.
A Few Days Before the Storm
7. Be sure you have gas before the lines get long, prices increase, and gas runs out.
8. Think about purchasing a propane stove or be sure you have a full tank of propane for your gas grill. Purchase coal and starter fluid for other grills.
9. Purchase gallon waters, canned food and snacks. For kids, purchase eggs and boil them to eat stand alone or with egg salad. Peanut butter sandwiches, apples, and other kids favorites are good staples for our picky little eaters. Macaroni and cheese, homemade pizza, lasagna, and fresh baked cookies are all great to have on hand if you can make them before power goes out and eat them before the fridge gets too warm. Prepare for a few days in case it is not safe to leave the home or in case of flooding.
10. Make sure you have working flash lights with batteries. Make sure you are extremely careful with candles and be sure you have something to start them with. Place the flash lights up high because the kids will want to play with them and run the batteries out early.
11. Be sure to have enough pet food on hand.
12. Do laundry before power goes out.
13. Be sure to have all phones and computers charged. Use your car to charge your phone, use your computer to charge your phone. Purchase a car charger and extra chargers for your car to all phones can be charged at the same time. If you charge phones in your car, be careful-if the cars are off you could get a dead battery. If your car is on, try to open the garage door a bit so it doesn't fill with carbon monoxide. Turn your phone to low energy usage. Be sure to have weather apps installed and set the apps to, "get notifications." Set your smart phones to "get emergency alerts.
14. Call grandparents and great grandparents and be sure they have a plan and place to go. Many don't have cell phones so if power is lost, you'd have to go to their home to check on them.
15. Prepare your home - move chairs, plants, and anything that could fly away and harm homes inside your house. Prepare trees by cutting loose limbs, secure loose gutters and clean them so debris won't fly. Consider purchasing a generator.
16. Be sure to follow accounts on Twitter and Facebook locally and nationally to be able to follow.
17. Go over your emergency plan and designate a leader. Decide if you will evacuate and if you do, call a hotel IMMEDIATELY to be sure you have a spot available when you get there. Be sure you find one that allows pets if you have one. You don't want to get on the road and find that all hotels are booked. If you decide to leave, go as soon as you can or leave early in the morning or late at night so you don't have to spend extra hours in traffic with kids.
Preparing for a Hurricane with Kids
18. Be prepared with kids activities: Get out cards, games, and books. Review our blog about activities for kids during a hurricane by clicking HERE. Set up their beds in your room or in your safe room area (a place without windows). You don't want them to get scared at night, you don't want to be separated in the event of a tree falling on the roof, and it is really fun for them to jump on their beds on the floor and pretend they are camping with flashlights.
19. Purchase extra diapers and formula for babies as needed. Have plenty of their medicines on hand. If you have breast milk, turn the freezer down low and put ice around it. If the power goes out, don't open the fridge, then move the milk to coolers with ice or dry ice as needed. Try to keep breast milk partially frozen. If you know someone who doesn't usually lose power in a storm or who has a generator, move milk prior to the storm.
20. Involve kids in hurricane prep and tracking, watching the radar maps and videos so they will understand what is going on and be less afraid. Don't show your own fear. Be prepared as possible so you can be relaxed for them and make scary parts of the storm fun.
21. Let them know they cannot jump in water puddles or go near trees post storm because the water could be electrically charged and tree limbs could fall. Grab a wheelbarrow after the storm and help them help neighbors clear debris or with anything they need. Get them involved with storm clean up and volunteering.
22. Work with them to identify a safe place to be during the storm.
23. Review your kids communication plan. Click HERE for the kids plan.
24. If at all possible, see if you can host another family. The boredom of three days or more in the rain where kids can't go outside or go on field trips added to extra days of possible power outages with no activities can be curbed with friends in the house. Since my home doesn't usually lose power, we'll have our cousin over next time, for sure!
25. Be sure to check our Facebook page and family calendar to find events and restaurants that are open post storm. Many will have fared well and will invite the public in for some fun. We will have an updated list of activities to share with local families.
When I interviewed my grandmother, now turning 94 in December, I asked her how she was preparing for #HurricaneMatthew. She said she'll go buy some water and she's making a big sinee of kibbee (arabic food) to have to munch on. She'll have my cousin, Stephen, come over to move her bench and plants, but that's it. She doesn't want anyone to come over and she doesn't want to go over to anyone's house. And no, she doesn't have a cell phone so we'll have to go check in on her. Let's all be prepared for this storm a bit more than her! Stock up on supplies and hope that this thing heads east. Get your juice boxes and your wine and hunker down for a classic Florida hurricane party and be safe everyone! Update: My grandmother went over to my aunt's house for the storm. She played cards, ate good meals, and was in good, safe company during the long and windy storm.