Living in Naples, FL, we get to enjoy the most beautiful, tropical weather almost every day of the year. But just like everything else in life, there is a Yin and a Yang. In the case of Florida, that means every once in a while we get to “enjoy” tropical storms or even a Hurricane.
Stefan and I have both gone through a few smaller Hurricanes during our times at the University of Miami, but they were mostly laughable. Our preparations usually concluded in a Hurricane party, enjoying Coronas and other adult libations; but never a major storm like Hurricane Irma and its aftermath. Thankfully, we have not had to deal with any really bad weather since we moved back to Florida four years ago. But that doesn’t stay the case forever when you live in a coastal US city.
For us, everything changed during the week before September 10th when the hurricane forecast models started pointing to a potentially devastating storm, Hurricane Irma, making a direct hit right here in Naples as a category 4+ hurricane. Thankfully DH is somewhat of a weather and news junkie, browsing multiple sites a day, so we were fully on top of the news of the storm as it started to develop.
This is the first of a series of posts that will highlight our experience and things we learned along the way before, during and after Hurricane Irma made landfall in Southwest Florida.
One Week Notice
It was September 3rd, the end of a long Labor Day weekend when DH suggested that the hurricane models were looking like they were shifting further West toward Naples. Our initial thoughts were to get prepared to stay in place, knowing that traveling with a 140-pound dog and a (newly) blind cat might not be the easiest. We decided that although we had quite a few things set aside with our camping gear, maybe we should go grocery shopping for a bit more food and water to top off supplies.
People looked at us a bit funny when we rolled up to the Publix checkout line pushing a cart overflowing with cases of water, canned soup, and other hurricane staples. As we looked around at the carts of the other shoppers, we started to wonder if we were overreacting a bit. There was clearly a significant lack of urgency in their faces and complete lack of hurricane supplies in other people’s baskets.
That all changed two days later on September 5th when the hurricane prediction models showed the storm moving ever closer to Naples. It appeared that most of the city started to shut down completely as everyone rushed to purchase gasoline, food, and water.
We stopped at Wal-Mart to pick up a few more supplies like cooking propane and gas cans but found that those types of basic hurricane supplies, as well as water and canned goods, were already starting to run dry. DH and I gave ourselves a little pat on the back that we weren’t standing in line for an hour to get a case of water or tank of gas just yet, and it felt great being ahead of the curve.
Which led us to the next question….. should we start installing shutters on our home? Nobody else was doing it yet, but how soon is too soon? And should we call someone to help install the shutters or just do it ourselves?
Since time was of the essence, and every model looked worse, we decided to get moving installing our own shutters (we’re thankfully on the first floor) and to find someone to take care of the upstairs units belonging to friends and family.
We were blessed to find two very entrepreneurial gentlemen that weren’t cheap, but they showed up three days in a row. The two of them reliably put up shutters on multiple difficult to reach second-floor condos and for ground floor owners not physically able to mount their own shutters. I think those boys may have paid for at least a year of college tuition with the work they did during the days leading up to the hurricane – and deserved every penny of it! Putting up shutters takes forever and it hot, heavy work!
Once our home was fully secured and our supplies topped off, we started thinking about our office. The street where our web design and marketing agency office is located is prone to flooding, so our next preps moved towards there. We cleared out anything of value – computers, camera equipment, sound mixing equipment and all of the other electronic gizmos and gadgets we use on a daily basis – and took them back to our condo.
As we looked around the house on Tuesday evening, our shuttered up condo was dark as a cave with stacks of office equipment and hurricane supplies in every corner. It looked like we were moving, but didn’t know how to pack.
At this point, we were as prepared as we could be.
Do We Stay Or Do We Go?
With the hurricane models looking direr with each update, and local and state politicians urging residents to get out if they could, the nagging question of the day was, “Do we stay, or do we go”? Both DH and I talked about the options a few times and somehow every choice seemed wrong.
Florida is a very long state (about 450 miles from end to end) and there were a lot of people already on the road, getting stranded due to a lack of available gasoline along the way and tons of traffic backing up the few main roads that lead out of the state. Because Irma was an absolutely massive storm, it stretched the entire width of Florida, causing millions of people to evacuate from the entire southern half of the state. We also had to consider factors such as finding a hotel that would take in Ayla, our senior Newfoundland dog, and where to even go to avoid this massively large storm.
The thing that held us back the most was not wanting to run out of gas along the way, and being stuck on the road along the way. There is always a kink in every plan. Ours was that we didn’t have any gas cans, and all of the stores we checked we sold out. Gas cans had been on our “to buy” list for a long time — but we just kept putting it off.
Thursday afternoon before the storm, we were done with everything and sat checking social media posts from friends. It seemed as if everyone around us was leaving town or already gone. Also on our street, neighbor after neighbor hit the road. It was an eerie feeling. This was the first time we REALLY questioned our initial decision to stay.
The final straw came as we were cleaning up our garage later in the day, just getting ourselves ready and looking for anything else useful. We paused at the life preservers we have for boating. DH asked, “Do you think we should keep these handy? 15′ storm surge means about 5′ of water in our house.”
That was it. We knew that even if the fuel situation was bad and we could be stranded on the road for some time, the alternatives of what staying meant could be a lot worse. And we couldn’t even think about putting an emergency worker’s life at risk just so we could stay and later need to be rescued. It was time to get out of there with a category 5 storm heading straight for our home.
10 Lessons Learned From Preparing for Hurricane Irma
- Keep Informed — During Hurricane Season, make frequent visits to weather geek websites like tropicaltidbits.com. A quick glance at the models on their site every couple of days tells you more than watching The Weather Channel. Being ahead of the curve definitely prevents sprouting a few grey hairs while over running around like a crazy person, fighting for the last case of water.
- Boots and Gloves are Your Friends — Living in paradise with sunny, beachy weather and working as marketing consultants, our inventory of work attire is rather small. In fact, you will find us in flip flops every day. Hurricane shutters can be sharp, installation requires climbing or lots of heavy things have to be lifted. Trust me, you’ll want some good working boots and a comfortable set of gloves. We didn’t have either and were lucky enough to score some of the last ones at WalMart before the storm.
- Some Adulting Required — I know, I know….. adulting sucks. If we get down to it, none of us want to adult. But when preparing for a hurricane, you need to put on your adulting hat and get down to business. There is limited time to prepare and if you make the wrong decisions you could lose everything, including your life. The government says “The first 72 hours are up to you.” I go a step further and say you should be prepared for 10 days. It’s amazing how many people will buy a box of Bubba Burgers and two bottles of water and call it a day. While stores will likely reopen a few days after the storm, in all reality it will likely be quite a few more days until they are fully stocked. And you will be waiting in very LONG lines with the rest of your neighborhood for the few things they do have in stock. Save yourself the hassle of trying to scrounge together supplies when the stores are empty and prepare ahead of time. We thought of it as preparing for a 10-day off-grid camping trip and purchased supplies accordingly.
- Have the Right Tools – Putting up hurricane shutters takes a lot of screws – even if you are lucky enough to have aluminum shutters like our condo has. With about 20 bolts per shutter, that adds up to a lot of screws. A decent battery-operated screwdriver is an absolute must have and saves you lots and lots of blisters on your hands. A cable drill works too, but make sure that you have a LONG extension cord on hand; the nearest outlet can be a long way away from the window you are working on.
- You Will Be Thankful For All Those Gym Sessions – The one word to use to summarize all of the hurricane prep is “HEAVY”. Everything that needs to be completed to get things ready involves lifting, carrying or climbing. Hurricane shutters are heavy, pallets of water are heavy, stuff you want to move to higher ground and off the floor is heavy. We were really thankful that we had hit the gym almost every day since the beginning of summer. Even being in really good shape, we collapsed into bed with sore muscles and tired bones every night leading up to the storm.
- Important Goods Sell Out Quick – Gasoline, water, and canned goods all become massively en vogue in the days leading up to a hurricane. Staying ahead of the competition (see Lesson 1) is key to this. If you shop before everyone else does, you can avoid running into empty shelves. We finished our essential shopping a day before most people started and in turn saved ourselves a lot of headaches. We drove to WalMart the next day for things we had forgotten and witnessed absolute pandemonium. Long lines for water and empty shelves. Unfortunately our dilly-dallying on shopping for the things we had forgotten meant we couldn’t get them anymore. One of those crucial things was gas cans, but I will tackle that topic in the next blog post. The lack of gasoline was rather scary actually, particularly as we knew any evacuation for the storm would need more than one full tank of gas given the length of the state of Florida.
- Cash is King – Hurricanes are expensive and even in the run-up to the storm, when the power is still on, it’s not bad to have a stash of cash in your wallet. We encountered a few situations where it was useful. For example, the guys mounting shutters for DH’s parents and our business partner were more than eager to move us up the line when we offered to pay cash on the spot, rather than writing a check. We also found a few more places that had maxed out the capacities of their credit card systems and had to revert to the archaic use of paper money.
- A Wealth of Emotions – One of the most surprising aspects of prepping for this major hurricane was the wealth of different emotions. Fear, anxiety, helplessness, resolve, anger, and exhaustion all run hand in hand. Watching friends and neighbors leave town in droves was a super uncomfortable and unnerving feeling. Also, saying goodbye to neighbors heading out, or staying behind, wishing each other luck and safe journeys felt surreal. But nothing beats that feeling of “WTF are we going to do? Are we making the right decisions?”. Self-doubt is real and at least for us was a constant nagging voice along the journey.
- Community Moves Closer Together – We don’t live in a particularly tight-knit neighborhood. Beyond casual “hellos,” everyone seems to be going about their day, not particularly close with most of the neighborhood. In all fairness, there are still a few neighbors whose name we didn’t know, even in our closest vicinity. During the preparation for the storm, the neighborhood moved closer together. Some were helping each other, sharing some resources, but more interestingly there were conversations. Most of the conversation revolved around the storm and what we were planning on doing. But in the few days before the storm as most of us seemed to be congregating outside more, getting our homes ready, there were many long chat sessions, exchanged phone numbers and words of encouragement among the neighbors.
- Amazon Prime is Pure Gold – Referring back to Lesson 1 and Lesson 6: If you stay ahead of the curve, there should be enough time to order some essentials from Amazon Prime. We ended up ordering all of our batteries (of all shapes and sizes), a couple of flashlights and a set of walkie talkies from Amazon Prime rather than hoping some stores locally would have them in stock. All items arrived well before the storm and were well used during the evacuation.