Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Hurricane Season for real - now is the peak

We are now in the time window when hurricanes are watched closely. This year we are already in the "Ï"s in naming storms by the alphabet. Low pressure disturbances come off of Africa and sometimes very quickly develop into a named storm. Storms develop anywhere in the Gulf or Atlantic. Are we ready? I have lived through many storms in my time, and have reached the conclusion that someone ought to say what people really need to do, not just parrot what some others have said in the past. I am but one person who can talk from experience.  There is a tendency to think one would be reinventing the wheel if one says anything contrary to the standard checklist and advice given. I say listen to the news media advice but make sure you also take in local experience, some of which is provided here.

I have never had to use water that I stored up - never! Well, we did need water when we evacuated once. So why have that on my list? Grant you, water can be an issue on the island or even onshore where salt water might contaminate the potable water supplies. Tell you what, I will concede that some unknown might affect my water supply, but that day is no different than any other day. So this item is not on my list to stockpile. Plastic bottles of water are wasted in my household each time we stock up for hurricanes. Let's take a peek at what might be practical. Lessons we learned ...

We live significantly far inland, not far enough to avoid storms but then again, not to take a storm surge either. We live in the trees here, so that ought to be part of our risk assessment. Generally, water is not at risk when pumped locally from water wells.  Trees can take out power lines, although our power lines are buried. We are at risk from feeder lines however, and our experience in The Woodlands is that we will lose power, possibly for 2-3 weeks in a severe storm. In Hurricane Ike, we had a direct hit. It was not a very severe storm. However, the eye went right up I-45! Our winds were about 60mph with higher gusts in some squalls. That took out power and put some trees weighing tons into homes and blocking streets. That closed gasoline stations, restaurants and food markets. It brought us all to a dead stop. Our challenge was to clear the trees and wait it out, cooking what was in our freezers, cooling off any way we could and wait.

What to have ready to ride out or evacuate
  1. Food - canned and easily prepared meals. Rationing the fuel is important. It has to last one full week. So we need a food shopping list to have on our cupboards for emergencies. Assuming we have a generator, our list also would also include freezer items. Keeping the fridge cool and the freezer cold is a priority.  The ability to generate ice is really more than a luxury. Cooking supplies include gas if you have an electric oven and stove. Make sure you have enough gas for your grill. A gas grill is a life saver after a storm.
  2. Pets - dog and cat food in the pantry is important. One could allow the pets to eat human food, but that is not a great idea. Keep their diet the same if at all possible so they generate waste that is tolerable to clean up. They will likely be in the house with you for a long time during the storm.
  3. Generator - one of the best inventions of all time as part of the toolkit for an emergency, especially a hurricane. After the storm passes, you will want to cool off. The atmospheric humidity is 100% almost always! Have an electric fan for every person in the household. Even a room air conditioner should be considered. You can purchase one and have the entire family in one room with cool air, run by your generator. Some people large generators run by natural gas, always ready to turn on when power is lost. That is the best but an expensive solution. Remember, you may never have to experience a hurricane, so how much money do you put into it depends on your budget and your choice. Having a power backup is not necessary, just a convenience.People panic when a hurricane draws near and run to the stores only to find out there are no generators, no wood, no gasoline, no food on the shelves. Remember to get stocked early. Do NOT operate a generator in a closed area - garage or otherwise. Use them outdoors only to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.   
  4. Chain saws and plastic sheets- every ten or so households should own a tree saw. There will be at least one tree to fall on almost every block when the winds top 60 mph in wet soil. The soil will be saturated by heavy rains. If your home is hit, you will want to clean away the tree asap, even in the eye of the storm, should it pass over. Of course that is not a great idea but you might cover some things exposed to the elements during the eye fly-by. Covering water leaks and exposed furniture due to broken glass or the weight of a fallen tree limb is best handled with plastic or tarps. You may also want to have a water vacuum cleaner that can be powered by your emergency power generator. 
  5. Candles and flashlights are a necessity. Nothing is darker than being in a hurricane at night! There are no street lights, no home lights, no moon - nothing! Have fresh batteries and plenty of candles. Remember that during the storm, you might not be able to run your generator.   
  6. Electronics - Make sure you have every electronic thing connected to a surge protector or not connected to an outlet at all. In addition, during the storm, unplug every everything electronic except what you must use at the moment. Keep your risk of losing equipment to a minimum; you may need it after the storm. There are many electric surges and brown-outs during a storm . Have a battery operated radio on hand with a back-up battery. 
  7. Safe Places - make sure you have identified a safe fortified place such as an inside bathroom or closet in your home. Under the stairs is also usually a good fortified place to hang when you feel the winds are at their peak or perhaps a tornado is headed your way. It is a good idea to practice using the room by everyone in your household at the same time. Be prepared.
  8. Readily accessible items in the same location: emergency first aid kit, blankets, tarp in the home, table lamps in the family emergency room, flashlights in the fortified emergency room and family emergency room, rainwear including boots for one or two people, rubber gloves for handling tree limbs in the rain and floods, hard hat in case you have to go outside during the storm (this was required in Ike to clear stopped-up water drains). Have mosquito repellent for post hurricane use (two weeks supply).
  9. Evacuation readiness - Automobile with full tank of gas, ready to leave. Also have 10 gallons of extra fuel. Don't forget the fuel you will need for the generator if you stay. Have materials for sandwiches and something to drink in case you have to evacuate.  This is where the water comes in handy. Have a plan just in case you need to evacuate. I do not advise just brushing it off by saying "I am going to ride it out." Do a "what if" anyway!
  10. Normally used supplies - have enough living supplies on hand for two weeks without going to the store. Write down a shopping list. You may not get a second chance to go to the store. Don't forget diapers, wipes, and other children's necessities and conveniences.
Preparations before a storm
  • Trim tree limbs away from the house long before the storm arrives.
  • Board up windows that are most vulnerable to falling/flying debris such as high tree limbs. A friend had a piece of sheet metal fly through his window during a hurricane.  I've had a small tree limb shatter glass all over our family room. I had a friend who was driving a bus and a 2x4 flew through the radiator, disabling the bus. Protect your loved ones with plywood on the windows where they will be sitting out the storm. Quarter inch plywood usually works just fine. I keep enough in the house always ready. If you run to the store at the last minute, you will not likely find anything you need for the storm. 
  • Pick up everything loose outside - make sure you do not have things that can blow into neighbor yards and if you see a neighbor with threatening materials to your home, take care of the issue.  It is a good idea to have a neighborhood meeting to discuss what needs to be done and make contingency plans.
  • Store automobiles in the garage. 

During the storm 
  • If you have an issue where you need help, you should have your local emergency number at hand. Keep your cell phone charged. In Ike, texting worked longer than other services. Know how to contact your neighbors or CERT (first responders). Walkie Talkies are most reliable in short distances.  In The Woodlands, CERT has a means to communicate out via TWITTER and a means to discuss issues via FACEBOOK (search Woodlands CERT). Also stay tuned to your local emergency radio broadcasting station. The Commentary will also be publishing before,during and after a storm if there are internet services available. Of course we lost those services during Ike.   
  • Stay tuned to the radio emergency channel for your area. In The Woodlands, it is KTRH 740 AM. 
  • You can expect the winds to gradually increase as the storm approaches. There will be squalls providing sudden intense wind gusts. Clouds will be moving very rapidly. If the storm is predicted to cross land south of Galveston, the Houston area will be on the "dirty" side of the storm. That means that the squalls (lines of thunderstorms) off of the gulf will be intense, bearing loads of water. The dirty side produces sudden tornadoes and down drafts that twist off the tops of trees and pushes them down. Tons of wood fall with one large green tree. The wind will change directions since the circulation of the wind is in a circle. A hurricane is an extremely low pressure cell that spins counter clockwise. So the dirty side brings the the storms directly off of the gulf. If the eye passes over The Woodlands, there will be a quiet time in the middle of the storm. It seems like the storm is over, The sun comes out and there is no wind or rain. In a few minutes, the winds will shift to the opposite direction and be as fierce or fiercer as it was before the eye. There will be sunshine and in a very short few minutes, the storm resumes. Avoid going outside during this time if you can and if you must do not go far from your home. It is dangerous. If the eye of the storm passes over land north of Galveston, we will still receive strong winds, but the rain will not be as big of a problem. You can tell where the eye is by the direction of the wind.    
    After the storm
  • Mosquitoes become a terrible nuisance. Rain continues for day(s) afterward. Take precautions against mosquitoes such as emptying accumulations of water in bird baths and other areas. The little daytime pests will stay close to their birthplace. 
  • There are few functional services to your home, but you can expect to have natural gas and water in urban areas this far from the coast. It is hunker down time for days while services are gradually restored. Children need games to play or some other entertainment. Do what you can do to restore services. Clean up outside. Cut up tree limbs and organize the vegetation waste on the street to help trash collectors who will come weeks later. Help neighbors.
  • Cook outside unless you have a gas oven and stove. Do not bring your grill inside the house to use.
  • If you need help as the storm departs the area, in The Woodlands, go to your nearest local fire station, if you are able, to get help.  An alternative is to go or communicate with your nearest CERT representative. These people are first responders. Of course if you have a functioning telephone or other services available, use the normal means of getting help. 

Hurricane Health & Safety Tips

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Thank for for comments on your Woodlands Commentary webpage. Come back soon! ... Randy