Will Tropical Storm Ian make landfall along the Gulf Coast of Florida? My unpopular take: It’s too soon to tell. After years of following storms, not out of fear but a pathological fascination, here’s what I would do if I were in the storm’s path. Which, as it turns out, I am – although if history is any marker, I won’t be for long. Yes, I know Jim Cantore is coming to Clearwater, 40 minutes north of my home. That means nothing to me. By the time you read this, in fact, Pinellas could likely be out of the cone.
While I’m watching people panic-buy flats of bottled water and wine (seriously, Aldi was clean out of Winking Owl by noon yesterday, because, well, we like to mix panic with a little tropical storm partying, apparently), there are smarter ways to prep. Here’s what I would tell anyone readying for their first Florida hurricane.
- Should You Stay or Should You Go? Decide NOW if you plan to evacuate. Deciding to evacuate 12 hours before landfall is a suicide mission. (We’re not evacuating, but we’re 38 feet above sea level and almost every window in our block home is a hurricane window.) Evacuating, I should note, is not always the best option.
- Gimme Shelter. Please don’t go to a shelter unless you’re told to evacuate and have no other options. Shelters aren’t fun, and they’ll be at capacity soon enough. There are plenty of elderly folks who can’t ride out the storm at home and don’t have the means to go too far. If you’re not in an evacuation zone, don’t go. Government errs on the side of caution, so they’ll tell you if you need to go.
- You Ran… You Ran So Far Away. If you are told to evacuate and choose not to, though, remember, 911 is not an option for you. Be prepared to be your own island – possibly literally – until the storm passes. That’s not always a bad thing.
- How Much is That Doggie in the Window? If you do plan to evacuate and have pets, remember that pet-friendly shelters often require you pre-register for a spot – you cannot simply show up with your pets. If you do bring your pets to a shelter that allows them, remember, they’ll have to stay in a crate the whole time. Another option if you can afford it: Red Roof allows pets at no extra charge; you have to tell them you have pets, but that’s it. Other hotels allow pets, too (we’re big fans of Home2Suites, although they do charge a pet fee), so that may be far more comfortable than a shelter.
- Song of the South Evacuating south can makes sense. Florida’s a big state. A hurricane can be well past the Florida Keys before it hits, say, Port St. Joe. Everybody and their sister will be clogging the roads north – if Fort Myers has power after the storm passes, head there. Or Fort Lauderdale. Or anywhere south that has power after the storm. (This might be cheaper, too.)
- You Spin Me Round If you’re staying: Wash your clothes now. Seriously. You don’t want to get stuck without power and clean underwear. There won’t be any a/c. Think on that.
- Red Solo Cup Please stop buying bottled water. Freeze jugs you have. Buy bleach tablets now (you can get them on Amazon if your store doesn’t have any) to disinfect water after the fact. If you feel as though you must buy bottled water, spring for a few 5-gallon jugs and buy a bottled water pump.
- Octopus’ Garden Go through your yard NOW and throw out unneeded items (just make sure you’ll have trash pick-up before landfall.)
- Our (Clean) House Clean your house. Waiting for a hurricane, someone one said, is like being stalked by a frightened turtle. Work off your energy by getting things put away.
- Kill Your Television And this is the most important: For the love of god, please turn off your TV. If you want the most reliable forecast, go to the National Hurricane Center (hurricanes.gov, and @NHC_Atlantic on Twitter) because they’re the only source not making money off the hurricane – they truly want to minimize loss of life. Everyone – my own newspaper included – makes money off eyeballs. Over at @gabbernews, we’re only posting prep and local advice, no forecasting, and we’re telling people to check with the National Hurricane Center for that.
As one of my favorite book covers advises, don’t panic. This too shall pass.