Ten Things I Learned From a Hurricane



I probably should have evacuated.

My house on the north end of St. Augustine is in evacuation zone B, but literally a stone’s throw from the border of the mainland area that doesn’t ever have to evacuate.

Still, I had a total freak-out moment when it looked like we could have a direct hit from a Category 5 hurricane. My house is not concrete block, it’s wood frame, and I don’t have storm shutters. Sure, it was built to the safety codes upgraded after Hurricane Andrew devastated south Florida. But who knows if it could survive a Cat 5?

By the time the evacuation order was given for zone B, thousands and thousands of people from the coastal areas had already made plans to evacuate—from at least as far as Cocoa Beach to northern South Carolina. Hotel rooms were scarce, roads were clogged, gas stations were running out of fuel. It seemed more dangerous to leave than to stay. No one wants to get stuck on the side of the road in a hurricane!

So we stayed. And the house held together, and my nerves held together, barely. I learned some important lessons in my first close encounter with a hurricane, and here they are, in no particular order.

1. Preparedness is key. I wish we had stocked up on D batteries at the beginning of hurricane season. Because in the days leading up to the storm, everyone ran out. And it was stupid to have to go back to the stores every day for 3-4 days for supplies because we thought we had everything we needed, but then we realized we’d forgotten something else.

2. If push comes to shove and you have an actual breach in your structure, you can put stuff in plastic bags and stash it in your dishwasher—built-in waterproof safe! Also, you can use your wash machine as a “cooler” for as long as you can keep adding ice. It has a built-in drain!

3. Stuff is just stuff. What really matters when you think you could lose everything is your life and the lives of your family and loved ones. Being together with my family gave me much strength and reassurance.

4. We really do create more suffering for ourselves than is necessary. Leading up to the storm, while we still had power, I was watching news clips and social media updates on my computer. I understand that it is at times necessary to use fear tactics to get people to evacuate. But at some point, the sensationalism is just crazy-making.

It’s what led up to my freak-out moment. So many what ifs. What if we stay and the house blows apart around us? What if even a small part of the roof blows off—and not only is the house damaged, but the contents? What if I didn’t protect things enough? Should I have lifted everything up off the floor? Should I have covered everything with tarps? What if we really are without power for a long time—did I get enough food and water? What if my place of business is damaged—am I sure I have enough insurance?

I had to take a deep breath and talk myself off the ledge. I asked myself: what if everything is OK? What would THAT look like?

And I realized that if I screened out the noise of worst-case-scenario speculation and looked instead at real data—such as wunderground (weather underground), which is a compilation of weather sites and is JUST DATA with no hyperbole attached—the prediction wasn’t so dire.

In fact, as the hours progressed, the forecast improved. The top wind speeds went from 110+ mph (as suggested by panicky lay persons), to in the 80s, to 75, to 68, to 62 mph. Not quite so scary.

We put the brace on the garage door. We created a couple of small window-free zones in case we needed them. We piled all the food, water, important documents and storm supplies on the kitchen table so we could grab them in a hurry. There was nothing more we could do, and worrying about it wouldn’t help.

Worrying never really helps anything, does it? It just compounds our problems and creates unnecessary suffering. I just kept visualizing everything being OK. And in the end, it was.

5. It’s very strange to be in the midst of a disaster and not be able to know what’s going on because you’ve lost power and internet and cell phone service.

6. I made a smart decision when I bought my house (from my own perspective, anyway) to live a good distance away from any body of water. As much as it is lovely to live close to the beach or a riverfront, it is also risky. Flooding is smelly, nasty, filthy business.

7. We probably should all have our trees assessed and groomed by professionals every year. Even though the winds of this storm weren’t nearly as strong as they could have been, a lot of trees toppled. Some took down power lines. Some crushed cars or buildings. Trees and tree limbs reach a point where they are just ready to go, and it probably wouldn’t be that hard to have them trimmed up and thinned out before storm season starts.

8. It was evident that the county, city, state and beyond had rehearsed for this. Crews came in immediately after the storm and started moving obstacles and restoring power. The National Guard rolled in to help secure areas from looters. A central public field was set up for vehicles including campers for responders to spend the night. Shelters were opened, information was disseminated, roads and buildings were systematically inspected for safety. I have never seen a more well-coordinated effort to help people and get a whole town back up and running.

9. There is so much goodness in people! Sometimes people get angry and lose their patience when stressed, and there are always going to be looters and scammers preying on the vulnerable. But love outweighs ugliness. People reached out to check on each other. People offered to help—neighbors, friends, even strangers. There were literally people driving around to see who needed help, offering assistance to folks they didn’t even know. It’s so important for those of us who escaped damage to help those who need it.

Helpers even came in from out of town. One friend, still displaced from Hurricane Hermine, brought a whole crew in from Cedar Key to help for a few days. Other friends had grown children visiting who, once they had finished helping their own parents, were willing to stay on to help anyone else who needed it.

One food truck offered to cook up their stored food and give it away, thinking that they would provide a free service only for a few hours until supplies ran out. But then more and more people kept coming, donating food to be prepared and given away! This went on for at least 10 hours, and then started up again the next day.

One group sprang quickly into action to organize a fundraiser for first-responders who had themselves lost their homes to disaster.

The stories go on and on. Politics and petty things that usually divide us were forgotten. People’s kindness is astonishing. I saw one fortunate business owner—who survived unscathed—offer to pay the next month’s rent for the less fortunate business next door who flooded and would need some time to recover.

My faith in humanity has been restored.

10. Anticipating the storm, weathering the storm, and then the very next day dealing with a terrifying pet emergency (which, I’m very happy to report, looks like it’s going to have a happy ending), was an emotional roller coaster ride that left me as drained as if I had battled a bad case of influenza. But the best feeling of all (right up there with relief!) is gratitude.

I’m grateful that we made it through the storm with no loss of life, no serious injuries, much less destruction of property than we could have had, great plans that were executed to perfection by the authorities, bonds between neighbors strengthened, hope and determination restored.

I know soon we’ll all “get back to normal,” and we’ll start bickering over nonsense again, but for now, I’m grateful for all the good things that have come out of this storm.

I’ve heard a few people complain about it taking too long to restore electricity, or how city officials aren’t doing everything exactly right (if there is room for improvement, could we just work on that rather than gripe about it?). I reminded one guy that the storm could have been worse. And he said, yea but it could have been better!

But focusing on the negative is a choice, and I’m not willing to go there with the complainers. I choose gratitude.

Category : Blog &Events Posted on October 12, 2016

4 Comments → “Ten Things I Learned From a Hurricane”

  1. Karen Ball
    1 year ago

    Well said, Julie.
    Good tips about the dishwasher and washing machine too.


    • Cynthia Pennington
      1 year ago

      Julie- this was a very good overview of my same experience- Although, us being on A Street we put almost everything we owned upstairs with exception of furniture. We we so fortunate to receive no damage. Yes to the prepardness and yes to it being just “Stuff”. Drove to Marineland noticed coming North that it was less organic piles by the road and more stuff. So heartbreaking!


  2. Marie Turnbull
    1 year ago

    Nice Job Julie – This community really does pitch in and stay strong #staugustinestrong


  3. Deb Eveson
    1 year ago

    Beautiful – I hope you don’t mind if I share the blog. I thought it was so well stated and shared some important thoughts that others should also be able to consider.


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