Hurricane Preparedness: The Come On Irene Edition

So, just about this time last year, I wrote a post on preparing for Hurricane Earl, which decided to fall apart well before reaching us and was not much more than a thunderstorm when it arrived in New England. I started preparing for Irene mentally on Tuesday night and physically on Wednesday morning, with a trip to the local Target for storm supplies. Everyone else in the store was shopping for sugary cereals and back-to-school supplies, and I felt almost furtive sneaking through the store and filling my cart with toilet paper, cans of soup, packaged non-perishables, and a cartload of gallons of water. I felt like I was preparing for an apocalypse that only I knew was coming. In reality, I was just a few days ahead of the rush. For which I am terribly thankful!

Let’s look at last year’s hurricane preparedness list and add a few updates for this year. This list can also be used for winter storm preparedness, so I think it’s convenient as a reminder for myself as well as a memory-jogger for anyone else preparing to batten down the hatches for a big storm.

  • Milk, eggs, bread. The milk and eggs will quickly cease to be useful if the power goes out for more than a little while, but the bread can be put to good use  in peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. This is more of a precaution in case utilities are intact but the roads are impassable, and you can hold a French toast party to pass the time.
  • Toilet paper. You’ll be sad if you run out. I actually was running out — down to the last two rolls! — so it was time to buy anyway. I always buy the largest package I can manhandle, so my last TP shopping trip was this past May.
  • Canned soups and stews. We have a gas grill with a gas side burner, so I know I can cook anything that I would normally be cooking on the stove, I just have to do it outside. If we lose power for a few days, I can still make canned soups and packaged skillet meals and feel human. Yay skippy! I didn’t even get boring soups — I got some New England Clam Chowder, some Maryland-style Crab, and chicken with dumplings.
  • Instant coffee. No one’s ever mentioned instant coffee to me in conjunction with storm preparedness, but it makes no end of sense to have a small jar on hand. As long as you have good hot water running or the ability to boil it (aforementioned gas grill burner), you can get some sort of coffee-like substance in to your system, which for many, including most Greater Boston twentysomethings such as myself, is imperative. I still have the same jar of Folgers crystals from last summer, like a talisman.
  • Shelf-stable cans of tuna salad, chicken salad, and crackers. It isn’t awesome, you won’t feel stuffed after eating it, but it’s food, and it will carry you through in a pinch if you run out of peanut butter.
  • Anything that can be grilled. Even if we lose power, we’ve got a grill and two fresh canisters of gas, so we can have steaks or barbequed chicken or grilled vegetables or whatever. As part of your storm preparation, check to see whether it’s time to get a new tank for the grill!
  • Bottled water: Two surprise instances of losing potable water to the house last spring have led me to be absolutely nuts about having enough water stored away in the basement to keep a Roman legion on its feet. Emergency management officials recommend having 1 gallon of water per adult per day on hand. For example, ten days of water for two people is twenty gallons, plus water for infants and pets. We currently have 13 gallons in our dining-room/staging-area.
  • Speaking of pets, you’ve probably got enough canned food and/or kibble on hand to get by, but just in case your kibble bin is looking low, consider stocking up early! Amy has plenty of noms in her kibble bin and we just recently bought a new bag with a coupon. We also have lots of treats for her.
  • And speaking of infants, diapers and jars of baby food should be a part of your staple grocery lists already, but having extra on hand in case of an emergency never hurt anyone; they’ll be used up eventually.
  • Batteries for radios, flashlights, and camping lanterns. It didn’t even cross my mind until Friday morning, and I had to do serious hunting to find a large package of D batteries.
  • A medical kit. I don’t think about this so much because both Jim & I are somewhat accident prone, so we keep a large selection of latex-free bandages and a fresh tube of antibacterial ointment in a plastic bin in the bathroom closet that’s designated as the “medical kit,” but storm prep is a good time to check that kit and make sure nothing needs to be replaced or refreshed. A reusable wrap we’ve always had came in handy this morning when I lost my footing in the shower and my elbow came down hard on a window casing. As long as I don’t bend it past 80-100 degrees, it feels okay, but there’s  a very pretty bruise forming.Hurricane Irene injuries at Isle of Skye: 1. 😦

Other things to think about:

  • Try to trim back any tree branches that may have been damaged during other summer storms, or that are simply too close to your home. This can protect both your home and your neighbors’ homes, as well as your vehicles. I noticed that about the time it became clear Irene would be menacing us, all our neighbors got out and mowed and cleaned up the gardens. Jim says it was because they realized it would be their last chances before the yards got saturated with water. Jim also took the time Friday evening to trim our front hedges, which needed the trimming anyway, but did you know that trimming trees and bushes actually makes them more wind-resistant? It makes sense, so there you go. And it makes your house look nicer to boot.
  • Bring any window air conditioning units in if you can! We took out the leaky, older unit in the guest bedroom (won’t be in use for another week anyway) and the newer unit in my office at the back of the house, the room most subject to the winds and driving rains. We left the unit in the front bedroom window, on the sheltered side of the house, and the behemoth in the downstairs window.
  • Secure anything outdoors or bring it inside, if possible. Lawn furniture, lawn ornaments, sheds and outbuildings, tools, toys, trash and recycling barrels, plants, bird feeders, anything loose: batten it down or bring it in. We put as much as we could in the shed Jim and my dad built this spring, and then Jim battened the shed down with ties and other securities. That thing isn’t going anywhere. The grill is tied to the deck as well, in case the predicted tropical storm or hurricane force gusts would be strong enough to push it around.
  • If you have a pool, do what you can to secure and protect it. Leave the cover off as it could be damaged by high winds or flying vegetation and debris. Secure pool and patio furniture.
  • Bring flags in off the front of your house. The pole could snap right off the house, potentially damaging your siding, and at worst be picked up by the wind and tossed through a window.
  • We also took the screens out of the big gallery windows on the front porch. We had to make two from scratch this spring and repair one, and they were big and a pain in the gears. I will cheerfully replace any other screen that gets a tear from a flying pebble or twig — but I drew the line at those ones. With the glass panes shut the front porch is enclosed, and the screens are safely stacked inside.

Those last few points are less pertinent when preparing for winter storms, since the wind in those storms is usually secondary to the amount of snow that’s expected to come down. Up until just this morning, Irene could have reached us as a Category 1 hurricane, but luckily it degraded to a tropical storm even before reaching New York City. Still, tropical storm winds are sustained winds up to 60 mph with gusting winds higher, and when the ground has been saturated by driving rain sustained winds are nothing to shake a stick at (literally). As I write I am watching trees on a nearby property bend in the wind like licorice ropes. If they stay upright through today I’ll be shocked.

Luckily, our section of the coast is in a deep, protected bay, and winds and even waves may be less intense here than along coastal areas fronting the ocean (such as Nantasket, which is across the bay from us and protects us from the brunt of major storms). The storm surge along the outer coasts is still a threat, and will remain so through tonight’s (unfortunately astronomically) high tide, but our bay is a bit more protected, thankfully, and some emergency repairs have recently been done on our local sea wall. However, after the downpours of March 2010 when our basement flooded at the high tides, we’ve become paranoid about our basement. Thursday night Jim worked hard to get the basement cleaned and items placed well off the floor. On Saturday morning, very early, we took ourselves to our local DPW yard to pickup an allotment of FREE SANDBAGS that were being distributed to coastal residents. We couldn’t get enough to sandbag every doorway and basement window, so we decided to fill the doorway to the back part of the basement, which I call the cellar part, where the water entered the last time there was flooding. Jim has plugged the offending hole with some silicone-concrete mix that came in a tube gun, but sandbagging too wouldn’t hurt. Then, yesterday afternoon, Jim was at the local home improvement box store and found a device that, when it detects moisture, emits a piercing tone to alert you to flooding. I think he placed that in the basement in a low spot just beyond where he sandbagged. He also got one for our friends in Rhode Island, so much closer to the brunt of the storm and the storm surge.

  • Cell phones, flashlights. Although the cell phones will stop being useful about 12 hours after the power goes out. Make sure you have fresh batteries for the flashlights on hand as well.
  • A back-up generator. Normally I’d say this is going overboard, but in some instances it could be imperative. Friends of ours have a sump pump in their basement which is overactive on normal days, and any prolonged loss of power would naturally result in a flooded basement for them. A small generator will keep that pump going and, hopefully, their basement dry no matter what happens.
  • A hand-crank radio. Mostly this is useful in areas of the country affected by tornados, because real-time tracking is essential to survival. In our area of the country and in the situations we find ourself in, the hand radio becomes a simple lifeline to the world and source of entertainment if the power goes out. Because these are so darn useful, we picked up a combination hand-crank/solar powered AM/FM radio with 7 NOAA weatherband stations AND cell phone charging outlet.
  • Check with your local DPW — if you live near a water feature, they too may be providing residents with free sandbags. We figure if we get an allotment every time they’re offered, eventually we’ll have enough to sandbag the whole house. All we had to do was show a driver’s license with our local address, and our allotment of 10 sandbags was free and loaded in to the back of Jim’s SUV by two hard-working, good-natured men at the DPW.

And finally:

  • Books! I will gleefully batten down in my little beach cottage as long as there is a pile of literature to hand. Preferably something dreary that plays on the isolation you will feel while burrowed away. I am working through a biography of Abigail Adams right now and have my usual stack of murder mysteries nearby. I almost went out and got Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, knowing what a classic of the genre it is, but when I got to the bookstore and started looking at it it just wasn’t catching my imagination. Abigail and Death at Sandringham House were at home and calling my name pretty loudly, so I left without buying anything.
Irene and her winds are here. I was saddened to see the destruction experienced by our friends and neighbors in the Delmarva area, particularly beautiful Lewes and Ocean City (I assume the beach at Cape Henlopen has experienced some fierce erosion in this storm), and down in to Assateague, and I’m equally glad to have heard from acquaintances in NYC this morning that all is well, given the circumstances. Some friends in Long Island I haven’t heard from yet, so I’m hoping they’ll pop up on Facebook and let us know they’re alright before too long. It’s 2 PM and we even still have power — I think we might even survive the day.
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