Things I Wish I Knew Before my First (4) Hurricane(s)

Hurricane Wilma – Fort Lauderdale by LM Burton
Palm Beach Zoo - Hurricane Frances
Palm Beach Zoo – Hurricane Frances

Hurricane season is right at our doorstep.  I wanted to compile some of the things we learned in 2004 & 2005.  I wish I knew these things before the storms.

I worked in West Palm Beach at the time and lived in Fort Lauderdale and as anyone who was down here during these hurricane seasons will tell you it was a trying time.

In  September 2004 we were hit by Hurricane Frances which according to FPL left 1,715,400 addresses out of power in 6 counties. Frances had an eye that was reported to be 70 miles wide.  Hurricane Jeanne visited a little more than 2 weeks later, this time leaving 2.6 million homes and businesses in the dark, some had not gotten power restored from Frances yet.   The following August Hurricane Katrina found us as a Category 1 and went onto become disastrous for the Gulf Coast.  Last and certainly not least was Wilma which arrived in late October 2005. This huge storm affected virtually all of South Florida.  I hope that you find this information helpful, for us this was BC (Before Child), but I think much of what we learned will be helpful for families.

Below you can find the list that the National Hurricane Center website recommends.  Everyone of them is important so make sure you have them.

  • Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
  • Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape  Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Manual can opener for food
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger

Okay so here are some things that we didn’t think about before 2004.  For some of the storms I mentioned above we went many weeks without power or water.

Make sure you have plenty of cash.  No power means no ATM’s and certainly no stores can use plastic either. Many gas stations and Publix Stores have generators, but there will still be no way to use credit or debit cards.  I remember after one of the storms  a local Duffy’s managed to open.  It was the best meal I had ever had. (We just ate whatever they served us). Of course, cash was required!

Hurricane Wilma – Fort Lauderdale by LM Burton
Hurricane Wilma – Fort Lauderdale by LM Burton

A Bathtub full of water and a bucket.  Scrub your bathtub out as well as you can and fill it with water. I forgot to do this during Wilma and boy was I sorry!  We had no water for about 2 weeks.  No water, means no way to flush the toilette.  If you have this extra water you can pour a small bucket of water into the toilet bowl and force it to flush itself.  You can also carry buckets of this water to the kitchen sink to wash dishes or use it for sponge baths.

Paper plates, paper cups and plastic utensils. Normally, we wouldn’t use these items, however if your water is out, you won’t want to waste what precious water you do have on dishes.  Also remember that after a storm there are often boil water orders because of flooding and contaminated water, so even if do have water, you may not want to use it on anything you eat off of anyway.

Freeze as much water as you can.  I didn’t figure this out till much too late!  You can fill Tupperware containers, bottled water, and even gallon jugs with water and freeze it to keep coolers cold.  A couple of frozen 1 gallon jugs set inside your fridge can help keep food for a bit longer.  You can also drink it as it melts.  Friends of mine say they even use zip lock bags.  If you lay them flat they freeze flat and take up less room.  I remember being so hot when the ice ran out that I would have given anything for an ice cold drink of water.  Bags of ice cubes melt quicker than blocks of ice do.

I know the guides all say 1 gallon per person per day, however I know that when it is hot we get through more than that. Don’t forget you will need to brush your teeth with it too!  The more water the better.

Hurricane Katrina - Pompano Beach by R. Mackenberg
Hurricane Katrina – Pompano Beach by R. Mackenberg

You need bug spray and sun screen.  It is usually desperately hot with clear sky’s after these storms and you will probably rather be outside in the shade than inside.  All the water from the storm means that the mosquitoes will be in full force, so be ready to protect yourself.


Get a battery operated Carbon Monoxide detector.  Sadly, there are always cases of fatal and non fatal carbon monoxide poisoning after hurricanes caused by generator fumes.  Even if you don’t have a generator, your neighbors might, so be careful and take precautions. The National Center for Environmental Health published a paper on the numbers in Florida for the 2004 storms.  These detectors are very inexpensive and can save lives.  Foundation like the Caitlin Brondolo Foundation are great resources for more information on this topic.  It is one that hits pretty close to home for me and our family friends the Brondolo Family.

Get the right food.  We were so desperate for fresh food and cold drinks.  The usual hurricane fare will keep you alive, but it won’t make you happy!  Peanut butter, crackers, Easy Cheese, trail mix and water get old fast.  A Camping Stove or a Barbeque Grill can be used to boil water for Mac & Cheese or heat canned soup.

Don’t forget that the heat outside can dehydrate you quickly, especially if you are out cleaning up the neighborhood.  Juice boxes  (can also be frozen ahead of time) and work well in conjunction with water to provide electrolytes. I like the ones that have veggies in them, just for a little extra nutrition.

Individual fruit and applesauce cups don’t have to be refrigerated and though we don’t normally eat these, they are extremely welcome after a storm.  Individual sized box milk and things like Earth’s Best Organic Fruit Yogurt Smoothies  do not require refrigeration and freeze well before the storm too.  (Again, these can be frozen ahead of time, are you getting the idea that I like frozen stuff?) A big bag of apples and oranges seem to last longer in the heat than any other fresh fruit, so I now make sure that they are on my supply list.

Shop early. Many years ago, I remember waiting to the last moment to shop for hurricane supplies. The only cans left on grocery store shelves were some sort of Dinosaur spaghetti, they were disgusting. When the storm missed us we were faced with giving them away or eating them ourselves. If you shop early, then you are guaranteed to get the kinds of things your family will actually eat.  In addition you will also avoid major long lines and frustrated people in parking lots.

Hurricane Shutters and candles do not mix. advises to “Avoid using open flames (candles and kerosene lamps) as a source of light. Flashlights provide the safest emergency lighting source. Between 1984 and 1998, candle-related deaths from home fires following hurricanes were three times greater than the number of deaths related to the direct impact of the hurricane. Kerosene lamps require a great deal of ventilation and are not designed for indoor use.”  Remember to remove your hurricane shutters immediately following a storm because these shutters make emergency exit from home difficult, if not impossible.

Heat up water in your garden hose.  It sounds silly, but when it is so hot both outside and inside your house, the shower water (if you are lucky enough to have water) feels really cold and can be almost shocking. Coiling a water filled garden hose in the sun will give you enough water for a sponge bath that will still cool you off, but not give you the shivers.

Don’t expect to use the phone.  After both Francis and Wilma landlines did not work and cell towers were damaged so calling out was difficult at best.  What seemed to work best was to use text.  It sometimes took awhile, but texts seemed to get through eventually.

Fill it up.  Charge your phones, your laptops, Leap-Pads and Game Boy type devices, and well, anything you can before the storm. Make sure your cars are full of gas too.  After Francis and Jeanne gas was difficult to get, not because there wasn’t any, but because there was no power at the gas stations for the pumps to work.  We planned on recharging our phones with our cigarette lighter in the car, but as it turns out, our cigarette lighter port only works if the car is running (which uses up precious gas). Many gas stations have since put in generators, so hopefully that situation will be different in the future.

Fort Lauderdale-Hurricane Katrina - Lisa Magnes Burton
Fort Lauderdale – Hurricane Katrina – Lisa Magnes Burton

There may be a curfew.  After all the storms we had, driving was difficult and dangerous.  There were trees, poles and wires down everywhere.  Make sure that you do not drive over live wires, standing water (unless you are certain you know how deep it is) and be courteous to other drivers.  When lights at intersections don’t work they must be treated as 4 way stops.  All those lessons we had as preschoolers about taking turns really come into play in this situation.  Everyone is usually asked to stay off the streets after dark until the streets are completely cleared and power and lights are restored.

Backyard camping.  If you have a tent or a screen room, plan on sleeping outside in it.  With no fans or AC indoors, this is often the best way to get a good night’s sleep.  I talked to a few people who admitted to going and sleeping on the beach.  Not sure if I would recommend spending the whole night there, but the good news is when the lights are out all over the town, the stars are amazing!

Other things I like to have on hand:

    • A battery operated TV during the storm
    • Battery operated fans
    • Solar phone charger
  •  A couple of new games or toys to be strategically given to the kids during and after the storm.

For more information be sure to print out  your local Hurricane Guide and keep it with your supplies.

Printable Hurricane Guide: Broward County, Palm Beach County, Miami-Dade, Monroe County

The Be Red Cross Ready Power Outage Checklist is another great resource.