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Left Coast / Right Coast: Hurricanes

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Mike Gold living the dream in the Pacific Northwest. Photo credit: Scott Brown.
Mike Gold living the dream in the Pacific Northwest. Photo credit: Scott Brown.

By Mike Gold, A retired entrepreneur living the dream in the Pacific Northwest.

As we have been viewing two massive hurricanes over the past week or so, I thought I’d write about all the “practical” things one needs to know about living through one.

We lived in Boca Raton Florida – during Hurricane Wilma. That was in 2005, the same season as when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. Wilma made a direct hit on Palm Beach County in which Boca Raton is located.

As a hurricane approaches, the weather forecasters attempt to pin down the storm’s exact path. Unfortunately, that’s not possible. If you looked at the news as Hurricane Irma approaches the U.S., you will see at least a dozen projected paths for the storm along with a cone, which projects all of them inside an outline

Now here are the important things one learns as you live through a number of storms. First, get to the store as many days before the projected arrival as you can. As the storm is about two to three days away, you cannot buy any of the following staples:

  • a. bottled water,
  • b. batteries and flashlights,
  • c. gasoline,
  • d. power generators,
  • e. plywood to fasten over windows, and
  • f. just about anything else you might need during and after the storm.

Our home had hurricane shutters. They are typically steel panels about ten inches high and three to five feet wide. They screw down panel by panel to cover the windows. The only problem is on a large two story home (which we had) it can take a crew of three two days to put them all up. Then another day or so to take them down. Plan on a cost of at least $700 for the job, perhaps more.

Homes built in Florida have screws embedded along the outside of all the windows on which to attach the shutters. As newer homes have what is called 105 mph glass (windows capable of not breaking with winds up to that speed), it is always a gamble whether to put them up or not.

In the six years we lived there, we put them up twice. Hurricane Wilma was not one of them – as the storm was not forecast to be as large as it was when it hit Palm Beach County.

We were lucky as none of our windows broke – even though Wilma had gusts of over 125 mph. Our neighbors swimming pool cover (a structure made of aluminum posts with netting strung between them (to keep out bugs), wound up disintegrating and landing in our own swimming pool.

See it’s not just the wind you have to worry about. Its things becoming projectiles and then breaking a window. During Wilma, we lost over 200 cement roof tiles (each tile weighed about ten pounds) that got ripped off and thrown down to the ground surrounding our home. Those tiles can also become a projectile – which can not only break a window, but could kill a person.

Power: You will lose electricity. That is almost 100% certain. Even though the power cables are buried in most communities, it’s the overhead feeder lines nearby that get cut off.

A typical outage can last two days or more. During that time, you have no air conditioning or refrigeration. So everything in your fridge/freezer will get thrown out. What you want to do is buy canned goods (and remember to have a manual can opener) to live on until power is restored.

Living during the period when the storm strikes: This is the frightening time. You don’t know if your windows and roof will survive. All you can do is hunker down and live it out.

Wilma’s eye passed directly over Boca Raton. When the eye comes over, the wind dies down, the sun comes out and you think: “the worst is over.” Unfortunately, that is not true. You will then get hit with the other half of the storm.

Fortunately, if the storm is moving south to north (typical for most Florida hurricanes), the first or eastern part of the storm has winds about 20-30 mph stronger than the western part. That’s because the winds rotate counter clockwise so you add the speed of the storm to the wind speed on the east side, and subtract storm speed on the west side. That 20-30 mph difference can be the difference between losing windows/roof tiles or not.

All I can say, in summary, is we are glad to not live there anymore. Now all we worry about are earthquakes!

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