It’s been a busy hurricane season in the Atlantic.
We’ve had two Category 5 storms so far and the season doesn’t end until Nov 1st.
First there was Irma, who devastated St. Maarten, Barbuda, the Virgin Islands, and several others, skirted past New Providence, and vented her considerable fury on Cuba’s northern shore before slamming full-bore into Florida.
Then there was Maria, who crashed her way through the southern Caribbean – devastating Puerto Rico, St. Croix, Dominica, and a host of other Eastern Caribbean nations.
I’m praying for everyone affected. If you’ve been through the above two hurricane beasts, I hope I do not offend with any of the below, which is a light-hearted account of my experiences in The Bahamas.
If you’d like to help those effected by Irma and Maria, check out ways to donate here. Every bit helps.
When I told people I was moving to the Caribbean, their first response was usually: “But what about hurricanes?”
I couldn’t give them an answer. I had no idea what to expect.
Ten years and six hurricanes later, I’m a bit wiser. Or at least more experienced.
Here are 10 things I never knew about hurricanes until I experienced them firsthand:
1. The anticipation is often worse than the actual storm.
Our worst hurricane was Matthew. It swept through in October 2016, a Category 4, and we were directly in its path.
For days, I was glued to the Weather Channel, listening to how it had chewed up Haiti and was forecast to batter The Bahamas.
Watching that swirl of chaos inch closer and closer was nerve-wracking. So much so that the actual event was an anti-climax. Thankfully.
Sure, the wind was deafening and it was scary to think what was going on outside the shuttered windows, but my imagination had come up with worse.
The lesson here is to prep, not panic.
2. The aftermath is the worst part.
When a hurricane hits, you spend a lot of time sitting in a dark house screaming reassurances to your loved ones over the noise of the wind.
It’s long, boring, and hot.
But the real test comes when the storm has died down.
You head outside to assess the damage, you clean up debris, and then you wait because it will be days, possibly weeks, until normality is resumed.
We were without power, TV, or internet for 9 days after Matthew. It felt like forever. I can only imagine what those in the Caribbean who were hit full force with Irma and/or Maria are dealing with now, knowing it will be months more to come without power.
3. You will hate/love your friends with generators.
By your third day without power, when all the food in the house has rotted and you can’t sleep at night from the heat, you’ll start casting about for a saviour.
That saviour comes in the form of something I like to call FWG.
Friends With Generators.
These knights in shining armour can be prevailed upon to store food, lend you their shower, even give you a spot on the sofa if you’re lucky. You’ll resent them and love them at the same time.
4. You will need alcohol.
Two days before Hurricane Matthew made landfall in The Bahamas, I went to the liquor store to get some beer.
At the counter, a lady was loading bottles of gin, vodka, rum, and tequila into her cart. The cashier looked up.
“Having a party?”
“No man. Hurricane coming!”
Even if you don’t usually drink, you’re going to need a drop of the devil’s water when the rain is lashing the house, the windows are rattling, and it’s too dark to see your hand in front of your face.
5. The shelves really do empty.
As soon as a hurricane warning goes out, people begin to panic-buy.
It’s usually water that goes first, but canned goods, dried foods, and fuel are also popular.
A few years ago, I saw a tussle break out over a packet of lentils.
It’s like the zombie apocalypse, but without the zombies.
6. Animals deal with it better.
In 2012, as Hurricane Sandy raged overhead, I peeked out of one of our unshuttered windows and saw the neighbour’s two dogs running loose in the street.
My first instinct was to go bring them inside but as I watched, they started playing with each other – rolling around in the litter that had blown into the road and gamboling around, enjoying their new freedom.
My own dog was sleeping contentedly downstairs throughout.
I’ve sat through quite a few hurricanes with dogs and noticed that, without exception, it’s the humans who are far more scared.
7. It’s a great time to get to know your neighbours.
Generally speaking, employers will give their employees at least 24 hours before the hurricane hits to prepare.
The day before Matthew, our entire street was outside, putting up boards, tidying away tools, talking, advising, sharing stories, and helping each other out.
Most of them were faces I’d seen every day but never talked to.
It was like a street party, but with the threat of imminent danger and destruction.
8. It builds community.
Similar to the above point, hurricanes have a way of bringing people together.
In the days leading up to it, it’s all anyone can talk about and you find yourself making conversation with people at the bank, at the gym, at the gas station.
Afterwards, everyone wants to compare notes about how they fared. Sure, it’s just small talk with strangers, but it serves a very important function – uniting everyone in the face of a common threat.
And when Sandy and Matthew devastated the other islands in the chain, people on New Providence showed remarkable community spirit – rallying around to get them supplies and help them rebuild.
9. You realise what’s important.
We’ve lost a few bits and pieces during our hurricanes and suffered some property damage, but it was all peripheral.
Many were not so lucky.
Hurricanes have a way of putting things in perspective – a bit of fence, a fallen tree, a smashed window… it can all be repaired/replaced.
10. You realise what the media deems important.
As everyone in The Bahamas was losing their minds over Matthew last year, the majority of the international media ignored us.
Many of my friends/family in Ireland didn’t even realise there was a hurricane approaching. It was only when it looked like it might threaten Florida that the major news outlets started to pay attention.
Lesson learned – what happens in the islands, stays in the islands.
– – –
Those of you who have experienced hurricanes firsthand, what things surprised you about living through them that you may not have known before?
Want to stay connected to the Land of Coconuts?
We'll send you island mail, fresh from the tropics each week.