Before we permanently moved to our island, we’d been here “pre-Ivan.” We’ve since heard the Hurricane Ivan stories, so we knew from reports how devastating a hurricane could be.
Since then, there have been a few times when we thought we might be in the path of a hurricane. I have observed that there is a pattern to hurricane seasons and how islanders react and prepare.
Come June or even earlier, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts among us start stocking their hurricane kits. The local stores and radio stations begin awareness programs and provide a list of things to keep on hand for hurricane season. I am one of the people who follows that advice. I’ve never been a Girl Scout, although I was a Brownie leader, but I like to be prepared. I know possibly two other people who prepare a hurricane kit.
The list of what to stock is quite extensive and includes a water supply of a gallon per day for five days for each person. Check. Several food items, first aid supplies, and cleaning supplies are included, as well as insect repellent and lights/flashlights/lanterns which don’t require electricity. Check. Medications. Check. Cash. Check. (Sometimes). Sealable plastic bags. Check.
The preparedness literature says that everything in this hurricane kit should be packed up and taken with you if you go to a shelter, which leaves me to wonder… How do we get ten gallons of bottled water and five days of canned goods and other assorted supplies, lanterns, medications, paper towels, and toilet paper, all in an easily transportable bag? If the storm is that bad, do I really want to be driving in my small car full of supplies to a shelter? I haven’t had to do this yet, fortunately, so I’m not sure how this works. I really hope to never find out. Imagine if you have a pet and pet supplies to transport as well. Perhaps we should all be doing practice runs to make sure it’s even possible.
Start checking the weather every day. Normally, we don’t check the weather every day because it’s always nice! It is always warm enough to swim, and if we happen to get a rain shower or if there is a breeze, well, yay!
But during hurricane season, we check the weather every day. The neighbors check the weather every day. The neighbors send us reports of every single potential cyclone as it begins to form off the coast of Africa. We become familiar with the potential names for storms and we’ve become very familiar with the difference between a tropical depression, a tropical storm, and all five categories of hurricane. We start to use the word “invest” more. This is not, as you might think, referring to investing our time or money in preparing for a hurricane or for our retirement or our children’s futures. This is “invest” as in “Invest 92” which is possibly a storm that is being monitored before it becomes a tropical cyclone.
Then, we try to stay cool during the hottest and most humid months of the year, complain about the rain or the heat or the humidity or complete lack of any breath of wind. Be careful what you wish for. Sometime during this stage, usually July, you may also “borrow” items from the hurricane kit.
“I thought I had some coconut milk in here. Oh well, let’s just use this out of the hurricane kit. We’ll get some next time we’re at the store and replace it.”
“You need juice for rum punch? Here, I have some in the hurricane supplies. We’ll just restock tomorrow.”
The thing most often borrowed is insect repellent, because at this time of year we always find ourselves using more than expected. Suddenly, the can that lasted all winter is gone, because…rainy season.
It’s important to remember to replace the items you’ve taken from the hurricane supplies, so you don’t find yourself panic buying. (See Stage 6)
As you continue to monitor every little weather system, you may take note that the storms are becoming more frequent and oh, look! That one is going to come dangerously close to my tiny rock! It’s at this time that I can sense the agitation on the island. Really, I can. The neighbors talk about the storm, but also mention that it’s supposed to turn north before it hits us. That’s when the locals talk about Ivan and the fact that Ivan wasn’t supposed to be that big, or a direct hit. The Weather Channel keeps telling us that the storm is not a threat to our islands, but we should continue to monitor it anyway.
At this point, I always find myself on edge, wondering if we really are prepared. Do we have a plan? I check and re-check the supply list. People keep talking about Ivan.
The newest storm is moving very slowly and it looks like it’s coming straight to our island. Everyone starts checking the spaghetti models. I check the National Hurricane Center and the local weather. Half the island’s residents are away on vacation. Half the restaurants are closed for renovation or vacation.
Even though the forecast keeps saying the storm is not a threat, the remaining residents on the island can talk about nothing else. My agitation grows. I continue to curse the bad weather and tell myself that the storm is not projected to come here.
As the storm approaches and works its way through the islands to the east of us, we hear the reports of damage, sometimes devastation. Suddenly there are rumors that the stores won’t be able to get food because the ships won’t be able to come in. Panic buying begins. Some items sell out quickly, and this probably varies by store, depending on the demographic to whom that store caters. Some stores will sell out of all the beans and chickpeas and pigeon peas. Others will sell out of mushy peas, meat, and produce.
At this point, I might find myself feeling a little smug, remembering that I have a hurricane kit and a well-stocked pantry. Then I remember the “borrowing” we’ve done a couple of months ago. I head out a few days before the panic buying begins and replace the missing items. I add a few completely unnecessary items just in case.
The severity of the storm being still uncertain, the neighbors on the main floor start closing their hurricane shutters just to be safe. They are now unable to access their patios, so we only see each other in the parking lot. I review the spaghetti models, and even though the local weather stations are reassuring us that this storm is not a threat, there is always that one model that predicts a direct hit.
I close the hurricane shutters, just in case, find it too dark and claustrophobic, so I open them again. I watch the storm, close them partially, just in case furniture or coconuts might get blown into the windows. Just before I go to bed I take all the important documents, passports, cash, and put it in zip lock bags.
We wake up to find that the storm has taken its predicted turn and passed us by. The weather is still wild and windy, so we can’t do anything outside. Storm shutters are still closed for protection from the wind and sea spray.
No one really wants to wait this out alone, so someone has a storm party.
Some people have the presence of mind to put their outdoor furniture away and put the pool furniture in the pool (Yes, that’s what you should do.) when the winds are unusually strong and direct. No, we didn’t get the hurricane, but that doesn’t mean we won’t get one mother of a storm.
It now feels safe to enjoy the wind and the waves. There is a feeling of relief in the air, combined with the excitement of the storm. Those of us on social media reassure our friends that all is well here and thank them for their concern. We hear from people we thought had forgotten of our existence. There’s nothing like the coverage of a devastating storm and lack of geographical knowledge to inspire concern in old acquaintances. We spend a lot of time outside watching the waves and wind, at least until the weekend is over.
Enter: Survivors’ guilt. Yes, there is that strong sense of “That could have been us.” As reports from other islands pour in of houses destroyed, people missing, utter devastation. Everyone rallies to send supplies and aid, including some members of our police force to help maintain and restore order to some of the less fortunate.
Someone takes the furniture out of the pool. We try to resume normal activities, but honestly, the sea is still wild and so is the wind. We start to wonder… what if we hadn’t been so lucky?
A new small storm system is spotted off the coast of Africa, projected to become a tropical cyclone in the next five days. Here we go again…
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Hurricane season is always such a stressful time of the year. Once November comes to a close, with it comes a sense of relief knowing we can drop our endless vigilance and relax back into our peaceful island lives for a few months until we begin the cycle again.