Season of 'no excuses' has come

Record-shattering floods in the Midwest. A record-breaking rash of tornadoes all across the country. Wildfires scorching California. And in Aspen, ski slopes have reopened because of a weird June snowfall.

Okay, I get the hint. Nature is running amok. Time to get serious about this hurricane season.

When I moved to Florida in 1984, there seemed to be widespread nonchalance about hurricane season. It came. It went. Yawn.

People didn't make hurricane kits. Couples didn't buy themselves a generator for Christmas. A weather radio? Say what?

That's why, in September 1985, I found myself without even a raincoat when the threatening presence of Hurricane Elena off the west coast of Florida led to the first countywide evacuation in Pinellas history and several days of wind, rain and hard lessons. These days, there is really no excuse not to be prepared for hurricane season.

In the wake of Hurricanes Andrew, Charley, Jeanne, Katrina and others, it seems that every institution in our society leaps to help us prepare. Government, the media, retailers, the health care industry, financial institutions, the construction industry, the insurance industry, nonprofits and our relatives in areas not subject to hurricane winds are there to remind us, "Hey, it's June. Time to get ready!"

With much of the nation struggling under the lash of bizarre weather, perhaps this is a year to be particularly diligent about hurricane preparations, and to do it now, even though the typical peak of hurricane season here isn't until September.

Inventory your supplies. Make a list of what you need. Put a little gas in the car and drive to the closest hardware or building supply store to stock up.

Remember, you can't wait until the storm is here to get ready. Stores will close. Roads will be jammed. Banks and ATMs won't be available. The electricity may go out.

Don't know what you should do? Not to worry. There are lots of ways to find out. One is the Hurricane Guide published by this newspaper. The guide already has been distributed to St. Petersburg Times home subscribers, but you can also find it on the weather page of our Web site, tampabay.com. The guide contains instructions for preparing your home and your family for a hurricane or tropical storm, whether you ride out the storm here or evacuate.

If you have a computer, there is a wealth of information online. Check your local government Web site. City and county governments in Pinellas are boosting the information available on their sites. One of the best is pinellascounty.org. Click on the Hurricane Preparedness link. It will take you to the emergency management Web page, which is loaded with information about how to prepare and what to do if a hurricane strikes.

Also on the county Web site are reminders and instructions about registration procedures if you should need to evacuate to a special-needs shelter or if you want to go with your pet to one of the shelters that allows pets. You should not plan to just show up at those shelters on the day of the storm.

Retailers have created Web sites to help you, too — with, of course, a little advertising on the side. Publix.com/storm, for example, has material on preparing for the storm, weathering the worst of it and then recovering. Similar material is available at homedepot.com/ hurricane and at lowes.com.

I did a lot of preparation work last year, so this year I am just replacing bottled water and outdated food items and batteries. I also decided to buy a weather alert radio this year. It will give an audible alarm, even at night, if dangerous weather is approaching. I still remember that the order to evacuate Pinellas in 1985 came late at night after many people were asleep.

Oh, and my raincoat is hanging in the closet.

Diane Steinle, editor of editorials of the Times in Clearwater and North Pinellas, can be reached at dsteinle@sptimes.com.

Season of 'no excuses' has come 06/21/08 [Last modified: Saturday, June 21, 2008 4:31am]

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