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A new dictionary of phrases for Florida storm survivors

Random thoughts after the departure of Hurricane Jeanne.

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We Floridians are developing a whole hurricane lexicon. Outsiders wouldn't understand us, but we know what we mean:

"Hunker down." The dictionary says that "hunker" means "to squat." Bah! It means to hide from a storm in the strongest dang building you can find.

"Got any juice?" We're talking electricity, not OJ. And if we don't have it, we're going to be cranky. Leave us alone.

"Shutters" aren't those useless decorations that hang beside our windows. They are big sheets of plywood or metal we put over our windows before the storm, take down and store after the storm, and put up again a week later. We're sick of this.

"We're in the cone." Meteorologists at the National Hurricane Center, when attempting to forecast the track of a hurricane, account for differences in the computer models' predictions and for the storms' wobbles by drawing the forecast track as a cone rather than a line. What we have learned from this year's unpredictable hurricane season is that if your location is "in the cone" now, it may not be eight hours from now. We've also noticed that every TV news station seems to draw its own version of the Hurricane Center's cone, and the versions don't always match. This is no help at all.

"It's time for the update." That would be the Tropical Update on the Weather Channel at 50 minutes after every hour. Yeah, I know you knew that already.

"How did you make out?" Hint: This has nothing to do with kissing.

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There's just no explaining the behavior of some people before a hurricane.

For example, told by authorities that they should pick up anything in their yards that could fly around in a storm, people collect the old lumber, concrete blocks, fence posts, pieces of metal, irrigation pipes, etc., that have been piling up in their back yards for a long time. And where do they put that stuff? Beside the curb _ where it can become airborne and crash not only into their own houses, but into the cars and homes of their neighbors.

Do your neighbors a favor the next time a storm threatens: If you have debris like that in your yard, secure it in your garage or even inside your house, rather than leaving it beside the curb. We have concrete roof tiles for deadly missiles. We don't need any more.

Here is another thing that mystifies me.

The supermarkets understandably turn into madhouses the day before a hurricane's arrival, but I wonder about the grocery lists of some of the customers. For example, before the recent storms I observed people with carts laden with fresh meat. Lots of it. I can't help wondering what they will do with that stuff when the power goes out, perhaps for days.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, I chatted with a young couple in the express line who had their entire hurricane food supply in their hands: one bottle of water, a box of granola bars and a bag of Cheetos. I wouldn't want to be at their house about 12 hours into a 24- or 48-hour storm event.

I would bet that some of those people who drive around during the height of storms have run out of granola bars and are searching for real food.

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Jeanne was a scary storm all right, but what was really frightening was U.S. 19 without functioning traffic lights.

After the worst of the storm had passed Sunday evening and darkness had fallen, people emerged from their shelters and took to U.S. 19 in droves. The scary part: The power was out along many sections of the highway, so neither street lights nor traffic signals were working.

That didn't slow down U.S. 19 motorists, though. They zoomed along, right through even the major intersections.

It's the law, folks. If a traffic light isn't functioning, you treat it like a stop sign. Stop, look both ways and take your turn.

Another scary sight: families out walking through storm-ravaged neighborhoods in the dark. I even saw children splashing in puddles in the street. If it is dark, you may not be able to see the fallen power line that has electrified the puddle of water or the cracked tree limb about to crash down onto the sidewalk. We need to be as careful about our safety after the storm as we have been while it was under way.

Diane Steinle can be reached via e-mail at steinlesptimes.com.

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