1. Florida

Floridians shared their most unconventional hurricane tips

Where do you find batteries after all the big stores run out? Where can your dog pee when it’s pouring outside? Seasoned Floridians told us their secrets for getting through storms.
A Panama City man who survived Hurricane Michael spelled out a special message for rescuers flying overhead. Photo by Jennifer Kveglis of SNN. [CRAIG PITTMAN | social media]
Published Aug. 12
Updated Aug. 29
Logo design by Lisa Merklin [LOGO DESIGN BY LISA MERKLIN | Logo design by Lisa Merklin]

Welcome to Florida Wonders, a series where readers submit their questions about the Tampa Bay area and Florida and Times journalists find answers.

This week’s Florida Wonders question actually comes from inside the newsroom. Tampa Bay Times Executive Editor Mark Katches wanted to know: If you could offer one tip to a Florida newcomer to get ready during hurricane season, what would that one tip be?

Mark Katches, Tampa Bay Times Executive Editor. BOYZELL HOSEY | Times [BOYZELL HOSEY | BOYZELL HOSEY | Times]

Have something you’ve been wondering about the Tampa Bay area or Florida? Ask Florida Wonders.

Mark moved to Florida from Oregon at the end of last August and has little experience with hurricanes. He’s familiar with the basics of storm preparation. But what about those life hacks that can only be picked up after going through a hurricane firsthand?

Now that El Niño has faded, scientists are predicting more hurricanes than normal this year. Preparation is key as the season ramps up, especially since 95 percent of Atlantic hurricanes appear between August and October.

We reached out to seasoned Floridians on social media and in the newsroom to find answers. This is not a comprehensive list of everything you need to know — that’s what our hurricane guide is for. But these tips will make a stressful time more amusing and comfortable.

Hold on to your headlamp

By now, you should already have the essentials stockpiled— medications, water, and plenty of nonperishable snacks to get you through the worst.

If you can swing it, a generator will make life a lot easier. But if that’s not possible, stock up on portable chargers and other devices.

Battery-powered fans will save your sanity after the power goes out. With no air conditioning, it will be miserably hot and muggy. A headlamp can also come in handy when it’s pitch black at night. “You’ll look goofy, but it will keep your hands free,” said one of our page designers, Lisa Merklin.

Get batteries now, too — these are some of the fastest items to disappear off shelves when a hurricane is on its way.

“If all the big stores are out of batteries, adult stores and dusty bodegas are your friend,” said reporter Christopher Spata.

Water bottles and jugs fly off the shelves, but you can fill up containers with tap water in a pinch. Buy double the snacks you think you’ll need in case you feel peckish before the power goes out. This is not the time to be hangry. It’s also not the time to give up your vices. Book editor Colette Bancroft recommends stocking up on red wine, which doesn’t need to be refrigerated. Need a beer cooler for an impromptu hurricane party? Use your washing machine.

We should all be cutting down on single-use plastics. But a natural disaster is already a stressful enough time. Cave in and get individually packaged snacks and plastic utensils to make things easier, just this once.

Speaking of plastic...

“Put all your most important things (photo albums, heirlooms, documents etc.) in a waterproof Rubbermaid container," said reader Rachel Knox. "Easy access/no scrambling if you have to evacuate, protected from elements of you choose to ride it out.”

Stock up on board games and other distractions for when the power goes out. Deputy print editor Ellen Clark advises getting a new toy to distract young children.

What about your furry friends?

Columnist Sue Carlton recommends having a list of hotel chains that accept pets before the storm comes.

A reader also swears by this trick:

Safeguard your stuff

Take photos of your home before damage hits, and acquire renter’s insurance if you don’t already have it. Now is also a great time to get plywood or plastic sheets cut to fit your windows.

Health reporter Justine Griffin recommends taking the time to find a safe spot to leave your car — for example, not under a tree in your driveway or a street that’s prone to flood.

Waiting and worrying?

The most stressful part of a storm can be the moments before it arrives. Channel your nervous energy into something productive.

Use this time to catch up on laundry. At least if you lose power or have to escape, you’ll be fresh. Plus you’ll need an empty washing machine for your impromptu beverage cooler if it’s safe to stay.

Fill a bathtub with water you can use to flush the toilets, and freeze bags of water in case you need ice later. Make sure to line your freezer with newspaper to prevent wet bags from sticking.

This is also a great time to prepare the penny test. This simple method will help you know if it’s safe to eat the food in your freezer after a power outage should you choose to evacuate.

Be ready to bounce.

If officials tell you to leave, do it. Fill up your tank as soon as you find out the storm is coming, and keep topping it off for as long as you can. The closer the hurricane gets, the harder it is to find gas.

Keep all the essentials, including cash and important papers, ready in case you need to leave. Your emergency bag should also include a good book, plus bedding and pillows you can use at a shelter.

Speaking of paper, you’ll want to invest in — gasp — actual physical maps.

Tell your aunt to stop texting you.

Concerned relatives from other parts of the country may not understand what a hurricane is like if this is your first season in Florida — especially if they’re watching reports on national news.

“Talk to them before the season starts or ramps up so that they know you’re prepared and so that they are informed, too," said copy editor Ashley Dye. "This cuts down on their anxiety, and yours, and gets them to understand they can’t flood your phone with well-intentioned yet misinformed and ill-timed texts and calls during a storm.”

Remember that hurricanes are serious business. Stay tuned to local news outlets, listen to emergency management officials when they tell you to flee, and if all else fails:

What questions do you have about the Tampa Bay area or Florida?

Fill out the form below or email your inquiries to Here are some ideas if you need inspiration:


  1. The David A. Straz Jr Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa was one of several buildings named for the philanthropist and banker. [DENNIS JOYCE   |   Times] DENNIS JOYCE  |  Tampa Bay Times (2018)
    The David A. Straz Jr Foundation donated more than $33 million to dozens of organizations in nearly 20 years
  2. A sinkhole opened up beneath a phosphogypsum stack at Mosaic's Mulberry plant in 2016, draining 215 million gallons of waste into the aquifer below. Neither the company nor the state Department of Environmental Protection notified the public until a television report revealed what happened. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times (2016)]
    Problem at Bartow plant began in October, but public was given no notice.
  3. In this Thursday, Aug. 1, file photo, Amanda Kondrat'yev, the woman accused of throwing a sports drink at U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz in June outside a town hall meeting, arrives at Winston Arnow Federal Court House in Pensacola, Fla. Kondrat'yev has been sentenced to 15 days in federal custody for throwing the sports drink at Gaetz. TONY GIBERSON  |  AP
    Amanda Kondrat’yev pleaded guilty to assault in August and had faced up to a year in jail.
  4. Dr. Carlyle Luer and his wife Jane  with an orchid in Ecuador, one of the many countries where they searched for the flowers. Luer, co-founder of Marie Selby Botanitcal Gardens in Sarasota, died Nov. 9 at age 97. Photo courtesy of Selby Gardens. Courtesy of Selby Gardens
    Dr. Carlyle Luer gave up a medical practice to pursue his orchid obsession.
  5. Broward County firefighters spent about four hours early on Saturday, battling fires aboard two luxury yachts that caused nearly $20 million in damage. (Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue/TNS) HANDOUT  |  TNS
    When firefighters arrived, the boats were completely engulfed and smoke could be seen for miles.
  6. An analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that two-thirds of Medicare Part D beneficiaries, or about 9 million people who don’t receive low-income subsidies, will see their monthly premium increase for next year if they stay in their current plan. To sort through your options, visit the Times' Medicare guide at or contact Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders, a state program commonly known as SHINE. Contact them at 1-800-963-5337 or MICHELE MILLER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    About 9 million people with Medicare Part D plans will see higher premiums if they don’t make a change before Dec. 7, a new study says.
  7. Check for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    A fourth person killed in the crash was the wrong-way driver.
  8. Alberto Escartin Ramos, 22, faces a charge of felony battery on a sports official. Polk County Sheriff’s Office
    Alberto Escartin Ramos confronted the umpire in the clubhouse after disagreeing with a call, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
  9. FILE - In this Aug. 1, 2019, file photo, Donald Trump Jr. speaks before the arrival of President Donald Trump at a campaign rally at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File) JOHN MINCHILLO  |  AP
    University of Florida student body president Michael Murphy received a resolution for his impeachment Tuesday. Then the state’s Republican Party started an online petition and fundraiser.
  10. Courtesy of Brightline Brightline's Bright Blue passes by the West Palm Beach Station. The rail line has proposed a route between Orlando and Tampa.
    The woman was pronounced dead at the scene, but her name has not been released.