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 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:
A friend of mine in Sarasota buys a couple pieces of sod to put in her garage. It gives her dogs a safe place to tinkle.— Samra Jones Bufkins MJ, APR (@Samjb) August 3, 2019
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.
Have real paper maps so when you evacuate we can take back roads. Our smartphones did us virtually no good. Literally saved us hours both evacuating and returning.— Scott Diller (@dillercpa) August 1, 2019
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:
Hold on to your wig and hope for the best ☔⛈🌧— Barb Muntges (@thesweetbaboo) August 2, 2019
What questions do you have about the Tampa Bay area or Florida?
Fill out the form below or email your inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Here are some ideas if you need inspiration:
- What actually happens to your recycling? We toured a Tampa Bay plant to find out.
- UT’s distinctive minarets loom over the city of Tampa’s skyline. A reader wondered: Why?
- Bearss? Wimauma? Masaryktown? Here’s how to pronounce the tricky names around Tampa Bay.
- How does downtown Tampa’s SunTrust building light up at night?