What did you learn from Hurricane Ian for next time? | Editorial
Tampa Bay’s close brush with Ian gives us all a chance to plan for the next one.
The causeway to Sanibel Island — the only way to drive there — was made impassable by Hurricane Ian.
The causeway to Sanibel Island — the only way to drive there — was made impassable by Hurricane Ian. [ WILFREDO LEE | AP ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Oct. 3, 2022|Updated Oct. 3, 2022

Are you ready for the next one? Mother Nature doesn’t care that Florida is still recovering from Ian. Hurricane season has eight weeks to go, and Tampa Bay residents can use their recent preparations as a personal dress rehearsal for what worked — and what still needs work. With Ian fresh in our minds, make a list for next time. It could be much sooner than we all wish.

First, were you safe? Did you have adequate time to put up hurricane coverings and secure your home? Make a note of how long it took for next time. Did you have the necessary tools and wing nuts and the like? Or did you have to make trips to Home Depot at the last minute? Is everything in a place where you can easily find it for next time — and labeled?

Did you have enough supplies — water, non-perishable food, batteries and gas in your tank or did you have to make last-minute trips only to find empty shelves at Publix and long lines at the gas station? Did you have the necessary medicines on hand? We know someone who had plenty of canned goods but only an electric can opener. Guess who has put “can opener” on the list?

Did you have a “go bag” packed with important documents in waterproof containers — even Ziploc bags will do — and enough personal effects to last a few days if you had to leave in a hurry?

Did you have a plan to stay or go? Know right now under what circumstances you would evacuate and, conversely, when you feel safe staying in your home. Have a good idea what kind of sustained winds your home could likely withstand — does it have roof tie-downs, a secondary water barrier on the roof and rated hurricane coverings for all windows and doors? And if so, would you feel comfortable in 100 mph winds, 120 ... 130? Decide on that now, so if instead of improvising under pressure and making poor decisions, you simply have to execute a plan you’ve already drawn up.

Did you know your evacuation zone? Remember that the zones are only about storm surge, not hurricane intensity. And even if you don’t have to evacuate, think through what kind of storm surge frightens you. Say your home is in Zone D, so it might not evacuate until surge is expected to exceed 20 feet — which is massive. Would you feel comfortable staying there? Decide now.

If Ian had forced you to evacuate, what was your plan? In general, it’s better to flee a few miles rather than several hundred unless you’re able to leave exceedingly early. Otherwise, you are likely to get caught in traffic along with thousands of others who had the same idea.

Do you have a plan if things suddenly get worse? In this time of climate change, hurricanes are strengthening quickly and unexpectedly. Perhaps you’re comfortable sitting through a Category 2 in your home, but what is your plan if it turns into a Category 4 overnight before hitting Tampa Bay? Think that through now.

Do you know where your evacuation shelter is and how you would get there? Have you made plans with friends who might be higher or have better-built housing? It’s better to stay with a friend in a safer location nearby than go to a shelter, which are for safety, but not comfort and convenience.

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If you lost power — and 2.2 million Florida customers did — how did you cope? Would a portable generator be worth the cost and the hassle of maintaining it? And would you have enough fuel on hand to run it? Generators aren’t magic. Depending on their size, they can run a fridge, some fans and lights but not your whole house. Think through how you would use it, and do the math now to figure out what it could run and whether the investment would be worth it.

Overall, collect tips from friends and family. They might have some tricks that you haven’t thought of, and you can share yours with them — and us through our letters portal. Also consult hurricane guides, including the one the Times puts out every year. Avoid rumors and misinformation; find news sources including the Tampa Bay Times that you trust.

And now, while it’s fresh in your mind, make a list of things you wished you had done differently. What supplies did you wish you had? Get them now, at least the non-perishable kind. What things turned out to be less important? Move them down your list. Prepping for and surviving a hurricane is all about setting priorities and keeping a clear head. A list will help keep you organized when you’re frazzled and stressed. It doesn’t make you a doomsday “prepper” to be prepared.

Last of all, look at those photos from Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel and other parts of Lee County and listen to the stories of people who lived through it. Ian came ashore as a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph and a storm surge of up to 12 feet. It was just shy of a Category 5, and is tied with many others as the fifth most powerful hurricane when it made landfall in the United States. Those photos show what it did, and we all know it could have been us here in Tampa Bay. Take a breath, and as you review your list, factor that frightening reality into your decision-making and err on the side of safety.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.