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PostPosted: Thu Sep 14, 2017 10:37 pm 
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Posting this up as a basic overview of preparations for and experiences with Hurricane Irma's impact on my area (Sarasota, FL). If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to pile on.

The potential for Irma to affect my area began to get my attention on Saturday, 02 Sep; about a week before her eventual arrival. Being Labor Day weekend people were busy and not paying it too much mind, but I took the opportunity to top off the tank in my truck and buy a case of bottled water (on top of what I normally have). Over the next few days, as people started to pay more attention to the news, things started to get a bit more interesting.

We're recent transplants to Florida, moving here last Summer, but I've dealt with hurricanes before that made their way further up the Atlantic coast. The thing that makes Florida different is that it's a long peninsula, and because the forecast models couldn't pin this storm down, everybody in the whole state went a little nuts. Non-perishable food, gas, bottled water; all of these things became hard to obtain very quickly. I suppose it is a positive thing that the rush happened early so there was some time to restock before the storm hit, but it was a sight to see. Bread, canned soup, toilet paper, any form of bottled beverage disappeared from store shelves. You would think every living soul was going to lose running water for a month (very few did unless they were on a well and lost power). I ventured out to get some canned food and shelf-stable milk, but didn't really make a habit of going to the stores. People were to the point of filching items out of others' cart when the shelves went bare, and I was not keen on dealing with desperate people. There is something to be said for stocking some shelf-stable items at the beginning of hurricane season, if only to avoid the potential for that kind of scene.

We live several miles inland, which also puts us at about 30' of elevation. This is fairly high up for being close to the coast, and spared us most concerns about flooding. Building codes in Florida have been beefed up over the past couple decades, so many newer homes are now built with concrete block for exterior walls and extra hardware attaching the roof to the building. Between this and hurricane shutters for the windows our house is designed to handle 111 MPH winds, minimum. We decided not to evacuate for these reasons, and also because we still were not sure where the storm was going to impact the most. As late as Thursday, 07 Sep it was expected to be a problem for the East coast of Florida, and we were out of the bulls-eye. The interstates were clogged with people from those areas running North or West for any place other than the Atlantic coast. As it turned out, the forecast would soon change and put the target on the West coast of the state.

In addition to a well-built house, we had a few other advantages. As someone who has been following ZS for a decade, and who spent perhaps a bit too much time in the Boy Scouts (Be Prepared!) I have a large stash of battery-powered lights and radios, rechargeable batteries, and camping gear (water storage, water purification, camp cooking, etc). We also have a 15KW generator fed by natural gas service that will automatically fire 15 seconds after utility power is lost. It is hard-wired to the house via an automatic transfer switch that prevents us from back-feeding current into the utility lines. So after hours of flickering, eventually the lights went out. Pause. The generator roars to life! Pause. The lights flicker back on... and then die again. Crap.

The ensuing ninety minutes is me running around in the rain desperately trying to figure out how to get this infernal thing to actually provide power to the house. It is humming merrily along, just not doing me any good. If I had taken the time to read the labels on my breakers more clearly, I'd have seen the main breaker on the generator itself was in the OFF position, and the panic would have been over sooner. Lesson: Know your emergency equipment well before the emergency, and you will help avoid panic. Keeping a level head in any crisis is crucial, even if the crisis is merely "I'm going to sleep without AC tonight and all of my frozen food will melt."

Once I closed that damned breaker and the house lit back up, the rest of the storm was watching live weather coverage on my PC (those on-the-scene weather guys are nuts) and waiting to see if the storm track would cause it to tear off my roof or simply knock down tree branches. As it turns out, the eye came onshore at the Keys, then again about an hour South of me. It smacked the coastal towns there (Naples, Marco Island) and then began losing steam as it headed North. The size of the storm was such that it covered the state from West to East (FL is as little as 103 miles wide in some areas), and was still blowing things around in the Keys when the eye was past us. The outer bands caused damaging winds in Orlando in the center of the state, and along the East coast up to Jacksonville. Except for Western areas of the panhandle, the entire state of Florida had at least some wind and water damage and power was out to over 6.5 million people at the height of the outage.

Sarasota dodged a bullet; we had lesser winds than most areas so close to the eye of the storm, and we only lost utility power for about 23 hours. Other areas of town are still without power now five days later, but not many considering the damage originally expected.

It is always a good feeling when your preparations bring you through a time of trouble. It is even better to be lucky, but not wise to count on it. Many very laid back folks in this town don't worry too much about hurricanes because a major one has not impacted this area since 1952 (well, before Irma). We got lucky again, but I hope this will lead to more serious preparations in the future. I am also pragmatic enough to know there will be a lot of almost-new generators for sale soon locally. Change is hard for people.

One thing I plan to do differently before the next one (there will be a next one eventually) is to have more redundancy in place. I ordered a power inverter from Amazon in case my generator failed, but it didn't arrive in time because of shipping delays. So naturally, I did not have it when the generator failed. Planning further ahead would have been a good idea.

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 15, 2017 6:22 am 
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I am hearing the lights may be off in the Keys for months in some places as well as the Virgin Islands. You guys got lucky all things considered.

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 15, 2017 7:53 am 
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Thanks for your post and the info! Glad you fared well and it seems like you were pretty prepared. Question, IF the storm had been worse around you (you mentioned waiting to see if the roof was going torn off or just torn branches), what would you have done? I know you can't prepare for everything, but didn't know if it seemed like your main floor was going to take damage if you had a lower level to go to or some plan in place.

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 15, 2017 8:00 am 
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Great write up and thanks sharing!

You mentioned the people getting crazy and even filching things from other people's carts.

That is a mixture of crazy and panic. It is actually IMO one of the real dangers. It seems to have gotten worse with the 24/7 news cycle. It is something to keep in mind pre-hurricane when interacting with people.

Unfortunately after the hurricane you get more crazy but it is a combination of desperation and crazy. Especially for those without power, the heat a post hurricane stress will pose different issues.

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 15, 2017 8:26 am 
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Stercutus wrote:
I am hearing the lights may be off in the Keys for months in some places as well as the Virgin Islands. You guys got lucky all things considered.

Absolutely. Unless a tree went across lines or a water main broke, there was no real impact to infrastructure here. People are grousing at the idea that it could be two weeks in isolated areas to restore power, but the fact that there are still homes to which to restore the power is taken for granted. My wife has kin that live(d) on St. John in the USVI. She and her sons are living in NC now, for months if not longer. Their house survived (first floor flooded), but so much of that island was destroyed that they can't go back home for a long time.

Ellywick wrote:
Thanks for your post and the info! Glad you fared well and it seems like you were pretty prepared. Question, IF the storm had been worse around you (you mentioned waiting to see if the roof was going torn off or just torn branches), what would you have done? I know you can't prepare for everything, but didn't know if it seemed like your main floor was going to take damage if you had a lower level to go to or some plan in place.

Florida has a high water table. There are no basements, because they would constantly flood. We have several interior rooms in the house that have no windows and have at least two exterior concrete walls. I set one of those up as a shelter of last resort with water, tarps, blankets, lights, etc. If the roof had failed, we would have sheltered there as well as possible until the wind died down, then bugged out to better shelter. I honestly don't think we'd have had catastrophic failure for anything short of a Cat 5 going overhead, but I like fallback plans. Fortunately it was not something I had to test out.

raptor wrote:
Great write up and thanks sharing!
You mentioned the people getting crazy and even filchinh things from other people's carts.

That is a mixture of crazy and panic. It is actually IMO one of the real dangers. It seems to have gotten worse with the 24/7 news cycle. It is something to keep in mind pre-hurricane when interacting with people.

Unfortunately after the hurricane you get more crazy but it is a combination of desperation and crazy. Especially for those without power, the heat a post hurricane stress will pose different issues.

Thank you! Indeed, I know that fear sells and these news outlets (especially the national ones) thrive on all the eyeballs this puts on their ads, but I don't know if it is a net benefit for all the panic it causes. It's great when people think ahead and prepare for trouble, but not when they are willing to step on someone else for fear that they will miss out on the last (insert something here they don't normally bother with, but feel like they need one for a hurricane).

I heard one of my FL native friends tell me that hurricanes don't scare Floridians; until they remember that no power means no AC. :lol:

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