Trial by Fire

Well, we are mostly packed up and the family is ready for our big move to coastal North Carolina to start my new job at the Duke University Marine Lab! And it seems like we might be greeted with southern hospitality by Hannah. My first time living in the south and we are immediately confronted by Storm World. That's just Faaaaaaaaaantastic...

Since I will be temporarily living on one of the barrier islands, I may not even be able to get to our new home to unpack and hunker down. They shut the bridge down if winds exceed 60 mph. I even need to get a "hurricane pass" which allows me onto the island in the event there is a mandatory evacuation. So I guess its apparent to me now I am moving to hurricane country. I know several readers are hurricane survivors. What the heck do I do if it makes landfall when we move there?? Its a bit surreal to me. Although I grew up in Iowa and am very used to tornadoes, hurricanes seem much more frightening to me. We used to BBQ, slam down Icehouse and watch the tornadoes form, move a little and disappear. Touch-downs in suburban/urban areas were much rarer during the time I grew up and area where I lived. Hurricanes seem to just destroy everything in a wide path. Water damage sucks. Seriously it does.

What are some of your hurricane experiences?

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I grew up in the Bahamas and had a direct hit from Andrew (180mph+)in 1992 where I saw our car lifted! It was always pretty cool as a kid though, to scour the beach afterwards to look at all the wierd stuff that washes up esp the sponges and associated fauna.

During Francis in 2004 we had 27 hours locked inside with no electricity and 1/2 hour window in the middle when the eye passed over to get some fresh air - make preparations to keep sane! Radio, portable dvd player, cards ect.

Francis and Jean almost made me late for starting university that year and now I'm starting my PhD it seems we have a tripple whammy headed this way - great. Basically keep'em in mind when making summer plans.

Wow. I can only imagine. I remember Andrew very well because I was old enough then to understand what was happening. I remember seeing the images from the news and seeing people devastated and homes (mostly trailer parks) ripped to shreds.

So I guess I should plan vacations OUT of the south during hurricane season?

Don't let it get to you. Above all, don't admit that it might get to you. Natural disasters can have interesting aftereffects:

When the '89 Northern California earthquake hit, a delegation of my engineering group's customers were just disembarking from an airplane in the San Francisco airport. The next day, we gave them a several-hour, detailed presentation of what we were building for them, while my colleagues popped in and out of the meeting to attend to contracting repairs for broken foundations, walls, chimneys, and/or windows in their homes. (I was extremely lucky to have lost only a few fancy glasses; my husband had even gotten home in time to rescue the fish "beached" on the carpet from the aquarium tsunami.)

The general conclusion of the meeting was that we were on track to deliver what we'd promised. The unspoken conclusion was that if we could take that kind of an earthquake in stride, we could deliver damn near anything. They basically gave us a blank check to continue the work.

Don't worry too much: hurricanes are easy to prepare for and, depending on where you live, easy to work around.

The key is to make sure you have supplies to last a few days if you are staying at home and to evacuate if necessary. It's much better to spend a couple days in a school gym sleeping on a cot than climbing onto countertops to avoid flood waters.

There are just a few things to watch out for. The biggest problem is usually debris carried by the winds. Even if people clean up and tie down their stuff, there are still plenty of branches to break windows and hurt people. Next is flooding, either from ocean swells or rain water. Depending on your area, it should be able to handle the rain, but in the event that you are flooded for either reason there is assistance available from FEMA and (hopefully) your homeowners insurance. Flooding is inconvenient, but manageable. Tornados are the smallest source of damage, but probably the most destructive. There's very little you can do about them, as you know, so just be prepared if one comes your way.

Finally, know that those of us in the SE like to have hurricane parties much like your tornado parties. Just always stay safe and don't get so drunk you couldn't get to safety if necessary.

Congrats on the new gig, Kevin -- somehow I'd missed the news!

In all seriousness, Gordon and Nick are right in that it's easy to prepare for these things. Unlike tornadoes, there's usually lots of warning time beforehand. Figure on a week of water/food, minimizing things that need to be refrigerated or frozen. Make sure your grill's tank is filled or that you've plenty of charcoal. There's half-a-dozen websites with these shorts of checklists that you can find on your own.

I was at VIMS when Isabel came through Tidewater Virginia in 2003, then down here in Florida for Wilma. What I found was that Floridians are used to these storms, so they don't panic as much as the Mid-Atlantic folks, but also the land and vegetation was used to these storms too -- the problem with Isabel was all the old-growth trees that had weakened over time, but hadn't had any storms yet to take them out. The infrastructure damage to power- and land-lines from those trees is what caused the two- to three-week delay in restoring electricity and reopening roads. On the bright side, at least you don't have 200' old-growth oaks down on the Outer Banks. Heck, they even had to bring in special chainsaws to deal with those.

Long and short of it? Get stocked up, get somewhere safe (preferably with good friends), turn on the radio, and open that bottle of Goslings. Just be forewarned that good ginger beer is hard to find in North Carolina!

By FishGuyDave (not verified) on 02 Sep 2008 #permalink

Hey Kevin,
Welcome to Duke! You're going to love the Marine Lab and Cindy Van Dover. Sorry about the weather, but that's the price you pay for working on a gorgeous beach, I guess. Here at the Duke mothership in Durham, it rains like hell for 12 hours and some trees break, but at least there's no storm surge.
(PS - Add "cash" to your list of survival gear. Blackouts kill ATMs too.)

So when is Craig going to do a stint at Duke? Or does he already have some credentials from there? As a Duke grad myself, I can't say that it is a bad thing, but with Peter and now Kevin submerged in Duke culture, how will the March Madness basketball pool shake out at DSN?

As for hurricanes, don't run inland too quickly. Sometimes the hurricanes like to run to Durham too, leaving you better off sheltering in place on the coast.

We've been through two hurricanes on land and one at sea, plus multiple other severe storms. The sea experience is probably irrelevant to you, so I'll describe the land storms. First, our son was born two days before Supertyphoon Bart hit Okinawa. We hunkered down with him and my mother who had just flown in before the storm. Fierce winds knocked the power out for just a few hours, but barely shook the house - they make them strong over there. It was the worst when the newborn wouldn't stop screaming and ended up with a high fever and no way for us to get to the hospital, even though the nurse on the phone (yep, phone lines stayed up) insisted he needed to get to an emergency room. We managed to cool him off and he was fine later, but it was very scary. The military makes you prepare so we were good to go as far as supplies went. After the storm passed, we had to stay in until things were cleared up, but it wasn't too bad. The second storm was Isabel. By the time it hit us, it had calmed a bit and our neighborhood got off easy. We didn't even lose power. But that storm absolutely devastated the area where it came ashore.

Best advice: bring all outdoor stuff inside or tie it down securely; have food and water supplies for a few days; have flashlights, radio, batteries, etc. in case the power goes out; and have a way to entertain yourself (which can be tough if you're used to computer and television). I'd also suggest making sure your car has a full tank of gas. In one recent storm where we live now, power was out for a week and the gas stations couldn't pump. Nearest supplies were an hour away (if you could figure a way past the downed power lines), so if you were low on gas it was a problem. And whatever you do, don't go out into a hurricane to watch it. Two foolish souls were lost in Okinawa when they were washed off the seawall during Bart. Plus, there is the danger from flying debris.

Horray! My husband is a Duke grad, and I've been completely indoctrinated. I probably love the basketball even more than he does. Congrats to you on the new job.

I'm originally from Wisconsin, so I know the tornado stuff, too. But we're in Virginia now, and lived through hurricane Isabel and tropical storm Gaston. They both sucked, especially Gaston, which flooded everything.

The most important thing for us was having enough water to drink and to wash. I think they tell you to fill the bathtub up before the storm hits so you can use that to wash if you get desperate. It's not the greatest idea to have a tub full of water sitting there if you have a little kid around, though.

I'd make sure to have good camping lanterns, a battery-operated radio, a full pantry, and coolers full of ice. Also a good idea to have a charcoal grill, in case your power is out for days and you really need a hot meal. Once the storm hits, the refrigerated section of your local grocery store will be completely empty and dark (a serious post-apocalyptic vibe), so buy some kind of grillable food beforehand (if you're able to keep it frozen/cold, of course).

If you really are moving down there this weekend...? That really is bad timing. I think Hanna is even supposed to effect us here in central VA, so way down there in the Outer Banks and beyond/below, things will not be pleasant. You can always stop off and stay with us until the storm passes. :-)

I have fond memories playing hookey on a farm in Creedmoor (20 min from Durham) after Hurricane Dennis in 1999. But, if I hadn't stocked up, I probably would have been in trouble.
Keep cash on hand and the gas tank half full. You should probably stop in Durham if the storms are impending. Good luck. Send pictures!