Hurricane Anti-Anxiety Tips
September 11, 2018 5:12 PM   Subscribe

My city, which is nowhere near the coastline, is likely to get slammed by Hurricane Florence. I live alone and am terrified. Help?

The Cone of Danger is slated to pass right overhead, though by the time it gets here it will probably be a tropical storm or tropical depression. I realize that whatever happens to us will be far far less than the Carolina/Virginia coastline. However I've been reading a lot about pre-hurricane winds/tornadoes that can hit well in advance of/alongside the actual storm. Work has already announced that we are closing early on Thursday and will remain closed on Friday. Our main competitor issued a statement urging everyone to leave the area, which ... doesn't exactly help my low-key terror.

Although I've made it through several previous major hurricanes and winter storms (e.g. Floyd, Isabel, Jonas, last year's bomb cyclone, the hellish East Coast windstorm this past March), I was either living with my parents, in college dorms, or in an apartment block with plenty of other people around. This is my first "solo" natural disaster, and I don't totally know what to do.

Things I am afraid of (in decreasing order of severity):
1. Damage to my house. There are two giant oaks on my property, one in front and one in back, along with a host of other trees of varying sizes. I kind of love my house, and I'm just superstitious enough to believe that Zeus is ready to smite me for my hubris/vanity.
2. Damage to my car, ditto as above. No garage, car is parked on the driveway.
3. Extended power/sewer outage from flooding or other damage to infrastructure.

Things I have done:
1. Found a ground floor interior windowless room (actually a walk-in closet) that I can go hide in if needed. (Likely won't be necessary.)
2. Collected all my important documents in one place so I can grab them quickly (again, prob won't be necessary).
3. Moved porch furniture and bike indoors, except for a heavy glider swing I can't move by myself.
4. I have a working flashlight with backup batteries and am planning to keep my phone charged as long as the grid stays up
5. Plenty of non-perishable food (chips and popcorn and canned garbanzo beans!) and am filling up all my water bottles with filtered water.
6. Car tank has about 320 miles on it. No gasoline to be had for love nor money in this town right now.
7. Wine rack contains three bottles of wine and a bottle of mead.

If there's anything I've overlooked in the preparedness arena, please let me know, but what I'm really looking for are ways to quell the fear, especially since yesterday and today have been beautiful sunny not-too-humid days but with an undercurrent of RUN.
posted by basalganglia to Grab Bag (27 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
You seem really prepared! One other thing is you can fill up your bathtub with water ahead of the storm. If they have to cut off the water main, you can use a bucket to refill your toilet tank after each flush.
posted by AaRdVarK at 5:27 PM on September 11, 2018 [11 favorites]

New englander here.

Fill your bathtub - this is water that you can use to manually flush your toilet it needed. You can also boil it in an emergency.

Is your kitchen stove gas or electric? If gas, stock matches to light it. If electric, get a camp stove. Be careful using camp stoves indoors.

Make sure the glider swing can't swing into something (like a window).

Check your homeowners insurance and car insurance policies, make sure gas tank is full.

Take cash out of an ATM now, try to get it broken into small bills - enough to last 1-2 weeks.

If you have pets make sure they have adequate food. For your food, it's best to have 2 weeks supply. Think chili, etc. what's in your freezer? Be prepared to use it or lose it if you are out of electricity for a week.

Assemble a basic first aid kit - band aids, ointment, ace bandages, peroxide, gauze, tape. Even if you don't need it, a neighbor might. Extra batteries, battery powered radio and a battery/solar powered lantern with LED bulbs. Having an emergency whistle or air horn is never a bad idea.

Masking tape and duct tape - depending on where you are and wind speeds projected, might want to tape those windows, this way, if they shatter, the tape prevents glass from making dangerous micro shards. Think taping a giant X from the corners diagonally.

Put all of your emergency supplies in a Tupperware bin with a lid - this way it won't get wet and things will be organized. If you don't need any of it, great! Put it in the basement for safe keeping/future use.

Good luck!
posted by floweredfish at 5:32 PM on September 11, 2018 [17 favorites]

Do you have any friends within close walking distance? Obviously you don’t want to be walking during the storm (100% do not leave your house during the storm!) but it might be comforting to have plans to check in with each other once the danger has passed.
posted by lunasol at 5:32 PM on September 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

For emergencies, I bought a portable charger like thIs for my phone. I’m guessing you can’t get one now, but maybe for next time.
posted by FencingGal at 5:37 PM on September 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Ps. If you don't have a bathtub, this is another use for that Tupperware bin, mop buckets, etc. most toilets are 1-2 gallons per flush (depending on toilet type). Also: waterless hand sanitizer.
posted by floweredfish at 5:37 PM on September 11, 2018

Yeah, there's the potential for damage to your house and/or car, but that's what insurance is for. You pay your insurance premiums for a reason. And it doesn't take a hurricane for a branch of one of those oak trees to fall on your roof, or for a shopping cart to dent your car. Things happen all the time.

And a power outage isn't the worst thing, either. I had my power knocked out for a week after either Ike or Rita (I forget which one now) in 2008. It was inconvenient in some ways, but there's a bright side to everything, and I found it refreshing to not have to always worry about my electronics, or work. It was like a wilderness retreat, but I got to sleep in my own bed and shower in my own bathroom. There's also a real peace when you don't hear that constant low-level hum of electricity, and just rely on candlelight. So reframe your thinking!
posted by kevinbelt at 5:39 PM on September 11, 2018 [7 favorites]

Is there a garage you could Lyft/Uber to, and back from? While it would leave you carless for a bit, you likely wouldn't be going anywhere anyways, and it would protect your car.
posted by Dashy at 5:44 PM on September 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

1. Zeus is practically the god of hubris/vanity. He's probably got your back.
2. I'm opposed to personal cars on average, so I can't help you there.
3. Got a couple of five-gallon buckets?
posted by aniola at 5:45 PM on September 11, 2018

Gather up as much water as you can. Bathtub, sure. Any other container you can put it in, too. You may not need it, but it's better to be prepared

You seem pretty prepared for food, but also consider you may need more and a wider variety, just in case you get bored. Anything canned that doesn't need to be heated is great. But be safe if you go out!

If you have friends nearby and they're not worried about their homes, invite them over! (I mean, as long as you think they'll be safe.) I've always found these situations to be lonely and it's just great to have people around to help, regardless.

Keep your phone charged as much as possible and conserve its charge as much as you can if you lose power/internet. It's probably too late to buy a backup battery for it, but if you have one already ...

I was never on a coast but I've dealt with superstorms and derechos and power/water loss for a few days. I know I didn't have it as bad as others, but it still wasn't fun. You can survive this.
posted by darksong at 5:49 PM on September 11, 2018

Might also be a good time to drop in on your neighbors, see how they're doing and if they need anything, etc.
posted by aniola at 5:49 PM on September 11, 2018 [5 favorites]

How's your insurance? If you are really concerned about your car and you're decently insured, go ahead and get all your stuff out of it and hope for the best.

As for the trees, maybe take a walk around your property and figure out where they might fall, how far they are from your roof, what angles might do the most damage. Decide on a room that's less at-risk and don't stray from it during the storm.

I would buy some bleach, if you can. And baby wipes. And the advice to do all the laundry right now is pretty good. Worst-case, you've got extra clean laundry for a while! And maybe set aside a novel or a coloring book or knitting project or something else fun that you can do without electricity.

A crazy thing that I do when I'm home alone during a severe storm is I go ahead and get myself into the safe room (walk-in closet, last time I lived alone) with a flashlight and a novel and wait it out. For me, the most powerful anxiety trigger is the moment the electricity goes out. So I pretend it basically already has, and make myself comfortable for the duration of the storm.
posted by witchen at 5:51 PM on September 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

You seem well-prepared, and there are lots of great tactical suggestions for additional preparations here already.

As for the anxiety, since the solo aspect seems to the the key source of anxiety right now, can you find some way to be not-solo? Do you have friends, friendquaintances, coworkers you're friendly with? You could make plans to hang out with them in varying combinations over the next couple days, and maybe even all gather in one place before the storm for a "hurricane party." You won't be alone, and you'll have other people around for moral and tactical support if you do end up needing to deal with damage or extended infrastructure outage.
posted by rhiannonstone at 5:56 PM on September 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

A power outage is by far the most likely of your listed outcomes, and really, that's not THAT huge of a deal. The power will come back on eventually. Just stock up on some good books to read in case it takes a day or two.
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:56 PM on September 11, 2018

You’ve done a great job so far, plus there’s some excellent advice in the thread.

FYI: Text and data communication usually works better than voice calls in a natural disaster.

Print out a list of emergency & friend/family phone numbers in case your phone dies and you get a chance to borrow someone else’s phone.

Don’t forget a few indulgences to keep you comfortable - a few nice chocolate bars, some rich people nuts (macadamias), that perfectly worn shirt that you always wear when you don’t feel well, your favorite book, some fancy tea, etc.

Stay safe and good luck!
posted by jenquat at 6:13 PM on September 11, 2018 [5 favorites]

You need something else to focus on. Find an activity that you can enjoy during a power outage indoors and make it a little more special with some planning. Borrow some particularly enthralling books from the library and make a cozy spot that you can safely light with candles to read by. Do you play an instrument? Maybe print out some sheet music that you've always found challenging and focus on that.

It's logical to feel some anxiety about a natural disaster of course, but it sounds like you're doing all the things you can. Try to think of the time when you're waiting it out as a special opportunity. A little pocket of liminal time for you to fill with something unusual and personal.
posted by Mizu at 6:16 PM on September 11, 2018

Oak trees are said to be sacred to Zeus, so maybe you're actually safe on that score :) Pour him a little libation of wine, it can't hurt.

But PLEASE don't tape your windows. Taping doesn't prevent the windows from breaking, and the large shards that result when taped windows *do* break are more dangerous to deal with. If you're lucky and the windows don't break, getting the tape goo off the glass is a pain. Plywood or hurricane shutters can help, but if you don't have time or access, just skip it altogether. Taping, along with opening windows to 'equalise pressure,' is useless at best and dangerous at worst.

It's great that your documents are all in one place! Make sure they're in a big Ziplock freezer bag or other waterproof container, though, just in case. If you have homeowner's, renter's, or flood insurance on your property -- or even if you don't -- now is the time to take pictures of your valuables (with serial numbers) and do a video walkthrough of your home, inside and out. Take pictures/video of your car, too. Upload all this to the cloud and/or save a copy on a flash drive in your waterproof documents folder. Have the numbers of your insurer(s) handy so you can call for an adjuster immediately after the storm, if you need to -- the sooner you call, the quicker they can help. Make sure you know how to turn off the water in your home, and the gas too (if applicable). Make sure you know where the main circuit breaker is, and that you can get to it easily.

Along with your water bottles, fill up clean tupperware containers, clean jugs or bottles, even ziplock/plastic bags with water, and put them in your freezer. They'll help keep your fridge and freezer cold if you do lose power, and you'll have cold fresh water for drinking or bathing if you need it. Ice is like gold in the aftermath of tropical weather.

Make sure you have fun snacks that you love, in addition to the sensible stuff. Are you a coffee drinker? Pick up some instant coffee! If you have a cooler, fill it with those Ziplocks of ice and put in any perishables you'd like to eat during the storm and in the few days afterwards, so you don't have to open your fridge. Milk for your coffee? Ice cream? Cheese? Whatever you want! Your fridge will stay colder inside if you keep the door shut, so choose your perishables before the power goes.

Are you near any source of water -- river, stream, culvert, creek, ditch? Does your street ever flood in hard rain? If so, consider moving any valuables to the second floor or higher, and consider staying awake in the night hours to monitor the situation. Do you have a basement? Take anything precious out of it now. Do you have a sump pump? If you do, make sure it's working. Clean out any gutters or drains around your home, too.

If you have any pets, make sure you have their vaccination / vet records in your documents folder. Also make sure you have recent pictures of you and your pet(s) together, in case you're separated. Stock up on food / litter / supplies for them, and have those supplies, along with carriers and/or leashes, handy if you need to get out in a hurry and take them with you. (Include some towels or other things that smell like you, for their comfort.)

Do you have a battery-powered, solar-powered, or crank-powered radio? If you can find one, it's very handy to have, for safety and for entertainment. Get extra batteries, if you can, and get some sort of light source that's not candles -- LED lights that run on batteries are great for this, if any can be found, and are much better from a fire safety perspective. If you're in an area with a lot of insects, make sure you have bug spray. Nthing the wet wipes and hand sanitiser advice above. Treat it like you're camping.

Good luck! It's gonna be fine. Maybe even fun?
posted by halation at 6:21 PM on September 11, 2018 [6 favorites]

Do you have a neighborhood FB page? Ours was a godsend after Hermine. Folks posted who had up and running generators so you can charge your phone, who was making coffee on the grill, where to go to hook up with people helping out with clean up. After Irma (we got hit twice in two years), neighbors travelled in a pack offering snacks and cutting down fallen trees and limbs. Although being without power suckity sucks, you'll be amazed at the goodness of folks as they band together and help one another out. Mr. Bat and I have collectively been through 3-4 bad hurricanes, and have been amazed by the many kindnesses people show one another after each time.

Also, freeze all of your hoarded water. Although it will melt after you lose power, for the hours that it holds, it's an unimaginable luxury. Packing your freezer with as much ice as possible slows food spoilage.
posted by batbat at 6:26 PM on September 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

Yes, make sure you touch base with all your neighbors. That way they know someone is in your house, and you will feel safer knowing people you can go to are right next door.
posted by MountainDaisy at 6:37 PM on September 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh also -- what are your favourite hobbies? Knitting is a great distraction, if you can pick up some needles and yarn. Painting, drawing, crafts of all kinds -- even a colouring book can be great. Charge up a laptop or tablet and download a new game to play. Fill an eReader with new exciting novels. I bake when I'm stressed -- maybe make yourself a batch of cookies or cupcakes or bread to snack on during the storm? Treat yourself!
posted by halation at 6:46 PM on September 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Maybe this will help.

Point the first: People FREAK THE FUCK OUT about hurricanes far further inland than is probably necessary.

I am a nearly lifelong coastal person (as defined as "lives within 90 miles of the Gulf Coast;" the exception was my college years in Tuscaloosa). I grew up in south Mississippi, and have lived these last 24 years in Houston. I have never evacuated, despite living in the path of Frederick, Allison, Rita (ish), Ike, and Harvey.

Why is this?

The storm brings a storm surge, which you must flee if you are literally ON THE COAST (like, you could walk there), and wind, which you probably only flee if your area if expecting high Cat4-level winds or worse. Otherwise, you hunker down, because if YOU get on the road, you're making it harder for the folks who really NEED to leave to get away. (Google up what happened during Rita for an example of how badly this can go when people panic.)

TS- or TD-level winds may sound scary, but they will not affect well-constructed permanent buildings. Weak or sick trees may fall, but this will be unusual. You streets may become impassable during the rainfall, and stay so due to debris. You may lose power for hours or days. Water and sewer service interruption is less likely so far inland, but your immediate area won't be "normal" for a few days. Even so, lasting damage is unlikely.

As to your concerns:

1. Are these trees situated in way that a fall would hurt your home? If so, just to be safe, stay in an area of your home NOT in the fall line(s).

2. Park your car away from tree fall lines. This is a gimmee, right?

3. Power outages are likely, but probably not very long ones. Are you quite remote, or more central? This matters.

Do you have a radio? You might want one. I am also concerned that you may not have enough wine.

Fill your tub(s). Fill any other vessels you have. Again, you probably won't need this, but it's better to have and not need.
posted by uberchet at 7:07 PM on September 11, 2018 [7 favorites]

We rode out the tail end of Isabel on the coast (a protected bay rather than open water) in a literal actual shack of a house. A tree fell (but not actually during the storm--the storm weakened it and it fell in a less severe storm a couple weeks later) and the dock washed away but there was no other damage. No windows broken, roof fully intact. It really does take quite a lot for a structure to be damaged by wind--even a held-together-by-duct-tape structure like our house at the time.

My biggest recommendation is WATER. Fill everything you can get your hands on. We discovered that going without power for days and weeks is actually not that huge of a deal if you enjoy reading and board games, but going without indoor plumbing for that same length of time is miserable. In a city, the water supply won't be as disrupted as ours was (our issue was a well pump that got knocked out and needed special repairs) but ever since that experience I start filling vessels at the slightest hint that there might be a water disruption. I've never regretted it.

You might also consider some noise-cancelling headphones or ear plugs. Wind is loud, even at speeds that aren't much of a danger to those not out in them. If you want to sleep or relax, you might need to block the sounds out for a bit.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:51 PM on September 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you have some plastic bottles from sodapop, empty milk jugs, fill with water and freeze. A full freezer stays cold much longer. Same with the fridge, put any canned goods in it.
A battery-operated radio is really nice to have.
Try to listen to the calmest weather forecaster and turn off the barrage of disaster-porn-mongering.
This might be a chance to meet the neighbors. Before the storm, make brownies or cookies; you can take treats to neighbors and check in.
There's a Check-In thread on Metatalk; I think you'd find it helpful.

You'll be okay. You are prepared and you are more resourceful than you know.
posted by theora55 at 8:41 PM on September 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Get a hurricane boyfriend/girlfriend? Only mostly joking. I spent Hurricane Irene with a new beau and it was pretty fun (and comforting, especially because he'd been through many hurricanes and I had not).
posted by pinochiette at 9:23 PM on September 11, 2018

Make sure gutters/downspouts/drains are clear.
posted by achrise at 5:27 AM on September 12, 2018

Thanks, all. This is helpful (both the preparedness things like filling the tub/getting cash and the anti-anxiety things like pre-storm baking/reframing the likely power outage as Me Time). theora55, thanks for pointing me to the check-in thread; turns out there are plenty of folks on here in my area, hooray for not being as alone as I thought!

The oaks are taller than the house, so if they fall, I'm screwed, but ... I'm hoping that isn't going to happen as the latest storm track shows it heading a bit more south. We'll see.

Also, I remembered late last night that my 6th grade algebra teacher's first name was Florence (and she, too, was a force of nature; seemed like she was about 90 years old and she kept her keys on a scrunchie on her wrist so she always jingled when she walked), so now I have a great picture in my head of her whirling (jingling) around the classroom.
posted by basalganglia at 6:01 AM on September 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

This is probably not an issue for you, but just in case, it isn't just the immediate coast that will see issues from surge, especially with the freak stalling off the coast while dumping feet of rain on land.

The NHC's surge forecast maps call for 6+ feet of surge in some locations tens of miles inland along some rivers and streams. And that isn't taking into account the foot or two of rain that will be draining into those rivers and essentially running into a temporary dam.

Farther inland, streams in narrow valleys will rise much more than you might expect, and drainage may be compromised enough from wind blown debris to cause water to back up in unexpected places.

Unlike along the immediate coast, however, these effects will be highly localized and you should be able to get a good idea of your particular risk by consulting FEMA flood maps and topographic maps.
posted by wierdo at 8:14 AM on September 12, 2018

I live in Puerto Rico and went through Hurricane Maria. Just wanted to add one thing we weren't prepared for is for water to come through the electrical outlets in the walls or flooding from under the front door or the patio glass windows under the hurricane shutters. Make sure your outside drains are cleared. Fill sand in trashbags for under your doors and even your bedroom doors in case you have to isolate in one room. Have plenty of towels ready. If you have cats put them in carriers ahead of time (we had to evacuate 3 cats in the dark, it was awful), if you have a dog have the leash already on her. Have plenty of small trash bags in case you have no water to flush, to put toilet paper. Easier to flush when there is no toilet paper to clog. Have plenty of handiwipes in case you cannot bathe. Mark water that you store that is for drinking and water for bathing/toilet and keep it separate. Have plenty of batteries. Buy a prepaid cell phone that is on a different carrier than yours, in case you lose signal you may have better luck with another. Even if that's not the case, it's always good to have a backup phone if you don't have a landline. Connect with your neighbors. Community is what will get you through this more than anything else. You're in my thoughts.
posted by lunachic at 10:10 AM on September 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

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