What to do in a Hurricane or Tropical Storm.
By: Beth Blancher, M.A. (survivor of 9 major hurricanes)
During hurricane season it’s best to keep in mind that a storm is always possible. Hurricane season typically runs from June to November, a large portion of the travel season. My first piece of advice is that it’s important to be a team player. Heed the advice of local authorities and if at a resort follow their recommendations. Most tropical storms require a few safety rules and sometimes a little inconvenience. While many who live around the coastal regions are familiar with storms; many who are traveling may have very little experience.
Before a storm:
The first thing I strongly recommend during hurricane season is to keep your gas tank full. If there is a storm you don’t want to risk get stuck. Gas stations form long lines and fuel supplies quickly run low. Many people get stuck in coastal areas simply because they could not find gasoline for the car. When there is a threat in the Atlantic, stay tuned to local and national weather an easy way is to set up weather alerts on a phone app.
Next, check with your resort as to what they recommend. It’s difficult when you have spent thousands on a vacation and most of us do not want to cancel for something that is not a serious threat; however if your resort is asking you to leave follow their advice. Many will refund you remaining stay or provide a replacement vacation, some may be covered by travel insurance.
Tropical Depressions and Tropical Storms:
Most tropical depressions will not seriously impact a Disney vacation since it is located 50 miles from the Atlantic Ocean with minimal storm surge. Tropical depressions have winds less than 45mph and last longer than a tropical thunderstorm many only require a few safety steps. In a tropical storm sustained winds will be less than 75mph and the storm will start to diminish as it approaches the inland. Many thunderstorms have similar gust of these high winds, so typically the threat is from localized flash flooding and wind that can bring such as broken tree limbs, downed power lines and signs. As the storm reaches a category one the threats increase.
A category one storm will have sustained winds of 75 mph or greater with higher gusts and the threat of wind damage and flooding increases. Storms can last hours and if a weather system stalls can last days. The weather advisories will provide an idea of when the eye of the storm will reach landfall. The eye is the center of the storm so it’s important to understand that half of the storm has passed by the time the eye makes landfall. So you must prepare in advance of the storm.
If a storm is predicted to pass your home or vacation area you must plan ahead. Again, local hurricane preparedness programs will advice the public about evacuation and safety in your area. Please follow their advice. They have studied not only the storm but evacuation routes and know how state and federal highways will slow and come to a standstill and fuel supplies will deplete stranding many visitors in harm’s way. If you are driving and choose to leave then leave when advised. Some state governments set up evacuation schedules by counties and those closest to water and in high risk areas are asked to evacuate first. Do not try to anticipate the time you need to evacuate because it will most likely take longer as the storm approaches. During evacuations for hurricane Katrina cars came to a standstill about 18 hours before the storm. It took as much as 8 hours to travel roughly 60 miles from New Orleans, west to Baton Rouge along I-10 with many cars stranded running out of gas in the slow moving traffic. Again, follow the advice of your resort and if not on Disney property, then the local hurricane preparedness team. It takes skill and experience to predict not only a hurricane's landfall but also the risk of devastation that will accompany the storm. The damage from the same storm can vary by only a few miles due to the rotation of the winds, local risks, where it makes landfall and the tornadic activity in the quadrant of the storm.
So what should you do if you are flying and cannot get a flight out of town? By 36 - 48 hours before a storm prepare by getting some supplies to help you through the storm. These supplies include: water, non perishable foods like bread, peanut butter, canned tuna and non perishable snacks. A flashlight and batteries can be very useful, cash, a change of clothes and first aid supplies. If medications are needed you may want to check into refills. Plan ahead, if a person in your group requires medical machinery for life support often many hospitals will allow individuals to stay at the hospital for the use of their generators. Do not rely on batteries alone, check with local authorities. Communicate with friends and family letting them know where you are and plan how you will communicate with family. Remember that during a storm sending text messages is more reliable than phone calls because phone lines become overloaded.
If you are stranded at a resort then again follow their advice. Many will ask that you gather in the larger areas such as food courts to provide power by generator when available, food and safe shelter from flying debris and breaking windows. Disney has been known to even provide entertainment. During a storm you can expect power outages, flying debris, falling trees and branches and downed power lines and local possible flooding. Stay indoors, do not attempt to drive or walk around. If you are advised to fill your bathtub with water then do so. No we do not drink water out of the tub following the storm, this water can be used to flush toilets if waterlines break.
After a storm you can expect power outages, sometimes lasting days or weeks. If you are staying inland then the chances power will be restored faster are greater, especially if on Disney property. Local food supplies are typically depleted. Area groceries will dispose of all frozen foods and most fresh produce due to exposure or a lack of power. Shelves will still be empty as popular supplies were purchased prior to the storm. Potable water can be limited or often contaminated by dead animals, broken water and sewer lines. Often highways are blocked and impassable for hours and sometimes days in a severe storm, blocking supplies to area markets. In this case usually the state governments will supply ice, water and sometimes MREs and tarps. Following a storm thousands are looking for water and ice. I once waited an hour to enter a local walmart following a storm only to find that the shelves were bare and pallets of ice melting on the floor in a hot store. Within hours after the storm states typically supply emergency supplies. It was my experience we were not allowed to request items, residents got in line sometimes for hours. When driving through the line the local guardsmen were stationed and requested you open your trunk and they gave everyone, ice, a case of water, a case of MRE’s and a tarp. Those without a vehicle used area shopping carts or wagons. However, if you are on Disney property most individuals will not need to obtain these supplies. Again, it's critical that the recommendations from local authorities are followed. Afterwards avoid standing water that could be charged by damaged underground electricity and contaminated by damaged sewer lines, bacteria levels and exposure to disease run high. If you are in an area and exposed to standing water and mud remember you may need a tetanus shot. Do not play in standing water. Throw out any perishable food that were not kept chilled. If you chose to stay do not go drive around after the storm. Many streets and highways will be impassable due to downed trees and power lines.
Supplies run low quickly, this is about 36 hours before an approaching storm.
Items such as bottled water, bread and batteries are the first to disappear. Shelves will look similar in the days following since supplies are often blocked by road covered with trees or power lines.
Soon major interstates may be covered by rising waters. This photo is on I-10 prior to hurricane Katrina about 15 miles from New Orleans
It is illegal to swim or enter the water when a double red flag is present. Severe undertows are deadly You can be arrested or fined for entering the water.
Hundreds if not thousands of trees will fall. In hurricane Gustav our community had over 10K trees to fall.
Slowly pathways are cleared; but be prepared to be trapped for hours or sometimes days. Areas can be restricted to local traffic to help prevent looting and sightseeing.
In hard hit areas debris will be strewn about with many potential dangers.
This image demonstrates how many roadways are destroyed and impassable. This picture is from Bay St. Louis Mississippi after Katrina
Beach highway after hurricane Ivan
Highway in Baton Rouge after Katrina
Interstate 10 after hurricane Ivan Escambia Bay, Florida
Many people underestimate the force of a storm. Hurricane Ivan
Hurricane Katrina, Mississippi Gulf Coast
The following is more graphic:
Do not read if you get upset with graphic information.
I've lived through many hurricanes from childhood to the present and listened to many who thought they could fight the storm. Some wanted to protect their homes from flood damage while others worried about looting. In 1966 in hurricane Betsy we were in New Orleans and were told to evacuate in the middle of the storm as they feared the levee would break. (the one that was topped in Katrina). We drove near the peak of the storm with power lines falling and sparking and eventually made it to a warehouse that was later hit by a tornado. Parts of the city did flood and relatives lost their homes in the 8th and 9th wards. In Camille in 69, we lived on Lake Pontchartrain and prior to hurricane Camille we were issued a mandatory evacuation. I remember my father who encouraged neighbors to leave and several ignored the warnings with reasons to stay and fight the storm. Only half of those he spoke to survived and I have very vivid memories of their desperate families searching for them after the storm begging me to tell them I had seen them since the storm. Some were found in shock in their attic while others were found days later in waterways. I still recall passing as they moved my neighbors in body bags. They all had the same story too... "if things get bad I'll leave" Well you can't leave when things get bad. The force is strong enough to tear down a home, you cannot walk to a neighbors for help or drive in it. If the flood waters are not high enough you still cannot drive in the powerful winds. Do not underestimate the power of a storm. We had a family friend who watched his wife and children washed away as they clung to a tree to survive the surge. Yet every storm people find it challenging to fight a storm. I saw the temporary morgues after Katrina and the number of semi trucks with bodies. It's rumored that people were told that if they wanted to stay to take a sharpie and put their social security number on their legs so it will be easier to ID them after the storm. Don't be a statistic. people get trapped and for some they will endanger the lives of the rescue crews and for others there is no way to rescue them. Be prepared and stay safe.