This week’s post is something a little different. Instead of addressing the way our thinking influences our anxiety and depression, it focuses on how we can avoid increasing our anxiety by not making a bad situation worse. The 2017 hurricane season has been a monster, and it’s not over yet. During a recent evacuation, there were several moments where I truly thought I was going to lose my marbles. Anxiety levels were nearing sky-high, but I managed to learn a few things which kept me sane and made the situation much more manageable. These are ideas you may not see on the standard “hurricane preparedness” checklists, but which may be helpful in reducing the stress of hurricane season.
BOOK A ROOM (whether you need it, or not)
If a hurricane is headed your way – even if its predicted landing is several days out – book a hotel room at a reasonable evacuation point, away from the path of the storm. Be careful which website you book from, since many are “pay up front” reservations. What you want is a hotel with a friendly cancellation policy, such as “24 hours ahead” or “by 10:00am on day of check-in.” Then, watch and wait. You will most likely know prior to the cancellation window if you will need the room or not. If not, breathe a sigh of relief and cancel the reservation within the window to avoid penalties. If you do need to evacuate, you already have a room and don’t have to compete with the thousands of other evacuees looking for a hotel at the last minute. If you have pets, be sure to book at a pet-friendly hotel.
During Irma, hundreds of thousands of Floridians passed through our small town. Due to the influx of evacuees, by the time an evacuation was ordered locally, there were limited resources for residents. Gas pumps all over town were empty, and people were lined up at every station waiting for petroleum trucks to arrive and replenish fuel supplies. At the start of hurricane season, get a couple of 5 gallon gas cans, fill them up, and make sure you have a way to attach them to the outside of your car such as a bumper rack or a roof rack. Basically, you want to ensure you have enough gas on-hand to reach your evacuation point, or at the very least to get you out of town. Be sure to refill your cans whenever you find a station with gas. The shortage is likely to extend beyond your hometown along the most popular evacuation routes, and it doesn’t end just because the storm has passed. The same flood of evacuees has to return home, and people are running generators. A lot of people run out of gas during evacuations. Don’t be one of them.
There is a lot of stress involved in deciding where to store your things when the places you usually store them are threatened by water and wind damage. Consider buying some vacuum bags and keeping them on hand for hurricane season. These serve two purposes: First, if you have to leave things behind, you can store your most precious items in these bags, vacuum seal them, and put them where you think they’ll be safe. The vacuum seal removes extra air and allows you to stack or stuff the sealed bag into the attic, on top of a dresser, or to fit several seals bags onto an upper shelf. If you are evacuating people and pets, space is precious in the car. Consider vacuum packing your clothes instead of big bags or suitcases. You can borrow the hotel’s vacuum to repack when you go home. NOTE: During Irma, I was travelling with 3 adults and 3 pet carriers. I was able to slip the vacuum packs under the pet carriers to save room, and we all rode comfortably — or as comfortably as possible under the circumstances.
This may sound nuts, especially if you’ve been ordered to evacuate, but what I mean is don’t wait until the last minute to prepare. Don’t wait until the day the storm is supposed to make landfall to hit the road, and when you do hit the road, you can avoid major traffic congestion by taking some back roads when available. Take the time before you evacuate to map out alternate routes.
When you are on the road and in bumper-to-bumper traffic, don’t be afraid to pull off if you need a break. I heard myself saying, “We are not exiting this freeway” and then I realized how ridiculous I was being. With thousands of cars on the freeway, making a pit stop really doesn’t make any difference. If you need to pee, stop to pee. The situation is difficult enough without making yourself even more uncomfortable. Granted, there may be a lot of people at the rest stop, but make the best of it by stretching and catching a breath of fresh air before returning to the car. Then, if at all possible, avoid heading home the day after the storm hits. Give yourself an extra day in order to avoid freeway gridlock. You’ll be glad you did.
These are just a few simple things which proved beyond value for me and my fellow (and some furry) evacuees. If you’ve learned something from your own hurricane experience – something other than the typical “stock up on non-perishables, water, batteries, and so forth – or if you find any of these tips helpful, I hope you will share them in the comments.