Lessons from a hurricane by John Skinner

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By John Skinner

Sunday night (4th October 2015) Bermuda was visited by Hurricane Joaquin. I have recently changed apartments so I had decided to ride out the storm at home. This was so I would have some idea of how such storms affect my new apartment. This worried friends and relatives but I was fairly calm about the whole thing. Why was I so calm?

First of all my training in disaster preparedness helped. The maxim ‘Lack of Planning on your Part does not constitute an emergency on my part.’ was another factor. This was a notice I had prominently displayed in my office when I was involved in Disaster Preparedness. I prepared for the hurricane in my own time and so felt confident I could cope.

This article will mainly refer to the Western Atlantic because that is where I live. I would urge you to look at the websites I mention, and then find the corresponding websites for your area of the world.

Once hurricane season (01 June to 30 November) commences I start my preparations. They are usually in three stages.

Stage One starts at the beginning of the season and consists of checking that I have the correct links to the web pages I shall need during the season. I have a ‘Weather’ folder in my favourites which contains all my weather related websites. I check all the links to ensure that they are still valid. I have also put my major sites of interest in my Favourites Bar for immediate access. The first is the Bermuda Weather Service (www.weather.bm). In fact this is a daily website for me. It is an easy website to follow and also includes a ‘Tropical’ section showing charts and forecasts of tropical weather systems when they are in the Bermuda area.

As the season progresses I start to monitor as my first check of the day, the Weather Underground Hurricane site http://www.wunderground.com/hurricane/.   This week I saw eight systems on it world wide. An unusually high number.

Around September because of the potential for increased weather activity in my area, I change the Home Page on my web browser to the Weather Underground’s Atlantic Region page. (http://www.wunderground.com/hurricane/?index_region=at). That way whenever I sign onto the internet the first thing I would see would be the current severe weather activity in the Atlantic Ocean.

I have been following these weather websites for some time so I am familiar with what they offer. I recommend that if you don’t already, that you start to follow your local websites. Following them now will enable you to learn to interpret the information before you have to interpret it in earnest.

Clicking on the icon on the map for the weather system of interest will give you access to a variety of maps and other information regarding the weather system. If the Bermuda Weather Service announces that a system is a potential threat to Bermuda within 72 hours I change my Home Page to their Hurricane page.

However before that happens I start my Stage Two preparations when my own interpretation of the information indicates that there is a potential risk to Bermuda in five days (120 hours) time.

My Stage Two preparations start with reviewing my hurricane supplies and quietly buying staples like water, tinned food, heavy duty trash bags and batteries; I usually buy enough for five days. These supplies are integrated into my normal household supplies. It just means that I am maybe spending next weeks supplies budget this week instead of next. It also means that any increased cost will be spread over a longer period, often an important factor for pensioners on fixed incomes.

Another part of Stage Two preparations is to review all my technology. Is it properly protected? As most of our electricity wires are still on poles, power surges are a frequent occurrence in severe weather conditions. This means that good Surge Suppressors are a worthwhile investment. Also what is the plan to protect this technology? For me, I wheel my PC desk into the walk-in closet in my bedroom. It has no windows!! Large heavy duty trash bags are good for covering that technology that you cannot move out of danger easily.

Another part of Stage Two preparations is to view the website of the United States National Hurricane Center (http://www.nhc.noaa.gov ). The NHC is the regional authority on Atlantic and Eastern Pacific hurricanes. Their website includes maps and also discussion and data pages

Now I have a head start on my hurricane supplies and will not have to become involved in the potentially frantic scenes that can occur in supermarkets when hurricanes approach. I have reviewed my plans and technology and ensured that I can protect them as far as I can.

The NHC has a very good webpage on Hurricane Preparations at http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/prepare/ready.php. Although this webpage is targeted at residents of the United States; most of the information is valid world wide.

My Stage Three preparations start when the Bermuda Weather Service indicates that the weather system is a ‘Potential Threat’ to Bermuda. Then I start to ensure that my cellphone, my laptop and other technology have a full charge. I also make sure that I have alternative power sources. Rechargeable batteries are important.

When the power is out what is your technological priority? Mine is my cellphone. It is in a waterproof case so wet weather is not a problem. I have three backup power sources for it. My laptop can be used to charge my cellphone. I carry a spare charging device with built in power. Lastly, I can plug my cellphone into my car. I have an inverter so that I can charge my laptop from my car. I also have a 12 volt powered cool box which if plugged into the car can keep milk and other foodstuffs chilled (so long as the car engine is running).

So what happened during Hurricane Joaquin? Sunday night amongst the sounds of wind and rain I was using my PC as the power seemed stable, no flickering lights or change in their brightness. Both signs of an imminent power cut. Suddenly there was a horrible frying sound and a pungent smell from the area of my PC. I switched off the surge suppressor and saw that the nearby nightlight was glowing like a 100 watt bulb. Then the power went out.

Today the power came back on. I count myself lucky in that I have lost one microwave oven and two surge suppressors. One surge suppressor had my external hard drives plugged into it. The other the PC. My PC and hardrives are working thanks to those surge suppressors. The microwave did not have a surge suppressor. My neighbour lost six major appliances and an expensive set of speakers, none of which were protected by surge suppressors. He also lost a surge suppressor which protected the devices that were plugged into it.

So prepare early, prepare wisely and most importantly stay safe.

For our many members in the Philippines the weblink of the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration is http://www.pagasa.dost.gov.ph/

By John Skinner

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