The projected path of Tropical Storm Erika has veered slightly north since yesterday, putting Miami out of the middle of various computer forecasting models, but the city is still abuzz about the possibility of its first hurricane strike in years. (And knowing how quickly those forecast models can change, it's still very possible.) So you're likely encountering three main attitudes among your friends, family, and co-workers right now:
1. Florida newcomers who are nervous.
2. Native and longtime Floridians who aren't paying attention to anything.
3. Native and longtime Floridians who are kind of excited about the possibility of a hurricane for nostalgia's sake and are already planning hurricane parties.
We're still a few days away from having a better idea of what will become of Erika, but those of you freaking out need to calm down a bit, and everyone else should remember these storms aren't all fun and games.
There does come a time when things shift from "Oh, a hurricane might be coming, whatever" to "Oh, there's a good chance it's actually coming" and things get crazy. Grocery stores, Walmarts, Home Depots, and liquor stores are suddenly slammed with people trying to get their supplies. It's like Black Friday, but people are scrambling for the basic necessities of human survival instead of discounted flat-screen TVs. It is not a pleasant or stress-free experience. You'll almost certainly forget something.
If you want to rush out and get a jump on the game just in case, be our guest, but for those of us who don't have the time or extra money or are, well, just kind of lazy, here are some simple things you can do now. If the storm doesn't end up hitting after all, the only result is you'll be ahead of your regular duties and slightly more informed.
However, think of these suggestions as the bare minimum for right now. Again, a wiser person might already be two steps ahead of the game, but history of prestorm crowds shows there are a lot of us who aren't wiser people. This also assumes you already have hurricane shutters or other window protection. If you don't, get on that now. It will come in handy, if not in a few days, then eventually.
Evacuation Zone "Storm Surge Planning Zone"
Miami-Dade has overhauled its evacuation plans since the last time a hurricane hit, and evacuation zones have been replaced with "storm surge planning zones." Do you know yours? It's OK if you don't. If you have time to take a "Which French cheese are you based on your astrology sign?" Buzzfeed quiz, you have time to check out your zone.
1. Go here. Type in your address. Find out which is your zone.
2A. If you're in a storm surge zone, especially a higher one, look up where your friends live and start buttering them up if they're in a safe zone.
2B. If you live in a higher storm surge zone or in a safe zone, get excited about hosting an adult and/or family slumber party. It'll be fun, and you'll be doing a civic good!
What do those zones mean? If you're in an A zone, you'll be put on notice to evacuate in preparation for a Category 1 storm. Zone
Low-Key Preparations You Can Do Now
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1. Refill your prescriptions: If your pills are going to run out over the weekend or early next week, it's best to probably just get them refilled now.
2. Gas up: The only thing worse than a Florida gas station just before a big storm is one when it reopens immediately after. They can get packed. Avoid the lines and fill
3. Stock up on basic things you need: Get the extra-large jar of peanut butter just in case. Make sure you have enough toilet paper, bottled water, garbage bags, and lady products. Make sure your pets have food. Get things you'll end up using eventually anyway but are easy to forget in the stress of storm planning. You can't run out to the bodega in a middle of a storm, and you'll have fewer things to worry about during the immediate storm scramble.
4. Now, however, is not a good time to stock up on perishable items: Yeah, that's a good deal on that five-pound bag of frozen chicken, but there's a slight chance your power could go out.
5. Make sure your old supplies still work: If you're been through this before, you've hopefully got your flashlights and battery-powered or hand-cranked radio already. Now is a good time to make sure they still work. Also take note of your battery situation. If you don't have a flashlight, buy one.
6. Get cash: And make sure you have plenty of bills in low denominations. If the storm dissipates, congratulations. Guess who doesn't have to worry about credit card minimums at bars this weekend?
7. Grab a couple of books of matches from the bar at happy hour.
8. Clean up your yard and trim branches: Your neighbors will thank you anyway. Cleaning out rain gutters is a good idea too.
9. Take five minutes to read actual storm preparedness guides: Here's the National Weather Service's version. Take note of what you haven't done already and plan out how you're going to do it if necessary this weekend.
10. Oh, and here's a guide to keeping cool while sleeping without electricity: Trust us, it's good knowledge to have stored away. A lot of them involve wet blankets. Remember: It's not a good idea to sleep in a running car.
11. Borrow a book: Get one from a friend or from the library.
12. Remember, tap water is perfectly safe to drink: People are already reporting that several stores are running out of bottled water. Keep an eye out for it, but don't freak out. Bottle some yourself in pitchers, leftover milk jugs, or two-liter soda bottles. Buy a filter if you must.
Remember to stay informed but not paranoid.
Local TV stations have settled down a bit since the days when storms were threatening the city every year and their hurricane season slogans were something like "Watch us or die!" Though news stations can be informative during an actual storm, they love to milk these things in advance. And, of course, Miamians love to exaggerate or downplay things and spread rumors.
It's best to begin learning where to get reliable information. Here are a few helpful sites:
The National Hurricane Center, duh.
Spaghetti Models, which has more charts and maps than you can shake a stick at.
Weather Underground's hurricane page.
- Gawker's The Vane has also been posting daily updates explaining the latest in layman's terms.