I am a native Sarasotan. I was born (a very long time ago) at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. Back in the good old days, being ready for hurricane season meant stocking enough rum for your party. Nobody thought Sarasota could be hit by a hurricane. The collective attitude towards hurricanes in our area changed in 2004 when Hurricane Charley devastated Port Charlotte and the surrounding areas.
Nowadays, here is how you should prepare for hurricane season.
Know Your Zone
The question I saw most frequently posted all over Facebook during last year’s hurricane season was, “What zone am I in?” Before you make any other hurricane plans or preparations, find out which hurricane evacuation zone you are in. If you live in Manatee County, you can check the map here. If you live in Sarasota County, check this map. It’s important to know which zone you are in so that you can make an informed decision when it comes time to stay or evacuate.
The other zone you need to be aware of is the flood zone. Many old-timers advise, ‘Run from water, hide from the wind.’ Hurricane Harvey showed us the devastation that the water produced by a hurricane can have on an area. If you live in Manatee County, check this map. And if you live in Sarasota County, you need to look at this map.
If the maps are confusing (there’s no shame in admitting you can’t figure it out), you can call and ask for the information. In Manatee County, call the Citizens Action Center at (941) 742-5800. If you live in Sarasota County, call the Contact Center at (941) 861-5000.
Now that you know your zone, you can decide on your plan. Are you going to evacuate or hunker down? Areas closer to the gulf are the most likely areas to be deemed ‘mandatory’ evacuation zones, for all hurricanes. However, as we saw last summer, people who do not live in an evacuation zone can absolutely choose to leave when faced with a category 4 storm like Irma.
I cannot stress enough that there is no right or wrong answer. If you feel safer packing up your kiddos and heading north, then that is the best plan for your family. If your house has hurricane shutters, a generator, and supplies for 6 months and you’re staying put, then good for you. And sometimes plans change and that’s okay, too. But starting with a plan will help keep everything running more smoothly.
Let’s talk hurricane shelters. Not every facility that is deemed a shelter will be open right away if there is a hurricane. If your plan is to evacuate to one of these shelters, please know that their supplies will be limited at best and you need to take your own linens. The shelters that open may or may not be pet-friendly, too. If you bring your pet to a pet-friendly shelter with you, you must have their shot records and the pet has to be in a carrier.
There is a lot of debate as to what you need in your supply kit. Again, this depends on whether you are evacuating or staying put. Our family did not have a generator last year. When Irma hit, we lost power for close to 3 days and I lost two freezers of food. Hurricanes hit during summer months. Our house does not offer a lot of cross ventilation; we depend on the A/C. With no power, we were pretty miserable at night. I know generators are not in everyone’s budget, but they can be key in keeping you safe and comfortable. We started saving up for ours a little at a time after the reality of Irma.
The other thing I want to say about hurricane supplies is please do not wait until there is an active storm threatening us to buy your supplies. Stock up on items a little bit during each shopping trip. I buy my canned goods when Publix has them on BOGO. I have extra batteries for our flashlights that I have purchased over the past few months. My stash of bottled water takes up a bit of space, but having a few cases on hand is a good idea. There was a huge panic about not having bottled water during Hurricane Irma. You don’t have to only have bottled water for a storm. I filled up pitchers and also quart bags of water and froze them. If you store water from your tap before a storm hits, you can use that for teeth brushing and toilet flushing.
I will link to a recommended list of supplies, but I just want to mention gas. During hurricane season, I never let my tank get below the halfway mark. Every time we have a hurricane, people seem to panic about gas shortages. Don’t buy into the panic.
Here is the list of supplies floridadisaster.org says you should have on hand.
I have lived thru a lot of hurricanes, too many to count. The one piece of advice I hope you will take away is not to panic. I know that is much easier said than done. But hurricanes are not like other natural disasters in that we have time and opportunity to plan for them. We might not be able to predict 100% where one is headed, but if you live in Florida the chance of a hurricane affecting you at some point is basically a when it happens, not if it happens.