My wife and I live in West Palm Beach, Florida, in a building built less than 10 years ago and designed to withstand hurricanes. We have impact windows that get tested by having 2x4s shot at them at 120 miles per hour, and we don't live in a flood or evacuation zone. 

Because of that, we never made any attempt to flee Hurricane Irma, nor was that the recommended course of action. Instead, we prepared, bought supplies, and hunkered down. We had what we needed, but we also made mistakes, and there are things we will do differently next time.

A hurricane season sign shown in front of lightning and dark skies

Preparing for bad weather should start before the storm is imminent. Image source: Getty Images.

What we did wrong

Before the storm, we stocked up on water, batteries, food, and power chargers for our cellphones. We planned on losing power, having our water shut off while wind speeds exceeded our building's threshold (about 60 mph), and that we would be inconvenienced for a day or two.

The actual storm began in the middle of the morning and our power held out until 5 p.m. As the winds picked up, the noise -- even through our very heavy windows -- consisted of howling winds mixed with rain that often looked like we were inside a car wash. The trees in front of our window were bending like they had taken up yoga.

We had filled our tubs with water in the middle of the day in order to be able to flush our toilets should the building turn off the water pumps (which get damaged in high winds). That showed off our first mistake. In one tub we had the built-in stopper and in the other one we had a rubber one we had ordered pre-storm. Neither one provided an airtight seal and our flushing water slowly dripped down the drain.

Drinking water was another error on our part. We had picked some up during the week, but since we had a regular water delivery schedule for Wednesday (three days before the storm) we did not stockpile. That delivery never came and I had to scramble to pay $48 for two cases of fancy water after stores were sold out of the cheaper kinds.

We also failed to buy batteries for our portable radio, and we could have used more non-snack food. We also were surprised by the fact that post-storm, cellphone service was compromised, making it hard to even send a text, but that's not something we could have prepared for.

What we will do from now on

Our next storm prep begins as soon as we recover from this storm. Even though we have limited storage space, we will find room to create a storm prep kit that will contain:

  • 2 cases of bottled water. 
  • Lanterns and flashlights.
  • AA, D, and 9-volt batteries (everything except AA was very hard to come by even a few days before the storm).
  • Multiple cellphone battery packs.
  • A power inverter so we can charge bigger devices post-storm in our car.

We will also buy more non-perishable, non-snack foods (like jerky and peanut butter) when a storm is forecast, not when it becomes imminent. In addition, we will load more sitcoms and light entertainment onto our devices because we found that it was hard to concentrate on the movies we had picked for Irma.

None of the mistakes we made before Irma turned out to hurt us. Water was never shut off in our building (we still don't know why) so our poor tub seals turned out to not be a problem. Because the storm was not as strong as expected, even though we still don't have power as of two days later, some stores are open, and the hotel down the street has Wi-Fi, hot food, and a full bar. Our errors were perhaps minor, but still eye-opening and given that this was just a glancing blow, it served as a strong lesson to take the next one more seriously.

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