With Tropical Storm Isaac forecast to probably become a hurricane and rearrange parts of our coastline, if you're on the Gulf Coast you'll be reading a lot of preparation guides that'll get you ready for physically surviving the storm. Read them. A hurricane can mess your stuff up.
Having personally survived many hurricanes and tropical storms, though, what I find most lacking in these otherwise helpful periodicals is guidance for how to mentally and emotionally endure the storm.
Sure, you've stocked up on toilet paper, but have you squirreled away the mental energy you'll need to poop in the dark for a week?
Step One: Be Nice To People Before The Storm Because They May Turn Out To Own The Only Gas-Powered Chainsaw On Your Block
If you've been secretly spreading a rumor that the old man at the end of the street is an escaped Nazi war criminal, of even just ignoring your neighbors, the 72-hour period before the storm is the time to suddenly be nice to everyone.
Hurricanes, like the IRS, are big and scary but mostly cause terror because you never know who they're going to hit the hardest. One house on your block might be spared, the other fifteen might be crushed. You may have power, everyone else may be out.
So long as you don't enter the apocalypse and are abandoned by the government (like in Post-Katrina Louisiana) most people are uniformly great to one another immediately after the storm. It's those hours before the storm when everyone's fighting for the last can of cocktail wieners that everyone acts like a dick.
Don't go over to the dark side. Be nice, because that asshole with your Vienna Sausages is also the only asshole who thought to buy a gas-powered generator before the storm. Be friendly now and he'll let you charge your phone later on. You're going to need him.
Also, seriously, stock up on meats you're ok eating lukewarm/to cold.
Now that you suddenly own all the cans of baked beans in the tri-state area, you'll be tempted to start early. There's an overwhelming appeal of canned food before you're stuck eating it for a week. Don't' give into this temptation. Besides, survival food usually sucks.
It's unlikely that you'll even eat all of your canned food (if you've prepared carefully). What happens is canned food fatigue sets in pretty quickly. When it's hot and humid and you've got no power, the indignity of your 15th soggy tuna sandwich starts to hit you.
All the better to then remember that last delicious hot pizza while you watch television. Oh, television, I need to mention that.
A fast hurricane moves at around 30 mph, but storms can crawl at a slow 5-to-10 mph. It's essentially like someone punch you where you're in real time and everything else is in slow motion. Even worse, this means television news anchors and weatherlebrities will have days to talk about the storm.
Full disclosure: I love television weather coverage. I love the Weather Channel's Jim Cantore. I do not want to see Jim Cantore in my neighborhood. If I did, I'd run up to him to get an autograph and then kindly ask him to leave. Guns might be involved.
Want to know how bad off you are? Don't look at the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. Use my very unscientific Roker-Cantore Coverage Scale.
Roker-Cantore Coverage Scale
- Some Local Reporter On National News — All is well, relax
- Al Roker — Minor inconvenience, you'll be fine
- Jeff Morrow — Better start moving stuff off your porch
- Stephanie Abrams — Things are getting serious
- Mike Seidel — Uh oh…
- Jim Cantore — Prepare your body for the Thunderdome
Unless you're lucky enough to just get grazed, what people don't tell you is that hurricanes last for what feels like forever. While you've got all your power and television and air-conditioning this is kind of fun.
You're watching, in real-time, poor weatherlebrities being batted around the coast like a shuttlecock in a furious, non-rigged badminton match. And then the power goes out.
The fear? After so many days of anticipation it's usually not horrifying. If your house is prepared and you're not dealing with storm surge, you're probably just hearing the explosion of transformers and the snapping of trees. It's not fun, but it's survivable.
But it doesn't stop. If you're unlucky enough to not get a break in the eye (although that's also terrible) you could be dealing with this for hours. I remember staying up for Hurricane Ike as it hit Houston. The first few hours of peering out the window was kind of exciting. It was like being in one of those money-grab enclosures they fill with dollar bills and pump full of swirling air.
Except replace dollar bills with house plants, deck chairs, and feral cats.
This never seems to stop. You'd think you wouldn't be able to sleep through a hurricane but, if it strikes at night, you will. It just takes so damn long.
Assuming no one is seriously hurt, the best part of the storm is immediately after it clears. The weather is calm, the air is cool, and everyone's just happy to be alive.
It's a kind of euphoria that leads people to help their neighbors, loan them their tools, and just generally love life. This doesn't last long and lots of people die in this period because they drive over downed electrical wires, asphyxiate themselves with their generators, or chainsaw themselves to death.
More people in Houston were killed after Ike than during.
You also realize that your house, which you thought was spared, now has two trees inside of it. There's your dad, in his underwear, as rain comes through the roof, trying to patch a hole. He's standing on your car for some reason, probably doing more damage than the storm itself.
When the post-storm-survival high wears off you get the crash of boredom that comes with sitting around waiting for the power and cable to come back on so you can get on the Internet and complain about everything on Facebook.
If you're lucky, you'll get the power back in a day or so. Realistically, you're not lucky. It's going to be a week. You're going to have PB&J for every meal because the propane grille you bought doesn't have the right adaptor to get it to match up with the five propane bottles you also purchased.
You won't be able to call anyone because the towers are either down or jammed. Only text messages will work and every time someone sends YOU A DAMN SAD FACE EMOTICON you'll want to put your hand through the one wall that doesn't already have a tree-sized hole in it.
Like a zombie looking for brains, you'll drive from shopping center to shopping center looking for ice, A/C, and soy milk. For some reason, all you'll actually find is shrimp or raw lamb or other foods you're probably not going to be able to store or cook.
When you do finally find a place with WiFi you'll be fighting with everyone else for a slot on the daisy-chained knot of extension cords and power strips on the floor. They'll only have chai tea, but it'll be the best chai tea you've ever had.
The power comes on randomly, so that all your neighbors will have power on one side of your street but no cable. The other side will have cable but no power. Every Comcast employee in a bucket truck will be sick of your shit and will just tell you "cable is coming back soon."
Flashlights will be your best friends and you'll learn which one (or which lantern) is best for crapping in the dark. Also, without reading material and after eating a steady diet of processed foods, you'll suddenly realize how boring defecation is.
Quickly, everyone will move on with their lives. Sure, there's an odd light or two that still doesn't work, but most of your town will go back to the daily grind and won't understand why you look like you haven't showered for a week when you roll up to Starbucks. They have power. Why don't you have power?
If your life is all hunky dory please don't be a dick to these people. Don't stare at them. Just smile and nod and buy them some coffee.
If your life is all screwy just remember that this will pass, eventually. The lights will come back. The cable will return. Simple things like like hot spaghetti will suddenly seem a lot better than they did just a week earlier.
Also, volunteer. Whether you're a victim of the storm or someone who got lucky, it's important to help out. My family did some work after Katrina and it gave us empathy for those who had to endure terrible conditions and, hopefully, some karma when we were the ones who needed help just a couple of years later.