Hurricane Supplies Have Taken Over The Pantry

June 1 starts Hurricane Season.

June 1 also starts the time of year that I get claustrophobic in the Pantry.

It’s a small cramped room to begin with, probably not much more than 8 feet wide and 20 long.

The room has all that “utility room” stuff in it.

It’s my laundry room and pantry so along the wall are all the soaps and cleaning supplies as well as the washer and dryer.

It now has the explosion of food that comes into the house every June.   In fact, we’re still drinking last year’s bottled water to “get rid of the stuff”.

Two weeks of food and water for two adults, a dog, and a rambunctious parrot take up a lot of space.

The carnage near the door is coincidental.  There’s a stain on the concrete that predates our owning the house, most likely water from Hurricane Wilma back in ’05.  I left the dog’s toys there because that’s where he was playing with them.  Now I have a claustrophobic crime scene with a blinded Chuck Norris doll and partially disemboweled pig doll among all the chaff.

We should have cleared the kitchen table of the excess supplies before hitting the Warehouse Club for the water.  It won’t be used until some time around December as a result. 

But we’re set.  Two weeks of food and water.   Just squeeze by if you have to use the washer!

It’s part of the price of living in Paradise.  There is no place in the US where you don’t have some sort of life threatening weather.  If there’s ice and snow, good luck standing outside in it for a day without a heavy coat.  Earthquake zones have furniture bolted to the walls and there’s a strong preference for “ground floor apartments”.  Tornado Alley homes usually have storm shelters that double as a basement or storage.

In our case we’ve got large corrugated steel shutters, a roof that is strapped to the house, concrete block walls with stucco, and the usual low slung architecture.  Build tall here and you’re waiting to get slapped down by an errant flying coconut tree.

Pull up a chair and grab a bottle of (last year’s) bottled water!  So, how are your hurricane preps going on?  Got everything you need?

Now they’re naming Winter Storms? Give Me A Break!

This morning, through all the web chaff I wade through, I made a stop to check the local weather for Fort LauderdaleThe Weather Channel‘s website went through a recent redesign to make it more social.  The problem is that it made it less useable and more difficult to actually get the information that I want to see on it.

I’ll work around it.  It’s not pretty but it will have to do.

The problem was that I loaded the page and my heart did that usual little flutter it does whenever I see that “Warning Will Robinson” red stripe at the top that screams there’s something to watch out for.    Reading it and dreading a late season Hurricane, I saw these words:

Breaking News:  What Will Winter Storm Brutus Bring?

I will tell you, it’s going to bring me laughing at The Weather Channel and refusing to take it seriously.  The Weather Channel is the channel that brings you all hype all the time, I realize that.  After all it had that bobble headed blond Jen Carfagno call the King Kamehameha Hotel in Hawaii the “King Kammey Hah-hah-hah” hotel, as well as quite a lot of misinformation when the Tsunami disaster happened in Japan a year back.

You basically want to hit the weather channel when they do the cut away every 10 minutes for the information and turn to something else when the bobble heads come back with their “news”.  My suggestion would be to turn to your family and talk about current events because the hype machine would roll on regardless.  I guess it drives Ad Revenue but frankly it feels a bit irresponsible, in my opinion.

The National Weather Service has just put out a message telling their people not to use these Winter Storm Names because they are not a part of their “product”.  It’s a pretty good idea not to.  All those names do is give more fuel to the hype machine.

My own reasons are pretty basic.   I lived in Metro Philadelphia most of my life.  I’ve been through countless winter storms.   Some of them were pretty scary and dumped more than two feet of snow on the roads.  I don’t want to minimize things, they can be dangerous.  But adding to the fear of preparation, such as going to the supermarket and “buy Milk, Eggs, and Bread” with your whole zip-code, is irresponsible.

No, really that’s the going joke.  Winter Storm is coming, you have to buy Milk, Eggs, and Bread and stand in line for hours.  After all, all your neighbors will be making French Toast the day of the storms because the cities have finally learned it makes more sense to close the main roads so your first responders can clear them and get to people who really DO need the help.

I think I’ll make French Toast later, come to think of it…

So I’ll be looking for a better place to get the weather information.  I’ve had quite enough of The Weather Channel’s hype machine and screaming red bars for a storm that basically works out to be a strong Tropical Storm and rarely, maybe once a year, a weak Category 1 Hurricane equivalent.  I want to know when the storms will form because I want to know my sister, her husband, and my nephew will be safe in New Jersey.  That goes for my cousins in New York City and The Island too, but the hype has got to go.

Time to change some links I guess.  The Weather Channel has rendered itself next to useless to me.   Since I stopped watching their blather on cable, I’ve found that I am actually better informed.  They’ve become the Fox News of Weather Forecasting.

And Friends Don’t Let Friends Watch Fox News.

Hurricane Sandy’s Gone, All’s Quiet in Florida

The wind finally has stopped

After three weeks of rain, a near miss by Hurricane Sandy and the outer feeder bands, and just general blustery days, we’re in winter.  Winter for us is a high in the 70s or the low 80s.

There’s no wind.  No rain.  No clouds, OK maybe a few Simpsonian Clouds floating by in the distance but that’s it.

Having gone out to unlock the fence and give the yard one last pass before the arborists arrive to repair the landscape after the storms, the overwhelming feeling here is nothing more than normal.  The strangest thing about the neighborhood today is that I roasted coffee earlier so my back yard has the smell of a fine Costa Rican roast on the general Floridian organic scent.  It’s even cool enough to have had Iguanas falling from the tree, but none of those green monsters are around.

No complaints, Normal is good.  After all I could have been at the Jersey Shore or that neighborhood in Queens, NY that burnt to the ground due to the power station that went up in explosions and flames.  

For us, this was the storm that got away.  At least here, it’s a good thing although Fort Lauderdale’s Beach got chewed up and flooded which is very rare normally.  Having grown up in South Jersey, I know what a rogue storm like this would bring.  Neighbors of my old home in Philly said “meh. no big deal.  Let the roads drain and back to work”.  I’m still waiting to hear how it went closer to the shore.

Here in Florida, we are used to a storm like Hurricane Sandy coming through and being annoying.   The soil is like sand in a colander.  It is actually hard to call it anything other than the Beach Sand it will be again.  Trees have evolved to let the wind flow through them.  When they let go of their foliage, they’ll grow it back.  Trunks are in general softer wood so they’ll bend before breaking.  In the Northeast, trees don’t get storms like this often although the Nor’easters are getting more powerful each winter.   The Ice Belt has moved North and we were saying that winters were more like North Carolina than South Jersey.  I never saw an Ice Storm before the 90s, now you expect one or two a year at the beginning and the end of Winter. 

That Ice causes its own problems.   The Northern forests end right around Philadelphia.  50 miles North or South, the forests are a different mix of trees.  There is a blending there and you can actually still grow certain Palm Trees in sheltered conditions, although the only people who do are obsessed individuals who want something different.   Those hardwood trees like the Pin Oak and the softer trees like the White Pine tree would get glazed and snap under the weight of the winter coat.  Since it is warmer, once past the ice, the snow cover isn’t quite as dry as before and there is more of it.

Of course that’s all a falsehood since, as the Republican Party says, Global Warming doesn’t exist.  It’s “Climate Change” now.

Whatever it is, things are a changin’.

Even a Small Storm Does Some Damage

The Key Word Is:  Some.

Oh sure, an 80 mph Hurricane Sandy could have ruined our day.  It could have shifted the 120 miles westward and put itself right over top of the cities of South Florida.

It didn’t.

It was a rain event.   Some winds.  Feeder bands here or there.

But past that it didn’t wake me up in the middle of the night. 

It was a late season weak hurricane that hit right at the same week as Hurricane Wilma had 7 or so years before it.  That was another “weak” Hurricane that parked itself over top of Fort Lauderdale for three solid days or so and caused a lot of damage.

So basically they all should be watched. 

I didn’t spot any damage to the house until well after I got back from the dog walk.  The sun had to come up and show me what happened to my Bougainvillea. 

This picture is of the trellis behind the house.  The Bougainvillea was picked up like a giant blanket during the night and pulled forward off the trellis and the roof.  A few limbs broke, but the plant will survive.

Yep, could have been worse.  But it wasn’t.  The plants here evolved to take it, and there’s a reason why when you move here you want a 1 floor Old Florida home.  Those taller Mc Mansions will take the brunt for you and act like windbreaks, especially when they’re built shoddily like the ones a block away from me.

Oh well, I guess we get to be landscapers this weekend.   I’ll chill some drinks and have fun outside in the yard.

Shrug.

It could be worse, then again it could be Monday

I’m writing this Sunday Morning and I am editing it Monday Morning.

The storm has come and it is lingering, but nothing more than a random shower.   Basically a normal Monday in the wet season.

Sunday Morning, I was awakened by the sound of gravel being thrown against the storm shutters that are bolted to the bedroom windows.  It actually was a squall line coming through.   We had been having rain for about a full day at that point, off and on.

The rain had stopped as quickly as it started.  One of those Hollywood Movie Set things where some unseen stage hand has flipped a lever on and off.

Hauling myself out of bed to check radar, I get started feeding the dog.  That in itself takes time since she has to have soft food, and doesn’t like that at all.

While I’m sitting in a kitchen Captain’s Chair, scooping wet and warm dog food out with my right hand and proffering it to the recalcitrant pooch, another line hits.

I knew it was here when Oscar flapped his wings and said hello, then laughed.

There is no joy quite like a parrot who thinks he’s going to dance among the rain drops.

I finish feeding Mrs Dog thinking we’re going to get wet.  Listening for thunder, and hearing none, I grab my portable lightning rod.  When the winds gust over 30mph, the umbrella would be useless.  I knew that.

She walks between the cars and over to the lee of them to empty out.  Any other Sunday at that time she’d avoid that spot.  The irrigation had started and the sprinklers were adding to the wet.

Hmm, got to fix that Rain Sensor.  For now, the water we were pumping out of the ground was watering the grass, about a block away once it stops being pushed West on the gusts.

We headed out to the street.

Not as bad as it could be.  The rain had almost stopped.

As she went to do her business, a gust of wind caught her as she was balancing and she went down in a stumble.

It was an interesting couple of days.  Not as bad here as in Key West or when it eventually makes landfall up in the Gulf, but interesting none the less.

At this point, the storm is in the Gulf and strengthening.  It is forecast to make landfall somewhere around Gulf Shores Alabama or westward toward the mouth of the Mississippi.  Lets hope it doesn’t turn into another Katrina.

That picture pretty much says what it did to us.  The dog slept through it all, once or twice getting up and sniffing the air, then using her toys as pillows.  No Big Deal.  It could have been worse, and will be when it makes landfall as a Category 1 or 2.  The best thing it did was to fill my pool and wash away some used tea bags in Tampa at their Republican National Convention.

A Strange Sort Of Hurricane Prep

Yesterday I noticed that radar was up and then “Down For Maintenance”.

Today, the network in the house was fine, but the internet was having intermittent little hiccoughs.  They lasted long enough for me to notice because the music on the internet radio stopped, then came back.

I guess the little man who went up the pole wiggled the wire back into place.

I’m roasting extra coffee.  After all, you don’t want to see me without the daily buzz.

This all happened as I had a series of power pops.   I was also considering what to write about when the internet completely dropped off line for a minute or so.

Life in Florida.  It can be odd here.  I think you could say that anywhere that is tropical.  You have lizards that eat your shrubs, power that never is as stable as it should be because a hurricane hit here in 2006, and you get to know your neighbors deeply.

My one neighbor across the street suggested we run a 110v line across the road in case of power being out so that we can keep our refrigerator running.  Nice guy, really I deeply appreciate the gesture, but I keep wondering what would happen if someone decided to trip on that wire.

This is, after all the United States of Litigious Amurrica.

So as the Ice Machine Fills, I make bags of ice and pack every nook and cranny with some day to be melted goodness.  I serve the frozen foods first, to make extra room.  Those fish fillets that I bought for a British Visitor are long gone, served with those Chips that I learned how to fry to perfection in a skillet.

Medium heat, cook for about 5 minutes and check to see if they’re nicely browned, then flip. 

Cooking food in a skillet has become a Survival Skill because the Grill in the back yard has a gas burner on it. 

We’ll eat well even if the power goes off for a couple days.

Side dishes are easy if you have a 25 pound bag of Basmati Rice and a bottle of water.

The car even has 110 volt plug in the back.  Fire up the car and we can even use electrical appliances.   We’ve made Mashed Potato in the back of the car once.   When the power goes out in the middle of making a roast beef dinner, preheat the grill to 350F and then move the entire pan, Broil In Bag and all into the back yard and close the lid to the grill.  Move the potatoes from the water on the burner in the kitchen to the grill and finally to the mixing bowl on the stand mixer in the back of the car in the front yard, add ingredients and turn on the mixer.

You may want to start the motor on the car, just to top off the battery.  Oh and roll the car down the driveway so we don’t pass out.  Good, that will do!

So today, just in case the storm doesn’t sit over top of Tampa and visit the Republicans like I am hoping and knocks our power out instead, I’ll put up some comments on the blog for the next few days.  We’re not expecting anything, and the storm hasn’t even hit Hurricane force yet, but there’s nothing strange about being prepared.  I suspect Monday we in the Fort Lauderdale Area will all be sitting thinking “it could be a lot worse” and watching the coverage on the TV. 

There’s bound to be someone who forgot “Turn Around, Don’t Drown” and is sitting on top of the roof of their posh car somewhere.   It’s always someone who thinks that it can’t happen to them.

What do you do when the Hurricane takes your Cloud away?

There’s this little storm down in the Caribbean today.  They’re expecting it to clip Haiti, not that they need any more damage.  Then to visit Cuba.  From there, Florida.   The link I check for storms is here, FLHurricanes.com.

They say that we are in The Cone of probability.  I’ve already seen a couple posts of friends online saying “We’re Coned” and “Duck and Cover”.  It could hit here, it could hit Tampa.  I’m hoping for Tampa.  Should put a nice dent in the right wing nutbag convention, sorry, Republican Convention if it hits there.

More importantly it’s a time for us in Florida to take stock.  See if we’ve got food and water for a week plus.  I’ve got two weeks worth here and we’re hitting the stores tonight.

On the other hand, we’ve all grown used to having our utilities being on all the time.  Power, Water, Sewage are normally there as well as phone service.  Internet less so.  One well placed storm could take most of that out anywhere. 

With this always on internet connection that we’ve grown used to, you find yourself stuck if you need something and the power is off.  Usually you can get to what you need, but that’s the thing. If you are expected to have a “bug out bag” of things that are required in case your home is destroyed, has the internet services gotten robust enough to serve as an external hard drive?

Personally I think the answer is “maybe”.  Great place to copy all those little files you keep on your hard drive “just in case”.   Take photos of everything in the house and save it to a cloud drive like Dropbox or Windows Live SkyDrive, or one of the many others.  Scan your papers to either a picture or a PDF and do the same.

On the other hand, that’s great but don’t depend on it completely.   They aren’t guaranteeing you what used to be called “Archive Storage”.  If your one and only copy of your tax form from 2 years ago is on a cloud drive and you need it now, what do you do when your internet system won’t be back for three weeks. 

My block was without power for that long after Hurricane Wilma.  I’m quite happy to have missed that storm, and it’s completely possible for that sort of thing to happen again.

So as a part of “Hurricane Prep”, I’ll be doing some electronic triage.   If I can pare down my documents to Just The Essentials and it’s a reasonable size, they’re going to my Dropbox account.   I’ll have them on the chip plus a second backup in the house.

As an ongoing thing, whenever you get a file that you must print that is online or just “on the computer”, it’s a good practice to print it to a PDF.  You can install a printer that does all the hard work for you.   Instead of wasting paper, you take up a few bytes of storage. 

You can grab a copy of the printer I use by going to http://www.cutepdf.com/ and selecting the Cute PDF Writer.  That way even if your files are on the cloud that you can’t get to, you’ll be able to carry the box of the paper things you can’t get rid of with your local copy of the forms on the chip.

Backups are just like the ad said about chips, You Can’t Eat Just One.  Since I have only 1.3GB of things I can’t lose, they’ll get to the cloud even if I can’t.