Wheaton’s Way

Practise preparedness

If there was any doubt that hurricane season is upon us, that was firmly wiped away in the past week, when Laura and Marco bookended the Cayman Islands.

I remember, back when we were children, my parents getting one of the complimentary maps of the Caribbean that were readily available each year. In fact, this very newspaper was one of the distributors.

There was no TV, so we’d tune in to Radio Cayman for the updates whenever there was a storm in the area. The announcer would read out the latest longitude and latitude coordinates, then we’d all go to the map and Dad would locate the position, mark it and draw a line to the previous position with a ruler. All very ‘Hunt for Red October’.

One year, whoever created the map had made a mistake with the gridlines. Instead of, say, the space between 15 degrees north and 20 degrees north being split into five equal rows, it was only split into four, which added a nice extra challenge when plotting the track of a storm. “Each space is worth 1.25, not 1, so instead of marking here it should be there…”

These days, there are almost too many ways to get the information we need. Much like how I step on the bathroom scale about five times each morning, hoping for a different result, the same can be said of how we troll weather websites. I’ve always liked Wunderground.com, but that doesn’t mean I don’t also have a little flirtation with the National Hurricane Center site or Weather.com. Some just set the information out in a clearer fashion with colours I like.

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My brother Dominic takes it to a whole ‘nother level. I often imagine him surrounded by a mixture of Situation Room-sized flatscreen TVs, with seismographs in one corner and drones in the other. “The buoy near Jamaica” is reading this, and “The latest dropsonde” recorded that…

He sent me a link to Windguru.cz a couple of weeks ago, with a message that included “… and as you can clearly see…” I appreciated his faith in me, because after two minutes of looking at endless tables full of figures and swirling maps straight out of an acid trip, I couldn’t clearly deduce anything.

I immediately returned to the warm embrace of Wunderground, slightly rocking back and forth while listening to the Greatest Hits of the Pan Flute.

Although the information about hurricanes mainly comes from one main source – the NHC – we all put our own spin on it, based on data, experience from previous years, or just plain hope.

Some people observe an anomaly barely off Africa’s coast, see it’s heading in our general direction, and immediately conclude that we’ll have a Cat 7 on our back doorstep in a week’s time.

Others will wait before something’s spinning over Kingston before they figure now might be the time to stock up on flashlights and tins of whatever’s left on the shelves. That’s like leaving your Halloween candy purchases until the last minute. On 1 Oct. there is a cornucopia of Snickers, Hershey’s mix, Life Savers and Cadbury from which to choose. On 30 Oct., all that’s left is a sea of Brach’s Cinnamon Imperials.

I have some advice this storm season: if you’re a fan of Chef Boyardee, buy early.

My friend Joe Keogh, who lives in West Palm Beach, has his own tried-and-true method when it comes to hurricane awareness: He doesn’t start really panicking until The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore touches down at the local airport.

In this year, more than any other, no one wants to deal with the added pain of a major storm on top of all the ongoing COVID disruptions.

You can relieve most of the stress by having a proper collection of hurricane supplies ready in your home, along with a waterproof container holding all your precious documents and other items. Get contents insurance if you can. Lifting couches, desks and other large furniture items onto raised platforms to try and save them from flooding is not as fun as it sounds.

If you don’t wind up needing the supplies this year, save them for next year, or use them. Here’s another piece of advice: don’t buy non-perishable food items that you would never usually eat. Just because they’re in a can doesn’t mean you should blindly buy them. Do you really want to be in the aftermath of a natural disaster, trying to reacquaint yourself with a plate of carrots-in-honey and mini gherkins?

Once you have yourself well prepared, you should feel much more relaxed about hurricane season. If you’re still stressed, open yourself to the wonders of ‘Hotel California’ on the pan flute.

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