9 lessons from a seasoned storm vet

Harvey left its mark on Texas. In its wake, Irma, what’s being called one of the most vicious storms ever recorded in the Atlantic, is passing Puerto Rico and now barreling toward The Bahamas and South Florida, where she could make U.S. landfall in the Keys as early as Saturday. Florida-based flyfishing businesses such as Nautilus Reels, in Miami, and Florida Keys Outfitters (FKO), in Islamorada, have begun the process of boarding up. Paying homage to the ever-insightful Kenny Rogers, FKO announced on its social media pages yesterday, “You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em.... Until further notice, we’ll be closed to allow our crew the ability to pack, plan, and evacuate.”

Properly executing those three steps can help stave off property damage and, in extreme cases, preserve your life. “This sounds simple, and it should be, but we often don't think rationally in the face of a slow-motion potential disaster,” says Dr. Aaron Adams, of the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust. The Melbourne, Florida-based fish researcher has worked on both coasts of the U.S., as well as throughout the Caribbean. He’s also been in the direct path of several named storms—Marilyn (1995, St. Croix), Bertha (1996, St. Croix), Charlie (2004, Pine Island, FL)—and is familiar with the drill. So we asked the good doctor how he prepares for Ma Nature’s worst.

Here’s what he had to say:

1. Food and water. Have enough to last you about a week. Select and store food that can be kept without refrigeration, even if you have a generator. If gas is scarce after the hurricane, you'll need to ration fuel. If you’re on city water, be prepared for no water pressure until the municipal water system is back online. Fill your bathtub and other large containers. You'll be flushing the toilet with buckets of this stored water. For drinking water, fill containers from the faucet prior to the hurricane. Five gallon buckets, trash cans, plastic bins, coolers are all good containers. Keep bleach, hydrogen peroxide, or iodine handy in case you need to purify water for drinking.

IrmaMap2. Power and fuel. Get a generator, or two. Although people like the large full-house backups, unless they are mounted on an elevated platform, they can be flooded by storm surge and/or flooding rains. I prefer portables. Prior to the hurricane (preferably, at least once a year) start the generators to make sure they work. Drain the fuel when not being used for long periods. If at all possible, use non-ethanol fuel. Make sure you have solid (as in not frayed, adequate amperage) extension cords. When you get gas, use the first load to fill the generators, then get a few jugs to hold you over. Fill up your vehicles (it's amazing how many people forget to do this), and reduce your driving prior to the hurricane to conserve fuel.

3. Unplug. It’s not a bad idea to have surge protectors or to unplug appliances to protect from surges as transformers blow. There’s nothing like staring at a dead fridge when the power comes back on.

4. Shutter Up. Put up the shutters before you think you have to. And don't forget all of the outdoor things that might be blown by the winds. It's not the wind, per se, that's the problem. It's the missiles flying through the air that break windows. A broken window means wind in the house, which often means losing a roof.

5. Back Up. If you have important stuff on your computer, make sure everything is backed up in multiple places: the Cloud, an external hard drive (or two). Make sure that each backup is stored in a different location. If given enough time prior to a hurricane, I've even mailed external drives to friends in other regions. For paper files (things like mortgages, bank stuff, etc.) get a waterproof box to store them. Take this box with you if you plan to evacuate. Also, make sure to have a car charger for your phone. It's not a bad idea to have extra USB-connected battery packs or a small solar charger for phones and computers.

6. Cover up. In case the roof leaks, cover everything in the house you don't want to get wet with plastic sheeting. Plastic drop cloth for painting works well. Put everything on the floor up on a table or otherwise elevated. A bad roof leak will put a couple inches of water on the floor, even if it has a place to drain.

7. Find shelter. Seek a strong/secure place to ride out the storm, and one that’s elevated if you can. If you don't think your place can handle the wind or surge, stay with friends. If you think your best bet is to evacuate, do so in a timely manner (don't wait until Tropical Storm-force winds start to howl). If you are unlucky and end up in the eye, remember that the wind in a hurricane moves counterclockwise, so when it starts up again, it will be coming from the opposite direction (in case you need to adjust shutters, etc). Unless you need to (to tie down loose items), don't go out in the eye (it'll be tempting). The next eye-wall will come without much notice. Plus, small tornadoes bounce down off the eye-walls and cause a lot of damage.

8. Secure boats. If you have a skiff that you can store on land, my general rule has been to put it in an elevated location where I can tie it to multiple trees, and leave the plug in—a boat full of water is less likely to be blown away. A grove of palms is perfect. I learned this when I lived on St. Croix, USVI.

9. Park your pride at the door. If you need help, ask for help. Similarly, be ready to provide help—but don't be stupid.

[Dr. Aaron Adams is the Director of Science and Conservation for Bonefish & Tarpon Trust. He's spent his career working to preserve the fish he loves to cast to.]