“It looks as though Matthew has taken a turn and will miss Hampton Roads. Be prepared for some light rain and strong winds, but we are no longer in the path of the storm.”
That was the weather report on Friday and Saturday. Yet Saturday night, I sat at dinner with 22 of my softball teammates and we were all wondering what happened to “light rain.”
Satellite TV’s were already on the fritz.
Rain was coming down in buckets.
And just as we were getting our checks, phones began to go off with alerts from the base telling people to prepare for flooding. Those alerts were just the motivation we all needed to get moving out of the restaurant and heading home. I asked each of my teammates to text or call me when they got home and let me know they made it safely.
As my husband and I started driving home we took roads we were familiar with. A left here, a right there. And then we started to see a problem. The main road we always took home had some standing water on it. No big deal. We could get through that right?
All of the sudden we went from going through a puddle to having water slosh over the hood of my SUV.
My husband was trying to maintain control of the car as he swerved around vehicles that had been abandoned in the flooding. We went slowly past a newscaster reporting on the water levels and watched as waves splashed his waist.
While we managed to maneuver through that flooded section of our drive and make it home safely, we lost count of the number of cars we saw stranded on the side of the road. Trees were starting to bend and break, block roads, and crash through houses. Power was flickering and some of my teammates arrived home to find out they had no power or no way to get into their neighborhood because the “light rain” had caused more damage in the time we had dinner than they expected.
By Sunday morning my husband and I were amazed at the amount of damage that had been done in our area. We took a drive around the neighborhood only to run into tree after tree blocking our way.
We had no power, and no estimated day or time that the power would be back on. Our friends were trying to figure out how much damage had been done when their houses flooded. Tow companies were flooded with calls to pick up abandoned vehicles that had gotten stuck in high water areas.
Traffic signals were out on major roads causing police to urge people to stay home and stay away from potentially dangerous areas in order to reduce the chances of accidents taking place.
In the end we were some of the lucky ones.
Other than have two days without power and needing to replace all the food in our fridge, we had no major damage. But looking at the news reports it was obvious the people in our area were not nearly as lucky as us.
What surprised me most about this storm wasn’t the damage done. It was the blame people seemed to place on the weatherman for not warning us about the potential fallout. It was people accusing the meteorologist of being dishonest when they said the storm turned. It was how no one was willing to take ownership for not being prepared on their own since the news said the hurricane turned.
I understand that when a big storm like Matthew is headed our way, we all watch the news hoping for the most accurate estimates of what could blow our way.
But I also know I live in a hurricane heavy area and there is no way to predict how quickly a storm might decide to change direction. A meteorologist can only do so much when tracking a storm. They can show us all the potential landfall areas, how fast the storm is moving, and what wind speeds to anticipate should one of a million outcomes happen.
But they can not tell us exactly when, where, and how bad a storm really is.
Much like life in the military, when it comes to handling mother nature we have to hope for the best and plan for the worst. Any time a hurricane is headed near the coast it is smart to start preparing for it to be the worst storm ever.
The time to build an emergency kit is not the night before a storm is predicted to hit, it is the day you move into a storm heavy area.
You never know when a minor rainstorm is going to turn into the flash floods we had just weeks before Matthew.
You never know when a tornado is going to try and whip through your city, trying to relocate your home to Oz.
You never know when a nor’easter is going to drop so much snow you cant see out of your first floor windows. Mother nature is about as predictable as military operational schedules. If you wait until the last moment to prepare or rely solely on the weatherman to be right about the direction of a storm you are likely to find yourself in an unfortunate situation. Here are a few things you can do to remain prepared for anything Mother Nature or Mr. Murphy could throw your way.
1. Prep the Emergency Kit
Anyone ever try and find a flashlight and batteries the week a hurricane is predicted to blow your way? Bet that was a fun adventure.
Do not wait until the last minute to create an emergency kit for your home.
Keep a fully stocked first aid kit, at least one flashlight per person, a pack of batteries, candles, matches or a lighter, and other necessary items ready to go at all times. And don’t just keep these at home. Have another emergency kit in your car with blankets, road flares, bottled water, and first aid supplies.
If you end up stranded on the side of the road in a blizzard, it is going to be vital that you have supplies to keep you safe and warm until help can come. We were always told in the Navy that failing to plan was a sure way to plan to fail. That is just as true when it comes to being ready for a storm.
2. Check Your Insurance
If you move from Idaho to Virginia like my husband, did you might not be aware that you are relocating to a flash flood zone and it might not occur to you to make sure your insurance policy covers the potential new issues that may arise.
Should you find yourself PCS-ing to a completely new environment make sure to take the time to review your insurance. Does your policy cover flooding damage? Natural disasters? Did you move into an area that won’t insure for floods because you took on the risk and moved into a flood zone? How does your insurance policy discuss hail, trees falling, and accidents caused by icy roads?
You need to know these things before you are on the phone trying to make a claim. That is the worst time to be told that the giant hole in your house caused by a tree is covered, but the flooding on the first floor is not.
3. Listen to the Warnings
I know the idea of having to evacuate is not fun. Packing up kids, pets, and deciding what is so valuable that you can not live without it if you come home to a destroyed house is not something anyone wants to do.
But when you see that even the military is evacuating boot camps to ensure their Marines are safe, you know it is time to go. Take evacuation warnings serious. There is a reason than city officials make the call to get everyone out of town. They understand the risks associated with these storms and are not willing to allow people to be hurt or killed just so they can stay in their own homes.
Have an evacuation route in mind when the first warnings of a storm start to pop up. Understand that in some areas, like the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, will need more time to evacuate because you have to cross a bridge or a tunnel to go anywhere.
Try and be patient with traffic and nervous drivers. They are all in the same situation you are and they just want to find somewhere safe to ride out the storm. And please do not try to return home until you are given the all clear by your city officials. They are doing the best they can to make sure you have a safe environment to come back to and sometimes that means keeping residents out an extra day to assess the safety of flooded areas and collapsed roads.
I can’t say it enough, when it comes to Mother Nature, you have to expect the unexpected. Prepare for the worst on the sunniest days and you’ll be a lot more ready for whatever blows your way.