Kudos to Twitter.

I found Twitter to be an extremely valuable resource during Hurricane Irma. While the storm was raging outside, I was checking Twitter constantly for nonstop coverage of the hurricane in near real time. I saw photos of conditions in my area and videos of the storm’s wrath. While I did check some of the local news sites, I always found myself going back to Twitter for the rapid, in-depth coverage of Irma.

I myself contributed to the Irma coverage by tweeting weather conditions outside along with photos I took of the stormy chaos. It was then I noticed something about Twitter I hadn’t noticed before. I was taking part in a worldwide network discussing the storm from our individual points of view. I got a response to one of my tweets from an out-of-state user whose mother lives in the city where I stayed and she had been unable to get hold of her. Was there power in my area? Yes, there was, I responded. That seemed to put her mind at ease.

Some of my photographs of the storm have been well-received, and that gave me the rewarding feeling that I’m contributing something to the ongoing discussion and getting noticed for it.

Too bad it took the 9 years I’ve been on Twitter to get this kind of insight.

Surviving Hurricane Irma, Day 4.

It’s over.

Hurricane Irma has struck Florida and it’s time to go outside and survey the damage. Structural damage in Palm Beach County seems to be minimal but the real mess is the fallen branches and piles of leaves scattered everywhere.

I decided to go visit my house to see how well it fared during the hurricane. I was nervous about the drive home because I wasn’t sure if there was a widespread power outage that affected the traffic lights along my route. The one thing I hate the most about driving after a hurricane is coming to an intersection with no working traffic lights. Drivers completely disregard the rule to treat such an intersection as a four-way stop and as a result there’s plenty of danger and frustration. They seem to be enforcing an “every man for himself” rule instead. As much as I hate traffic lights, I actually miss them when they’re not working.

I managed to make it home in one piece. As expected there was debris everywhere in my neighborhood but I was pleasantly surprised to see I still had power. Judging from the correct time on my stove in the kitchen, I don’t think it ever went out. My phone service, on the other hand, wasn’t working, and neither was my Internet connection. I had a busy afternoon of taking down my storm shutters, moving my plants outside along with my patio furniture and then cleaning up the debris.

Then I decided to go check on my parents’ house. They left on a cruise out of the country just before the hurricane hit and were keeping in touch via email. I could imagine their anxiety about how things were back at home and I wanted to relay some good news to them to help put their minds at ease.

However, when I arrived at my parents’ house, I saw a huge mess of fallen branches around the house. I couldn’t get inside because there was no power to open the garage door and the rest of the house was heavily barricaded with hurricane shutters with drill-tightened wingnuts too tight to try loosening by hand.

During my walk around the outside of the house, I saw something that made my jaw drop. There was an aquarium stand that once stood behind the garage that my father used for his small barbecue grill. That stand was no longer there. The strong winds flung it across the yard where I found it resting on some bushes along the fence.

Anyway, the storm may be gone but the aftermath remains to linger for a long time to come.

Oh yeah, Hurricane Jose’s out there churning in the Atlantic and just might hit Florida again.

Isn’t life in paradise wonderful?

Surviving Hurricane Irma, Day 3.

Anyone on the road today going shopping for hurricane supplies is CRAZY.

I had a bizarrely amusing thought of a store actually open during the hurricane, catering to those who waited until the last possible minute to stock up on emergency supplies. Such a store must be desperate to make a profit.

I’m imagining two men trying to load some plywood outside in the stormy weather. So far, they’re not having much luck. Two pieces were broken in half by the heavy winds and a third was sent flying like a giant frisbee across the sky.

So far, so good here in Palm Beach Gardens. There’s still power, TV and Internet but who knows how much longer they’ll stay on. The lights have blinked a few times, sending me a warning signal of the worst to come, so I’d better hurry up and finish this post while I still can. The nightmare’s far from over. In fact, it’s just beginning.

To be continued…

Surviving Hurricane Irma, Day 2.

There was a brief moment of sunshine this morning while but the mood was anything but cheerful. I was too busy finalizing my preparations for the hurricane by moving my patio furniture inside and getting rid of any garbage that could be sent flying during the storm.

And now here I am, staying with family in Palm Beach Gardens to wait out the storm. I’m encouraged that Hurricane Irma has shifted to the west, so I’m hoping that any damage at home is minimal.

I did have an amusing thought that I think would make an interesting story. What if the city of Palm Beach Gardens has not been hit with a hurricane for hundreds of years?

Yes, the last time a hurricane tried to make landfall at the area that is now Palm Beach Gardens only succeeded in being attacked by the vicious natives living there. As a warning to future hurricanes, its remnants were mounted on bamboo sticks along the beach, and since then, no hurricane has ever made landfall at Palm Beach Gardens.

Anyway, there’s nothing to do now but wait for the storm to pass and hope for the best. Oh yeah, and hope everything’s still standing when I get home.

To be continued…

Surviving Hurricane Irma.

Starting with this post, I will be sharing my experience with Hurricane Irma as it passes through my area. This is going to be an interesting experiment of sorts in which I have no idea what’s in store tomorrow or the next day. I’ll be writing a new post each day as the hurricane passes, provided there’s power and Internet. If not, I’ll save my posts as an offline draft and upload them as soon as I’m able.

Presently Hurricane Irma is forecast to pass through my area on Sunday as a Category 4 storm with winds up to 156 mph. Sounds scary, but I’ve gone through this before when Hurricane Wilma hit Palm Beach County back in 2005. I live in a townhouse that faces southwest, well out of the way of those strong winds, so I was actually able to go outside and see the action without getting blown away. After Wilma had passed, the worst it did was leave me without phone and electricity for 5 days. It left a huge mess of branches and leaves everywhere but nothing too serious. I imagine Irma’s going to do the same thing, more or less.

It’s been a very, very crazy week at the home improvement store where I work. I was scheduled to begin work at 6am when the store opens, and during this past week I’ve been seeing long lines of customers waiting outside the store that early for their chance to grab hurricane supplies. One morning the store received a shipment of generators, which were in such huge demand that they sold out in less than an hour. They weigh 200 pounds and are a hassle to load in the customers’ cars. I was sure happy to hear that the generators were all gone.

Another item in huge demand was propane. I lost count of how many times customers asked me if we had any propane, and my answer would always be along the lines of “No, we don’t have any right now, but we should be getting some later.” Normally, the propane delivery truck comes several times a week but demand was so high it made daily deliveries. After the propane storage cages were fully stocked, it didn’t take long before they all flew out the door.

Probably the biggest selling item was plywood. There was literally a long line of customers in the lumber department that helped deplete its limited supply of wood and needless to say, I got a pretty good workout helping load them in the customers’ vehicles. When the plywood ran out, customers grabbed just about any reasonable sized boards they could get their hands on and the screws needed to set them up. Flashlights, sandbags, gas cans, and batteries were also big sellers that were rapidly depleted.

Today was when things got really interesting. The management decided to close the store early to give the employees time to prepare for the hurricane. There were signs posted on the doors announcing that the store was closing at noon, but the customers kept coming, more desperate than ever for their treasured supplies. Finally, some police officers were stationed by the doors to politely inform the customers that the store was closed. I felt sorry for the customers, especially those carrying empty propane tanks in hopes of a last-minute exchange. “Oh, fudge,” I heard one man say.

And now, here I am at home, finalizing my own preparations. I already have my hard-earned water, propane and a full tank of gas. The only thing to do now is ride out the storm and hope for the best.

To be continued…

The calm before the storm.

It’s that time again.

As I write this, Hurricane Irma is churning towards Florida, prompting the usual frenzy of preparations that’s been repeated many times before. The last time we went through this was last year for Hurricane Matthew, and now it’s time to do this all over again. Sure, it may be calm now but things are going to get nasty in just a few days.

First, I need to stock up on emergency supplies. As expected, the water aisle is completely empty.

That means I have to wait in line for the water like everyone else. Can’t you just feel that frustration building?

Oh yeah, I gotta fill up with gas too. Problem is, there’s a long line there too.

No worries, though. I’ll just get up extra early and go fill up at 4 a.m. where there’s no waiting.

After the shopping’s done, it’s time to start putting up those storm shutters.

All this for a storm that doesn’t care how prepared you are. Once it passes, who knows what horrors and extra work await.