Hurricane Isaac Evacuation and Lessons from the Camino

Dragonfly precedes Hurricane Isaac Evacuations
Hurricane Isaac evacuations preceded by dragonfly arrival


Hurricane Isaac evacuation time?  Yes?  No?  I’ve lived in the Niceville-Destin Florida area of the Gulf Coast since 1983, so I’m accustomed to making decisions about tropical storm and hurricane evacuations.   By the time any tropical storm is at the door of the Gulf of Mexico, I have to start thinking about whether to stay or go because if the storm in the Gulf, it’ll land somewhere. I’ve yet to hear of a hurricane dissipating in the Gulf somewhere, regardless of prayers, witchcraft, and/or intention setting.  Usually, we really don’t know where it’s going to land in the Gulf.  We may have an idea based on computer models, but things do change and  once the storm is in the Gulf, I normally have 2-3 before it hits Okaloosa, Walton, or Escambia counties.

In deciding whether a Hurricane Isaac evacuation was in my near future, I took a look at a few things I’ve  learned to take note of after a couple of decades and some very devastating storms, including Opal, Ivan, Dennis, and Katrina.  If it’s a Cat 5 entering the Gulf, I get the hell out of Dodge.  No hanging around.  No arguing.  If it’s a Cat 3 or above, I leave…generally.  I did stay within 20 miles during Dennis (a Cat 4) but all storms are different and sometimes a Cat 1 will cause as much damage due to flooding and extended rainfall as a bigger storm.  I’m 5 miles inland, so I don’t worry too much about flooding or storm surge for Cat 3 or less.  Wind, yes.  I have lots of big pine trees that can bisect a house. So I will leave for wind but not for rain.  That’s specific to my situation, though–my house, my elevation, the draining around me, etc.

Hurricane Isaac Evacuation deciding factors:

As with any other leave/stay decision, I’ve taken the following into account for my Hurricane Isaac evacuation plans and offer them to you.

  1. Check the computer models, rather than the “cone” map.  I prefer for the best maps and least hype.   For example, on Saturday evening, when the landfall dot looked like the yellow half-moon over my house on the cone map, the computer model map showed 5 models–3 tracking over New Orleans, 1 over Mobile, and the other curving over (again) my house.  Maybe the National Hurricane Center was tired of being dinged for being wishy-washy and felt they needed a more conservative forecast or needed to be more certain before they mentioned New Orleans as a storm target 7 years after Hurricane Katrina?  I don’t know.  Maybe Rush Limbaugh was correct in his absurd allegation that the “media” (as if he’s not part of it) was involved in a conspiracy to use Hurricane Isaac evacuation fears to distract attraction from the Republican National Convention in Tampa (7 hours south of me)…. Nah.  In any case, I knew about 9 hours before all my panic-ridden local  friends  that Isaac was steadily tracking to the west and away from Niceville. The maps simply did NOT match up.

Flying By Night novel

  1. Ignore the bulk of what you see on The Weather Channel and major news networks.  Some is worthwhile, such as preparation techniques, but little else.  Much of their “news” stories and warnings are fear-mongering meant to keep you tuned in.  That equates to ratings and revenue for them and a heightened sense of anxiety for you.  You’ll end up scared to turn off the weather news and watching it 24 hours a day, even while you try to nap.  I’ve seen first-hand how the weather can be hyped and I’ve been on the same beaches and only a mile or so from where news reporters were leaning into the wind or getting splashed when it wasn’t as bad as portrayed on TV–and spent my cell phone minutes assuring far-off family that cows and houses weren’t being blown past my window…though someone had left a plastic lawn chair out that was tumbling head over heels down the street.   The problem with fear-mongering a storm is that when a more serious storm emerges, people don’t take it seriously.  They don’t realize how different all storms are, even the news coverage of them.  I still remember evacuating with 2 small children for  Hurricane Opal, and not being able to get news of whether my house was still standing for days and days because the OJ Simpson trial was the ONLY focus of the media attention even though hundreds of houses a few miles from me had been demolished down to a bare slab and washing machines were bobbing amid  the debris in the Gulf. Power was out for a week and It wasn’t possible to reach anyone by phone lines or cell towers.  So save yourself some upset and take major networks’ so-called weather reporting with a grain of salt.
  2. For an early hint of a whether a Hurricane Isaac evacuation is in order for me, I look to Mother Nature.  What are the animals doing?    Here’s an excerpt from a blog post I wrote 4 years ago, Hurricane Gustav and Mother Nature’s Animal/Insect Warnings:

I listen to my instincts moreso than The Weather Channel.  And I watch the animal and insect activity, especially about two days before a storm is forecast to hit anywhere close to my area.  When the animals evacuate, so do I.

I’ve spent the late afternoon today, about two days out from the storm, perusing my property.  It’s been a warm afternoon and a little quiet, with the usual lizards and redbirds.  No crows–I see lots of those before a hurricane.  No dragonflies, which tend to hatch in time to feed off of the mosquitoes from post-storm waters.  No unusual ant activity, such as building mounds close to the house, ants in the house, or crawling everywhere in the grass, signs that portend a lot of water activity in a storm.  I did find a few mounds in the edge of the neighbor’s yard, at a high point on the property but also where there are no sprinkler systems and no general rain run-off.  Ants in my yard were quite sparse, with a few near a high spot where we’ve recently cleared brush.  I understand that turtles are nesting 120 miles west of here in the Mobile/western Florida area, maybe closer, so that’s a good sign of no devastating storms

Update, pre-storm:  I walked outside after midnight (Sunday AM) with the Army Ranger and there was a swarm of dragonflies around the porch light, a baby snake on the doorstep, and a plague of tiny frogs on the patio.  Grasshoppers were in the bushes and other nightlife was quite loud in the stillness of the night.  All very unusual.

I noted a dragonfliy on Saturday, more yesterday, and small swarms today (Monday).  I have noted with many hurricanes now that the dragonflies show up 2-3 days ahead of where there will be heavy rainfall. I haven’t noticed much (some) ant activity, but the geckoes are everywhere and yesterday a large lizard was intent on getting inside my house.  I’ve not seen crows or large birds around but many small ones acting skittish and seeking shelter.  Just before nightfall, I noticed several redbirds calling somewhat frantically (yes, frantically) to each other and staking out a wind-protected area under several trees where they’ll have lots of cover.  A few smaller birds tried to fly into the house and under the back patio.  I can hear the far-off, high-up wind and under the bright moonlight tonight, I can see the clouds rushing past.  The animals have not abandoned my property but seem urgent to hunker down.  And so will I.

Hurricane Isaac Evacuation Items:

The thought of evacuation did cross my mind early this morning when I dared turn on the TV for a few minutes and felt my anxiety level rising.  As an empath, I’ve been especially sensitive today to frightened coworkers.  So what would I take if I made the Hurricane Isaac evacuation decision?

Hmmm.  A day’s worth of emergency clothes, a handful of vital papers, photos not already backed up online, maybe my hard drive, my iPad (so I can make minor revisions on  the end of The Secret Lives of Librarians, and iPhone.  I’d take any essential medicines or supplements.  Spare contact lenses and glasses.  Some gluten-free food and protein mixes so that a few days away didn’t destroy my specific diet protocol and aggravate my food allergies.  That’s when it struck me–I’d take an almost identical pack to what I took on my spiritual pilgrimage walking the Camino de Santiago when Delta lost my luggage for 6 days while I was in Galicia.   Nothing like knowing just how little you really need to survive than being stranded in a country where you don’t speak the language and have nothing but the clothes on your back and what’s in your backpack!

So that’s a lesson I brought back with me.   It’s the most important things that we carry with us on long spiritual journeys…and when evacuating quickly.

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