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Hurricane Irma

2024 hurricane season | Time to jump start the preparations

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

04/13/2024

I used to start my hurricane preparations in early June about the time my mango tree dropped its first fruit. But it occurred to me when scientists made their 2024 hurricane season predictions that maybe I ought to bump up that start date to, well, now.

Not for the stuff like water or toilet paper, but for those things that these days take a lot longer than they used to.

For instance, most hurricane prep lists advise having at least a two-week supply of prescription medications for you, the family and pets. Sounds easy, right? Have you tried to make a doctor’s appointment recently, much less a vet appointment? It could take upwards of three months to book them and not all human and animal medical professionals are going to refill an expired prescription without an office visit. Best to call now. No point in waiting until you’re staring down a Cat 5 with an empty blood pressure bottle.

Before Hurricane Irma in September 2017 hurricane prep could be a leisurely stroll from June to August, since we took for granted we had plenty of time before September, when all heck tends to break loose.

Key West Island News

Two things have happened since 2017 that change hurricane preparation timing in the Florida Keys: Covid and rapid intensification of storms.

Let’s start with 2020, when Covid changed the island’s fundamental dynamics. The Covid years brought us thousands more visitors, second-home buyers, vacation rentals and obscene levels of traffic — on the ground and in the air.

We’re so slammed that evacuation times exceed the state-mandated 24 hours and could tickle the 31-hour mark. Getting out of Key West even in the days before Irma was a nightmare. No gasoline, no supplies, packed roads from here, up the mainland and into Georgia and no safe hotels, much-less pet-friendly ones, along the way. Even the designated shelters were buckling under the load.

Now add thousands more people and their vehicles and evacuation in 2024 might be a pipe dream. (I won’t dwell on the entitled attitude of visitors who refuse to interrupt their vacations for “just a little hurricane.” Even a mandatory visitor evacuation order is going to get ignored these days, putting staff at risk and hampering safety and recovery efforts afterward.)

Covid made it so expensive to live in Key West that many working folks up and left, leaving huge employment vacancies. If you can’t do it yourself or you don’t already have “your guy” lined up, the chances of finding someone to trim your trees and pluck the coconuts before an incoming hurricane are just about nil. Ditto finding someone who will repair your generator or put up your shutters at the last minute.

We know the Covid years played havoc with the supply chains on which we depend for pretty much everything that can’t be bought at the grocery stores, Strunk’s or Home Depot — and they can sell out fast. Gone are the days of two-day Amazon Prime delivery, so if you’re needing things like solar chargers, inflatable flood barriers, generators, water containers, plastic bags for the toilet and assorted survival equipment, now would be the time to do your retail shopping.

2024 hurricane season | Rapid intensification cuts prep time

In September 2017 we watched for days as Irma flirted with Florida, not deciding until the last minute where to make landfall. But we knew from the beginning that Irma likely would be a monster Category 5 storm. We had at least a week to make final preparations.

That time luxury doesn’t exist these days. We learned that with Hurricane Ian Sept. 28-30, 2022. Ian, which passed west of Key West and directly over Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, was predicted to be rain and some winds for the island. Not much to worry about, so most of us did zero hurricane prep. But Ian intensified quickly, pushing tropical storm winds and flooding through our neighborhoods. I know folks who are just now getting their homes back in order after Ian.

The scientific definition of rapid intensification is “winds that increase at least 30 knots in 24 hours.” I call it “Go to bed prepared for a minor storm and wake up to a Cat 1 or worse slamming at my door.”

The Keys have a better than 70 percent chance of facing down a major hurricane this year. Scientists predict the 2024 season, which officially begins June 1, will be one of the worst on record. So, yeah, let’s move up that date for starting hurricane prep. Which reminds me, I need to gas up the car. Running on empty in hurricane season is just plain dumb.

BTW: If you’d like more hurricane preparation tips, check out our prep page. Insider tips from those who’ve been there, done that.

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