Trying to reason with hurricane season ... again
For a state with such a temperate climate, Florida seems to have an awful lot of different seasons.
Stone crab season.
The annual mullet run.
The May-and-October time for locals only - almost.
And, of course, hurricane season.
The Atlantic and Caribbean storm season began June 1. Predictions by the august Dr. William Gray and the National Hurricane Center indicate we're in for more storms than usual, with more of them intense rather than average.
Residents of barrier islands are especially vulnerable to high winds and flooding. Just look at what happened to Anna Maria Island Sept. 14, 2001, when Tropical Storm Gabrielle blew past with minimal winds and waves and left many of us without electricity for four to five days. It wasn't even a true hurricane.
The Islander's annual hurricane section is included in this edition. Veteran Islanders know the drill: Leave, dammit; get plenty of batteries, flashlights; stock up on canned goods and lots of water; make sure you've got a plan so friends and family can get in touch; and stay calm.
New residents should be sure to pay attention to the details included in the section, especially the insurance aspects. Now is really the time to make sure you have adequate coverage for your home and its contents. Take a few minutes to review your policy and update the coverage as needed.
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles Bronson has offered a few new twists to hurricane season preparedness that really do hit home.
"Many people are diligent about stocking up on batteries, non-perishable food and water in the event of a hurricane," he said, "but there are other critical steps that must be taken to prevent loss of life and property."
Some of this information may be redundant, but Bronson has gleaned a few new ideas for us all to keep in mind. His highlights include:
- Turn off the propane tank service and shut-off valve on all appliances before you evacuate.
- Have all appliances inspected after you return if you think they've been flooded.
- Stock up on foods that need no preparation to eat.
- Any food that is not canned should be disposed of if there has been even the threat of flooding.
- Bleach every cooking surface, can of food, appliance or cookware before using it if your house has been flooded.
- Figure out how much potable water you think you'll need, then double it.
- Store lawn chemicals and fertilizers off the ground and as far away from floodwaters as you can. Think about this one for a minute: You've got how many pounds of yard stuff in your garage? Multiply that by how many houses on the Island. The floods come, and how much of all of that gunk is going to end up in Anna Maria Sound or the Gulf of Mexico to hang out with our turtle and dolphin friends?
- Be sure all pets have got I.D. tags on them, and add the vaccination lists to your "documents to bring" package.
If your critters are anything like mine, they freak out in even a thunderstorm - a hurricane will drive 'em crazy and the thought of chasing down a flooded street after an un-collared pet isn't high on anybody's to-do list. Consider keeping your pets leashed during a storm.
- Add a pet-survival kit to your evacuation package, with food, water and medications good for at least two weeks.
- Make arrangements now for boarding your pets during any Island evacuation. Human shelters don't take pets, and lots of hotels are iffy about having critters. Check out what you can and can't do now.
- Florida law doesn't allow for price gouging during a disaster. That means that excessive prices for food, ice, water, gasoline, lumber and even lodging is illegal. Bronson said that any question on such activities should be reported immediately by calling 1-800-HELPFLA.
- Post-disaster scams are rampant. Check references on any contractor doing work for you either through the state or local building officials.
- There are also lots of "charity scams" that start up to help the so-called needy after a storm. Make sure you're writing a check to an organization that you've checked, never to an individual.
Got flood insurance?
Everyone does know that you need a separate flood insurance policy to handle water damage, don't you?
Maybe not, based on a study by the Allstate Insurance Company, which indicates that something like 750,000 homes in coastal hurricane states didn't have proper flood insurance.
According to the company, 22 percent of the hurricane-related claims in 2003 were for water damage. The average flood-insurance claim during Hurricanes Isabel and Claudette last year was $18,727, and Allstate officials offered this somewhat no-brainer question: "Homeowners need to ask themselves if they could afford that expense without flood insurance."
Dig out your insurance policies and check them, please.
On Day 3 after Tropical Storm Gabrielle knocked out all our power, I found myself standing out in the street talking to neighbors when a power company crew brought in from North Carolina came by.
"Jeez, look at all the trees in the power lines," one guy said. We all looked up and, sure enough, branches had pretty much entwined the power lines.
"You should have had all that cut back a long time ago," the guy said, shaking his head.
Perhaps it's time to do a little judicious pre-hurricane season tree trimming around your property to avoid power loss or to prevent a fire, eh? And call FP&L to trim near power lines.
Eat more wild Florida shrimp!
"Florida shrimpers are suffering from the abundance of foreign shrimp coming into the United States," according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the federal government has approved a "fishery disaster assistance funding" to the tune of $7 million last year to help consumers become more aware of Florida shrimp.
As if we don't all love those little guys anyway.
"Shrimp is the most popular and valuable seafood in the United States and hundreds of species are harvested from freshwater and saltwater," according to the state, which said there are four species of commercial value in the Gulf, with pink shrimp being the most common.
Pink shrimp found along the Atlantic coast are usually brown; those found along the northern Gulf coast are often lemon-yellow; and those found in the Florida Tortugas are pink. White shrimp are grayish-white with a green, red or blue tinge on the tail and legs. Royal red shrimp are usually deep red but are sometimes grayish pink.
Most shrimp spawn offshore in deep water from early spring through early fall. Young shrimp are carried by currents into coastal estuaries to mature. In Florida, shrimp are harvested with trawls which are cone-shaped nets towed along the bottom in waters near shore. Turtle excluder devices and by-catch reduction devices are used, as required by law, to minimize the capture of non-target marine turtles and fish.
I'm getting hungry. Got shrimp?
Shrimp are sized and sold by count, or the number of shrimp per pound, either whole or headless. For example, headless shrimp of 16-20 count means there are 16 to 20 headless shrimp per pound. Counts for headless shrimp range from under 10, the largest shrimp, to 300-500, the tiniest.