julia-yarbough-newnbc_web.jpgIt was the summer of 1998 when I experienced my first full-fledged hurricane: Hurricane Georges. I covered the first part of the storm for NBC 6 from Puerto Rico.  Then, as the storm approached South Florida, I experienced the wrath of the Category 3 storm from home. I was terrified and didn’t know what to expect. I was not prepared.

I have learned a lot in the past 11 years, and as we count down to the start of the 2009 Hurricane season it can’t be said enough: PREPARE AND PREPARE EARLY! Here are some of my personal steps to “weather the storm.”

Experts remind us to have supplies that will last at least three days with no outside help should we lose power (which we probably would in a serious storm). Stocking up can be expensive. I start in early May and with each trip to the grocery store, I purchase one or two additional items to go into my hurricane pantry: bottled water, jugs of water, pasta, canned vegetables, canned meats and tuna, jarred pesto sauces, garbage bags, paper plates, Zip-Lock bags, lots of aluminum foil, canned or jarred fruits and pre-packaged snacks.

Adding a few items extra to each shopping trip lessens the pain at the register. Yet, should a storm hit, I’m ready without needing to make a mad rush to the grocery store. There are a few items I wait until the end to purchase: fresh fruits and vegetables. I’ve observed most people skip over the produce section at this time. Pineapples, pears, apples and oranges, potatoes, etc., are excellent items to have on hand as part of your food stockpiles.

Perhaps my best investment to date: a gas grill. I make sure to always have on hand an additional propane tank so if the primary goes empty, I have a stand-by. Again, if we lose power, I can still prepare healthy and nutritious meals – all on the grill. It’s easy to cook pasta, eggs (use those immediately if we lose power) potatoes and canned goods.

You may be thinking, “What about meats and poultry in the freezer?”  Twenty-four to 48 hours before forecasters tell us a storm is inevitable, I cook these items, then put them in separate Zip-Lock bags in the fridge. They last through the first two days of “storm aftermath” using the cool air still in the refrigerator. After that… food items are kept in a large cooler packed with ice. Early in the season, I fill used water bottles with water and place them in my freezer, creating blocks of ice. These are used to pack food items in a cooler.

In preparing my home, my rule of thumb: Don’t wait until the last minute. Once a storm is approaching, I know I will be on-air working, so I put my shutters up EARLY! If you are placing plywood; the same rule applies – measure your windows NOW and purchase plywood so you have it.

DON’T WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE. I keep all my supplies in one place – a shelf holds a slew of flashlights, extra batteries, duct tape, two large blue tarps, battery-powered fans, and more gallon jugs of water.

I follow the experts’ advice in filling up the gas tank – EARLY. Remember to get cash from your bank or ATM. If we lose power, you can’t access your debit or credit cards. Don’t forget about your pets – extra food and supplies are needed for them as well, and now is the time to purchase additional items. If you take prescription medications, be sure you have an ample supply to get you through a storm aftermath.

Each season, I take my prep-work even further. I make an inventory of all the important or valuable items in my home and take digital photos or video. I make photocopies of all valuable paperwork and send them to a relative NOT in this area, for safekeeping. I put my originals in watertight containers for safekeeping.

And, I make sure to have a plan, which involves my network of friends. Double-check that you have all the correct phone numbers and discuss who will stay at what locations should a storm hit.

Remember, prepare for the worst, and pray for the best.

Editor’s Note: Julia Yarbough, a news anchor at NBC 6, writes periodically on her outdoor and other adventures.