It's that time of year again. Not summer or Father's Day or Potty Training Awareness Month: we're talking about the North Atlantic hurricane season, which officially kicks off today. According to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the next six months could be rough for folks along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts. We're here to lighten your load, with half a dozen vehicles to help get you out of town should The Big One wander your way.
NOAA predicts that this is going to be a busy year for hurricanes, with an estimated 14 - 23 named storms in the Atlantic, up to seven of which could be major hurricanes. If the Pacific is any gauge to go by, NOAA might be right: there, where storm season began on May 15, Tropical Storm Agatha has already caused at least 115 deaths in its march across Central America.
If you've ever evacuated, you know it's long, tedious, nerve-wracking process: gathering important papers and medicine; gassing up your ride; packing kids, clothes, pets, and computers; timing your departure so that you don't get stuck in the worst of traffic; and of course, finding a place to sit out the weather. In the South, we try to cope with the experience by thinking of it as an impromptu vacation -- aka, a "hurrication" -- but it's hard to keep a light heart when you don't know if you're leaving home for two nights or two months.
Owning a vehicle with room to accommodate all the important, non-waterproof items in your life can make you sleep a bit easier, but don't just think that any SUV will do. Of the dozens on offer, some offer life-saving features that put them head-and-shoulders above the rest. And besides, some folks may not want or need an SUV; we have a couple of options for them, too. If you have additional suggestions, feel free to send us an email, or leave them in the comments below.
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2010 Chrysler Town & Country
For Panicky Parents: 2010 Chrysler Town & Country
Unless you leave in the middle of the night, days before a hurricane makes landfall, evacuation means sitting in traffic for a long, loooong time. Even if your safe house is just 100 miles up the road, it could take a full day to get there -- especially if you depart during the final 48 hours. If this is your first time to make the journey with kids, you might consider the Chrysler Town & Country. It's got plenty of gadgets and entertainment features to keep you and the kiddies occupied during the 12-hour drive from Mobile to Montgomery -- and the 18-hour drive back.
2010 Honda Element
For the Animal-Lover: 2010 Honda Element
The Honda Element ranks as one of our all-time favorite rides. For starters, it's a Honda, meaning that it comes with the brand's legendary reliability. Plus, the Element's suicide doors and flip-up seating make it possible to load family, friends, and thousands of MREs (you know, just in case). But best of all, the Element's interior is water-resistant, which makes it perfect for pets. When you finally reach your parents' house or your in-laws' condo or that sketchy Motel 6 on the outskirts of Atlanta, you can pull the Element up to a car wash and hose that sucker down. Just be sure to remove all the MREs -- they don't always take kindly to water. Or digestive tracts.
2010 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class
For the Eco-Friendly Evacuee: 2010 Mercedes-Benz GL350 diesel
If you're willing to trade a little interior room for gas mileage, the GL350 diesel is definitely worth a second look -- probably a third or fourth. True, it lacks the distinctive good looks sported by others in our lineup, but it's a Mercedes, so chances are good that it'll hold itself together on the road, even when idling in gridlock during the heat of an August afternoon. And besides, it's a diesel, so in case gas stations run short on fuel (and yeah, they totally will), you can always "borrow" goods from generators along the route.
2010 Chevrolet Suburban
For the Hopeless Hoarder: 2010 Chevrolet Suburban
Whether you've got an army of kids, a kennel of pit bulls, or the second largest stamp collection in Central Florida, the Suburban offers more interior room than almost any other ride, short of a shortbus. Of course, there are trade-offs: it's a big honkin' set of wheels, so if you're one of those people who thinks he's always stuck in the slow lane, switching isn't as easy as it would be in one of our other recommended rides. (Just sit tight: nobody's getting anywhere fast, anyway.) Furthermore, the Suburban isn't exactly known for its fuel economy -- but then, with its towing capacity, you can just as easily strap on some extra gas to compensate.
2010 Toyota Prius
For He (or She) Who Travels Light: 2010 Toyota Prius
There are a lot of reasons to like the Toyota Prius, even for an evacuation ride. Obviously, it gets great gas mileage, which means fewer stops along the way -- and with lines at gas stations often stretching for as far as the eye can see, that's a very good thing. And though it's no TARDIS, the Prius has more room on the inside than you'd think, so you can take grandma's silver with you instead of burying it in the back yard. Newer models that feature the solar roof panel ensure that the A/C will keep right on pumping, which is especially nice to know when you're stuck at a standstill on a patch of bubbling blacktop. And even though the Prius hasn't managed to harness wind power (yet), its aerodynamic shape makes sure you'll have the traction you need in case of 100-mph crosswinds. That can't hurt.
Angular Front Exterior View - 2010 Jeep Wrangler 4WD 2-door Sahara
For the Doomsday Outdoorsman Who's Probably Read Cormac McCarthy's The Road One Too Many Times: 2010 Jeep Wrangler
Look, we have nothing against post-apocalyptic stories -- hell, who wouldn't enjoy spending a night at the Thunderdome, chilling with Tina Turner and waiting for her to give wackadoo Mel Gibson the smackdown? Of course, we're able to separate fact from fiction, but if you're one of those people who thinks that hurricanes carry atomic bombs loaded with biological weapons, you might consider investing in the original off-roader, the Jeep Wrangler. Sure, the suspension is a little rough, and the gas mileage isn't the best on the planet, but it's a rugged, versatile ride that can take a fair amount of abuse before it screams "uncle". And besides dude, how else are you going to reach the Unibomber cabin?
[with help from Marty]